How to Spend Chinese New Year in London

Ellie Swain

Senior Contributor

Celebrating the Year of the Rat in 2020, the Lunar New Year falls this Saturday on the 25th January, with festivities taking place on Sunday 26th January. Outside of Asia, London hosts some of the biggest celebrations in the world, drawing in travellers and locals alike. The main events in central London’s Chinatown and West End will consist of a vibrant and colourful parade, street food stalls dishing up scrumptious Chinese fare, and an enthralling line-up of special performances. Whether you celebrate Chinese New Year annually or you’re keen to immerse yourself in the festivities for the first time, celebrating in London is a fabulous way to experience Chinese culture.

Watch the Parade and Performances

The highlight of the Chinese New Year celebrations in London is the famous parade. Kicking off at 10 am on Duncannon Street in Charing Cross, the streets of London come alive with a riotous and lively concoction of ornate dragons, glittering floats, and entrancing dancers and acrobats. The parade snakes its way towards Shaftsbury Avenue ending in, of course, Chinatown, so find a spot for a birds-eye view and enjoy the show.

In Trafalgar Square at 12 pm, there will be an official opening service followed by a varied mix of traditional and local performances. These include a gravity-defying lion dance and more spell-binding acrobatic performances. Don’t forget to stop by one of the food stalls to fuel your stomach between all the excitement.

Chinese New Year celebrations in London

Credit: Alphab.fr/Flickr

Dine on Delicious Food in Chinatown

What better way to celebrate Chinese culture than with a mouth-watering Chinese feast?Wherever you dine in Chinatown is bound to be an experience over the Chinese New Year weekend. Expect a visit from lion dancers as you tuck into your lunch, as they often frequent the local restaurants wishing the owners good luck and blessings for the coming year. If you’d like to celebrate Chinese New Year Cantonese-style, opt for a whole chicken dish and a fish dish with your loved ones. The whole chicken represents ‘happiness for the whole family’ while the fish means ‘may there be surpluses every year’. Alternatively, to celebrate Northern Chinese beliefs, indulge in dumplings. Of course, you can mix and match to your liking too.

While there are a plethora of fine Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, we recommend a visit to Orient London in the heart of the district. From quick and tasty dim sum to bespoke set menus, the restaurant serves some of the most delicious and authentic Chinese cuisine in the city.

Want to make an evening of it? Retreat to the dim corners of Opium, a 1920s Shanghai-themed bar serving oriental-style cocktails in moody, atmospheric surroundings. Keep an eye out for the subtle black door entrance which is sandwiched between two restaurants on the bustling Gerrard Street – it’s easy to miss. Navigate up the narrow stairway before you venture into the treasure trove of cocktails ready to be drained.

Make reservations where you can. After all, London’s Chinatown hosts the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia and almost every restaurant gets busy.

Traditional Chinese cuisine

Credit: Silentpilot/Pixabay

Tips for Enjoying Chinese New Year in London

As you can imagine, the streets of Chinatown and the West End become jam-packed with revellers during the Chinese New Year celebrations. To make the most of the weekend, be sure to plan your journey ahead of time using Transport for London’s Journey Plan to avoid congestion and to reach the festivities on time. Driving is an absolute no-no! Remember, you’ll be on your feet most of the day – apart from those blissful restaurant feasts – so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and to wrap up warm. And as it’s London, come prepared with an umbrella just in case it rains.

To fully immerse yourself into the joy of the celebrations, consider donning red clothing. Red is the representative colour of Chinese New Year, signifying good luck for the coming year. If you’re bringing along the little ones, let them carry a rat toy or you can paint their face with red colouring or a rat motif so they can thrive in the fun of the atmosphere. Haven’t got time to buy anything red or rat-related? Not to worry, there will be plenty of shops in Chinatown selling suitable gear – just don’t expect it to be a unique piece.

Strangers will often say ‘Happy New Year’ to you in Cantonese or Mandarin. Learn to respond in the same way to put a smile on their face. ‘Happy New Year’ in Cantonese is ‘San Nin Faai Lok’, pronounced ‘san knee fy lock’. In Mandarin, it’s ‘Xin Nian Kuai Le’, pronounced ‘sin nee-enn kwai ler’.

While the Chinese New Year celebrations are welcoming, exciting, and lively, as with any busy and significant event in London, be alert of pickpocketers. Keep valuables out of easy reach and out of sight, and always be aware of your surroundings. 

Chinese Dragon in London for New Year

Credit Paul/Flickr

Where to Stay

Want to avoid the packed buses and busy tubes? There are many quality hotels to stay in nearby that are close to all the action.

The five-star luxury W Hotel sits in the heart of Soho and Chinatown, with over 192 bedrooms and suites styled in décor that’s both luxe and playful. After a busy day of spectating and dancing, head to the hotel’s Away Spa to unwind with tailor-made treatments or navigate to the soothing sauna and steam rooms.

Another fabulous option is the Ham Yard Hotel, again found in the centre of Chinatown. The hotel features 91 uniquely furnished bedrooms, 13 independent stores, and a restaurant and bar with outdoor dining for ultimate ease and convenience. 

The W Hotel entrance

Credit: W London

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