Monlam Great Prayer Festival, February or March
Bookworm International Literary Festival in Běijīng, March
Spring Festival, January, February or March
Luòyáng Peony Festival, April
North China is a deep freeze but the south is less bitter; preparations for the Lunar New Year get underway well in advance of the festival, which arrives any time between late January and March.
The Lunar New Year is family-focused, with dining on dumplings and gift-giving of hóngbāo (red envelopes stuffed with money). Most families feast together on New Year’s Eve, then China goes on a big week-long holiday. Expect fireworks, parades, temple fairs and lots of colour.
Harbin Ice & Snow Festival
Hēilóngjiāng’s good-looking capital Harbin is aglow with rainbow lights refracted through fanciful buildings and statues carved from blocks of ice. It’s peak season and outrageously cold.
Yuanyang Rice Terraces
The watery winter is the optimum season for the rice terraces’ spectacular combination of liquid and light. Don’t forget your camera, or your sense of wonder.
North China remains shockingly icy and dry but things are slowly warming up in Hong Kong and Macau. The Lunar New Year could well be underway, but sort out your tickets well in advance.
Monlam Great Prayer Festival
Held during two weeks from the third day of the Tibetan New Year and celebrated with spectacular processions (except in Lhasa or the Tibet Autonomous Region); huge silk thangka (sacred art) are unveiled and, on the last day, a statue of the Maitreya Buddha is conveyed around.
Held 15 days after the spring festival, this was traditionally a time when Chinese hung out highly decorated lanterns. Píngyáo in Shānxī is an atmospheric place to soak it up (sometimes held in March).
China comes to life after a long winter, although it remains glacial at high altitudes. The mercury climbs in Hong Kong and abrasive dust storms billow into Běijīng, scouring everything in their path. It's still low season.
Beijing Book Bash
Curl up with a good book at the Bookworm cafe for Běijīng’s international literary festival, and lend an ear to lectures from international and domestic authors at one of China's best bookshops.
Fields of Yellow
Delve into south Chinese countryside to be bowled over by a landscape saturated in bright-yellow rapeseed. In some parts of China, such as lovely Wùyuán in Jiāngxī province, it’s a real tourist draw.
Most of China is warm and it’s a good time to be on the road. The Chinese take several days off for the Qīngmíng festival, a traditional date for honouring their ancestors and now an official holiday.
A Good Soaking
Flush away the dirt, demons and sorrows of the old year and bring in the fresh at the Dai New Year, with its water-splashing festival in Xīshuāngbǎnnà. Taking an umbrella is pointless.
Paean to Peonies
Wángchéng Park in Luòyáng bursts into full-coloured bloom with its peony festival: pop a flower garland on your head and join in the floral fun.
Third Moon Festival
This Bai ethnic minority festival is another excellent reason to pitch up in the lovely north Yúnnán town of Dàlǐ. It’s a week of horse racing, singing and merrymaking from the 15th day of the third lunar month (usually April) to the 21st.
Petrolheads and aficionados of speed, burnt rubber and hairpin bends flock to Shànghǎi for some serious motor racing at the track near Āntíng. Get your hotel room booked early: it’s one of the most glamorous events on the Shànghǎi calendar.
Mountain regions, such as Sìchuān’s Jiǔzhàigōu National Park, are in full bloom. For the first four days of May China is on holiday (Labour Day). Buddha's Birthday falls on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month, usually in May.
Buddha's Birthday in Xiahe
A fascinating time to enjoy the Tibetan charms of Gānsù province's Xiàhé, when Buddhist monks make charitable handouts to beggars and the streets throng with pilgrims.
Circling the Mountain Festival
On Pǎomǎ Shān, Kāngdìng’s famous festival celebrates the birthday of Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, with a magnificent display of horse racing, wrestling and a street fair.
Great Wall Marathon
Experience the true meaning of pain. Not for the infirm or unfit. See www.great-wall-marathon.com for more details.
Most of China is hot and getting hotter. Once-frozen areas, such as Jílín’s Heaven Lake, are accessible – and nature springs instantly to life. The great China peak tourist season is cranking up.
Festival of Aurora Borealis
The Northern Lights are sometimes visible from Mòhé in Hēilóngjiāng, in the ultra-far north of China not far from the Russian border. Even if you don't get to see the (often elusive) multicoloured glow, the June midnight sun is a memorable experience.
