Festivals and events

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Last-Minute Travel for Chinese New Year

The Lunar New Year comes early in 2020, but it’s not too late to plan a festive trip. Here’s our guide to celebrating the Year of the Rat in China and beyond

So you forgot to book your Chinese New Year travel? According to the lunar calendar, the new year begins on 25 January in 2020, which may have caught out some travellers hoping to take advantage of the public holiday.

Don’t fret! We have you covered with this roundup of last-minute travel ideas that will ensure a fun-filled welcome to the Year of the Rat. All you need to do is decide how far you want to go…

(Not going away? Skip to our guide to celebrating Chinese New Year in Hong Kong.)

China: Stay Close for the Long Weekend


Kunming Camellia Festival, China

While much of China is freezing, Kunming, the capital of southern China’s Yunnan province, remains the City of Eternal Spring. The Kunming Camellia Festival is a highlight – but tulips and magnolias make an appearance, too. And while Kunming has established landmarks like the Stone Forest and Green Lake Park, it’s the city’s role as a strategic centre for the Belt and Road initiative that has it really changing. Since its 2016 debut, the Kunming South Railway Station has opened the region up to convenient high-speed services to northwestern Yunnan, Guiyang and across to Shanghai.

Where to Celebrate the Year of the Rat: Lantern Festival at Grand View Park


Qinhual International Lantern Festival in Nanjing, China
Credit: Liu jianhua nj/Imaginechina

Nanjing is home to the Qinhuai International Lantern Festival, the largest of its kind in China. Starting before the Spring Festival – as the holiday is commonly known in China –and finishing on Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the new year), the area around the Confucius Temple transforms into a world of lantern sculptures, performances, lion dances and food. While in Nanjing, you’ll probably want to explore the city’s cultural history – there are ancient walls, gates, monuments and museums galore.

Where to Celebrate the Year of the Rat: Qinhuai International Lantern Festival at Confucius Temple


Spring Festival in Xiamen, China
Credit: Shutterstock

This port city on China’s southeastern coast is one of the country’s most popular domestic destinations for the Spring Festival. Gulangyu, the rocky island of colonial architecture, should be on your agenda, along with picturesque strolls through Xiamen University and Xiamen Botanical Garden. For something more active, cycle along the 7.6-kilometre elevated bike path – the longest in the world – which runs beneath the Bus Rapid Transit line from Xian Hou BRT station in the north to Hong Wen station in the south.

Where to Celebrate the Year of the Rat: Haicang District Spring Festival Lantern Show at Haicang Culture Center Square

Beyond Asia: Go Further, Stay Longer

Los Angeles, US

OUE Skyspace Los Angeles, United States
Credit: Marc Flores/Getty Images

The beaches are probably not where you’ll be spending this Chinese New Year, even if you are in LA. Instead, get a vertigo fix on OUE Skyspace LA’s Skyslide, an enclosed glass slide that hovers 300 metres above the ground. Then head to The Broad, a magnificent contemporary art museum that opened in late 2015. But one of the biggest draws for families and fans of JK Rowling’s books is quidditch – or more specifically, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios.

Where to Celebrate the Year of the Rat: Chinatown’s Golden Dragon Parade, which has been staged for over a century (1 February)

New York, US

Met Breuer, the Metroploitan Museum of Arts in New York, United States
Credit: Ed Lederman

Yes, CNY in NYC is always a chilly affair. That also means it’s an off-peak time to visit, which works in the favour of those booking last-minute travel. Start with some art at the Met Breuer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new contemporary art space, then head over to the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking district. Get a new perspective atop One World Trade Center at the One World Observatory. If you’re wrapped up warmly, Bryant Park’s Winter Village is the place to embrace the cold, with free-admission skating on its sprawling ice rink (until 1 March). Then treat yourself to a hearty meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant like Cafe China or Hakkasan.

Where to Celebrate the Year of the Rat: Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival at Sara D Roosevelt Park (25 January)

Dubai, UAE

Dubai Water Canal, UAE
Credit: Nicolas Cornet/Getty Images

Gorgeous weather, events aplenty and newly minted projects make Lunar New Year about the best time to visit Dubai. The Dubai Water Canal, a megaproject opened in 2016, links some of the liveliest lifestyle districts through bridges and promenades; other recent openings include the Deira Island’s night market, which counts 5,300 outlets and over 90 quayside cafes and restaurants. Elsewhere, catch the musical adaptation of Le Petit Prince (23-25 January) at the futuristic Dubai Opera; or indulge in some retail therapy at the massive Dubai Shopping Festival, which runs from 26 December to 1 February.

Where to celebrate the Year of the Rat: Fireworks at Burj Al Arab (25 January)

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