When to go to China

When to go to China
By Megan Eaves

Month-by-month

China’s summers are hot, humid and sweaty and see lots of people on the move. The best places to visit at this time of year are in the far northeast, as well as the coastal areas, such as port city Qingdao and tropical island Hainan, which is an up-and-coming surfing and beach destination in the South China Sea. Be aware that late May through August is typhoon season.

September to November are some of the best months to visit China, as the weather cools down and humidity drops off. This is a great time to visit the big-hitter sights, such as the Forbidden City and Shanghai’s Bund with fewer crowds and fresher temperatures.

December to February can be extremely cold, especially in the north, but this is also a great time of year to visit the Great Wall. You’ll experience far fewer crowds and might just see the wall covered in a dusting of snow. Be sure to layer up! Likewise, the south of China experiences milder temperatures during the winter, making it a good time to go for a bamboo raft ride down the Li River in Guilin, for example.

The spring is another ideal time to visit almost anywhere in China, with April being particularly excellent in terms of climate and crowds. This is a good month to cross the far northwest deserts of Gansu and Qinghai before the extreme summer heat sets in, or take a walk in the bamboo-clad mountains closer to the east coast before typhoon season ramps up.

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Festival and events

China’s peak travel seasons revolve around its public holidays, when it seems like all 1.4 billion of its citizens are on the move. China follows the lunar calendar, meaning its holidays and festivals change slightly from year to year.

China’s main annual holiday, Spring Festival/Chinese New Year, occurs in January or February. While the country shuts down and goes on the move over Chinese New Year week, you can plan your trip at the end of the period to experience the Lantern Festival, when giant lanterns are displayed and illuminated, many in the shapes of animals.

Athletes should aim to visit China in May, when the Great Wall Marathon sees hundreds of racers don their running shoes and race their way over, around and along sections of the wall near Beijing.

During the Dragon Boat Festival in June, dragon boat races and accompanying festivities are held in cities and villages all over the country.

Beer drinkers can revel in vast amounts of the foamy good stuff at ‘Asia’s Oktoberfest’: the Qingdao Beer Festival. It is held in late July/early August at the Tsingtao Brewery, which was founded by German colonists in 1903.

Late September or early October marks the Mid-Autumn Festival, a traditional holiday held on one of the brightest full moons of the year. This is usually celebrated with moon-viewing parties in parks or public spaces, lighting lanterns, lion dances and stargazing.

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When to go to China

By Megan Eaves

Megan Eaves first visited China in 2004 with her Mandarin-language class and got hooked on Nanjing’s spicy weather and food. She’s lived in China twice and visited countless more times, travelling the length of the country from Guangdong to Qinghai and Guizhou to Beijing. She has written on China for Lonely Planet, CNN, The Independent and Atlas by Etihad, and is the author of This Is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics. If lost, she is likely to be found scarfing down beef noodles in remotest Gansu province, or guzzling craft beer in a Beijing hutong.

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