China is a fascinating country to visit at any time of the year, but in winter there are some really interesting options for the adventurous traveller. We’ve chosen 6 of the best places to visit in China during the cooler months. From exciting cities to rural retreats, historical sites to cutting edge modernity, winter in China has so much to offer and plenty to explore.
China’s capital is a great point of interest offering various attractions. In winter it takes on a unique charm, with snow often covering the historical sights. The winter months can also be much quieter than the summer, along with the advantage of lower levels of pollution and smog.
When to visit: To see the capital at its snow-covered best, plan your visit in late December and January, this is also a less chaotic time where you should avoid the long queues at the main sites.
What to carry with you: Beijing can be very cold at this time of year, sturdy footwear and suitable clothing are a must.
Things to do: Whilst many of the parks and landscaped temples may be inaccessible, famous sights such as the Forbidden City and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall remain open with far fewer crowds than in the summer. Plan to join a guided tour and see the best sights of the city without the hustle and bustle associated with the summer. In addition, the ski resorts surrounding Beijing are open and it is possible to join organized excursions to partake in winter sports close to the capital.
Harbin city hosts the world’s largest ice sculpture festival, the famous Harbin Ice and Snow Festival during the winter months. The city itself is a metropolis of over 10 million people located in the north-east Heilongjiang Province. Whilst at other times of the year the city presents an interesting contrast between Russian and Chinese culture during the winter months; as it comes alive with the festival—a huge draw for Chinese visitors.
When to visit: The festival opens on the 5th of January each year (just to be sure, check exact dates before you travel), however, the famous ice sculptures and exhibits begin to appear in December making this an ideal place for an unusual Christmas and New Year break.
What to carry with you: During the winter months the temperatures remain below freezing for much of the time; extra warm clothes and thermals are a must, as well as sturdy footwear if you are planning to cover the large festival sight.
Things to do: Yabuli Ski Resort is about 3-hour journey by train to the southeast of the city but the main draw is the ice and snow festival. The efficient and comfortable bullet train will transport you here from Beijing in around 8 hours. Once there you can easily spend several days exploring the festival.
Winter in China need not mean snow and ice. In fact, a considerable part of the country remains either warm or verging on the tropical during the winter months; Sanya, at the southernmost point of Hainan Province, is one such example. In summer, Sanya can be uncomfortably hot. However, the tourist season runs throughout the winter months when you can enjoy a dry and temperate climate amidst a tropical paradise.
When to visit: The tourist season runs from November through to April making this an ideal location for a winter sun holiday.
What to carry with you: The temperatures from November through to April are mild and you will find the resorts around this part of China well-equipped and highly sophisticated.
Things to do: The emphasis here is on relaxation and the resorts which make up this part of southern China boast beautiful beaches and lush rainforests. Some visitors may want to take advantage of the reasonably close proximity to Hong Kong and Macau and may decide on a two-centre holiday.
Listed in 1990 as UNESCO World Heritage site the area known as the Yellow Mountains lies in Anhui Province in Eastern China, about 50 miles north of Huangshan City. It is a place of outstanding natural beauty and legend has it that China’s ‘Yellow Emperor’ lived here. Amidst its landscape lie many Buddhist temples and in winter the scenery is a perfect snowscape, the oddly shaped trees and rock formations adding to the ethereal air of mystery.
When to visit: The area is spectacular at any time of the year but in the winter months of December, January and February, when the snow lies thick, the area wears a charm of its own. Known for its ‘sea of cloud’ atmospheric effect, the Yellow Mountains are at their most beautiful in the early mornings, when the clouds hang in the valleys and the air is still and peaceful.
What to carry with you: Visitors intending to hike the trails here must come suitably equipped; we recommend joining an organized trip and to use a local guide to ensure a safe and fulfilling trip.
Things to do: The draw of these mountains is the opportunity for outdoor pursuits and photography. Although some trails will be closed during winter, there is plenty for nature loving enthusiasts to do and explore. Also, after a hard day’s hike, the area’s hot springs are a wonderful means to relax your aching joints.
Skiing and China are not words usually associated with one another but the country boasts a huge number of exciting places to ski. From resorts close to the capital Beijing, to those in the north and centre of the country, winter can be the best time to visit China if you’re seeking something a little more unusual.
When to visit: The major resorts are open from late November to March and even April; for guaranteed snow choose the higher resorts, and stick to the months of January and February.
What to carry with you: Skiing requires plenty of necessary equipment and it is advisable to pre-book the hire of such a kit before arrival in your resort. Even if you’re not skiing, suitable clothing—including sunglasses—is essential. To get the most out of your time on the slopes hire a guide or book onto an organized excursion to see the best the resorts have to offer.
Popular ski resorts:
- Yabuli ski resort in the north east of the country is the largest and most popular ski resort in China, it boasts ski runs for all abilities but particularly caters to the more experienced and adventurous types.
- Nanshan resort is the largest ski area near the capital and boasts good conditions from December through to March, at just 62 km from the capital it is an easy day trip during a winter visit to Beijing
- Xiling is the largest alpine resort in China with its highest mountain standing an impressive 5364 m above sea level. Located in the Sichaun province, the area ski runs are suitable for all ages and abilities.
If you’re looking for all the essentials of a winter wonderland then look no further than Xuexiang. Snow lies on the ground here for 7 months of the year and it’s here that the national ski team trains. You can partake in numerous winter activities making this unique destination, a highlight of the unusual places to visit in China during winter.
When to visit: The real name of Xuexiang is Shaungfeng Forest and the town is situated southeast of Harbin city in China’s northeast region. Visit here in early November or later in the March or April winter months for guaranteed snow without the extreme temperatures of the mid-winter months.
What to carry with you: Xuexiang is a day trip rather than a destination and if you plan on taking part in any winter activities you’ll need to come properly equipped. For those visiting this unusual little town suitable thermal clothing and footwear are essential and sunglasses are useful too to avoid the effects of snow blindness.
Things to do: There are opportunities for forest skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, and horse and dog sledding around the beautiful Yangcaoshan Mountain. The town itself is pretty with great opportunities for photography.
This is just a small selection of the best places to visit in China during winter. We recommend you join a group tour, especially if it’s your first visit to China. It’s a vast country, and one with many wintery surprises just waiting to be discovered. If you choose to spend your holiday this winter in China you’re guaranteed to find unusual and fascinating sights, exotic cities, beautiful landscapes, snow, sun, adventure and more.