When is the best time to travel to China? I’ve been asked this question multiple times and over the years I’ve finally developed an answer that I feel comfortable giving you here.
The fact is that China is a big country and anybody who gives you a “one size fits all” answer probably doesn’t understand that.
No matter what season of the year it may be, there is always a place in China that is worth visiting. I’ve traveled in the dead of winter and in the heat of the summer – both experiences have had their ups and downs.
For this reason, I’m going to share with you my answer based on the season / month you plan to visit China, along with my recommended places to visit during that time.
We’ll start be detailing exactly when you should not travel to China.
When NOT to Travel to China
If there is any way to avoid it, there is a specific time during which you should avoid stepping foot in China:
Chinese Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year).
If you’re doing your research, then you’ll probably read other travel websites telling you to avoid all China holidays but this isn’t true. I’ve traveled plenty of times during the National Holiday and Labor Day, and it’s been great.
The holiday has been cut short so much that now most Chinese citizens have decided its not worth traveling during those holidays anymore.
The one exception is the Chinese New Year (aka “Spring Festival”) which usually falls in late January or into February. Not only is each mode of transportation packed full and often sold out of tickets, most shops, grocery stores and even some tourist attractions are closed for a few days during this holiday.
Because it’s based on the lunar calendar, you’ll need to check the 2020 China public holiday calendar to find out which day Spring Festival lands on.
Visiting China in Spring (April to June)
There aren’t too many places in China that you can’t visit in between the months of April and June. The only exception might be the far northern parts of Heilongjiang and Xinjiang, which can still be somewhat cold during the month of April.
Throughout the south of China the wet season has begun during these months, which may be a bit of a hassle. At the same time, it could enhance your trip with early morning mist which can be spectacular in places like Guilin and Yunnan.
The weather will be quite dry in places like Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an, so this is a great time to visit those places before it gets hot and humid in the summer.
Overall, the spring season is one of the most popular times to visit China, in part because you can go pretty much anywhere and find good weather, but also because you’ll get to see the beauty of spring throughout the country.
Visiting China in Summer (July to August)
July and August is the peak travel season here in China, mostly because everybody is off from school all over the world. It’s not always the best time to visit, however.
Places like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi’an are all crazy hot, unbelievably humid and often just plain uncomfortable.
That’s not to say that you can’t visit, just be prepared with plenty of water and make sure to book your China hotels in advance since many of the desirable budget hotels and hostels book up quickly during the summer months.
Summer is an excellent time to find your way out to Tibet, where temperatures are a bit more mild with the high altitude.
You could also consider traveling down to Hainan, sometimes referred to as the “Hawaii of China” with some stunningly beautiful China beaches, where you can at least jump into the ocean when it gets too hot.
Keep in mind that even during the peak travel season, there are ways to avoid the crowds in China. Also, it’s worth noting that most hotels and many businesses in China now have air conditioning.
Visit China in Fall (September to October)
Like the April and May months, the fall season (September and October) is another excellent time to visit China.
Places like Xinjiang, which are normally blazing hot in the summer and still a bit too cold in spring, are in perfect season.
The same goes for Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and all of the other major tourist cities. What I suggest, however, is that you try to make your way inland during these months.
China Travel Tip
Frankly, there isn’t really a bad place to visit during these months, which is why September and October are such popular travel months among the Chinese and the knowledgeable expats here in China.
Keep in mind that during the October holiday (usually starting October 1st and lasting for a few days), you might run into heavier crowds of Chinese tourists, but overall it’s not that bad.
The beautiful fall colors often make up for any inconvenience you might come across.
Visiting China in Winter (November to March)
Finally, we’re left with the winter months in China (mid-November to early March).
Most people try to avoid traveling to China during the winter but the fact is that there are some great places to visit during this time. Most of these places are in the south, including Hong Kong, Macau, Hainan, Yunnan and others.
Of course, if you’re really brave, China is gorgeous under a blanket of snow.
Walking through Beijing or around Pingyao while it has a few inches of snow can be very memorable. The problem is you never quite know when it’s going to actually snow, so if you’re unlucky you’ll just be stuck walking around with your teeth chattering (trust me, I’ve done this while taking my family on the Great Wall and it was miserable!).
There are also some places in China that have made a name for themselves during the winter months, particularly Harbin, whose ice festival is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Make sure you watch your calendar during the winter months, though. As I mentioned earlier, it’s important that you at least be aware of when the Chinese New Year lands so that you can be prepared or avoid it all together.
Additional China Travel Resources
Are you traveling to China soon? Check out these additional free resources:
- The Ultimate China Travel Handbook
- Free Downloadable PDF Guides For China travelers
- How To Pack For China (including free packing list!)
- The Best China Travel Guide Books – Rated and Reviewed
- How To Travel China Without Speaking Mandarin Chinese
- How To Get a Chinese Visa | Tourist Guide 2020