There is an excellent beach, Silver Beach (quite different from the polluted North Beach), and lots of cheap food, including Vietnamese food since many refugees came here. The weather is warm for most of the year, however during winter months it is not warm enough to work on your tan on the seafront.
Beihai is not much frequented by foreigners, and English is not widespread. The dialect spoken in Beihai is a form of Cantonese, but quite a few people also understand or even speak Mandarin.
There is a ferry from Haikou to Beihai Ferry Terminal (+86 779 3904011) about half way between the center and Silver Beach (bus no.3). It leaves every day at 18:00 and 18:30. It takes 12 hours and costs ¥130-280 depending on accommodation chosen.
The high-speed rail goes from Nanning to Beihai, leaving 13 times a day (6 times from Nanning station, 7 times from Nanning East station) . It takes about 1 hr 30 mins, with a 2nd class ticket costing ¥61 (June 2015). There are also a few regular trains from Nanning that take about 3 hours at half the price.
You can also take the high-speed train all the way to and from Guangzhou south station (via Nanning). About 6 hours, ¥227.
There are overnight buses from Guilin and from Liuzhou going via Nanning. Shenzhen is also connected to Beihai by coach services, get to the metro station Zhuzilin in Shenzhen, right at Futian Bus Station, and take a bus, there is one in the morning and five in the evening running through the night for about ¥200.
There are three bus terminals in Beihai, two of them in the city centre on Beihai Guangdong Rd (one of them quite near to Beibuwan Square; buses to Nanning start from there), but in the near future both will be replaced by the huge new terminal about 5 km away on the present outskirts of the city. It has only recently been opened.
Beihai Fucheng Airport is rather small with only five gates and a few connections to major cities in China. There are scheduled flights from Shanghai Pudong, Guilin, Guiyang, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing and Kunming.
There is also a scheduled direct flight from Shanghai every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. It is operated by Juneyao Airlines which is based in Shanghai. The flight takes off at 5:30 PM from Shanghai Pudong airport, and arrives at 8:50 PM. Depending on season, there are flights from/to Hong Kong as well.
There are many taxis, motorbike taxis and tricycles. However, they will often try to overcharge you if they know you are not a native of China, or Beihai. Minimum rate for everything moving around apart from taxis stands at ¥4, even though the formal rate is ¥3. Haggling is customary, so do not be afraid to ask for a lower rate. Getting a motorbike ride from the bus station to the port is about ¥10.
Taxis should use a meter; there is a surcharge of ¥1 to be paid in addition to the fare shown on the meter.
There are many buses going everywhere in the city, but bus lines partly seem to follow rather irrational routes, apparently because the city has been growing rapidly over the last years, with traffic planning not keeping abreast. Tickets usually cost ¥1-2, to be dropped into a box at the driver's seat, have exact money ready. Buses frequently leave from Beibuwan Square in the centre of the city, but mostly do not run at night.
There is a lively expat scene in the city, even though insiders guess there are only about 50-75 Westerners in Beihai City itself. However, in and around neighbouring Hepu, there is a large Nordic community, most employed at the Hepu pulp factory. Staff and families often go to Beihai for daily shopping as well as nightlife. Meet expats at breakfast around 9:30 a.m. at McDonald's (there is only one right at Bei Bu Wan Guang Chang 北部湾广场) or in one of the bars run by foreigners, for example Tommy's Bar on Seafood Island or Tony's Bar in Old Street. There is also an English Corner upstairs at McDonald's every Friday from around 8 p.m., where a few Westerners talk English with Chinese visitors practising their knowledge of this language.
The area produces pearls. They are sold in certain central high rises, for instance near RT Mart. There is a dedicated pearl market building on Sichuan Lu. Medium-grade pearls are sold at lowest price by the hawkers on Silver beach in the south of the peninsula. If you plan to visit the Oceanorama, you will find a large section of it's shop is dedicated to pearl sales.
There is seafood everywhere and it is very cheap, about half the price of Shanghai or Hangzhou. When ordering anything with meat in a restaurant there is a chance of getting rat meat although you ordered beef.
There are two big sea food markets in Beihai, Donghai Market and Nanzhu Market. The price in Donghai Market is much more reasonable, but the quality is a little bit lower than Nanzhu Market. At Beiyun Market（北云市场) and Guizhong Market you can buy raw seafood. Salted and dried aquatic products can be bought in Shuichanpin Market (水产市场). A delicacy in Beihai (as in other coastal/sub tropical Chinese cities) is half a pineapple on a stick. Yours for less than ¥3.
On Seafood Island (Waisha Dao), on the northern shore there are many places (restaurants as well as tents etc.), which offer various cooked sea foods. When going to seafood restaurants be aware the price of seafood is often quoted per wubaike (500 grams, also known as jin). In the fishing village Dijiao, there are some small eating places which offer cooked sea food much cheaper.
