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Chinese New Year in Shanghai — 2018

Chinese New Year decorationsChinese New Year decorations

Chinese New Year (CNY) or Spring Festival or Lunar New Year is one of the most important festivals in China, and one that should be experienced first hand. If you are planning to be in Shanghai during this time, there is a lot going on in the city that begs a trip!

  • The public holiday in 2018 is February 15 (Chinese New Year's Eve) to February 21. Dates vary each year.
  • 2018 is a Year of the Dog. The zodiac cycle is based on 12 animal signs and that defines the animal for each year.

For Chinese, it is a family-oriented festival. This is the time of the year when most folks — Shanghai residents and migrant workers — travel to their hometowns or out of the country with their families for vacation, the main agenda being to spend time with their families. Consider this time of equal importance to the Chinese as Christmas is to the Western world.

Expats go on vacations with their families and friends. So when traveling to Shanghai, plan it such that you miss the major rush of travelers just before and just after the holidays.

Why Shanghai?

CNY in Shanghai

Shanghai is one of the best cities to be in (in the world) if you want to experience a Chinese holiday through both modern and traditional lenses. The crowds will be less in the city with many shops and stores closed in the first few days of the holiday. However, all major stores and department stores in addition to all touristic spots will remain open. In fact, take advantage of this time to explore most of the city at your leisure.

Traditional Rituals and Events in the City


CNY is celebrated for two weeks in Shanghai. Most of the traditional rituals and events take place in Yu Garden (one of the oldest, most popular traditional spots in the city including shopping and eating options), the Bund, Nanjing Road (the most commercial street in the city), and of course the many temples in the city, such as Jing'an Temple.

Likely Event Controls and Access Restrictions

In recent years celebrations in Yuyuan (the Yu Gardens) and on the Bund have been curbed due to overcrowding risks. Fireworks are organized but the scale isn't as grand as it used to be. Go to Yu Garden on the first few days in the evenings, you may get lucky!

People's Square Metro Station, at the top of Nanjing Road, is set to be closed at Chinese New Year this year to control crowds. But no other access restrictions have been widely announced.

Family Customs

Hongbao - cash in red envelopes as giftsRed envelopes

CNY is primarily family time, and there are many customs that families tend to follow. Some include house cleaning and decorations, especially with red poetic couplets. Red is a color of wealth and good fortune, and it is auspicious for the Chinese, and you will see a lot of this color all around. There are extravagant family reunion dinners.

Children receive 'lucky money' (hongbao) in red envelopes from elders. It is also a custom to stay up late on the eve of CNY. One would notice that the colors black and white are rare — avoided given the belief that they bring ill-luck. The New Year holidays are also a time when folks engage in gambling, and this is not frowned upon.

The other thing you might want to be careful of are those loud firecrackers. They go off during the late evenings, some days through the day, as a mark of celebration. Bring with you a pair of ear plugs and you'll be fine.

CCTV, China's main TV channel which is viewed by millions, hosts an array of traditional shows — performances from across the country during New Years.

Annual Longhua Temple Celebration

Of special note, the Longhua Temple at 853 Longhua Road (龙华路853) holds one of the most elaborate, grand celebrations in the city. 108 Buddhist Monks are invited to climb the pagoda in this temple and strike the bell at midnight to begin the new year.

Longhua Temple holds this customary event annually, and it is the only one to host it since it is the oldest temple in the city. Striking of the bell is symbolic of the beginning of the new year and is seen as an act of driving away evil spirits. Also check out Jade Buddha Temple at 170 An Yuan Road (170安远路).

The 2018 Shanghai Yu Gardens Lantern Festival

Chinese New Year celebrationA temple fair in Shanghai

Yu Yuan is the place to be during the Lantern Festival on March 2, 2018. The most famous lantern show in the city is held there at 269 Fangbang Road (方浜路269号) for 31 days through CNY. No entrance fee. (Watch out for entrance restrictions on busy days: see above.)

Yu Garden also hosts a Temple Fair where all kinds of merchandise and local snacks are on sale along with traditional performances.

