The Year of the Rat is on its way, and there is so much more you can do to celebrate that just eating a big dinner and watching Chun Wan. Here are four cities in China that do it up right for Chinese New Year.
The nation’s capital pulls out all the stops to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Be sure to visit one of the city’s many temple fairs. These are annual festivities that usually last for the first two weeks of the first month on the Chinese lunar calendar. You’ll find them happening at a lot of the main cultural and historical sites around town, but the one that takes place in Ditan Park is widely recognized as the best among them. Here, you can see lion and drum dances, Tibetan folk performances, shadow puppet plays, and xiangsheng xiaopin, a unique Beijing style of sketch comedy. Countless stalls sell traditional handicrafts like paper cuttings, pottery, sugar sculptures. Be sure to arrive hungry, too, because you’ll spoiled for choice when it comes to snacks. You can fill up on rice noodles, nian gao, youtiao, and plenty more. Get there at 10am to see a re-enactment of the annual sacrifice to the God of Earth, a tradition that dates back to the Qing Dynasty.
Outdoor ice skating options abound around town, too, at places like Beihai Park and the summer palace. On the outskirts of the city, there is skiing near the Great Wall at Huaibei International Ski Resort. Or there is the annual Ice Lantern Festival at Longqing Gorge. Think of it as a smaller version of Harbin’s legendary Ice and Snow Festival.
Turning our attention from an old capital city to an ancient capital city, Xi’an is another excellent place to immerse yourself in CNY celebrations. Xi’an’s city wall becomes the centerpiece of the celebrations with an annual lantern fair. Every year, the ancient centerpiece of the city is decorated with colorful, larger-than-life lanterns. Some take the shape of familiar Chinese iconography and tell folktales. Some are simply fun and whimsical. All are spectacular and a must-see this time of year. After viewing the lanterns, head to the wall’s East Gate, where you can enjoy all manner of Xi’an street snacks at Yongxingfang. Here, you’ll find stalls hawking tasty eats like roujiamo and biang biang mian.
Dayan Pagoda is another site not to be missed this time of year. Every New Year’s Eve, the monks from the surrounding Da Ci’en Temple toll a bell at the stroke of midnight, to mark an auspicious beginning to the Lunar New Year. For traditional cultural performances, look no further than Daming Palace National Heritage Park, the historic imperial seat of the Tang Dynasty.
Ringing in the Year of the Rat in a city where the mercury drops 20 below this time of year might not seem like a winning proposition, but those temperatures create the ideal conditions for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Already well underway at the time of writing, the scale of this annual event is staggering. It spans four parks across the city, comprising a total of 600,000 square meters.
The intricate ice sculptures on display were haul and cut by 10,000 workers. The tallest sculptures reach an impressive 46 meters high, and the festival boasts 10 to 15 million visitors annually. In addition to these spectacular exhibitions, you’ll find plenty of other winter-related activities, like ice skating, ice slides, sledding, hockey, and even dragon boat racing on ice. Further afield from Harbin is Yabuli Ski Resort, which features the longest alpine ski run in Asia.
CNY is an ancient tradition, it would be fitting to celebrate it in one of China’s best preserved ancient cities, Pingyao in Shanxi Province. With a history dating all the way back to 800 BC, This UNESCO World Heritage Site with its formidable perimeter wall, towering temples, and narrow streets feels like a living cultural fossil. For the full experience, book a stay in a traditional courtyard style inn, many of which arrange traditional activities this time of year, like papercutting and dumpling making.
The city itself is profoundly atmospheric with sweeping tile roofs and streets lined with red lanterns and it comes alive with a host of holiday festivities around town like parades, lion dances, opera performances, and storytelling.