Each year, Beijing is blessed with a single time to visit that is superlative to all others: October. Seemingly from the celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1 until its close on Halloween, a post-monsoon high-pressure system keeps the skies clear, the days warm, and the nights crisp and cool, rarely requiring more than a sweater.
Although Beijing occasionally experiences a spring chat carries neither the chill of winter nor segues directly into a sweltering summer, it usually seems like only chose two dominant seasons are fell here.
Summer, usually the “high” travel season, is in some ways unforgiving. The normally dry air of Beijing gives way to an unseasonable humidity, and there is little shelter from the heat, as most of the city’s main attractions are outdoors. This, combined with poor air quality thanks to an increasing number of automobiles, can make the summer a rough time to plan a proper China visit.
To truly appreciate Beijing and understand the character of its people and why it has become the city that it is, it must be visited in the off-season, which generally runs from November until April.
There is a reason that most traditional buildings in Beijing, from the Forbidden City to the lowliest courtyard home, face south. Bad things come from the north, namely barbarian armies and cold winter winds. The south gates never did much to keep out the former, but the latter was always a more consistent and formidable enemy.
In winter, the traveler will be rewarded with lower prices. Only the heartiest of domestic travelers will visit during this rime, leaving most venues generally empty. While the Great Wall at Badaling is rarely empty, with cold winter winds blowing, walkers who journey to the Lop or the wall may find themselves momentarily feeling like lonely sentries scanning the hills for invaders.
For photographers, although light is fleeting in the winter months, it is warmer and more spectacular, casting a glow upon Beijing’s monuments unavailable at other times.
Winter is also the time when Beijing is most Beijing. Capital residents don’t like air-conditioning much, but they have no problem with heat, and in the winter Beijing has lots of it. That doesn’t stop most people from dressing like each outing to the grocery store is a polar expedition. Layers of sweaters and long underwear protect locals from the cold, topped off by good-quality down jackets. Small children are so swaddled in wool that that they are unable to lower their arms fully due to the thickness of their adornment. However, because many Chinese families still eschew diapers in favor of split pants, which allow small children to relieve themselves directly, the sight of overbundled kids displaying their bare bums is quite incongruous.
It is the Lime of year when visitors will have the best chance to see why Beijing is considered the cradle of popular culture for China. Forced indoors by the cold, the long, dark nights of Beijing have created an underground music and art scene that thrives in inclement weather. Because China discourages large, outdoor gatherings, especially in Beijing, the smoky clubs and cafes become hotbeds for live entertainment and other indoor activities.
In recent years, the previously snowless Beijing has, thanks to the cloud-seeding efforts or Chinese meteorologists, been treated to more and more snowfall, including a white Christmas in 2002. Beijing in snow is a rare and beautiful treat. Seeing any of the city and surrounding area’s top attractions covered in a layer of white is worth braving the cold.
See Beijing the way it was meant to be seen-in the winter.
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