Spring Festival, January/February
International Literary Festival, March
Midi Festival, April/May
National Day, October
Běijīng Music Festival, October/November
Běijīng shivers, with temperatures dipping to –10°C or below. But there are far fewer visitors in town, so this is a great time to see the Forbidden City without the crowds. Head to the Hòuhǎi Lakes for ice skating.
Western New Year
With the Spring Festival as their New Year bash, the Chinese treat the Western New Year (元旦; Yuándàn) on 1 January as an excuse just to party and have fun. But don’t expect any fireworks.
Not a good month for air pollution, and it can be bitterly cold, but the arrival of Spring Festival means winter is drawing to a close.
Like Christmas in the West, the family-oriented, 15-day-long Spring Festival (春节; Chūn Jié) is the most joyous celebration of the year, with fireworks and nonstop firecrackers. Celebrate with a Chinese family or visit a temple fair (庙会; miàohuì), such as Dōngyuè Temple. 2018: 16 February. 2019: 5 February.
Celebrated on the final day of Spring Festival, Lantern Festival (元宵节; Yuánxiāo Jié) is among the tastiest of festivities, as locals devour delicious yuánxiāo (glutinous rice dumplings with sweet fillings), while fireworks and firecrackers explode all over town.
While China has its own festival for lovers (Qīxī; 七夕; held on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar year), it's not as popular as the Western Valentine's Day (请人节; Qíngrén Jié), held here on 14 February too. Buy your Valentine 11 roses, not 12.
It’s almost time to put away the winter wardrobe. The domestic tourists who came for the Spring Festival have gone, but foreign ones are arriving in numbers.
International Literary Festival
The International Literary Festival (国际文学节; Guójì Wénxué Jié) sees writers and bibliophiles convening at the Bookworm (www.chinabookworm.com) for a two-week bonanza of readings and talks. With a strong line-up of international authors and local writers, it’s one of the key cultural events of the year. Get tickets early.
Held on the 19th day of the second moon, the birthday of Guanyin (观世音生日; Guānshìyīn Shēngrì), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, is a fine time to visit Buddhist temples. 2018: 4 April. 2019: 25 March.
One of the nicest months of the year to be in Běijīng, as a fresh wind keeps the sky clear and snowflake-like poplar seeds and willow catkins (liǔxù) flutter through the air. It’s getting warmer.
Tomb Sweeping Day
A day for worshipping ancestors, Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节; Qīngmíng Jié) falls on 5 April (4 April in leap years). People clean the graves of their departed relatives, place flowers on tombs and burn ghost money for the departed on pavements. It’s an official public holiday.
China’s longest-running music festival, Midi (迷笛音乐节; Mídí Yīnyuè Jié) normally takes place in Hǎidiàn (or sometimes Tōngzhōu on the eastern outskirts of Běijīng) on the last weekend of April. Domestic and international bands and electronic acts play. It’s a great chance to mingle with local music fans.
Spring Flower Shows
The temperature starts to rise as the fiercely hot and humid Běijīng summer approaches. May also marks the beginning of the peak tourist season.
May Day (五一; Wǔyī) on 1 May kicks off a much-needed three-day national holiday for the locals, who swamp tourist sights across the nation.
Hot and sweaty days and balmy nights. But this month is also the peak time for rainfall in Běijīng. The main tourist sites are packed.
SURGE Art Běijīng
Held at different venues from year to year, this art fair (北京艺术节; Běijīng Yìshùjié; www.surgeart.com) showcases emerging contemporary Chinese artists and acts as a platform for them to sell their art at affordable prices.
Dragon Boat Festival
On the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar year (usually June), dragon-boat festival (端午节; Duānwǔ Jié) races are sometimes staged on Běijīng's reservoirs. You'll see people scoffing zòngzi (parcels of sticky rice and meat or veggies in a bamboo leaf). 2017: 30 May. 2018: 18 June. 2019: 7 June.
The crowds are thinning out a little at the main tourist sites and the heat has mercifully relented. But this month sometimes sees major gatherings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the capital, which means enhanced security around Tiān’ānmén Sq.
Also known as the Moon Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节; Zhōngqiū Jié) is marked by eating yuèbǐng (moon cakes), gazing at the full moon and family reunions. 2017: 4 October. 2018: 24 September.
Autumn is a fine time to visit Běijīng as it enjoys clear skies and perhaps its best weather of the year. It can feel crowded, though, as domestic visitors descend on the capital during the Golden Week holiday.
Crowds flock to Tiān’ānmén Sq for a huge party on National Day (国庆节; Guóqìng Jié) on 1 October, followed by a massive weeklong national holiday where the Chinese blow their hard-earned savings on travelling and enjoying themselves in what is known as Golden Week.
Beijing Music Festival
Usually staged from mid-October, classical-music Běijīng Music Festival (北京国际音乐节; Běijīng Guójì Yīnyuè Jié; www.bmf.org.cn) showcases foreign orchestras and musicians and has become increasingly high profile in recent years. It’s a must for Běijīng culture vultures.
Běijīng can feel gloomy once winter descends and it becomes relentlessly cold. But a white Christmas is a real possibility, and you can strap on the ice skates and take to the Hòuhǎi Lakes, although sometimes they don't freeze sufficiently until January.
Not an official Chinese festival perhaps, but Christmas (圣诞节; Shèngdàn Jié) is a significant event on the commercial calendar, when Běijīng’s big shopping zones sparkle with decorations and younger Chinese get into the Yuletide spirit.