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Essential travel guide to Chinese New Year for foreigners

Xinhua| Updated: February 7, 2024

China is embracing a tourism boom during the upcoming eight-day Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday, according to data from several domestic online travel platforms.

The Spring Festival, falling on Feb. 10 this year, is the biggest occasion for family reunions and heralds the beginning of spring. China's tourist spots, with diverse ice-and-snow activities, enchanting tropical scenery, rich folk culture and delectable delicacies, have become increasingly popular among foreigners in recent years.

The country implemented a visa-free policy for ordinary passport holders from some countries last year. It has also rolled out a set of measures to facilitate the entry of foreign nationals for business, education and tourism earlier this month, further promoting the inbound travel spree during the holiday.

In mid-January, a report on the 2024 Spring Festival travel market forecast released by China's major online travel agency showed that inbound travel orders during the holiday skyrocketed more than 10 times year on year. The orders mainly come from countries including Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Vietnam, Germany, and Thailand.

Which attractions are worth exploring in China during the festival? What should foreign visitors pay attention to while traveling across the country? Below are some tour recommendations and tips.

Places featuring winter activities

Winter sports activities have become increasingly popular in China ever since the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The "ice city" Harbin in the northernmost Heilongjiang Province is arguably the top trending destination for both domestic and overseas tourists this winter.

A visit to the Harbin Ice-Snow World, a renowned theme park, is usually top on tourists' itineraries. With over a thousand frozen scenes, including captivating depictions of the Year of the Dragon, the park also provides a range of entertainment activities like ice biking, snowmobiling and exhilarating ice slides. Don't forget to seize the opportunity to marvel at a panoramic view of the icy wonderland from the towering 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel.

Winter sports enthusiasts may also consider embarking on a three-hour train ride from Harbin to Changbai Mountain in the adjacent Jilin Province. This region hosts several top-notch ski resorts, offering a haven for skiing enthusiasts. Located at 42 degrees north latitude, Changbai Mountain boasts abundant powder snow, providing an optimal playground for freeskiers. Beyond the thrill of winter sports, the breathtaking Tianchi crater lake stands as a remarkable scenic attraction nestled amid snow-draped mountains. For added excitement, visitors can engage in the exhilarating experience of canyon rafting to enhance their overall enjoyment.

Situated in the east of Jilin, the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, approximately 200 km from Changbai Mountain, could be another compelling destination for this year's Spring Festival travel. The prefecture is currently showcasing a lantern festival featuring Korean folk customs, adding a unique cultural touch to the festivities. Yanbian stands out among global ice and snow tourism destinations due to unique activities like "Snow House Hot Pot" and "Snowfield Hot Springs."

Jilin has adopted 27 policy measures, including ticket discounts and tourist vouchers, to offer a seamless experience for visitors.

Remarkable scenic beauty

The tropical coastal city of Sanya, located in south China's Hainan Province, has consistently captivated visitors with its breathtaking sea views and ample sunshine. It proves particularly enticing for those seeking respite from the chilly winter. Recommended activities for foreign tourists include sunbathing on the coast while relishing the sunset, engaging in underwater adventures like diving, and strolling along the skywalk in the tropical forest to inhale the fresh, invigorating air.

Sanya is expected to host numerous exciting events during the Spring Festival, such as an art show integrating pop art with traditional dragon dance, drone shows, light shows and a beer festival.

Turning to Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, this "Spring City" renowned for its balmy weather is an excellent destination for nature enthusiasts. Nestled amidst the embrace of mountains on three sides and graced by the shimmering Dianchi Lake on the other, the city greets winter with the arrival of black-headed gulls, a migratory bird species flying in from Russia's Siberian region. Here, tourist attractions like stone forests and karst landforms also await exploration and discovery.

