Traveling in China During Chinese New Year

What to Expect in China During the Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year Celebrations Begin
Guang Niu / Getty Images

The biggest question people have when traveling in China during Chinese New Year is whether or not they're going to be able to do anything. How much with plans be disrupted? Visitors often worry everything will be closed or too busy to enjoy sightseeing, shopping, and dining out.

Yes, traveling anywhere in Asia, particularly China, is busier than usual during Chinese New Year. That said, you can still enjoy your trip. Closures won't be a big challenge; however, you're going to need more patience than usual for sightseeing.

With all that in mind, visiting China during the Lunar New Year, the most festive season in Asia, is a memorable experience!

What to Expect During Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the reason every year for chunyun, a record-setting travel period considered to be the largest human migration on the planet. Migrant workers head back to their home villages to celebrate with family. Others take advantage of the holiday by heading out to top destinations throughout Asia. Thailand and Vietnam, warmer places during January, are popular choices.

Expect larger crowds than usual at the most famous attractions, especially the Great Wall and Forbidden City. Book your travel during Chinese New Year months early—prices go up during the holiday season, and tickets get sold out quickly.

As far as closures go, Chinese New Year generally won't be an inconvenience for touring and sightseeing. Almost all businesses related to tourism and the service industry, except for banks, will not be closed for longer than a day or two.

From a tourist's perspective, most business will be open during Chinese New Year. Restaurants, tourist attractions, hotels, airports, other places will all be open and ready to capitalize on Chinese New Year. Due to increased demand, prices may be higher for tours and accommodation.

Some restaurants might have limited hours over the holiday period, but for the most part, travelers are not going to have any trouble with service-industry places being closed over the Lunar New Year.

The first two or three days of Chinese New Year are affected the most by closures.

Businesses Closed for the Holiday

The Chinese New Year holiday is actually 15 days long, but not every place closes for the duration. Predictably, the first two or three days of the holiday are the most celebrated and see the biggest impact.

Business offices and schools are closed for the holidays so that people can return home. These closures will be mostly invisible to tourists.

Closed for 2 – 3 Weeks

  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Factories
  • Some small, family-run restaurants and shops whose owners close up and return to their hometowns

Closed for ~ 7 Days

  • Business offices

Closed for 2 – 3 Days

  • Post offices
  • Banks
  • Some smaller shops and restaurants may close for a couple of days to give workers a few days off

For visitors, closures during Chinese New Year likely won't affect your trip to China. One exception could be if you need to exchange money or cash traveler's checks at banks. Using the ATMs to get local currency is a better plan.

If you're in China for a longer period and you were planning to have clothing custom-made (or furniture, bed linens, etc), don't be surprised to find that the factory will be shut down over the holiday period. Unless you pay to have it ready before the new year, you'll have to wait several additional weeks after the holiday for your items. The Suppliers will need time to get through the backlog of orders.

Traveling in China

You'll still be able to travel in China during Chinese New Year, it's an exciting experience! But be prepared to pay higher fares and deal with bigger crowds. Outside of the service industry, most workers have at least one week's time off of work. Some families travel domestically to see the sights. Parks, museums, and places such as Tiananmen Square will be crowded.

Bus terminals and train stations will be overflowing with migrant workers heading home to eat dumplings and observe Chinese New Year celebrations with families they haven't seen all year.​

Transportation is the busiest the week just before the holiday begins. The last days of the 15-day celebration are also very busy as people return back to the cities in which they work. Transportation actually isn't too busy the first day or two of Chinese New Year (most people are already where they want to be); however, parades and public celebrations will cause many street closures. Allow extra time if you're trying to get to the airport for a flight.

Travel Booking Advice

Although tourist destinations are open for business, you'll find fares for all modes of transportation much more expensive during Chinese New Year. Unsurprisingly, hotels cash in and raise the rates for rooms. The best places to stay will be booked.

The dates for Chinese New Year are easily predictable, so local travelers often make arrangements as much as a year in advance. Make your bookings early (2 – 4 months ahead is not a bad idea) to guarantee your choice of what's left for accommodation wherever you're headed. Of course, last-minute arrangements can be made, just be prepared to pay a premium.

Eating in Restaurants

The general rule for eating at nice restaurants during Chinese New Year is to book ahead. You'll need to call; if communication isn't easy, have someone from your hotel reception lend a hand. Many restaurants and hotels will have New Year's Eve specials and packaged deals, just like they did for the Christmas holidays. You should book reservations in advance if you're planning to dine somewhere special.

Fireworks on Chinese New Year's Eve

You'll be able to see the fireworks in big cities from everywhere! The pyrotechnics are unbelievablly impressive on Lunar New Year's Eve. Get yourself situated on a top-floor bar or lounge at a five-star hotel (you don't have to stay there to enjoy a drink). Make sure you have a window seat!

After you've enjoyed the view for a few minutes, take a walk and experience Chinese New Year at street level. Get an up close spot for the lion and dragon dances performed during special occasions.

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