Area Guide for Chinatown

Chinatown is a London neighbourhood that’s simply full of restaurants with authentic Chinese charm, as well as unique shops and traders. Visit the area to partake in special events to sample the unmistakable Chinese culture, deep in the heart of England’s capital city.

Sample the exotic tastes and aromas of the Far East by visiting Chinatown in London. This vibrant locale is home to a huge community from East Asia, who regularly congregate for special activities and events over the course of the year. This all culminates in Chinatown’s biggest celebration of the year – Chinese New Year.

London’s Rich East Asian History

Formerly home to Malteses and Huguenot immigrants, Chinatown as it exists today, came into being in the 1950s, when a group of Chinese eateries opened their doors in the same local area. Subsequently, services and businesses began gravitating to the area and over the next two decades, it became a commercial and cultural Chinese hub for London.

Chinatown wasn’t always in its current location, as the original place to be called Chinatown was in Limehouse, in the East End of London. It came about as a result of the influx of chinese workers into London’s docks in the late 1800s, with an early Chinese community being created there.

This only persisted until a decline in the shipping industry, combined with the widespread destruction of the area in the Blitz in World War 2, causing workers to leave the area in search of employment during the mid twentieth century.

Whereabouts in London is Chinatown?

Geographically speaking, Chinatown sits right in the middle, north of Leicester Square, West of Charing Cross Road, East of Rupert Street and South of Shaftesbury Avenue. Gerrard Street, forms the main part of Chinatown, running right through the area. Chinatown also forms part of the famous West End of London.

Directions to Chinatown

Chinatown is located within easy reach of a number of London’s best attractions, such as Soho and Theatreland in Leicester Square. Being located so centrally, makes it easier to reach using public transport.

The closest London Underground stations to the area of Chinatown are Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, which themselves are connected to the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly lines.

A number of bus routes connect Chinatown to other parts of London and cabs are freely available close by.

Should you be travelling to the area to celebrate Chinese New Year, it is recommended that you check important information regarding travel to the area for the biggest events.

Travelling around Chinatown

It’s pretty simple to travel around Chinatown by foot, as it’s not a very large area and some of the streets there don’t even allow cars, so it’s nice and safe too!

The area is surrounded by bus routes, but none of them actually run through Chinatown and car access is restricted to specific streets.

The entrance gate to London Chinatown

Things to see in Chinatown

Chinatown has some of the most spectacularly decorated streets and buildings, as they are covered in brightly coloured Chinese symbols, such as lanterns and golden dragons. Don’t worry about finding your way round, as all signs are written in both Chinese and English.

Whilst there, you’ll also see modern sculptures, chinese gates and stone lions and be sure to check out Wardour Street’s brand new fourth gate. The gate was finished in 2016 and created in keeping with the style of the Qing Dynasty. It is the single largest chinese gate in the UK.

All these elaborate decorations offer the perfect backdrop for some ideal photo opportunities and provide a dazzling taste of both the chinese religion and culture, especially during celebrations.

What Events are Happening in Chinatown?

Each year, between the middle of January and February (the exact dates vary, in line with the Chinese calendar), Chinatown is the location of London’s dazzling and colourful celebrations for Chinese New Year.

In 2019, Chinese New Year starts on the 5th of February, kicking off a period of celebration and colour that begins either around or on that date. Visitors to the event are invariably witness to an amazing parade with lion dances and floats, as well as live entertainment in Trafalgar Square and performances across Chinatown. There’s also many pop up food stalls for when you get peckish and craft stalls, ideal for picking up a souvenir or two. 

Take a look at our tips on how to get in involved in London’s Chinese New Year celebrations.

There’s much more besides in terms of events across the rest of the year in Chinatown, including a number of highlights:

  • The amazing technicolour International Lion Dance and Dragon Dance Festival parades through Chinatown on New Year’s Day itself. 
  • Witness talented singers challenge each other to reach Chinatown’s August Water Cube Cup Singing Contest.
  • Take in some wondrous performances at the mid-Autumn, week-long Moon Fest, whilst eating some of their famous Mooncakes – all in the name of harvest celebration.
  • The 15th day of the celebrations for Chinese New Year, sees the Lantern Festival, where beautifully created lanterns are illuminated in the area.
  • The Poon Choi Festival is a captivating tribute to the Chinese elders, held during the Summer. Whilst you’re there, enjoy food served up in a massive basin!
  • At London Docklands, you can see the unmissable Dragon Boat Festival, where you can feast on traditional chinese fare – Zongzi (Lotus leaves wrapped around sticky rice dumplings)

Where are the Best Places to Shop in Chinatown?

Visit Chinatown and you’ll find numerous bakeries and Chinese eateries, in addition to vendors packed full of Chinese themed gifts and trinkets.

Take a look around the SeeWoo and New Loon Moon supermarkets for exotic spices, vegetables and fruits that you won’t find at traditional english food retailers.

If luxurious cakes and succulent buns are your thing, head over to the Kowloon Bakery and the Golden Gate Cake Shop – perfect for indulging, whatever the time of day.

Or why not go shopping for lanterns, ornaments such as maneki-neko (known as beckoning cats) or chinese clothing at the many shops in Chinatown.

Where are the Best Bars and Restaurants in Chinatown?

You’ll be spoilt for choice in Chinatown for places to eat, with numerous Chinese restaurants serving traditional Chinese fare. It’s not all Chinese food though, as you can also find other types of Far Eastern cuisine from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. There’s even European style restaurants for those with a slightly less exotic tastes.

If you really want to get a true taste of Chinatown, you should eat at one of London’s premier Chinese restaurants. There’s so many to choose from (as you would expect) in Chinatown, with a choice of Cantonese, Szechuan, Dim Sum and Chinese buffet food on offer.

Some of the best eateries in Chinatown include:

  • Four Seasons – A restaurant renowned for its roast duck
  • Baozi Inn – For dumplings and other street food style dishes
  • Golden Dragon – Known for offering some of London’s best Dim Sum
  • Leong’s Legend – Offering traditional Taiwanese fare
  • New Mayflower – The place to visit if you’re into your seafood!
  • Olle – A unique restaurant, featuring barbecued marinated meat dishes, cooked on table top stoves
  • Bubblewrap – A popular destination for egg waffles from Hong Kong, each served with luxurious toppings
  • Rasa Sayang – Offering delicious cuisine from Singapore and Malaysia
  • Shuang Shuang – For those who love warming broths or hot pots. You even get to choose what ingredients go in!
  • Plum Valley – The place to go for modern Cantonese fare
  • Ichibuns – An interesting blend of American and Japanese cuisines, famed for its Wagyu Beef Burger
  • Imperial China – A perfect, spacious venue for large groups or families that serves delicious Chinese food
  • Royal Dragon – If singing Karaoke while you eat delicious Dim Sum sounds fun, this restaurant is perfect for you.

If you are a fan of cocktails, you should visit The Experimental Cocktail Club, a clandestine-style bar, secreted away behind an ordinary-looking door located on Gerrard Street. For even more creatively made drinks, head over to the evocatively named Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour. Or visit the Light Lounge for a truly atmospheric experience.

You can enjoy a vibrant atmosphere on Macclesfield Street at De Hems, with a selection of Belgian and Dutch beers on offer. Then dance through the night at Ku Bar, a popular gay bar on the corner of Lisle Street.

Where are the best places to stay in Chinatown?

In Chinatown itself, there is a restricted amount of accommodation, but there are numerous hotels, just a couple of streets over in Soho, Covent Garden and Leicester Square.

Hotels local to Chinatown include:

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