During Golden Week in China, nearly all companies, government agencies, and schools shut down for holidays, and people all over the country use the time off to travel for sightseeing or to visit family. Golden Week actually occurs twice a year, first in the winter to coincide with the Lunar New Year and then again in the fall for National Day.
Both Golden Weeks bring about the largest human migration in the world, with upward of 700 million people traveling throughout the country and abroad during these week-long vacations. Apart from residents living in China, many Chinese nationals who live in other countries also fly back for the holidays to spend time with family and friends.
With so many people on the move, the roads, train stations, and airports are chaotic during Golden Week, to put it mildly. If you plan to travel within China during these hectic festivities, be prepared for heavy traffic, long queues, and high-priced tickets.
When Are the Golden Week Holidays?
The first Golden Week in China is the Spring Festival, which takes place sometime in late January to mid-February during Chinese New Year, depending on the Lunar Calendar. The 2020 holiday begins on January 24 and lasts until January 30, with students having an additional two weeks off for a sort of "winter break." Of the two Golden Weeks, more people travel during the Spring Festival, as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel from the cities to spend time with family in their hometowns.
National Day falls on October 1 each year and commemorates the founding of the People's Republic of China on the same date in 1949. Today, it's the beginning of another week-long holiday that lasts from October 1 through October 7. As the standard of living continues to rise across China, more and more families are using the National Day Golden Week to travel abroad. Domestic travel will still be a frenzy, but even international trips to nearby vacation hotspots, such as Southeast Asia, may be more packed than usual.
Travel During Golden Week
Traveling in China during either one of the Golden Weeks is not ideal. Hotels are booked, flights are priced considerably higher, and many local restaurants and shops close down since the owners are also gone for the holiday. Plus, the most popular tourist attractions are exceptionally busy. In the past, high-demand sites such as the Beijing Wall, Disneyland, and certain national parks have been forced to close their entrance gates due to being overwhelmed by tourists.
However, both holidays are also a chance to experience the festive atmosphere across the country and witness cultural events you can only see during these weeks. If you've ever wanted to see a real lion dance, then Chinese New Year is the time to do it. On October 1, a huge military parade fills historic Tiananmen Square and the center of Beijing.
If you do decide to travel domestically in China during either Golden Week, book your transit a day or two before it starts or after it ends. Since the entire country enjoys the same dates off, the travel rush starts and ends very abruptly. If you have flexibility in your travel plans, transit will be much easier even just one day before Golden Week begins or one day after it ends.
You can also spend your Golden Week in China and just stay in one city until the holiday ends. If you're in a major city such as Beijing or Shanghai, you're more likely to find restaurants that haven't shut down for the week. Plus, public transport options like the metro and buses should be running normally.