Although I lived in China for 2 ½ years and travelled as frequently as possible, I did not even scratch the surface in terms of visiting all the beautiful places that China offers. China is the fourth-largest country in the world and has a variety of seasonal differences, temperatures and climates despite only having a single time zone. China is defined by the traditional four seasons, winter, spring, summer and autumn, and each season allows you to discover a new and exciting place. If you are searching for a concrete answer on the best time to visit China, it depends on where you are looking.
Generally speaking, the north of China is characterised by freezing winters. In Beijing, temperatures in the winter months of December to February can reach -20 °C! In the central part of China, the climate is different once again, with many provinces experiencing less extreme temperatures. Winter can see average countrywide temperatures between 0 to 10 °C and summer months are long and often reach well into the 30°C mark.
The best time to visit places in China such as Shanghai and Zhangjiajie (the famous Avatar movie mountains) is autumn and spring but can be enjoyed in the summer and winter months. Head south to Guangzhou, and the climate turns to typhoon rains between July and September, with temperatures reaching nearly 40°C. Head in the complete opposite direction to the northwest of China, and you will be transported to a dry and sunny desert-like region with highs of 47°C and cold wintery nights of -10°C.
Many consider China’s autumn and spring months, from September to November and mid-March to May, as the ideal time to visit the country. This is because the weather in these two seasons is more neutral, not swelteringly hot and not finger numbingly cold.
With so many incredible places to visit in China and such a diverse climate to consider, it can often feel overwhelming when planning your destinations and itineraries. There are so many must-see cultural sites and picturesque natural landscapes that you are spoilt for choice. China is so vast that squishing all of the top tourist attractions into one trip might result in you staying for several months. So, I hope that this guide of the best time to visit China will help make those seasonal and destination choices a little easier, so you can plan your trip to China in a hassle-free manner.
One thing about China is if you are willing to embrace the summer humidity, don’t mind donning a large puffy jacket in winter and do not mind sharing your experience with many other visitors during the country’s many national holidays then you will find China to be an incredible place to explore no matter the season.
Best Time To Visit China
China in Summer
Summer in China is hot, humid, and depending on where you are, you may experience the occasional tropical rainstorm.
But don’t let the heat and summer haze put you off from travelling during this time.
There are fantastic places to visit where you can escape the heat and explore some breathtaking vistas.
During the hottest months, locals, expats and tourists choose to visit the beaches of Hainan Island or the breezy coastal city of Xiamen.
Discover the cultural and architectural wonders of the cities of Xi’an and Shenzhen or get lost in the cooler Huangshan Mountains (otherwise known as the Yellow Mountains).
China in summer may not be as popular for foreign visitors as the autumn and spring seasons, but it is still worth a visit during this time.
Throughout the summer months, China has on average around 15 daylight hours, so there’s plenty of time to explore your surroundings.
With the strong sun and humidity, always pack copious amounts of sunscreen and hydrate regularly.
It’s amazing just how quickly you can dehydrate in the Chinese summer sun (trust me, I’ve been there).
Average Weather In China In Summer
*The following daylight hours and temperatures are based on China’s capital Beijing.
- Daylight hours: 14 hrs 48 mins
- Min temperature: 18.8°C (85.4°F)
- Max temperature: 30.2°C (65.8°F)
- Daylight hours: 14 hrs 57 mins
- Min temperature: 22°C (71.6°F)
- Max temperature: 30.9°C (87.6°F)
- Daylight hours: 14 hrs 15 mins
- Min temperature: 20.8°C (69.4°F)
- Max temperature: 29.7°C (85.5°F)
Five Things To Do In China In Summer
1- Sanya, Hainan Island
Make sure to find a hotel on the waterfront in Sanya for excellent views of the ocean and enjoy what many Chinese people refer to as the ‘Hawaii of China’.
2- Xi’an (Terracotta Warriors)
Xi’an is the perfect base for you to visit the famous Terracotta Warriors but also to explore the cities many wonders. Be sure to check out the ancient city walls, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the beautiful Bell Tower of Xi’an.
3- Xiamen, (Fujian Tulou)
If you are visiting Xiamen and especially the rural dwellings of Fujian Tulou, then you will be rewarded with incredible, unique architecture and history dating back to the Song and Yuan Dynasties.
Fancy some Chinese bargains? Shenzhen is known for its shopping and big discounts. From designer clothes to electronics, Shenzhen is the place to be. While you’re there make sure to wander aimlessly around the CBD, keep your eyes peeled down every alley, where there’s bound to be something unique to discover.
5- Huangshan Mountain (Yellow Mountain)
You’ll be blown away by the beauty of the smoky mountain peaks of Huangshan, and within seconds of arriving you’ll be able to understand why many call them ‘the loveliest mountains in China’.
- Always be armed with sunscreen, a large hat and make sure you keep continually hydrated. Oh, and you may want to invest in one of those handheld fans!
