CHINATOWN ULTIMATE GUIDE
It may be located in the heart of the City of Westminster, but London’s Chinatown doesn’t feel anything like London at all. As a matter of fact, wandering through its many streets lined with red paper lanterns and Mandarin street signs, tourists in London may feel like they’re walking around somewhere in East Asia rather than in London’s lively West End district.
London’s Chinatown has been around since the 1950s (although the original Chinatown was located in London’s East End during the 18th century), and is home to more than 80 different Asian restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as Chinese food shops, bakeries, souvenir stores, and even reflexology specialists and traditional Chinese medicine experts. There’s also countless supermarkets which are crammed full of authentic and exotic ingredients that can normally only be found in Asia.
Today, Chinatown attracts up to more than 17.4 million visitors each year, and is especially busy during the Chinese New Year, which takes place sometime between mid-January and February every year (depending on the Chinese lunar calendar).
There are a ton of different monuments, sights and attractions scattered all around London’s Chinatown which are worth snapping a photo of.
There are two lion statues on Gerrard Street (which were donated by the People’s Republic of China), four different Paifangs (or Chinese Archways) at the different Chinatown entry points, and the fascinating 1888 Mural in Horse and Dolphin Yard.
Besides strolling around Chinatown and marvelling over its countless oriental sights, many tourists in London venture to Chinatown for the sole reason of sampling some delicious and authentic Asian food, ranging from sticky rice rolls, pickled raw octopus, to Cantonese roast duck and dumplings (just to name a few).
Not just limited to restaurants, there are also Chinese buffets and chopstick, rice and dim sum parlours, and you can also find restaurants focusing on Korean, Malaysian, Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine as well.
And even if you don’t plan on stocking up on food during your visit to London, strolling around one of Chinatown’s many supermarkets is a must, as you can glance over some authentic Asian ingredients and items you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the UK.
Try to avoid eating at buffets, as there are numerous restaurants in and around Chinatown that are relatively cheap and will fill you up just as much.
The majority of restaurants have a menu outside either next to the door or in a window, so you'll be able to glance over the menu items before you enter. Perhaps it may go without saying, but try to “shop around” before you make a final decision on where to eat, as there are a ton of different options and restaurants available.
If you're short on cash but still want to sample some delicious Asian cuisine, look out for the “Chef's Specials” which are usually displayed on a restaurant's menu outside.
55-57 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0BL, United Kingdom (See map).
The nearest station is Leicester Square (which is less than a minute walk away). Once you arrive at the station, take exit two, turn the corner and you'll be smack dab in the middle of Chinatown. Other nearby underground stations are Covent Garden (a four-minute walk away) or Piccadilly Circus (a seven-minute walk away).
The nearest station is Charing Cross, which is an 11-minute walk away.
You can reach Chinatown via routes 14, 19, 38, N19, and N38. (Be aware that the buses do not travel directly through Chinatown, but stop along the streets which border it).
If you plan on seeing Chinatown in its entirety, you can wander around its many winding streets within two to three hours. However, because you may even find yourself spending an entire afternoon in the area, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wear comfortable walking shoes.
If you are visiting London sometime between mid-January and February, be sure to check out London’s ever-popular Chinese New Year celebrations, which is said to be the biggest Chinese New Years Celebration in the world outside of Asia. The majority of the celebrations take place in Chinatown (although sometimes they trickle over into the rest of London’s West End).
During the Chinese New Year celebrations, visitors can watch an eye-popping parade which leads through the streets on floats, complete with lion dancers, acrobatics, music concerts, stage shows and performers dressed in traditional Chinese outfits.
Restaurants, bars and cafes in Chinatown also offer special menu items during the Chinese New Year, and they might even host their own events as well. Visitors can also sample some food at the many food stalls (located along Shaftesbury Avenue), and buy a few Asian knick-knacks at the many craft stalls scattered around Wardour Street and Gerrard Street. There are also stages set up on Shaftesbury Avenue, and musical performances, martial art displays and workshops along Charing Cross Road.
Anyone can walk around Chinatown for free, and although the majority of restaurants generally open at 12 p.m. and close at 12 a.m., it’s not uncommon for some restaurants to stay open as late as 4 a.m. Nevertheless, if you want to visit a specific restaurant or supermarket, it may be a good idea to look at their opening and closing hours on their website beforehand.