Dragon Boat Festival
Head to Zhènyuǎn or the nearest large river and catch all the water-borne drama of dragon-boat racers in this celebration of one of China’s most famous poets. The Chinese traditionally eat zòngzi (triangular glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in reed leaves).
This three-day festival in Gyantse in Tibet kicks off on 20 June for horse racing, wrestling, archery, yak races and more.
Shangri-la Horse Racing Festival
In mid- to late June, the north Yúnnán town of Zhōngdiàn (Shangri-la) lets go of the reins with this celebration of horse racing, coupled with singing, dancing and merriment on the southeastern fringes of Tibet.
Tagong Horse Festival
Celebrated on varying dates each year based on the Tibetan calendar, this festival on a hilltop overlooking the town's two monasteries and surrounding mountain peaks is a breathtaking display of Tibetan horsemanship.
Typhoons can wreak havoc with travel itineraries down south, lashing the Guǎngdōng and Fújiàn coastlines. Plenty of rain sweeps across China: the ‘plum rains’ give Shànghǎi a big soaking, and the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and Qīnghǎi turn green.
Torch Festival, Dali
Held on the 24th day of sixth lunar month (usually July), this festival is held throughout Yúnnán by the Bai and Yi minorities. Making for great photos, flaming torches are paraded at night through streets and fields, and go up outside shops around town.
Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, archery and more during the weeklong Naadam festival on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia at the end of July, when the grass is at its summer greenest.
Dalian International Beer Festival
Xīnghǎi Square in the Liáoníng port city is steeped in the aroma of hops and ale and strewn with beer tents in this 12-day celebration of more than 400 international and Chinese beers from a plethora of breweries.
The temperature gauge of Yangzi's ‘three ovens’ – Chóngqìng, Wǔhàn and Nánjīng – gets set to blow. Rainstorms hit Běijīng, which is usually 40°C plus; so is Shànghǎi. So head uphill to Lúshān, Mògānshān, Huáng Shān or Guōliàngcūn.
Litang Horse Festival
Occasionally cancelled in recent years (restrictions on travel may suddenly appear) and also shrunk from one week to one day, this festival in West Sìchuān is a breathtaking display of Tibetan horsemanship, archery and more.
Qingdao International Beer Festival
Slake that chronic summer thirst with a round of beers and devour a plate of mussels in Shāndōng’s best-looking port town, a former German concession and home of the famous Tsingtao beer brand.
Come to Běijīng and stay put – September is part of the fleetingly lovely tiāngāo qìshuǎng (‘the sky is high and the air is fresh’) autumnal season – an event in itself. It's also a pleasant time to visit the rest of north China.
Tai Shan International Climbing Festival
Held annually since 1987, this festival at the sacred Taoist mountain of Tài Shān in Shāndōng draws hundreds of trail runners, mountain bikers, climbers and worshippers of all ages and abilities.
Also called the moon festival; celebrated by devouring daintily prepared moon cakes – stuffed with bean paste, egg yolk, walnuts and more. With a full moon, it’s a romantic occasion for lovers and a special time for families. On the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.
International Qiantang River Tide Observing Festival
The most popular time to witness the surging river tides sweeping at up to 40km/h along the Qiántáng River in Yánguān is during the mid-autumn festival, although you can catch the wall of water during the beginning and middle of every lunar month.
Head to the Confucius Temple in Qūfù for the 28 September birthday celebrations of axiom-quipping philosopher, sage and patriarch Confucius.
The first week of October can be hellish if you’re on the road: the National Day weeklong holiday kicks off, so everywhere is swamped. Go midmonth instead, when everywhere is deserted.
Hairy Crabs in Shanghai
Now’s the time to sample delicious hairy crabs in Shànghǎi; they are at their best – male and female crabs eaten together with shots of lukewarm Shàoxīng rice wine – between October and December.
Miao New Year
Load up with rice wine and get on down to Guìzhōu for the ethnic festivities in the very heart of the minority-rich southwest.
Kurban Bairam (Gǔěrbāng Jié)
Catch the four-day festivities of the Muslim festival of sacrifice in communities across China; the festival is at its liveliest and most colourful in Kashgar.
Most of China is getting pretty cold as tourist numbers drop and holidaymakers begin to flock south for sun and the last pockets of warmth.
The peak surfing season kicks off in Rì Yuè Bay (Sun & Moon Bay) in Hǎinán, where the island's best surf rolls in. Hordes of Chinese flee the cold mainland for these warmer climes.