Lots of people who travel to China want to know when the best time to travel is.

The truth is that this is a difficult question.

China is a huge country. It isn’t like Singapore, which is basically just a city, or like Europe, which you travel to whenever the summer crowds aren’t there.

However, there is a ‘sweet spot’ in China if you’re worried about extreme temperatures.

In this article, I’ll tell you the best time to visit China and some of the amazing places you can see.

I’ll also tell you the times you should avoid if you want to maintain your sanity!

Best time to go to China

If you’re the kind of person who only wants to travel in pleasant, moderate weather, then the best time to visit China is in spring and autumn.

Specifically, the best months are:

  • April and May
  • September and October

However, you’ll need to watch out for public holidays during these months, which I talk about further down.

Travelling in China in spring

tourist traveling in china in spring

The middle of spring is an ideal time to visit China. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Spring is one of the most popular times to travel in China, and for good reason.

At this time of year, the weather is usually warm but mild enough to make sightseeing pleasant rather than uncomfortable.

It can still get a little chilly in the most northern parts of the country, but the south should be warm, if a little wet because of the beginning of the rainy season.

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Traveling to southern China in the rainy season can offer unexpected bonuses as well.

In places like Yunnan province, the slightly humid air creates a morning mist which looks spectacular over the natural landscape.

But if you’re just headed for the most-well known tourist cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an, then you’re all set for a wonderful time in spring.

The weather will be warm but not hot and you’ll be able to avoid all the problems with air pollution that winter often brings.

See also: Spring weather in China

Travelling in China in autumn (fall)

big wild goose pagoda xian

Early autumn is comfortable in China (pictured: Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian). Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Autumn is equally the perfect time to explore China if you’re concerned about extreme weather.

The weather is cooling off but isn’t cold enough to be uncomfortable. Major cities like Beijing and Shanghai as well as rural areas stay within a comfortable temperature range.

If you travel inland or away from the cities, you’ll also get a chance to see the landscape bathed in autumnal colors, which is a sight you’ll never forget.

During the autumn, there’s also less rain, which is why it’s such a popular travel time amongst locals and expats.

You should also find cheaper prices on accommodation and transport during autumn as well as more choices. Yay!

If you’re into nature like me, then you’ll love these places to see at this time of year:

  • The Great Wall of China, which looks spectacular against the autumn leaves
  • Huangshan or the Yellow Mountains, which is a fabulous natural landscape with waterfalls and pine trees that look amazing when the fall foliage sets in
  • Wushan in the northeast of Chongqing, which provides the perfect temperatures for maple and other trees that are stunning in autumn
  • Longji Rice Terraces near Guilin, which will give you a chance to see the autumn harvest season over the mountains
  • Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve in Sichuan province, where you’ll get to see autumn a second time reflected in the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s multicolored lakes.

This is just a sampling of what you could try.

I’ve also heard Ejina in Inner Mongolia is a special, off-the-beaten path place where you can see one of the world’s major Euphrates Poplar forests in vivid autumnal yellow.

Hmm, maybe next trip!

See also: Autumn weather in China

What about summer and winter?

giant winter ice sculpture harbin

Avoid north China in winter unless you’re into ice and snow. Image by Akedesign on Shutterstock.

Summer and winter aren’t necessarily bad times to go to China. Let me explain.

Winter in China is what you would call the low season.

It’s the quietest time when it comes to domestic tourism, so if you prefer fewer crowds (like me) then you’ll appreciate the relative quietness of Chinese tourist attractions.

Most of China’s biggest and best tourist attractions are outdoors, and this scares away the locals who prefer to come out to play when the weather heats up a little.

Winter is also an incredible time to visit northern China if you’re into snow and winter activities.

Harbin, for example, is a city in the far north that’s worth visiting.

It’s famous for its months-long Winter Snow Festival, where there are mind-blowing ice sculptures and even icy theme parks to see.

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If you want the best of both worlds, you could then travel to south China in winter.

Cities like Guilin, Kunming and Hainan don’t experience the same severe dips in temperature (let alone see snow) that other areas suffer through.

Summer in China is typically busy and scorching hot in most places. It’s also the high season.

Kids have school holidays during July and August, and many families travel domestically. Combined with the wicked heat, this can make summer in China particularly unpleasant.

Southern China is insanely humid and tropical, while northern China sees dry heat that can hit 40°C (104°F) during heatwaves.

But if you love the heat like I do, China can be great in summer. Just head there in early June so you can enjoy some sun rays before the school holiday starts at the end of the month.

I’ve written whole guides on winter in China and summer in China if you want to dig deeper.

Times to avoid travelling in China

crowded pedestrian alley in lijiang yunnan china

Lijiang is unbelievably busy during school summer vacation. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Here are the worst time to travel in China:

  • Spring Festival, which is in January or February depending on the lunar calendar
  • Golden Week, which is the first week of October
  • Summer school holidays, which run from early July to late August.