- Chinese school summer holidays are usually from mid-July to the end of August. Although you can still travel during this time, it will be busier, so opting to travel during June or early July might be preferable.
- A tip here for photographers (or those wearing glasses) – As the summer humidity in China often reaches 80%, you may experience issues with your glasses fogging up or camera equipment being damaged due to the high moisture content. In addition, humidity can cause fungus to grow on your camera’s lens, causing irreparable damage. My top tips for protecting your camera are using it frequently to get it adjusted to the temperature, keeping some silica gel packs handy, and using a lens hood!
- Rainfall in summer can be unpredictable, so it’s always best to keep a small umbrella on you at all times. However, if you want to travel light, you can pick one up from almost every mini-mart style store in China.
China in Autumn
Autumn is by far my favourite time of year in China, the colours, the crispness, the transition from sticky heat to chilly evening winter temperatures makes for the perfect travelling environment.
On the whole, autumn in China runs from September to November, but these dates and temperatures can vary a little due to the country being so vast.
Like other places around the world, China changes colour in the autumn months, making for a spectacularly diverse way of viewing some of its many breathtaking destinations.
One of the main reasons many visitors are drawn to China during Autumn is that the average temperatures are bearable, often between 16°C to 26°C.
Daylight hours for Beijing vary from around 12 ½ hours in September to 10 hours in November.
Autumn in China is the perfect time of year to visit many big cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, as the city heat is pleasant and not overwhelming.
Destinations such as Lijiang and the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet are also spectacular at this time when the air is fresh, and the trees turn vibrantly orange in a plethora of attractive hues.
Average Weather In China In Autumn
• September: Daylight hours: 12h31m, Temp: 15°C (59°F) – 26°C (78.8°F)
• October: Daylight hours: 11h14m, Temp: 19°C (66.2°F) – 8°C (46.4°F)
• November: Daylight hours: 10h02m, Temp: 10°C (50°F) – 0°C (32°F)
Five Things To Do In China In Autumn
In my opinion, there is no better city in China than Shanghai. It has it all, an impressive modern skyline view from ‘The Bund’ (which you will struggle to peel your eyes away from) all the way to the spectacular gold plated Jing’an Temple which is old and tranquil despite being in the centre of an immense megacity.
Located on the beautifully named Pearl River, the port of Guangzhou is a hustling and bustling city. No trip to Guangzhou is complete without a visit to the fluorescent rainbow Canton Tower and a relaxing stroll along the promenade.
Who can resist a trip to see China’s most famous animal, you guessed it, the panda! Although the city has much to offer, most centre their trip to Chengdu around our fluffy black and white friends located at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Want to cuddle a Chengdu panda? Well, you better get saving, at the research base you can cuddle a panda for 60 seconds for a whopping $350!
The old town of Lijiang can act as your base for exploring the surrounding area, with a beautiful pagoda, arched bridge and snowcapped mountain being one of the most attractive viewpoints. But while you’re there make sure to head just outside the city to the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge.
5- The Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet
Perhaps one of the most spectacular architectural gems you will see on your visit to China, the Potala Palace is nothing short of breathtaking. The palace lies in Tibet, an autonomous region of China so you will be in for a unique change in culture as you head towards the west of China.
- 1 to 7 October is the Chinese National Day Holiday, one of China’s busiest times for travel. If you want to avoid tourists, long queues, and busy public transport, I strongly advise avoiding the first week of October altogether. But if you must travel during this season, you will need to book transportation (especially high-speed trains), accommodation and entrance tickets well in advance.
- The autumn temperatures are much more bearable than the summer sun, but you may want to remember to pack some warm clothes as the evenings can get cold, with temperatures in November reaching 0°C in some areas.
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China in Winter
Winter in China is vastly different depending on where you are travelling to.
In areas such as Harbin and Inner Mongolia, the northern part of China are extremely cold, with 25.8mm of snowfall being recorded in Harbin last year.
Don’t take it as a discouragement from travelling during this time, but more as a warning to come prepared.
The beauty that these destinations offer is well worth the minus figure temperatures as long as you wrap up warm.
Inner Mongolia may be cold during this time, but it is effortlessly beautiful, and there are also several festivals in the region that you can add to your itinerary, such as the Winter Naadam Festival and the Ice and Snow Festival.
One of the perks of travelling during winter in China is that there are fewer tourists, so you can enjoy some of these natural landscapes almost entirely to yourselves.
As well as having many of these places practically to yourself, the winter months often come with more significant discounts on transportation and accommodation. Beautiful views and a bargain.
