Travel Advice and Tips for Visiting China in the Winter

China, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, Spectacular illuminated ice sculptures at Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
Getty Images/Gavin Hellier

Depending on where you are in China, winter can set in early or late – or at least feel that way. But we’ll take December, January, and February as our official winter months and look at what to do if you’re traveling during that time. Most notably, Chinese New Year is the biggest event that occurs during the winter. Colloquially called “Spring Festival”, it looks forward to the coming of spring, though it usually occurs in the dead of winter.

There are plenty of activities to take in while visiting China during the winter. If you’re in the north, you may want to limit your outdoor exposure or be sure to put on plenty of cold-weather gear (all of which can be picked up inexpensively in local markets – the Chinese are big believers in long underwear). But if you’re in the south, the weather can be pretty mild, albeit wet, and you’ll be able to enjoy some outdoor activities.

Wherever you’ll be, you’ll find plenty to do and see in China during the winter. See below for ideas.

​Winter Events & Holidays

Christmas in China
Date: December 25

While not a Christian holiday in China, the Chinese take pleasure in dressing up department stores, shops, and hotels with the accouterments of Christmas. If you’ll be in China and need your fix of Christmas cookies and turkey, then you’ll be able to find it, especially in a larger city like Beijing or Shanghai.

Harbin Ice & Snow Festival
Date: annually early January to mid-February

This festival is definitely one to see if you want to enjoy some winter antics one of the coldest places in China during the winter. Huge sculptures made from ice and snow grace the parks and during the accompanying lantern festival, colored lights illuminate castles of ice. Hotels and restaurants are well heated so you’ll be able to escape the cold. Due to its proximity to Russia, the city has a lot of Russian influence so you’ll be able to find dark Russian bread, good borscht, and plenty of vodka to go with your rice and dumplings.

Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday in China. While outwardly you’ll see decorations of Chinese lanterns, kumquat trees at every building entrance and symbols of the coming zodiac animal, this holiday is about folks going home and spending time with their families. Migrant workers will leave cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Shanghai in the millions and trains will be packed for days and days leading up to the new year. But if you’re traveling during that time you won’t have much trouble.

Tourist sights will be open and while staffing might be skeletal, hotels and many restaurants will be open.

Lantern Festival
Date: Always the final day of the New Year festival on the 15th day after the new year.

This colorful event closes out Chinese New Year holidays. The event is usually marked by hundreds of colorful lanterns that are best seen at night – but can also be enjoyed during the day.

Winter Activities

Here are some things to do in China during the winter.

Ski China
Skiing in China is becoming increasingly popular and resorts are being developed to accommodate these nascent ski bunnies.

Eat
When the weather’s cold outside, head inside and eat. Part of experiencing China is eating the food – you’ll experience Chinese food like you didn’t imagine. Steaming Shanghai dumplings, Sichuan spiced hot pot, Hunanese firey rubbed pork ribs, crackling Beijing duck…is your mouth watering yet?

Head South 

If you’re not into winter weather, head to China’s south where temps are milder. In fact, in some Chinese southern reaches, you’ll find lovely weather in the winter – much better than being there in the steaming summer. China’s winters can be wet, however, so bring rain gear.

  • Xiamen is an interesting city with long stretches of beach right off the coast of Taiwan. As one of China’s old foreign outposts formerly known as Amoy, it has an interesting past to explore.
  • Guangzhou in Guangdong Province was also a foreign outpost formerly known as Canton. It played a central role in the West’s opium trade and now serves as a factory base for China’s booming manufacturing industry.
  • Hong Kong in winter is nice because you can explore the area without the summer humidity weighing down on you.
  • Macau is easily combined for a day (or two, depending on your inclination to gamble) with Hong Kong. See the interesting cultural center that has maintained its Portuguese heritage.
  • Hainan is China’s largest island in the South China Sea. It enjoys very mild temperatures and while it might be too chilly to swim in the sea, you can enjoy nice walks on beautiful stretches of beach.