China is the third-largest country in the world (after Russia and Canada), and, at 9,600,013 square kilometers, occupies 6.54 percent of the globe.
Being so expansive means China has six different climate zones (a tropical zone, a subtropical zone, a warm temperate zone, a middle temperate zone, a cold temperate zone, and a plateau zone). That said, the weather seasons in China are very different depending on where you are in the country.
Spring in China
(Begins in early April and goes until the end of May)
Spring is one of the best times to visit northern Chinese cities like Beijing. Spring is also a great time to witness the blooming of many stunning indigenous Chinese trees and flowers.
Because China is so vast, Spring in coastal Shanghai is much different from Spring in the Himalayas. Spring in the lower central parts of China may still be a bit cool, but it one of the best times to travel. Spring may be an ideal time for a cruise down the Yangtze river when the surrounding hills are their most verdant and the air is temperate and crisp.
Spring in southern China is beautiful and temperate (with average temperatures ranging between 20 degrees to 25 degrees Celsius. Spring in the South can be rainy at times, so it is always good to be prepared with a strong, water-resistant jacket.
Summer in China
(Begins in early June and goes until the end of August)
Summers in the North get swelteringly hot and rainy. If visiting northern China in the Summer, be adequately prepared for temperatures up to 38 degrees Celsius and high precipitation.
Central Chinese summers are not much less relenting. Although a good time to visit because tourism is much lower, it is wise to be prepared for exceptionally high temperatures, rainfall, and humidity.
Summer in the South is typhoon season and temperatures regularly exceed 38 degrees Celsius. It may be best to avoid southern China during the summer if at all possible. Either visit earlier in Spring when everything is in bloom or hold out for Autumn when the weather is much more temperate. That said, cities like Guilin are great for cooling down in the clean, majestic waters China has to offer.
Autumn in China
(Begins in early September and goes until the end of October)
Much like Spring, Autumn in northern China boasts an optimal temperature range of 20 to 30 degrees celsius.
Similar to northern China, Autumn could be a great time to visit Zhangjiajie national park in the Northwest of China’s eastern Hunan Province. A multifaceted area of deep ravines, canyons, valleys, and enormous pillar rock formations of eroded quartz-sandstone, Zhangjiajie is a splendid place to visit in the Autumn, when temperatures and conditions are most conducive for long hikes.
Much like North and Central China, the southern areas are not much different with temperatures ranging from 20 to 25 degrees celsius, and minimal precipitation. Autumn may be a great time for a visit to the island of Hong Kong for a walk through the city’s extensive Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
Winter in China
(Begins in early November and goes until the end of March)
Winters in northern China can be devastatingly cold. It is not uncommon to see temperatures drop below -40 degrees Celsius. If visiting in the Winter, cities like Harbin become a winter wonderland, with the entire becoming covered in snow for its annual “Ice and Snow Festival.”
Winters in the Yangtze River Valley are not as bad as in the North, but they can still drop well below freezing. Low temperatures can be exacerbated by the lack of heat in public buildings south of the Yangtze.
Winters are much shorter in southern China (approximately January to March) and temperatures do not get as severely cold as in the North.
Tibet’s unforgiving climate
Being one of the highest altitudes in the world, Tibet has undoubtedly the most unforgiving climate in China. Winters in Tibet are long and brutal, arriving as early as October and not relenting until May or June. Subzero temperatures are very common year-round, making travel to Tibet very discouraging for most months out of the year.
June to September is tourist season in Tibet, and it’s the lowest period of risk for altitude sickness due to the higher oxygen concentration. Unfortunately, these are the months where Tibet ranks in most of its annual rainfall. No matter what time of year you visit, it is wise to prepare for damp, unsightly, or inclement weather.
Still, being a deeply unique, spiritual, and solemn territory, Tibet should not be overlooked. Containing a vast array of monasteries, peaks, prairies, lakes, and wildlife unlike anywhere else on Earth, travel in Tibet should be seriously considered when making any plans to visit China.
What is the best time to visit China?
China’s vast differences in climate and geography make it difficult to simplify. However, the consensus suggests that the Spring and Autumn months are the best time to visit. Temperatures are the most pleasant, foliage is at its most photogenic, and rainfall is minimal. If you want to enjoy more moderate weather on your trip, traveling in Spring and Autumn are highly recommended.
Keep in mind that in areas with higher elevation, such as the Himalayas, it’s likely you will experience Winter conditions of brutally low temperatures and snowfall. If visiting Tibet or another high elevation area is a must, it would be best for you to visit in the summer.
At the end of the day, when you choose to travel is up to you.
The biggest takeaway should be that travel to China during any time of year comes with ample preparation for the country’s climate diversity and unpredictable weather. With adequate preparation, you will be fully outfitted to marvel at all the unique experiences and landscapes that this enormous country has to offer.