Timing is everything. Unless you want to partake in the world’s largest migration, it’s best to time your trip before or after Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year, a two-week festival that begins on January 25 in 2020 and February 12 in 2021 and February 1 in 2022 (timing is based on the lunar calendar). Most businesses close during the holiday as those who can afford it head home for the holidays. Traveling post-holiday can be a bargain. Those brave enough to face the fierce cold that blankets much of China in January are rewarded with a spectacular winter wonderland. 

Weather

Much of the country is freezing in January, but there are some exceptions and benefits. The coldest month of the year brings the clearest skies to Beijing where temperatures average 14°F. Winters tend to be dry, but small amounts of snowfall are possible in Beijing.

Winters are drab and too cold for cruises along the mighty Yangtze River. It’s cool, but not cold, in Guilin and Yangshuo in southwest China. Despite the frigid temperatures, it’s the perfect time to visit China’s most north-easterly city, Harbin, for its world-famous ice festival (average temps range from -13°F to 8°F). Snow and ice cover the valleys and waterfalls in Jiuzhaigou, a beautiful national park in southwestern China, making it a picturesque winter wonderland.

Temperatures in Hong Kong and Macau are cool and comfortable while sun-worshippers head to Sanya on Hainan Island for its year-round sun.

Crowds & Costs

Winter is less crowded, mainly due to colder temperatures (some regions might even get snow). Depending on the lunar calendar, new year celebrations may begin in mid or late January.

The new year is one of three “Golden Week” holidays in China, but this is the largest holiday in which a majority of businesses close for at least one week of rest and relaxation. This is when the largest migration of people takes place, particularly on standing room only trains and buses, which are packed with workers headed home for the holiday. Transportation, if you can get it, can cost more as the demand for train, plane and bus tickets is high and routes sell out weeks in advance. Most attractions and many shops and restaurants close during the holiday, making it a quiet but joyous time to visit.

It is peak season on Hainan Island in southern China, which is a sun-drenched and warm respite from the winter. Travel costs for warmer weather destinations like Sanya on Hainan Island are at their peak as is any travel in the days leading up to and through the first week of Lunar New Year.

Where to Go

It may be cold, but hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province in southwest China is a lovely winter trip.  Waterfalls are spectacular any time of year, but the Yellow River’s Hukou Falls turn to ice in winter, making it a frozen wonderland.

Ice festivals are popular this time of year as locals admire massive ice carvings lit up in bright colors. The most famous ice festival is in Harbin, a charming town with Russian-influenced architecture and the most impressive ice festival in the world.

After a tour of northern China, escape the freezing temps and go to sunny Sanya to sunbathe on Hainan Island’s beaches.

What to Do

Prep for the new year by stocking up on supplies at a temple fair like the large fair held at the Lama Temple in Beijing.

If you’re in town on New Year’s Eve, tune into the CCTV New Year’s Gala, an hours-long variety show that practically every Chinese household tunes in to watch. Families gather around to watch the show and make jiaozi (dumplings), a staple for ringing in the new year. Most tour operators and hotels can arrange dumpling-making classes.

Take advantage of any snow and go snowboarding in Nanshan or skiing at one of the many resorts in Heilongjiang province. Ice skating on some of Beijing’s frozen lakes, including the ‘No Name Lake’ at Beijing University, Qianhai Lake, and the lake in Zhongshan Park, is also popular in January 

Warm up from the cold by taking a dip in the hot springs at one of many hot spring resorts on the outskirts of Beijing or by indulging in steamy hotpot and Chinese tea.

January Events

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. This two-month festival features a snow sculpture competition and ice lanterns along with sledding and skating

Lantern Festival. Raise a red lantern during the lantern festival, the last night of the lunar new year. Lantern festivals often span several days or week before the big day, which falls on February 8 in 2020, February 25, 2021, and February 14, 2022. Cities all across China host lantern festivals that feature elaborately constructed lanterns, lion and dragon dances, and food.

Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade. The two-hour night-time parade features illuminated floats, street performers, marching bands, and dancers, who entertain throngs of revelers in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui.

Traveling to China in January? Check out these great itineraries.

Beijing to Shanghai Winter Tour - 14 Days. See China’s most iconic sites, including the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, and hutongs (alleyways) on this seven-city tour that includes a visit to Harbin’s Ice and Snow Festival: 

China Golden Triangle Tour - 8 Days. Visit a trio of China’s most popular cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and XI’an during this tour that includes visits to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall in Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, and the Bund in Shanghai.

China’s Highlights - 11 Days. Visit Beijing, Xi’an. Guilin, and Shanghai on this tour of China’s most famous places, from the Great Wall to the Bund. 

More Helpful Info

China in December
China in February
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