The Best Things to See and Do in China in Winter

Shuangfeng Forest Form
Shuangfeng Forest Form | © Brian Jeffery Beggerly / Flickr
Photo of Rachel Deason
24 November 2017

Whether you like embracing the chill or escaping to the heat, China has the perfect winter destination for you. From the deep snow of the northeast to the beaches of the south, there’s nothing that this diverse country can’t offer you.

Experience a winter wonderland at Shuangfeng Forest Farm

Nicknamed “China Snow Town” for its annual seven-month-long snowfall, Shuangfeng Forest Farm is where you want to be if you wish to experience China’s deepest snow. Over the years, China Snow Town, once a one-street logging village, has slowly transformed into a charming tourist destination, with many of the original homes now converted into guesthouses. Visitors may reach the town via a tourist bus from the city of Mudanjiang.

China Snow Town | © Brian Jeffery Beggerly / Flickr

Walk through ice castles at the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

In China, winter is nearly synonymous with the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, which takes place from late December to late February each year. The festival takes the phrase “winter wonderland” to a whole new level, complete with massive ice slides, sculptures, and buildings. During the day, the sun dazzles against the world of white, and at night, the ice is lit from within by multi-colored bulbs. Make sure that you have plenty of cash with you when you go; the festival does not accept credit cards, Alipay, or Wechat Wallet.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival | © Rincewind42 / Flickr

See the rime in Jilin City

In the dead of winter when the warmth from the Songhua River meets the dry Siberian winds, crystals form on the trees throughout Jilin City. This phenomenon has been dubbed the Ice-Rimmed Trees of Jilin and constitutes one of four natural wonders of China. If you want to see the trees in all of their icy glory, it is best to visit when the weather is below 20° Celsius (-4°F) and before 7 a.m.

Ice-Rimmed Trees of Jilin | © Neil Young / Flickr

Warm yourself up with a Chongqing hot pot

There are few better ways to get warm than by burning your tongue off with spicy food. And it doesn’t get much spicier than an authentic Chongqing hot pot. Order everything from thinly sliced beef to lotus root and cow brain, and then throw it all in the pot of scalding chili-water in front of you. Be prepared for dramatic bursts of flavor with each bite.

Chongqing hot pot | © Alpha / Flickr

Climb the snow-covered Great Wall

You may think you know the Great Wall, but you haven’t truly experienced China’s No. 1 tourist attraction until you’ve seen it covered in snow. Not only does the Great Wall in the winter offer more beautiful views than it does any other time of the year, but it is also much less crowded then. Just make sure you wear proper snow boots, as the stairs of the wall get steep in many places.

Great Wall in winter | © michael davis-burchat / Flickr

Hike the Yellow Mountains

Huangshan, meaning Yellow Mountain, is one of China’s most popular tourist draws for a reason. If you have ever seen a traditional Chinese ink painting, you will recognize the signature look of Huangshan’s granite cliffs and the iconic way that the clouds hover above the peaks on a rainy day. It is these idyllic scenes that have inspired countless paintings and poems and made Huangshan Scenic Area a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mountain requires at least a few days of your time and is best viewed during sunrise and winter snows.

Huangshan in the snow | © miquitos / Flickr

Soak in the hot springs at Hailuogou Glacier Park

China may not be as famous for its hot springs as nearby Japan, but the few hot springs it does have are world-class. For heated pools with incredible views, go to Hailuogou Glacier Park in Sichuan’s Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where you can soak in hot springs and take in the majesty of pristine glaciers all at the same time.

Gongga Mountain Hailuogou Glacier Luding Sichuan

Escape it all on Hainan Island

If you’re getting cold just reading about snow-covered mountains and ice festivals, then you might want to book a flight down south to Hainan, China’s premier beach destination. The winter on Hainan is the dry season, so expect few tourists and pleasant temperatures hovering around 25°C (77°F). Being an island, Hainan has near-limitless options for beachcombers, with Sanya and Haikou offering the best.

Haikou, Hainan | © Thomas Fischler / Flickr

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