The 2018 Shanghai Disney Chinese New Year Celebration

In Shanghai Disney Resort, over the holiday period, you can enjoy colorful, exciting New Year activities, plentiful New Year food, and New Year merchandise.

The 2018 Shanghai Happy Valley New Year Lantern Festival

Tangyuan Eating tangyuan is a very important custom of the Lantern Festival.

From December 8, 2017 to March 2, 2018, the annual, 85-day long, multi-themed festival will bring to you displays of artworks from 100 craftsmen, lanterns produced by 100 teams, a 65-hectare (160-acre) firework and lantern viewing area, and 10 million bright and magical lanterns. Something not to be missed! Tickets this year are sold at RMB 80 (Mon - Thu) and RMB 100 (Fri to Sun).

The 2018 Guyi Garden Spring Festival Fair

The annual temple fair at Guyi Garden is a good option to witness traditional entertainment and various blossoming plants everywhere. Dragon/lion dances and stilt parades are part of this festival. Dates are yet to be announced.

Explore Shanghai on foot!

This is the perfect time for you to plan long walks around the city, especially in and around Jing'an Temple area, Xintiandi, Tianzifang, the Bund area, and the Former French Concession. There are lots of quaint narrow lanes, home to the famous Shanghai lane houses. You will find old colonial houses where historic figures used to reside. 

Given that the city will be quiet and not crowded, do not miss out on checking out the city's treasures on foot.

Eat some delicious CNY food!

Chinese dumplingsDumplings are meaningful Cninese New Year food.

Food is the most important part of this celebration. Different dishes symbolize different myths, legends and culture in China. We have a detailed article about Chinese New Year Foods here. In Shanghai, some of the most delicious food that you must try out include:

  • Rice dumplings or tangyuan as they are known in Shanghai (yuanxiao is the other common name of this) are very popular in Shanghai. These are different from regular dumplings, rounder and softer, with a more gooey texture. Made from glutinous rice flour, the traditional filling for this in Shanghai tends to be lard and sesame, red bean paste and meat (usually pork).
  • Takecai (Tacai in Northern China) is a popular vegetable dish during CNY in Shanghai. It is symbolic of eliminating bitterness in the new year.
  • Xunyu (/sshywnn yoo/) is Shanghai's special fish dish, and fish is a must at Chinese New Year. Unlike the Chinese typical way of serving the whole fish at the table, Xunyu is chopped into several pieces and deep fried in sugar and soy sauce to lend it that Shanghai sweet flavor. Also, this is a cold dish, and the kids love it!
  • Shanghainese New Year Cake or Nian Gao is a version of the traditional cake made from sticky rice and sugar and there are glutinous and non-gluten versions of this cake. The Shanghai version keeps the cake white in color, and it is made from non-glutinous rice making it distinct from the Nian Gao of other provinces. Also it is served stir-fried as a dish, a specialty in Shanghai.
  • Babaofan is a type of rice pudding that is immensely popular. As the name suggests, this is the eight-treasure pudding, a dessert made with sticky rice, red bean paste, sugar and oil along with longan meat, pine nuts, tangerines, gourd slices and cherries — a typical recipe in the Shanghai version. There may be variations to these also.

Some Travel Tips

  • CNY is a busy time in China and you should be aware that hordes of Chinese nationals travel to their hometowns. This puts a lot of stress on public transportation such as air travel, trains, and buses. See Chinese New Year travel>>
  • Select your travel dates carefully and avoid the peak start and end dates as people are rushing to get out and get to their families as early as they can and then return just in time to get back to work the next day.
  • Select air travel over other means, as this is most likely to be (a) available and (b) reliable. Train and bus travel will be a bit more risky and could be prone to overcrowding or being sold out.
  • Plan way ahead. If you are thinking about visiting Shanghai in February 2018, we recommend you book your tickets now or contact us immediately.

Let China Highlights Help You Tour China at New Year

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We hope the above gives you a good idea of Shanghai during CNY and why you should visit. China Highlights can tailor-make a special trip that's just for you, customized to your interests and budget. We offer the best travel experiences for you, your family, and friends when it comes to exploring China.

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