When deciding when to visit China, my advice is to consider where you’re going, and to always, always avoid major public holidays. Even the most beautiful weather can be ruined by having to share a scenic spot with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people.
The northeastern region, where Beijing is located, has summers (June to August) that are hot and dry, while winters (November to March) are extremely cold with snow. Around Chengdu, and further east to Shanghai, in the north and central regions, the weather can be wet, coupled with humid summers and bone-chillingly cold winters. The southern region is sub-tropical, with hot, wet summers and pleasantly mild winters.
April to August are the wettest months, depending on where you travel, with summer typhoons hitting the eastern and southern seaboards, and many provinces around the country experiencing high levels of rainfall. Flooding and travel disruption can occur during these times, although China’s large modern cities generally cope pretty well with the downpours.
The great thing about visiting a country as large as China, is that you’re sure to find the perfect place to go whatever the season.
Cold weather lovers should head to the Dongbei (northeast) region to check out the massive ice sculptures at the Harbin Ice Festival. You can ski here, too. For winter sun, head to the island province of Hainan in January and February. Just be sure to avoid China’s Spring Festival (New Year) holiday period.
Fun fact: while The Spring Festival celebrates the arrival of spring, and technically is in spring according to the lunar farming calendar, it’s actually held in January or February – so is classified as a winter festival.
Spring (March to May) is a beautiful time to visit Beijing when roses bloom in the city and the weather is pleasantly mild. It’s also a good time to head to Shanghai before the humidity of summer kicks in, although it can be rainy here at times.
During spring, the snow starts to melt on the grasslands in central Tibet, while it’s also peak season for tea harvesting in eastern China.
In the southern Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Guizhou, rice terraces are irrigated and filled with water, providing great photography opportunities.
Summer across China is hot with most major tourist cities either crazy hot, unbelievably humid or both. Summer is a good time to head west, with the higher altitudes of Yunnan and Tibet an antidote to the heat. The dry summer heat in Xinjiang is easier to deal with than the humidity of the eastern provinces.
September and October are excellent months to visit China, although be aware that there is a week-long public holiday in early October, celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Places like Xinjiang, which are sweltering in the summer, are perfect at this time. By October, the typhoons have stopped battering Hong Kong where it’s officially dry season.