The Golden Week holidays in China fall in January or February, as well as October.
The Golden Week holidays are popular times for holiday travel; despite significantly higher rates, trains, flights, and hotels are often fully booked. Popular sites for visitors will be busier during the Golden Week holidays.
The People's Republic of China observes two golden weeks each year:
- The Chinese New Year Golden Week begins in January or February. This is the more important golden week, with hundreds of millions of people going back to their hometowns to spend time with family, and many others taking trips as tourists. This is the largest annual human migration in the world. Many people have additional time off beyond the Golden Week, which means that the associated travel season lasts 40 days, from 15 days before Chinese New Year to 25 days after. For those 40 days, transportation will be extremely crowded and tickets may be hard to come by, even if you book well in advance. This is especially true for trains, whereas flights are not affected as much.
- 2019 New Year: Feb 5; holiday: Feb 4 - 10; travel rush Jan 21 - Mar 1
- 2020 New Year: Jan 25; holiday: Jan 24 - 30
- 2021 New Year: Feb 12; holiday: Feb 11 - 17
- The National Day Golden Week begins 1 October each year, and lasts until Oct 7 (or Oct 8, depending on weekends). Official estimates are that 700 million people travel during this period — that's close to half of China's population! (This does include some double counting as one person can take two trips.)
For each golden week, the country observes three days of paid national holidays, and the surrounding weekends are rearranged to give workers seven days off in a row. Schools and individual companies may take additional days off. For most working Chinese, these are the main and sometimes the only opportunities to travel.
China takes steps to cope with the pressure put on its transport system, such as by increasing train services and suspending tolls. Expect long vehicle queues on expressways linking big cities, and line-ups at gas stations. Travel time on buses can triple, and some runs may be cancelled because of highway congestion. Also, expect queues at popular tourist attractions, and restaurants and hotels will be extremely busy.
If possible, avoid traveling to China during a Golden Week. If you can't help it, consider the following tips to manage your trip:
- Make your reservations early. This includes reserved train seating, airline tickets, hotels, and tours.
- Allow extra time for travel. You may encounter long lines or delays . Be sure to allow extra time to accommodate any delays.
- Enjoy what's local. One way to beat the crowds is to avoid using the highways, public transportation, and tourist attractions. Instead, plan to pursue activities within walking distance of your accommodation.
Expats face the same Golden Week dilemma as anyone else in China with disposable income: several days off in a row make the perfect opportunity for a trip, but when the whole country is taking the week off, transportation and attractions will be terribly crowded.
Over National Day, forget about going to the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. Any famous attraction will be miserable, and even your local park may be quite crowded. Ideally, see if you can shift your days off and take your vacation before or after the holiday. This is sometimes possible in the private education industry – ask your employer.
Over Chinese New Year, the situation is more complicated. The holiday season really lasts more than a week, which spreads out the crowds a little, but there's a lot more movement going on. Train tickets will sell out almost as soon as they become available; plane tickets are easier to get ahold of but will go up in price. (But keep in mind that most people are traveling from big cities to the countryside and then back—if you're trying to go the opposite way, tickets will be easier to find.) Famous attractions will still be crowded, but less so than over National Day because most people are going back home to visit family instead. Meanwhile, big migrant cities will become almost deserted—which might sound good if you don't like crowds, but the problem is that almost everything is closed. Even grocery stores will close or reduce to limited hours. The most interesting option, if you have a close Chinese friend, is to go to their hometown and spend Chinese New Year with their family—yes, you'll have to deal with the notorious crowds on the way, but you'll be rewarded with a unique and personal experience of Chinese celebrations and family life.
For many expats, the best option for traveling over Golden Week is to take the opportunity to visit another country. Take a trip back home, or maybe visit somewhere in Southeast Asia. Flights out of China will be more expensive around these holidays, especially National Day, so book early. Choose your destination carefully: Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan celebrate Lunar New Year too (but not National Day), so you may face similar numbers of closed attractions. Other nearby countries may see an influx of Chinese tourists; see below.
Countries near China see an influx of tourists at this time as well, as both expats in China and well-to-do Chinese citizens take advantage of the time off to go on vacation. Hong Kong and Macau are popular destinations for mainlanders. People in China visiting another country often visit Thailand or Japan.
Outside of greater China, other countries with large ethnic Chinese populations have celebrations for Chinese New Year, including Malaysia and Singapore. In these countries, some businesses will be closed and travel may be hectic, though the disruption won't be nearly as bad as in China.