Average Weather In China In Winter
• December: Daylight hours: 9h25m, Temp: 4°C (39.2°F) – -6°C (21.2°F)
• January: Daylight hours: 9h42m, Temp: 2°C (35.6°F) – -8°C (17.6°F)
• February: Daylight hours: 10h46m, Temp: 5°C (41°F) – -6°C (21.2°F)
5 Things To Do In Winter In China
1- Harbin Ice Festival
During the winter months, Harbin transforms into an icy replica city. Ice sculptures depicting Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Statue of Liberty and traditional Chinese pagodas are to scale and spectacular. Bring a warm coat, your camera and get ready for a night of chilly photography.
2- Inner Mongolia
When staying in Inner Mongolia you simply must explore the option of staying in a traditional Mongolian yurt, a perfect and simplistic way of connecting with nature and the local culture.
3- Hailuogou Scenic Area, Sichuan Province
Located in China’s spiciest province, Sichuan, the Hailuogou Scenic Area is imposing and glacial in nature. Enjoy the chilly winter scenery by day and be sure to try Sichuan Hot Pot for dinner, it will surely warm you up and keep you fueled for the night.
4- Lake Yamdrok, Tibet
Another Tibetan wonder is Lake Yamdrok, it is known as being one of the three largest sacred lakes in the region and provides effortlessly secluded beauty and fresh blue skies.
5- Northern Xinjiang
Head to Xinjiang to experience meandering lakes, rolling hills and most importantly the unique culture of the Uyghur people, one of China’s ethnic minority groups.
- The Harbin Ice Festival usually runs between 24 December and late February; it showcases incredible ice sculptures.
- The China Lunar New Year holiday season is the busiest holiday period in China and the largest human migration globally. People travel to China to visit relatives and travel extensively in the country, particularly to key tourist locations. Each year the holiday changes according to the lunar calendar, but 2022 will see the national holiday take place between 31 January and 6 February. Travel during this time will be more expensive and tickets for high-speed trains sell out months before departure. Having travelled in China during this time, I would suggest avoiding this week altogether. If you must travel during this time, be very open-minded and accept that queues will be mind-numbingly long, and tourist hot spots will be packed. Personally, I never like to travel to natural landscapes with a hoard of people shuffling around me.
China in Spring
Spring comes out as a close second in terms of my favourite seasons in China.
Spring begins in mid-March through to mid-May.
Pastel pink blossoms fill the trees, temperatures are moderate, but you can expect to experience some rain showers if you’re visiting southern or central China.
Explore the mystical mountains of Zhangjiajie or walk along The Great Wall of China, where the spring colours enhance the walls stony features.
As temperatures are lower than in the summer months, spring is an ideal time to visit the capital, Beijing.
In summer, Beijing can feel unbearably hot, especially when walking around to all the best tourist attractions.
But in spring, taking a stroll around Beijing’s Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven feels pleasant and relaxing.
Average Weather In China In Spring
• March: Daylight hours: 11h58m, Temp: 1°C (33.8°F) – 12°C (53.6°F)
• April: Daylight hours: 13h18m, Temp: 8°C (46.4°F) – 21°C (69.8°F)
• May: Daylight hours: 14h26m, Temp: 14°C (57.2°F) – 27°C (80.6°F)
5 Things To Do In Spring In China
Wow, just wow! Ever watched the movie Avatar? Well, those floating mountains were inspired by the real thing in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province. The misty clouds linger creating a spooky floating effect. If the impressive mountain views don’t satisfy your adventuring side, then you can also take the cable car ride or the Bailong Elevator, which claims to be the highest outdoor elevator in the world!
If you’re visiting China, you simply cannot miss the capital Beijing. The historic Forbidden City is the epitome of Chinese culture, the Temple of Heaven depicts Chinese architecture to a tee. In fact, in Beijing, the list of things to do can go on for weeks!
Guilin is affectionately named (for all the botanists out there) the “forest of sweet Osmanthus”. You simply must take a river cruise down the Li River to see the undulating mountains, traditional farming culture and river wildlife.
4- The Great Wall of China
Contrary to popular belief the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space, but rest assured you’ll get spectacular views from the cobbled stones themselves. At 21,196km long there are a myriad of sections of the wall to explore. I can personally recommend the Mutianyu and Jinshanling sections of the wall as they provide great views and are the closest to Beijing!
5- Fenghuang Ancient Town
Fenghuang Ancient Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, now I urge you not to feel “tentative” about visiting this water town as it’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you are also travelling to neighbouring Zhangjiajie.
- The Chinese Labor Day holiday is usually from the end of April to the beginning of May and is also considered to be another of China’s ‘golden weeks’ in terms of tourism. The labour day holiday for 2022 is from 30 April to 4 May. Although not as popular a travel time as the October holiday or the Lunar New Year holiday, bookings should still be made in advance and expect prices to be slightly elevated.
- A face mask is now undoubtedly part of any persons packing list in this COVID era, however for travel during spring in northern China, a face mask can be handy to protect you against the winds and dust swept across many cities from the Gobi Desert.
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