In China, Golden Week falls twice a year, causing nearly all companies, government agencies, and schools to shut down for the holiday, and people all over the country use the time off to travel for sightseeing or to visit family. These weeks can be a very exciting time to visit China, but it can also mean a major travel headache if you book your travel for busy transit days. With so many people on the move, the roads, train stations, and airports can be chaotic. If you plan to travel within China during these hectic festivities, be prepared for heavy traffic, long queues, and high-priced tickets.
You can think of a Golden Week as a very busy time of year in China, which usually coincides with a major holiday where most people have time off to enjoy the local festivities or travel to visit family. The first Golden Week coincides with the Lunar New Year, which marks the start of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is the largest and biggest celebration not just in China but in many other Asian countries as well. The second Golden Week takes place in October and is specific to China as it falls around National Day, a government holiday commemorates the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
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. In 2021, the holiday will take place from February 11 to 26. Lunar New Year is the more popular week and many more people will travel during this time.
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 or islands in the Indian Ocean, may be more packed than usual.
Travel During Golden Week
Both weeks bring about mass movement, with upward of 700 million people traveling throughout the country and abroad during these week-long vacations. Many Chinese nationals who live in other countries fly back home to spend the holidays with family and friends, so not only will domestic flights be full, but the international terminals in Chinese airports will be quite busy as well.
Traveling in China during either one of the Golden Weeks is not ideal. Hotels are fully booked, flights are priced considerably higher, and many local restaurants and shops close down since the owners are also gone for the holiday. Not to mention, the most popular tourist attractions are exceptionally busy. In the past, high-demand sites such as the Great 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. For example, if you've ever wanted to see a real lion dance, then Lunar New Year is the time to visit China. On the week surrounding National Day, there are many events that run the gamut from concerts and fireworks to the decoration of public places. This also falls close to the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a fantastic opportunity to try mooncakes, a treat sold all over China in the weeks leading up to the festival.
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 just stay in one city until the holiday ends. If you're in a major city such as Beijing or Shanghai, it will be easier to find restaurants that stay open throughout the holiday. Plus, public transport options like the metro and buses should be running on schedule.