China’s capital, Beijing is located in a warm temperate zone, which means its weather is affected significantly by monsoons. It is reliably cold and dry in winter (even snowing into spring sometimes), with the average January temperature coming in at a chilly -3.5°C.
While walking around outside and taking in the highlights like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square might leave you bracing icy cold winds, you will find central heating is widespread in most buildings.
Beijing’s reputation for cold winters is matched only by its hot, humid summers when the average temperature in July is 26.5°C. Spring and autumn are comparatively short in Beijing, and locals recommend the months to enjoy this city at its best are in May, June, September, and October.
Unlike its more serious counterpart Beijing, the city of lanterns, Xian weather enjoys fewer extremes and four distinct seasons. If you like moderation in all things, you’ll find Xian will meet your needs with its mild climate and moderate rainfall. Spring is warm, dry and windy; autumn is cool; and winter is cold and foggy (expect snow).
The best time to visit Xian? Pack your bags to travel from April to June, and September to November.
Trying to decide the best time to visit the oriental pearl, Shanghai? You can relax, knowing that without the extremes of other destinations in China, Shanghai provides plenty of options.
With its subtropical monsoonal climate, you’ll discover a fairly even distribution of temperatures, regardless of when you visit.
During summer, daily average temperatures are around 28.5°C. High density city living and the volume of highrises limit the flow-through of cooler air during warmer months. If you melt in humidity, stay away in high summer!
Although Shanghai’s winter is certainly milder than Beijing’s, a bitter northerly wind can be felt during the middle of the cold season.
From a tourist’s perspective, Spring, which runs from March to May is the best time to visit Shanghai. Keep in mind though, if you plan to explore Shanghai from mid-June to early July, pack your umbrella and raincoat, because it’s the wettest time of the year. Incredibly, during this short period of just 20 days, Shanghai receives about a quarter of its annual rainfall.
Think you’d prefer to catch the tail end of summer from the end of August to mid-September? You’ll need more than wet weather gear. This time of year is characterised by frequent typhoons, often with pouring rain and strong winds.
The Sichuan Basin where Chengdu is located means this city is characteristically humid. Ironically, Chengdu is also home to the famous hot pot, so named because it is extremely hot and spicy.
As a contrast to Chengdu city’s humidity, the hills and plains which create the Sichuan Basin (the highest mountains are over 1,300 meters), means the weather at height is much cooler.
Warmer weather is found in the west, and cooler temperatures in the east. The simultaneous differences in temperature are reflected elsewhere in the surrounding mountains too, where the peaks are 2-3 °C cooler.
In Chengdu, winter is short (it rarely snows) and the average daily temperature for most of the year is a very pleasant 16.4°C. Not only is this perfect for the most famous local residents, the giant pandas; it is ideal for foreign visitors too.
Guangzhou enjoys a subtropical climate, making it relatively hot and humid in summer and pleasantly mild in winter. Summer-like weather extends well beyond the three months from June to August. From May to October, temperatures in this bustling international hub often exceed the daily average of 30°C (86°F), so if you’re prone to wilting at the first sign of humidity, aim to visit Guangzhou in late autumn or through winter when temperatures are much more manageable, ranging between 10°C (50°F) and 21°C (70°F).
Guangzhou’s location on the Tropic of Cancer means there is a rainy season. If you plan to travel any time between July and September, expect to use your wet weather gear as this is the time that rainfall peaks. While this climate has its drawbacks for those who aren’t fans of the heat, there is one major benefit. Guangzhou earned its nickname ‘Huacheng’ or flower city for the year-round proliferation of beautiful blooms.
Located at the far west end of the Hexi Corridor, Dunhuang is an important thoroughfare on the ancient Silk Road. With Sanwei Mountain in the east, Mingsha Mountain in the south, desert to the west, and the Taklimakan, and Gobi to the north, Dunhuang is connected to the Tianshan Mountains.
The unique mix of elevation, together with the desert oasis environment provides the setting for extreme temperature variation. On any given day while exploring on a Dunhuang tour, you can find yourself scorched by daytime highs of 40°C and freezing at night in sub-zero lows.
If you’re ‘unlucky’ enough to find yourself in Dunhuang on a day that it rains, you needn’t be concerned. There is an average of just 21 rainy days each year during which very little rain falls (a mere 42 millimeters!).
The good thing is, this hot, dry climate is perfect for preservation - and it’s the very reason the world famous Mogao Caves, displaying arguably the finest collection of Buddhist art, have survived in such pristine condition for over a thousand years. The caves alone, which are rich in history, scholarship, and art are worth the visit, so be sure to time your arrival so it coincides with a time of year when the heat is most manageable, namely from May to October.
A place of quintessentially Chinese natural beauty, Guilin is synonymous with the osmanthus flowers (Guihua) and karst stone mountains that are found in proximity to the city and along the Li River to Yangshuo.
Guilin also has a reputation for its favorable climate, which was praised by the poet Du Fu from the Tang Dynasty who claimed "All the five ridges are hot, but only Guilin is pleasant".
It snows infrequently in Guilin and the weather is ideal for all year round blooming of flowers. With an average low of 9℃ and average high of 28℃, it’s easy to understand why Guilin held such appeal historically and still does today.
Due to its more temperate climate, humidity is a factor in Guilin, however it is definitely a city that can be visited all year round. Just remember to bring an umbrella if you’re planning to travel in spring because this is when most rain falls.
Lhasa is a destination that is aptly named ‘Sunshine City’. The small temperature variations throughout the year, but frequently large changes in daily temperatures, makes Lhasa unique among the list of best places to visit in China.
Located in the middle of the Tibet Plateau on the north side of the Himalayas at an altitude of 3,650 meters Lhasa sits in the plain of the middle valley of the Lhasa River. As you’d expect with a place that seems to almost touch the clouds, it can get very cold. Expect sub-zero temperatures. In fact, locals say that Lhasa enjoys ‘four seasons in a day and a cold winter throughout the year’. This is the ever-practical Tibetans dress as they do. The traditional robe allows the wearer to remove it from one shoulder during the day to stay cool, and then reposition as the sun goes down to stay warm.
Many travelers take advantage of Hong Kong’s convenience as a travel thoroughfare and why not? Certainly, Hong Kong’s climate lends itself to a visit on route to China.
With a mild average annual temperature of 22.8°C that belies the heat and humidity of Hong Kong’s summer, you may want to time your transit through Hong Kong to avoid the warmer months between May to September. During this peak period, there are significant rainfalls and typhoons, both of which can detract from your holiday experience, so best to time your holiday in Hong Kong with the arrival of autumn from September to November. It’s when you’ll find there is plenty of sunshine balanced by balmy breezes that come in from the Pacific Ocean.