Shanghai in winter might be cold and overcast, but it’s also largely tourist-free before and after the holidays. If you plan your visit during the annual Chinese New Year, you’ll get to experience the city at it’s most festive.
Weather & Travel Tips
While winter temperatures in Shanghai tend to be warmer than northern cities like Beijing, they’re also more humid and windy. If you’ve ever experienced wet wind, you’ll understand that it can feel just as cold as sub-zero snow. Luckily, temperatures fluctuate from day to day, so you’ll probably have a few warm days mixed in with the cooler ones. Pack clothes for layering and bring a warm coat. Depending on where you’re staying in the city, you may or may not have heat. Central heating isn’t very common in local Shanghai homes, so small guesthouses or hotels geared toward domestic tourists may not have heat either. If you don’t want to bundle up at night, you should be safe at one of the big international hotel chains.
What to See and Do
The days and weeks before and after Chinese New Year are a great time to visit Shanghai’s major attractions, as November through February is low season for domestic tourists. Museums, like the Shanghai Museum or the Shanghai Municipal History Museum, should be quiet and warm for those extra cold or rainy days. While sights like the French Concession, Yuyuan Garden and the gardens of nearby Suzhou won’t be nearly as attractive in the winter as they are during the rest of the year, they’re still worth a visit if the weather’s nice. Suzhou and the other water villages surrounding Shanghai deserve a day or two of your itinerary during the winter if you want to enjoy them without tour bus loads of people.
As for winter sports, Shanghai doesn’t have the picturesque frozen lakes of Beijing, but you do have a few indoor ice skating options. The Mercedes-Benz Arena and the Songjiang University Students Sports Center are two of the best in the city.
Festivals & Events
The only time Shanghai gets crowded during the winter months is during Chinese New Year, sometimes called Spring Festival or Lunar New Year. Even with the crowds, it’s still a great time to visit to participate in all the festivities. If you plan to come to Shanghai for the Chinese New Year, it’s better to come near the end of the celebration during the Lantern Festival than during the first two or three days when most local businesses and restaurants will be closed. If you are there for the first day of the festival, head to Longhua Temple to ring the bell for good luck in the new year, and at night, watch as fireworks get set off all over the city. Shanghai’s Yuyuan Garden hosts one of the biggest lantern festivals in China at the end of the festival.