Preparation

Travel Preparation

Best and Worst Time to Travel in China

There are several things to consider when planning a trip, and perhaps some of the most important ones are the season and the weather. Sometimes people decide to travel on certain dates because there’s something happening at their intended destinations, or because they want to make the best out of certain season.

When it comes to China, before deciding the best time to travel in the country, it’s important to know when NOT to visit China. So let’s get that out of the way first.

Worst time to visit China

Spring Festival travel rush
Spring Festival travel rush

It’s simple: Avoid every single public Chinese holiday. This is a little bit tricky since some of them follow the lunar calendar, and vary from year to year. However, they’re still around the same months so we can roughly estimate them.

The first date to avoid is the Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year and Chunjie. This is China’s most important holiday, with millions of Chinese on the move taking billions of trips.

Getting a flight ticket will be more expensive, finding a train ticket nearly impossible, and touristic places will be packed with tourists visiting from all over China. So for those travelers seeking to take their time at China’s landmarks, Chinese New Year is definitely not the time for a trip in the country.

While many big shops and chains remain open in the big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, other places in China do close for at least a couple days or even a week. So there will be many missed opportunities to sit at a small Chinese eatery, and other more traditional venues.

Chinese New Year normally happens around mid to late January or early to mid February. While many Chinese people take Spring Festival as an opportunity for an overseas trip, most of the traveling takes place within the country, and results in the biggest mass migration in the whole world.

Another time when is best not to visit China is the National Day, or Golden Week, which always takes place from the 1st to the 7th of October. While the amount of people on the go is lower than during the Chinese New Year, “lower” is still a high number for China.

Since many Chinese travelers use this date to travel abroad, other countries such as Thailand and Japan experience a surge in Chinese tourists, which means that the prices for such countries go higher too.

If traveling around these dates is unavoidable, it’s best to book everything well in advance; we’re talking at least a month before, and be prepared to pay extra for pretty much everything.

As for other dates such as Qinming, the Lantern Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival, traveling to China and within the country should be fine.

Best time to travel in China

Deciding on the best time to visit China is a harder task to tackle, since China is such a huge country with very diverse climates. The rule of thumb is that spring and autumn are the best times to visit China. Any time from March to May, and September to early November are the best moments to plan a great trip.

One way to help decide when to visit, is to divide China between regions and seasons.

Spring is a good time to travel pretty much all over the country. Some places, mostly in the north, may still be cold during those days, but it’s overall manageable.

The most notable exception is Tibet, which is closed to foreign visitors for two months every spring.

April and June are probably the best dates to visit just about anywhere in China. The mid summer is a great moment to visit Tibet, Hainan, and some places in northern China. There are, however, other places that will get almost unbearably hot, and travelers sensitive to high temperatures should keep this in mind.

Southern China has a subtropical climate, and the summers are wet and humid, while temperatures can rise up to 40°C. Some places that is best not to visit during the summer include Chongqing (Sichuan), Nanjing (Jiangsu) and Wuhan (Hubei). The northern part of China, including Xinjiang, Dongbei and Inner Mongolia, can also get extremely hot during the summers.

As it happens with most of the world, students are out of school, and people have more leisure time. The summers are the busiest season for Chinese to visit their country’s wonders. Foreign visitors can expect higher prices, and should plan their travels in advance.

As for Beijing, winters are harsh and summers are hot, so spring and the early autumn are the best times to see the Chinese capital comfortably. This is also another good time to climb the Great Wall and see the colors of the autumn.

Great Wall in Autumn
Great Wall in Autumn

Autumn is also a good time to visit places that are otherwise terribly hot, such as Xinjiang, where the leaves changing color offer a spectacular view, and Hong Kong, which is usually quite humid during the summer.

It’s advisable to bring some warm clothes when visiting China in the autumn, as evenings and mornings can get chilly. Also, travelers should keep in mind that it’s best to travel to China at least one day after the National Day holiday.

Although the winter remains the least favored choice for traveling, China has a lot to offer for those who can get past the cold. Aside for cheaper fares, and less crowds, the winter can definitely pay off.

The Harbin Ice Festival is the largest of its kind, and it’s worth trying to brave the cold to experience it. The festival runs during the dead of the winter, from December 24th until February 25th. The snow and ice sculptures’ scale is mesmerizing, and they make for an amazing picture when they’re illuminated at night. It’s extremely important to bring warm clothes as temperatures in Harbin can fall to -24 °C at night, and they never rise above zero during the day.

Surprisingly, Tibet is also a good candidate for winter traveling. During the high season, travelers can spend just a limited time visiting the Potala Palace; however, they can stay for as long as they want when they come in the winter.

The Tibetan capital, Lhasa, has warmer winters than Beijing, where the temperatures don’t raise from below zero Celsius. As if that wasn’t enticing enough, traveling to Tibet during the winter can also be a much economical option than heading there during the peak season, and permits to enter the region are also easier to obtain. Many pilgrims arrive to Tibet during those cold days too, which offers for a very authentic experience.

Every season has its pros and cons, so visitors should think of how far they’re willing to step out of their comfort zone to plan their trips accordingly.

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