China is an epic country. From the high rises of Shanghai to the mystical mountains in Lijiang, China is a country of many different faces with so much to explore.
Whether it’s the Great Wall or the Terracotta Army that you’re visiting for, the best time to visit China is generally during the two shoulder seasons.
The first runs from February to April and sees beautiful spring blossoms and cool temperatures. The autumn season from September to October brings temperate weather and wonderfully colourful foliage.
Seasons in China
As China is such a huge country, the seasons vary considerably depending on where exactly in China you’re visiting. From snow to sweltering heat, China experiences virtually all weather conditions found across the rest of the globe. Read on to find out which time of year is best for the part of China that you plan to visit.
Low season: November to February
China’s winter runs from November to February, making these biting months the country’s low season. During these months, the weather is bitterly cold both in the north and at altitude and is only slightly less cold in the far south. Although places like Beijing, Pingyao and Harbin (who even has its own spectacular winter ice festival) look wonderfully scenic under a blanket of snow, average daily high temperatures across the country are around 8 degrees. The north is unlikely to see anything above zero. Although the weather is near freezing, travellers who visit at this time of year can take advantage of fewer crowds. In general though, it’s not a great time of the year to visit northern China.
There are two shoulder seasons in China, running from February to April and from September to October. The spring shoulder season brings with it warmer weather, but it also sees major festivals such as Chinese New Year disrupt travel itineraries. Travel to China is best avoided during Chinese New Year (which normally takes place in early February), as public transport and popular tourist destinations are jam packed, and many shops, restaurants and attractions close for the public holiday.
The autumn low season from September to October sees a rise in popularity with domestic travellers, as many places in China are at their best during these months. With less rain than during spring or summer, most of China has warm to cool temperatures and is relatively dry. Stunning autumn hues add to China’s allure during this season, and the Great Wall is at its best during this time of year. It’s worth keeping in mind that during the October public holiday, which usually begins around October 1st and lasts for a few days, you might run into larger crowds of domestic tourists.
High season: May to August
With summer the most popular time to visit China, expect summer downpours and crowds at traveller hotspots from May to August. Temperatures are fairly hot during this time of year, with average daily temperatures between 25 and 33 degrees. Summer is the best time of the year to visit mountains and highlands, such as Yunnan, Giulin and Zhangjiajie. If you’re visiting cities like Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, be prepared for extremely hot temperatures and incredibly high levels of humidity. In stark contrast, be prepared to be flexible with your itinerary if you’re visiting southeast China, as it’s typhoon season.
Best time to go for...
The Great Wall
The Great Wall is best avoided in winter (from November to February), as the weather can reach extremes of up to -20°C, making it a precarious journey for walkers. Although there’s no sign of snow in the summer months, the extremes of June, July and August bring with them heat, storms and crowds. Between March and May is a great time to visit, as it’s low season for domestic tourists and temperatures are cool enough for trekking to be enjoyable.
From Beijing to Xi’an, China’s cities are sprawling metropolises of sleek high rises, winding rivers and imperial palaces. China’s capital is at its best during the two shoulder seasons, from March to May and September to October respectively. These spring and autumn seasons bring with them temperate weather and wonderful colourful foliage. Although Beijing is generally great during these seasons, it’s worth avoiding the public holiday in May and National Day in October, during which time millions of domestic tourists descend on Beijing.
The same advice applies to the imperial city of Xi’An, home to China’s famous Terracotta Army. This city has a temperate and continental monsoon climate, with cold winters and humid summers. As a result, the best time to visit this charming city is during the spring and autumn. As Shanghai is further south than Beijing and Xi’an, the autumn season from October to November provides pleasant temperatures without the crowds or sweltering heat of summer. Spring (from March to May) is also a good alternative, although be mindful of public holidays as when visiting Beijing.
Bordering India, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan, this semi-autonomous region of China is a unique and fascinating destination. Characterised by snow-capped peaks, arid plateaus and captivating culture, this eclectic region is best visited in April and May or September and October. By travelling during this high season, you’ll avoid the peak of the summer rains and the harsh winter snow. High season in Tibet runs from April to October, but if you want to avoid the crowds in its capital Lhasa, travel towards the beginning of April. If it’s scenic autumn foliage and vibrant harvest festivals that take your fancy, visit in October.
The Yangtze River
The Great Wall’s aquatic equivalent, the longest river in Asia passes through many of China’s major cities. The winding Yangtze stretches all the way from Tibet to Shanghai, so when to visit depends largely on which part of China you’re exploring. The southern city of Lijiang is the main base for the Yangtze’s upper reaches, including breathtaking gorges and UNESCO recognised Naxi minority towns. As the weather is generally mild all year round, warm in winter and cool in summer in Lijiang, there’s not really a best time to visit. Keep in mind that during the summer months, particularly in July and August, Lijiang can become overrun with domestic tourists. The Yangtze’s middle reaches, between the cities of Chongqing and Yichang, are the most popular place for cruising. Sailing through the three gorges is an incredible experience, and to avoid mist and rain, the best times of year to visit are April, May, October and November each year.