The Best Time to Visit China
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China is one of the world’s must-see destinations, and with good reason. This colossal country boasts modern cities, ancient culture, and natural wonders that captivate and delight travellers of all kinds. China’s sprawling landmass ensures there is plenty for you to see and experience, no matter where you choose to visit. However, timing can be everything to make the most of your stay in this fascinating country.
Due to China’s large size, the climate can vary quite heavily from region to region. There is a huge difference in temperature between the north and south, where the cold steppes of China’s far north contrast starkly with the tropical heat of the south. Each part of the country shows its best side at specific times of year, so if you are a keen explorer, it is best to do your research and prepare in advance. Find out the right times to visit your preferred places to guarantee the best possible experiences.
For most visitors, spring is the perfect season to explore China. The bitter cold of winter begins to subside, and lowland areas leap into bloom with the arrival of warmer weather. Spring is also an excellent time to visit the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an. They offer a wealth of cultural experiences, as well as showing the striking modernity that has transformed many Chinese urban centres in recent decades. Take to the streets of Beijing, where Chinese culture and tradition pervades every aspect of this thriving capital city. You will find famous sites such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven here, as well as modern structures, such as the Beijing Capital Museum and the National Stadium. It is, however, best to avoid the major tourist centres during the first week of May, when huge crowds gather at popular attractions for China’s Labour Day celebrations.
Spring is also the perfect time to explore the countryside, where plants are springing into vibrant life. You can head south into the fertile farmlands of southern China, where you will come across some truly unique sights. A particular highlight for keen photographers is a visit to Luoping, where fields of rapeseed burst into flowers, covering the countryside with a carpet of bright yellow blooms.
If you want to take in some history as well as keep active, the spring months are also perfect for hiking the famous Great Wall of China. Winding over 5,000 miles across the countryside, there are plenty of places to experience the wall. Alternatively, head to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park to explore some of China's most unique scenery. Here, rock spires capped with greenery rise from the earth and provide an otherworldly hiking experience.
Summer brings stifling heat and high humidity to central and southern China between mid-May and July, as well as monsoon rains across much of the country. This is China’s wet season, but if you don’t mind the heat and the rain, it is still a good time to visit. Heavy downpours known as the ‘plum rains’ start in the south and gradually move north as the season wears on. If you prefer to escape the wet weather, there is always plenty to do in the cities. Why not explore the many museums of Shanghai, or visit a traditional tea house in the city of Chengdu?
The rains tend to ease during August and are replaced with glorious sunshine – ideal if you want to relax on one of the beautiful beaches on the south coast. Enjoy pristine sands and tropical breezes on the island of Hainan, where some of the best beaches China has to offer await you, lapped by waves from the South China Sea.
With the arrival of autumn, much of the Chinese countryside transforms, with the extreme humidity and heat of summer giving way to cooler days that remain largely dry. Autumn is a season best spent outdoors admiring the countryside and exploring China’s many national parks. One highlight is the UNESCO Jiu Zhai Valley National Park, situated in the northern Sichuan province. Admire the stunning natural scenery of the park, nestled among the Min mountains, that takes on renewed beauty as the autumn leaves begin to turn. The vibrant reds and yellows of the foliage are beaten only by Jiu Zhai’s famous colourful lakes. Here, rock formations lie beneath the clear waters of the lakes, creating a myriad of shimmering shades.
Autumn is also a great time to hit the waves, with conditions to the south becoming ideal for surfing and other water sports. Sun and Moon Bay on the island of Hainan is renowned as one of the best surf spots in China, so grab a board and take advantage of the perfect conditions in November.
December heralds the end to the warm weather throughout much of China, with bitter cold and snow moving in across the mountains and the northern plains. If you plan to visit between December and February, it is best to aim for the south of the country, where the tropical climate ensures milder temperatures.
There are still reasons to visit China during winter, including one of the biggest events in the Chinese calendar, Lunar New Year. The date of this important festival, also known as Chinese New Year, varies from year to year. However, it will usually fall somewhere between January and early March. This is a week-long public holiday, during which many locals visit their families. Consequently, accommodation and transport book up fast. Make sure you have planned for these in advance so as not to miss joining in on the celebrations. During this holiday, streets and buildings are bedecked in red and gold and crowds come together for the festive atmosphere.
- Your camera
- Comfortable walking shoes/boots, as well as sandals or flip-flops for warmer weather
- Season-appropriate clothing, including thermals and a hat, scarf, and gloves for winter
- Sun protection, including sunscreen
- A raincoat or poncho
- A guidebook