The ancient city of Pingyao in north China's Shanxi Province stands as a top choice for history enthusiasts, boasting over 2,700 years of rich history and renowned for its impeccably preserved ancient architecture. During the annual Spring Festival events in Pingyao, visitors have the opportunity to don traditional costumes and partake in festive celebrations. Strolling through the streets and pavilions adorned in traditional Chinese styles, illuminated by golden lights and red lanterns, visitors can relish a captivating glimpse of the city's cultural heritage.

Places featuring unique customs

For tourists deeply interested in Chinese folk culture, attending temple fairs during the Spring Festival is a must-try experience. Regarded as a vibrant cultural feast, these fairs are popular across the country, particularly in north China. When it comes to the festive atmosphere, some of the liveliest temple fairs are held in the Chinese capital Beijing, notably at Ditan Park and Longtan Park. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in traditional lantern shows, indulge in local cuisine and experience the charm of traditional Chinese crafts.

Down in the south, Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, is renowned for its vibrant lion and dragon dances, adding a festive spirit to the celebrations. During the 2024 Spring Festival holiday, the metropolis is set to host events such as dragon and lion dance parades. Particularly noteworthy is the fireworks display scheduled for the first day of the Spring Festival.

As for Spring Festival traditions, lantern shows are indispensable. The lantern show in Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai, which started on Jan. 21 and will continue until the end of February, marks the start of month-long celebrations for the upcoming Spring Festival and the subsequent Lantern Festival. Enchanting scenes, including the zodiac dragon lantern, promise to immerse visitors in a splendid traditional Chinese atmosphere.

Delectable cuisine

A trip to Beijing would be incomplete without a visit to the Great Wall, just as it would be incomplete without savoring Beijing Roast Duck, also known as Peking Duck. Often hailed as "the first dish to try in China," this iconic dish, with its long history and former status as a royal delicacy, promises foreign tourists a legendary taste and a memorable dining experience.

The Beijing Qianmen branch of Quanjude, one of China's best-known roast duck chain restaurants, could be a preferred choice for enjoying the roast duck. Located at Qianmen, which has been a bustling commercial district since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the branch is often so crowded that foodies fascinated by its prestige have to stand in long lines.

However, Beijing cuisine offers much more than just that. After dining at Quanjude, visitors can continue to explore the Qianmen commercial district, which exudes a festive atmosphere of joy and auspiciousness during the Spring Festival. Local delicacies, particularly at a restaurant called Donglaishun, known for its specialty -- instant-boiled mutton, a traditional hot pot dish -- should not be missed.

In recent years, Chinese dishes featuring spicy and mouth-numbing flavors, known as "mala," have gained popularity, particularly in Southeast Asia. For foreign tourists who enjoy spicy hot pot, it is advisable to seek the most authentic cuisine in southwest China's Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality, both renowned for their spicy offerings, with restaurants serving such dishes scattered throughout these regions.

As one of the four major Chinese cuisines, Cantonese cuisine, or Guangdong cuisine, has continued to impress global food enthusiasts with its delightful freshness, making it an ideal choice for foreigners who appreciate a light taste. Delicacies such as dim sum, boiled shrimp, roast goose, bite-sized wontons and steamed spareribs with pickled plums are sure to tantalize the taste buds of diners. Travelers can indulge in this cuisine when exploring the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, making it a fitting choice for winter tours.

Tips for convenient travel

1. Use the app or app for hassle-free bookings of group tours, airline and railway tickets, hotels, and various performances. For assistance, tourists can contact the customer helpline.

2. Explore a plethora of dining options with helpful reviews on Meituan and Dianping apps, China's leading online platforms, covering everything from upscale restaurants to hidden gems.

3. Navigate China confidently with the Baidu Map mobile app, which can also be used to hail cabs, similar to Didi, a prominent ride-hailing service in the country.

4. Make payments with ease through Alipay and WeChat Pay, China's major online payment service providers that now accept international bank cards.

5. To avoid peak travel times, plan your trip for the middle period of the holiday. Check the opening hours of scenic spots and restaurants during the festival to avoid any potential closures.