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 in 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 – 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 by MonthClick the links below to read about regional temperatures as well as major events and festivals.
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 accoutrements 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
Date: January 23, 2012
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.
Read all about the holiday in this Chinese New Year Guide.
Date: February 17, 2012 (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. See photos of Shanghai’s Lantern Festival celebrated each year in the Yu Gardens.
Winter ActivitiesHere are some things to do in China during the winter.
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?
- Xiao Long Bao – the quintessential Chinese dumpling from Shanghai
- Delicious Sichuan Dishes
- Hunanese in Shanghai
- Peking Duck in Beijing
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 know 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.
- Macao 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.