Autumn is one of the best seasons to travel anywhere in China.
The trees change color, the weather is mild and pleasant, and there aren’t the extremes that usually come with summer and winter.
When you travel around in autumn, you’ll experience more comfortable weather, little rain, and some wind.
It will be cooler when you hike the Great Wall and you’ll be more likely to want to get out of the cities and explore the natural landscape.
At least, this is how it is for me. I love to travel to China in autumn and have been known to deliberately book trips for this time of year.
So, let’s take a look at why I think autumn is the best time to travel in China and what you should do there.
What’s autumn in China like?
In China, autumn (or fall – depending on what you call it) extends from September to November.
But because China is so huge and includes so many different climates, there is a marked weather and temperature difference across the country.
The temperatures in China in autumn range from 59 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 27 degrees Celsius).
The days are starting to cool down in most parts of China, but you’ll find some areas still have quite warm weather, especially at the end of summer and beginning of autumn.
The nights are usually cool enough to sleep, but not so cold that you’ll need thick clothing. That is, unless you’re in northeastern cities like Harbin where autumn is usually very short and feels like winter.
Some parts of the country such as Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hangzhou in the east or Hong Kong, Xiamen, and Macau on the southern coast see a bit of rain at this time of year.
However, the rain tends to dry up as the country moves through autumn and most of China is quite dry at this time of year.
Autumn temperatures in China
Temperatures in China vary widely from one end of the country to the other at this time of year, but here are some averages you can expect.
|Beijing (north)||60-78 F / 16-26 C||47-66 F / 8-19 C||32-50 F / 0-10 C|
|Shanghai (east)||70-81 F / 21-27 C||61-72 F / 16-22 C||50-62 F / 10-17 C|
|Guangzhou (south)||76-88 F / 24-31 C||70-84 F / 21-29 C||62-76 F / 17-24 C|
|Chongqing (west)||71-82 F / 22-28 C||63-72 F / 17-22 C||55-63 F / 13-17 C|
As you can see, fall is the season to come to China if you plan on spending time outdoors.
And let me tell you – China has some of the best places in Asia to visit, most of which are outdoors!
Pitfalls of autumn travel in China
Autumn is probably the best time to travel in China, so there are only a couple of warnings I want to give.
The first is Golden Week and Mid-Autumn Festival and the travel and family gatherings these holidays involve.
Mid-Autumn Festival is in September. The exact date is according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.
Then there’s Golden Week, a 7-day work and school holiday around early October when Chinese people like to travel around the country.
There are lots of activities during Golden Week as well as lots of people on the move, so unless you like to see crowds rather than historical or natural sites, do your best to avoid traveling during this time.
(You can check out all the public holidays in China here.)
The second warning I want to give is the weather. If you’re traveling later in autumn or in the northern areas, it can and will get quite cold.
You’ll need warmer jackets, shoes, and trousers for your trips and maybe even thermals if you’re sensitive to the cold.
So, before your trip, make sure you do some research about where you’re going and pack accordingly, because there’s nothing worse than shivering your way through your holiday.
What to pack for autumn travel in China
Your packing list for autumn travel in China will vary depending on where you’re going, what part of autumn you’re traveling in, and your own cold weather tolerance.
For example, if you’re going to northern China, you may need to pack some serious cold weather gear.
I’m Australian and more than that, I grew up in Far North Queensland, where winter hardly ever goes below 20 degrees Celsius. So, as soon as it dips below 20 when I travel, I have jeans and sweaters on.
And when it dips below 10, I go all out with boots, gloves, beanies, three or four layers of clothes, and still complain about the weather constantly.
So, before you pack, spend some time thinking about your own cold tolerance. And check the weather forecasts for the areas you’re planning to visit. But generally speaking, here are some packing must-haves that I recommend:
- An umbrella
- A raincoat or other wet weather gear
- Walking shoes
- Long sleeved shirts and long pants for daytime
- A couple of sweaters for evening and night
- A jacket or overcoat, especially if you’re traveling later in the season
- Sunscreen because it can still get quite hot in early autumn.
Traveling at the beginning of autumn? You may experience a period of hot days, so bring along some lighter clothes and shorts for sightseeing and exploring the Great Wall of China (because everyone has to climb the Great Wall!).
Where to travel in China in autumn
It’s not an exaggeration to say that autumn is the perfect time to travel anywhere in China.
The weather is perfect, not too hot and not too cold, and there really isn’t anywhere that you shouldn’t visit in China in autumn.
This means you should take this opportunity to visit some of the more obvious destinations in China in autumn. I myself loved Shanghai in early November, as it’s so nice to wander miles through the neighborhoods without sweating!
So, some obvious places to visit in autumn are:
- Shanghai for the Bund, Yu Garden, and Disneyland
- Beijing for the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall
- Xian for the Terracotta Warriors and Muslim Quarter
- Hong Kong for shopping and eating
- Suzhou for gardens and gondola rides.
There are also a few cities I recommend not because the cities themselves are unique, but because of their proximity to amazing sites that are at their best in autumn.
Here’s my quick list of cities that fall under this category:
- Chengdu for the Panda Base
- Luoyang for easy access to the UNESCO recognized Longmen Grottoes
- Lijiang for beautiful lakes and mountains as well as adventure activities
- Guilin for a Li River cruise and the golden rice terraces.
