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A fascinating country at any time of year, China and its world-famous sights like the Great Wall near Beijing or Xian’s Terracotta Army, features prominently on many people’s travel wish lists. The most popular times to visit the country are spring and autumn but planning a trip during the winter months opens up several intriguing possibilities without the crowds. If that sounds like something you might be interested in, here are our top 7 destinations for winter in China.
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The country’s vast territory means a wide range of climates and temperatures, but wintertime in China broadly corresponds with winter in Europe and North America. During that period, the far north is extremely cold, with temperatures dropping to -30° C and below. Beijing, however, is not quite as cold with daytime temperatures mostly hovering between freezing and -10° C between December and February.
Traditionally, heating is not installed in houses south of the Yangtze River. This certainly doesn’t mean it never gets cold down there, but November in Shanghai can often be t-shirt weather, and you will still see warm days during December and January. However, it has been know to snow, too.
As for other regions, the far south is mostly sub-tropical, Yunnan province is known for year-round mild weather and Hainan is a tropical island that boasts balmy weather throughout the year.
In short, there is huge variation from one end of the country to the other, but this means that whatever kind of vacation you want — whether it’s a skiing trip, a beach holiday or just about anything in between — it’s probably possible somewhere during winter in China.
Ready for the reveal? Here are seven of the best destinations to explore in China during winter.
Beijing’s winter may be long, cold and windy, but this is still a great time to visit the city. The best time is around the Spring Festival —which usually falls in January— when you can visit temple fairs and enjoy the Chinese New Year Celebrations. It doesn’t snow often but take warm clothes since temperatures can still be quite cool.
- Experience temple fairs around the time of the Chinese New Year
- Go skiing at Nan Shan to the north of the city
- Visit the Great Wall, magical if you are lucky enough to see it covered in snow
- Enjoy ice skating on frozen lakes in one of the city’s many parks
- Eat Mongolian-style hotpot — the best way to warm up in winter
Located in China’s northern Heilongjiang province, Harbin often sees quite chilly winter temperatures. Despite this, winter is the perfect time to visit since this is when the city hosts the International Snow and Ice Festival, which includes an ice sculpting competition as well as entertainment on the frozen river.
- See the bizarre and gaudy ice sculptures at the International Snow and Ice Festival
- Head onto the frozen river for ice bowling, ice cycling and other entertainment
- Visit St Sophia Cathedral, an essential stop at any time of the year
- Warm up in one of the city’s cozy Russian cafés or restaurants
- Sample Dongbei cooking, food perfectly suited to the harsh north-eastern climate
China’s Yunnan province is known for its year-round mild weather, so you can visit the rice terraces in Yuanyang at any time. However, the months from December to February are when the terraces are flooded and at their most spectacular, making winter the best time to go.
- See the rice terraces — this is why you go to Yuanyang!
- Go trekking in the local area against the backdrop of some stunning scenery
- Learn about the culture of the Hani, the local ethnic group that built the terraces
- Taste Hani food — quite different from regular ‘Chinese’ cuisine
For a winter sports holiday in China, Xiling, near the Sichuanese capital of Chengdu, is one of the country’s top picks. A white wonderland, it is sometimes possible to ski from mid-December until mid-March, but the best time to go is January and February.
- Skiing or snowboarding on the 10km of pistes — take your pick!
- Admire the view from Red Stone Peak, the highest point accessible to visitors
- Try other snow-based activities like snowmobiling and snow cubing
- Eat Sichuanese food — super-spicy and perfect after a day on the slopes
The inspiration for countless poems and ink paintings, the Yellow Mountain is arguably China’s most picturesque at any time of year — but to see it under a blanket of snow is something special indeed. In winter, it is cold and icy; an alternative to walking up is to ride the cable car for the breathtaking views from the top.
- Walk up the mountain — in winter, a challenge for the fit and the brave
- Ride the cable car to the top — an easier way to see the stunning views
- Take plenty of photos as this is perhaps the most beautiful mountain in China
- Stay in Tunxi, an interesting town and convenient base for visiting Huang Shan
Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan province is one of the most impossibly pretty locations in all of China, although it’s usually extremely busy. Winter transforms it into a scarcely believable fairyland of frost and ice, and with far fewer tourists, this could be an ideal time to visit.
- Walk around the nature reserve and enjoy the scenery
- Take lots of photos — you won’t need photoshop for these holiday snaps
- Visit Shuzheng village, one of the nine Tibetan villages that give the place its name
- Eat Sichuan hotpot, laced with chilli and guaranteed to warm you up on a cold day
Sanya, ‘China’s Hawaii’, is the main resort town on Hainan, the large tropical island in the Gulf of Tonkin across from Vietnam. Temperatures are warm year-round, and you will be in shorts and a t-shirt even in the depths of winter, making it the ideal destination if you’re craving a little winter sun.
- Relax on the beach because you’re on a tropical island and you can!
- Do not leave Sanya with sampling its excellent seafood
- Catch some waves in one of China’s top spots for surfing
- Play golf on one of several courses nearby, a perfect activity during winter in China
If you want to see the most famous sights and visit the best-known attractions, travelling during the traditional tourist season might be advisable, although you will certainly not be alone. However, for anyone looking for a more unusual trip with activities not always associated with a holiday to China — along with lower prices and far fewer crowds — China winter tours are well worth considering.