When to Go to China

A view of the Great Wall of China at sunset
The Great Wall of China

China by seasons

China is enormous, crossing five time zones and with a topography that includes mountains, desert and tropics. Therefore it’s very difficult to summarise its climate succinctly or indeed to choose the best time to travel: it will always be high or low season somewhere. So, to help you choose the best time to travel for your interests, we’ve split the year into four seasons:

Bougainvillea in China

April – May

Spring is a lovely time to visit China. The flowers are blooming, and days are warm and sunny without being too hot. Temperatures hover around the low 20s, and visitor numbers have not yet reached their summer peak. Rains creep across the southern mountains, bringing wonderfully scenic mists to the Li River and Yellow Mountains. Avoid travelling during May Day week, when the mass migration of domestic travellers can make transport difficult and hotel prices soar.

Go for:

Sisters’ Meal Festival: In mid-April, head to Guizhou Province for this Miao festival celebrating love and spring with singing, dancing, and elaborate and beautiful ethnic costumes.

Water-Splashing Festival: This annual Dai festival involves three days of spraying and being splashed with water. Held in Xishuangbanna, the water brings good luck to those soaked by it.

Lhasa in Tibet

June – August

Summer brings the hottest weather to China, with temperatures topping 35°C in all areas except the far north and the mountains. The south is very sticky, and typhoons can occur here. Summer is the busiest time for domestic tourists, as locals head off on their summer holidays. However, it’s a great time to visit the Himalayas, Tibet and the north, when the weather is far milder and breezier.

Go for:

Dragon Boat Festival: In late May or early June, the Dragon Boat Festival dated back over 2,000 years and commemorates an ancient Chinese poet, Qu Yuan. See the dragon boats race in the southern provinces such as Jiangsu.

The beach: Yes, China has beaches! And with all this warm weather, it’s the perfect time to find one. Try the coast around Xiamen, Hainan Island and Yalong Bay, all in the south of the country.

Longi Rice Terraces

September – October

Autumn is a pleasant season with mild temperatures. During this time the summer rains have stopped and cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are at their sunny best. The domestic summer crowds have gone back to work too, making this the ideal time to hit the tourist hotspots such as the Terracotta Warriors and Chengdu’s panda sanctuary, with autumn colours bringing additional delights to the landscape.

Go for:

Longji Rice Terraces: the stepped hills of Longji are at their glorious best in autumn, when they turn various shades of gold and look especially resplendent at sunrise.

Mid-Autumn Festival: In late September or early October, join the locals to celebrate the annual harvest with lanterns, lights, mooncakes and incense-burning across the country.

Harbin Ice Festival

November – March

With temperatures plummeting well below freezing, especially in the mountains and the far north, winter in China can be bitterly cold. But attractions are empty, prices are low and the snow brings an ethereal beauty to the countryside. Skiing is possible in the resorts north of Beijing, while the south around Hong Kong and Hainan Island is your best bet to take in the warmest of the weather.

Go for:

Chinese New Year: In late January or early February, a week of public holidays marks the New Year, which is celebrated with family, decorating houses and exchanging money in red envelopes. Be warned though, hotels and public transport gets very crowded.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival: Up to 15 million people a year descend upon Harbin between December and February to view the spectacular ice sculptures, all lit up in technicolour. 

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