Your definitive map and guide on the best time to visit China and its key highlights.
Overview: Best time to visit China
The best time to visit China is generally in spring (March to May) and autumn (September to October) when the weather is pleasant in many parts of the country. However China is vast. Stretching over 3,000 miles (5,000km), it includes the world’s highest plateau, as well as deserts, jungles, alpine rainforests, sunken basins, and over a thousand miles of coastline, so the best time to visit will depend on the where you plan to go.
China sees far fewer tourists during the colder months of November to March, and it’s cheaper. Many of China’s highlights are spectacular in the winter months. Consider the majesty of the Great Wall of China as it snakes through the distant, snowy peaks, silhouetted against a crisp blue sky - with not a soul in sight.
Here is your guide on what to expect, where and when.
China celebrates several public holidays, and planes and trains are crowded as locals hit the tourist trails. In China there are two “Golden Weeks” which are Chinese New Year Week (January or February) and Chinese National Day Week (early October). During these two weeks immense crowds flock to tourist destinations. Not only do prices shoot through the roof, but availability is scarce and attractions are bursting at the seams. We recommend avoiding travel to China during these two weeks.
University holidays in China also see large numbers of local travellers and it is essential to book well in advance if you plan to travel during this time.
Beijing, China’s capital, can be visited year-round. Hot and humid summers (June to August) see temperatures rise to around 30°C (86°F) and average minimums sit around 21°C (70°F). These are also the wettest months with about 15 days of rain each month and up to 185mm (7 inches) of rain in July. Winters (December to February) are cold and dry with temperatures below freezing overnight and only a few degrees warmer during the day, however Beijing’s many world-renowned siteslook particularly dramatic in the snow, especially the magnificent Forbidden City. The Great Wall of China is also striking in the snow and there is a dramatic drop in tourist numbers.
Spring, from March to May, is one of the best times to visit with dry days and pleasant temperatures. Higher winds can bring sandstorms, but also improve air quality. The best time to visit is autumn (September and October), with average minimum temperatures around 15°C (60°F) and maximums around 26°C (79°F) though it does cool down in October. The rain has mostly gone and the autumn colours are spectacular.
Shanghai is a damp city, with humidity ranging from 72% to 82%. While summer (May to August) is very hot and humid,Shanghaitakes on a sultry atmosphere that many find attractive. Neon lights shimmer in the monsoon’s steamy heat and sudden downpours clear the air. In contrast, winter (December to February) is cold and dry, with temperatures dipping below 0°C (32°F). Autumn (October and November) is a popular time to go to Shanghai, however temperatures fluctuate frequently. Spring (March to May) is considered the best time to visit, when the temperatures are warm and there is less rain than the steamy summer months. Average maximum temperatures rise from 13°C (55°F) in March up to 24°C (75°F) in May.
Summer (July to August) is hot and humid with frequent storms, and autumn (September and October) is overcast and rainy. Winter (November to February) is dry and cold enough to snow occasionally, though the lantern festival is a highlight. April and May are the best months to visit, with maximum temperatures of 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F) and minimums generally over 10°C (50°F). Rainfall is also lighter with an average of only 40 – 60mm (1-2 inches).
Chengdu has a relatively mild climate for China, with average minimums never dipping below 3°C (38°F) nor maximums above 30°C (86°F). Summer is hot and wet with heavy rains in July and August, averaging over 200mm (8 inches) each month, and high humidity. The nearby mountains offer relief from the summer heat at this time of year. Winter can feel colder than the thermometer says due to moisture in the air, so the best time to visit is spring (March through May) and autumn (September to November), when temperatures are mild and rainfall is lower, though September can still be a bit wet. Go in spring when you’ll see the flowers blooming or in autumn when the leaves are falling. The aquamarine pools at nearby Jiuzhaigou National Park are stunning against the red and yellow leaves.
Kunming is a year-round destination with green foliage blooming continuously. Nights get cold in winter (December to February) when lows drop to around 2°C (36°F). Summer can get a bit wet, with around 200mm (8 inches) of rain from June to August but temperatures are mild, reaching an average maximum around 24°C (75°F) from May to September and nights dropping to only 15°C (59°F).
While warm for most of the year, southern sisters Guilin and Yangshuo enjoy the best climate in September and October. Even in winter, temperatures rarely drop below freezing, and a visit in November or December is rewarded with many warm sunny days and less tourists. Summer sees heavy rainfall from April to August, with average maximum temperatures reaching 33°C (91°F) in July and August.
Perched on a plateau over 3,200m (10,000 feet) above sea level, Zhongdian has a relatively cold climate. The best time to go is during the warmer months from May to September when the average high temperature is around 18°C (65°F) and average lows range from 3 to 10°C (38 to 50°F), however July and August receive the most rain with over 150mm (6 inches) each month. In winter, minimum temperatures drop down to minus 11°C (12°F) with average maximums below freezing from December to February, and roads can be closed due to poor conditions.
Sitting high in the mountains, most of Tibet is cold and dry. May to October is the best time to visit as the weather is warmer. In April, October and November the temperatures drop a little and there are less tourists, while the freezing winter from December to February sees almost no travellers and some restaurants close. Entry permits are normally not granted for about 5-6 weeks in February and March, so plan your visit accordingly.
Hong Kong has a sub-tropical climate and is warm and humid most of the year. The rainy season from May to September sees very heavy rains with 300 - 450mm (12 -18 inches) of rain each month. Temperatures also peak during this time at around 31°C (88°F). October to March sees much less rain and pleasant temperatures with the average low not dipping below 15°C (58°F) and the average high ranging from around 19°C (66°F) from December to February up to 28°C (82°C) in October. The humidity also varies from around 71% in the cooler months up to around 83% at the start of the wet season.
October and May are the best months to travel the Silk Road in China. Severe winters (December and January) see temperatures drop well below freezing in many places along the route. Temperatures start to rise in April and are pleasant by May, but by July the low-lying desert areas can reach scorching maximums, up to 38°C (100°F) in Xian. Even in the more temperate months conditions will vary so bring some spare clothes for both warm and cool weather.
See our full collection of tours to China.