By far, some of the best eating in Beihai takes place at any of the various night markets. Most night markets tend to start around dusk, and food can be purchased from a wide variety of vendors who, in addition to cooking local seafood, vegetables and serving drinks, also provide plastic seats and chairs.
A special bbq restaurant that not surprisingly also serves draft beer can be found at the junction of Sichuan Rd and Zhan Bei Lu (street passing the railway station). Pizzas are not so special in Bei Hai any more, but do not expect the Italian variety. Among other places, you will find a pizzeria in Changqing Rd, which also offers food specialities of Western countries. Local brand western-style fast food is now quite common in Beihai, while Pizza Hut, McDonald's and KFC can be found in ground floors of several of Beihai's shopping centres. A dedicated Steak restaurant is next to the KFC in the Da Rien Fa (RT-Mart) building.
Many good restaurants hide in the second floor and only have a small entrance door. Difficult to find, so look up sometimes.
There are a couple of music bars/discos in the city centre, for example LILI MARLEEN (formerly The NEST) not far from the main office of China Mobile near Beibuwan Square, the No ONE bar in the Triumph building opposite McDonalds and N0. 88 bar in Guizhou Rd, near LILI MARLEEN. In some of these places you have to order a sixpack at a price range above ¥100 if you want a beer, in others you accordingly get charged more for a single drink. Music is usually trendy, noisy and very little room for dancing. As in many other Chinese cities, be careful who you talk to: China has a gender gap of 70 million in the 18-35 marriage age span; some men tend to be less amused than elsewhere when you chat with local females.
There are three western-style bars:
-The Way Inn - Holland bar in Old Street. European pub style. Pool table, dartboards, soccertable. Background music are golden oldies. Currently no food except a tasty Spag-Bol. Run by Dutch owner Tony and his wife. Open from 6pm.
-William Shakespeare - (16th century designed London interior) in Jin Hai An Da Dao (opposite the Grand Hotel) close to Silver Beach. Big restaurant (core biz) and British style bar with draught beer, darts board & TV. Background music with live music after 8pm on many evenings. Private rooms and KTV. Run by British owner Mark and his wife. Open from lunch til late.
-Lai Lai Tommy's on Waisha seafood island, a 5 min walk from Old Street. Restaurant in stand-alone mansion. Two floors and plenty of outside seating. Western food and bbq. Background music. Started by Swedish-Australian owner named Tommy, the place is now run by former staff. Open from lunch til late.
Open only on Saturdays after 6pm is a get-together of expats and locals called "pizza party". German owner Uwe does a wide selection of pizzas in the yard in front of his stand-alone mansion in Chuang Ji Lu near the railway station.
Hotel prices are much lower than in other Chinese tourist cities. The Shangri-La, a five-star hotel, charges only about US$60-70 for a single room.
There are quite a few low cost hotels, for instance near the bus stations, a bunch of hotels from ¥35 and up, but do not expect an air-condition at that rate. Rooms provided with that will cost at least ¥100. Look at the room, then ask for a discount. Depending on the room, the hotel may or may not be willing to turn on the heat during winter months.
There are also at least a dozen cheap guesthouses near Beibuwan Sq near the intersection of Xingfu and Jianwen Street. Rates for single rooms are ¥30 to ¥100 a night. It won't be anything special but is ok if all you need is wifi and a place to sleep.
A bit more expensive, but still very reasonable, are the hotels around Beibuwan Square, for example Guang'an Hotel on Sichuan Rd (¥160).
On the south beach, Hai Tan Jiu Dian is a good choice at ca ¥300 and Sufubi Gallery (at roughly the same rate) is a good representative of a style now typical on Silver beach, a hotel distributed over many individual 3-floor houses arranged around a central pool.
There is now a clean and well done hostel at Qiaogang Town, its name is Seahouse, they have dorm and other style rooms, rates of dorm is around ¥35-45, the hostel is only 50m from beach, you can book from hostelworld.com.
Since the preceding paragraph sounds like an advertisement, here a more realistic review: Another hostel called 21 Youth Hostel (21 青年旅舍) is located on Waisha Island on the north-west shore of Beihai. Follow Sichuan Lu northbound and go left after you crossed the bridge. After about 100m you will find the hostel to your right. Prices are low, rooms vary from usual (double rooms) to very low standard (8-p dorm without windows). Facilities are Guangxi-style (low standard).
The "Lonely Planet" travel guide recommends to look for cheap guesthouses in 火烧床五巷 (Huoshaochuang Wuxiang), a small alley close to Beibuwan Lu. But be careful: if a "hostel" has a sign saying 钟点房 (zhongdianfang), it means that the rooms are not paid per day, but per hour. Guess what those establishments are for — hint: not for sleeping overnight. The authors of the lonely planet travel guide probably had a good laugh about the idea of tourists going to brothels to ask for an overnight stay.