Now that we have the cities out of the way, let’s take a look at some natural landscapes that you must check out during your next trip to China in autumn.
Wulingyuan Scenic Area, located just outside of the city of Zhangjiajie, is a protected nature zone.
The spectacular area inspired the flying mountain scene in the movie, Avatar.
Zhangjiajie is home to jagged sandstone columns, inspiring waterfalls, secret forests filled with red leaves in autumn, land bridges, and caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
And what’s better than seeing all of this natural beauty? Seeing it when the leaves are gradually changing color!
Located in southwest China, Jiuzhaigou Valley is filled with natural wonders that are at their best in autumn.
From ancient forests to waterfalls, lakes, and Tibetan villages, this region has lots for you to explore. And I truly believe that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
But the highlight of your trip there will probably be Five Flower Lake. Surrounded by mountains, the lake is crystal clear, and its color varies from yellow to green, turquoise, and even dark jade.
And seeing the colors of the autumn leaves alongside that changing beauty and with the crystal blue sky overhead is a sight you’ll never forget.
The Yellow Mountains
The Yellow Mountains are in Anhui province and have been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1990.
They’re widely considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the country, so you can’t miss out on seeing them with red leaves against the white clouds.
The Yellow Mountains have been important since ancient times and were once thought to be where the Yellow Emperor, the Han Chinese progenitor, ascended to heaven.
Yunnan province is a must-see destination in autumn.
To be completely honest, Yunnan has amazing weather in all seasons, and is actually known as the Spring City because it always feels like spring there.
As well as the great weather, Yunnan has the ideal combination of natural landscapes, ancient towns, ethnic minorities, and unique cultures.
Whether you want to see snow-capped mountains, old towns, lakes, terrace fields, or just endless meadows and forests dressed in autumn colors, you’ll find it in in this province.
Here are some of the highlights of traveling in Yunnan province in autumn:
- Exploring the vibrantly colorful meadows and forests of Shangri-La
- Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Watching the sunrise at Meili Mountain
- Exploring Lijiang Old Town
- Enjoying the tranquil pagodas in Dali
- Marveling at the colorful terraces known as Dongchuan Red Land.
To be honest, unless you’re a fan of freezing cold or boiling heat, no one wants to explore the desert in summer or winter. But autumn is the perfect time to see this alien landscape in Gansu province.
Gansu was once at the heart of the Silk Road, which connected the East and West for trade. And it still carries much of this history today at places like Mogao Cave, where you’ll find the largest collection of Buddhist art in the world or the Labrang Monastery in the south.
Also worth seeing is the Danxia Geopark in Zhangye and Jiayu Pass, with its treacherous terrain and unique position at the most western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.
And of course, there’s the desert, with its otherworldly, alien charm and the quietly whispering threat of sand moving in the wind.
It’s the best time to travel
It’s not an exaggeration to say that you’ll enjoy traveling everywhere you go in autumn in China.
The weather will be perfect for you to wander around the city, see the most famous sights and even hike China’s beautiful mountains. In case you get cold, you can always head to southern China!
If you have limited time on your autumn China trip, then I recommend that you check out Jiuzhaigou Valley.
Seeing the trees all dressed up in their autumn colors and reflecting in the lake is absolutely breathtaking and this is the best time for outdoor activities as the weather will probably be perfect.
I hope you liked my article about the autumn weather in China. You might also like the one I wrote highlighting all the best tips for traveling in Beijing.
Discover every Chinese season
I’ve written about all the different seasons in China:
Main image credit: Bill Perry on Shutterstock. Average temperature figures courtesy of Weather Spark.
FAQ about fall in China
When is autumn in China?
It’s the same as the US and Europe – September, October and November.
What’s autumn in Chinese language?
It’s qiū tiān or 秋天 in Chinese characters.
What season is it in China in October?
It’s autumn (fall). But in the southern part of China, there’s a tropical climate and you don’t get the four seasons per se.
Is October a good time to visit China?
It really is. In most areas in China, the weather is mild and there are no extremes. In the north of the country though, it will be starting to get a little chilly (especially at night) by late October. Try to avoid traveling to China in the first week of October because it’s Golden Week (Chinese holidays) and all the best places will be extremely crowded. Some amazing places to visit in October include Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Pudacuo National Park in Yunnan.
Is late September a good time to visit China?
It’s a great time to visit China because the weather is pleasant in most areas. If you can, try to avoid being in China during Golden Week (a public holiday) as that’s when the Chinese domestic tourists will be out in force. So, if you were visiting for two or three weeks, try to arrive in China by early September.
What’s Zhejiang province like in autumn?
It’s beautiful as the hot summer will have already passed, making it easier to enjoy the outdoors and natural scenery in this lovely and wealthy province.
What’s the weather like in Sichuan province?
Sichuan is well known for its hot summer (similar to many other areas in China). In the fall, it’s much more pleasant and many tourists take a cruise down the Yangtze River. Early September until late October is an ideal time to visit Sichuan. Winter in Sichuan is cold but not unbearable.
What’s fall like in the Chinese capital Beijing?
It’s a great time to visit Beijing because the weather is nice and mild, and the scenic areas are stunning. You could plan a trip to the Great Wall of China (the Simatai Great Wall section is good for hiking) and not have to worry about extreme heat or cold affecting your travels. It’s also nice at tourist attractions like the Summer Palace and Fragrant Hills when the green leaves are starting to turn orange and red.