During these major holidays, when the schools are out, everyone in China tends to head back out of the cities to their hometowns.

And when they aren’t doing that, they’re exploring other parts of their country.

Spring Festival in particular is a chaotic time that you should avoid if you can. It’s when more than 400 million Chinese people crowd the trains alone.

And even more of them travel by plane and car, creating the largest ‘human migration’ in the world.

This means you’ll have trouble buying tickets for transport and finding accommodation, and many tourist sites will be packed. Hotel prices will be higher as well, so your trip will be doubly difficult.

Golden Week is increasingly becoming a very busy time as well.

It’s when the local people have time off work to explore their own backyard, and the weather is much nicer in early October than when it’s Spring Festival.

Another national holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival, is also celebrated around this time. So, depending on the lunar calendar the holiday could be merged into Golden Week creating a super-busy period.

You’ve been warned!

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Other public holidays aren’t as crazy, but it’s still worth planning ahead. You can check out this page on The Helpful Panda for all the public holiday dates.

Also, avoid traveling around China during the summer school holidays if huge crowds make you feel queasy.

Dates can vary slightly from city to city (exact dates can be found on this website) but are usually from early July to late August.

Seasonal barriers to travel

Cruise on the Li River in Guilin during summer

Locals use umbrellas, hats and hoodies to protect themselves from the hot sun. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

As I mentioned before, the winter and summer months aren’t necessarily bad times to visit China. But if extreme weather matters to you, then avoid China at these times:

  • July and August
  • December to February

July and August are not only school holidays but the hottest months. In north China, this means a scorching hot dry heat, while in the south it can be unbearably humid.

Southern cities like Hong Kong and Guangzhou are absolutely stifling around July and August and are best avoided unless you like dripping with sweat.

But even cities in the east like Shanghai can get excruciatingly muggy in the summer.

This is also China’s typhoon season, and you don’t want to be stuck in a stifling hot city with a typhoon nearby during your holiday if you can help it.

And, unless you absolutely love the cold, you should avoid northern China in the winter months. In particular, January is the coldest month in China.

In Harbin, January temperatures average around –4°C (10°F), which is why the city isn’t at the top of everyone’s must-visit list!

So, try to avoid the north unless you like staying indoors in every piece of clothing you own.

Psst! A quick travel tip

If you want to use Wi-Fi while you’re in China, you won’t be able to survive without a virtual private network (VPN) on your phone.

The Chinese internet is censored, and without a VPN all of your favorite apps (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Google, etc) are inaccessible.

You can see the best China VPN here or skip my review and tap on the button below.

Just remember to download the VPN before you arrive as VPN sales are blocked in China.

The best time to travel to China really depends on you

spicy deep fried potatoes

You can enjoy deep fried potatoes in the middle of winter. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

If weather matters a lot to you, then the middle of spring and early autumn are the most pleasant times to go to China.

However, the best time to travel to China varies from one area to the next, and one traveler to the next. It depends on what you want to do and see.

So to be frank, take my advice about the best time to travel in China lightly.

For example, even though Chinese New Year is impossibly crowded and expensive, there’s nothing like ringing in the lunar new year in such a jovial, busy atmosphere.

Similarly, northern China in the middle of winter isn’t for the faint-hearted. But if you’re into ice sculptures and snow sports then it could be your calling.

The key is to find the time that suits you best, that considers your wishes and the activities that you want to do.

I hope you liked my article on the best time to visit China. I’ve also written these articles if you want to keep exploring this amazing part of the word:

Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

FAQ about when to visit China

When’s a good time to visit China?

If weather matters to you, and you have control over your vacation dates, then the ideal time would be spring (especially April and May) and autumn (especially September and October).

When’s the best time to visit central China?

Spring and autumn are also a great time to explore central China, which includes attractions like the Yangtze River and central-east cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. The good weather and pleasant temperatures make it the best time of year to enjoy outdoor activities.

When’s the peak season in China?

This is summer, specifically from July to August when it’s school holidays. Tourist attractions are busier than usual, train tickets are snapped up quickly, and there are high temperatures in most corners of China.

When’s the best time to see giant pandas?

Chengdu, the home of the giant panda, doesn’t get any snow. So, any time of the year is OK to go and see the pandas. Just be mindful that Chengdu gets hot and humid in summer, and July and August are also the busiest months at the Panda Research Center because it’s school holidays.

What’s the worst time to visit China?

If you can’t stand bitterly cold winters, then avoid north China (places like Beijing, Tianjin and Harbin) from December to February. Middle and late January are the worst. However, there are fewer tourists then, so attractions aren’t as busy which is a positive. Major public holidays such as Spring Festival and National Day are also best avoided.

What public holidays should I avoid in China?

Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and National Week are the busiest holiday periods in China because they’re the longest, and that’s when people usually travel. Other public holidays like Dragon Boat Festival and Labor Day aren’t as crazy because they only last a day or two.