Enjoy a taste of the far east by exploring London’s Chinatown. This bustling neighbourhood is home to a large East Asian community, who gather together for events and activities throughout the year, in particular during London's Chinese New Year celebrations.
What's London Chinatown's history?
Once home to Huguenot and Maltese immigrants, the area of Chinatown as we know it today started to form in the 1950s, when a handful of Chinese restaurants opened. With other businesses and services moving in, by the 1960s and 1970s the neighbourhood had become a hub for Chinese culture.
The original London Chinatown was in Limehouse, in London’s East End. Chinese employees of the East India Company settled at the docks in the late 19th century and helped to create a Chinese community. However, a decline in shipping and large-scale destruction of the area during the Second World War saw this quarter dwindle by the mid-20th century.
Where is Chinatown in London?
Geographically, Chinatown is bound by Shaftesbury Avenue to the north, Rupert Street to the west, Charing Cross Road to the east and Leicester Square to the south. The main focal point is Gerrard Street, which runs through its centre. Chinatown is part of London’s West End.
How to get to Chinatown
London’s Chinatown is close to key attractions such as Leicester Square, Theatreland and Soho. Its central location makes it an easy place to get to by public transport.
How to get around Chinatown
It is easy to get around Chinatown on foot, as it is a relatively small area and some streets are pedestrianised.
Bus routes skirt the area’s boundaries but do not travel through Chinatown, and access for taxis and cars is limited to certain streets.
What to see in London Chinatown
Chinatown boasts buildings and streets decorated with Chinese symbols such as dragons and lanterns. Keep an eye out for street signs, which are written in English and Chinese.
Find stone lions, contemporary art sculptures and Chinese gates as you explore the area, and don’t miss Chinatown’s new fourth gate on Wardour Street: completed in 2016 and built in traditional Qing dynasty style, it is the largest Chinese gate in the country. All these impressive decorations make perfect photo opportunities and give an insight into Chinese culture and religion, particularly during seasonal celebrations.
What's on in Chinatown London: events
Every year, Chinatown plays host to the capital's colourful Chinese New Year celebrations between mid-January and February – the dates vary from year to year according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
In 2020, Chinese New Year falls on 25 January, with the main Chinese New Year London festivities taking place on 26 January.
Events include a spectacular parade with floats and lion dances, live performances in Trafalgar Square, and entertainment across the West End and around Chinatown, as well as pop-up food and craft stalls. Check out our top tips for celebrating Chinese New Year in London.
There are also plenty of other events in Chinatown throughout the year, including the following highlights:
- Be dazzled at the International Dragon and Lion Dance Festival as a colourful procession moves through Chinatown on New Year's Day.
- Admire beautiful lanterns as they’re illuminated at the Lantern Festival, which takes place on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
- Watch singers compete for a place in the final of the Water Cube Cup Singing Contest that is held in China in August.
- Pay tribute to the elder generations in the summer months at the Poon Choi Festival and feast on food served in a giant basin.
- As the Dragon Boat Festival takes place in London's Docklands, Chinatown serves up traditional zongzi (sticky rice dumplings wrapped in lotus leaves).
- Sample delicious mooncakes and watch stunning performances at Moon Fest, a week-long celebration in thanks of the harvest during mid-autumn.
Things to do in Chinatown London: shopping
Chinatown is home to some wonderful, authentic Chinese food shops and bakeries, as well as shops selling Asian cosmetics and Chinese-inspired trinkets and gifts.
Shop for fluffy pineapple buns and custard tarts at Golden Gate Cake Shop and Kowloon bakery – perfect any time of the day! Watch mini taiyaki (fish-shaped waffles filled with custard) being made at Chinatown Bakery, or try them stuffed with soft-serve matcha ice cream at Bake.
You can also explore shops selling lanterns, Chinese clothing and knick-knacks such as maneki-neko (beckoning cats).
Where to eat in Chinatown London: restaurants and bars
There is a wealth of restaurants in Chinatown, many of which serve regional Chinese fare. But you’ll also find other cuisines including Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Japanese, alongside European eateries and pizza places.
For a real taste of Chinatown, eat at one of the top London Chinese restaurants. You are spoilt for choice with Chinatown restaurants ranging from spicy Szechuan specialities to Cantonese cuisine, dim sum and Chinese buffet restaurants.
Among the best restaurants in Chinatown are:
- Baozi Inn: for rustic street food-style dishes such as dumplings
- Four Seasons: an eatery famed for its roast duck
- Olle: a Korean barbecue restaurant with tabletop stoves on which to sizzle marinated meats
- Golden Dragon: home to some of the best dim sum in London
- Leong's Legend: a specialist in Taiwanese cuisine
- Bubblewrap Waffle: for Hong Kong-style egg waffles, heaped with decadent toppings
- Plum Valley: a haven for lovers of contemporary Cantonese cuisine
- Rasa Sayang: for feasting on delicious dishes from Malaysia and Singapore
- Shu Xiangge: the place to go for hotpots (steaming broths in which to cook your choice of ingredients)
- Imperial China: a spacious Chinese restaurant that’s great for family meals
- Ichibuns: a colourful fusion of Japanese and American cuisines, known for its wagyu beef burger
If you’re craving a cocktail, try the Experimental Cocktail Club, a speakeasy-style bar hidden behind an unassuming door on Gerrard Street. For more beautifully crafted drinks, head to the seductive Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour, enjoy the atmospheric surrounds of The Light Lounge, or experience the classy clandestine vibes of The Mulwray, hidden above The Blue Posts.
Where to stay in Chinatown London
Hotels in and around Chinatown include:
- Radisson Blu Edwardian, Hampshire
- W London Leicester Square
- St Martin's Lane
- Premier Inn London Leicester Square
Find more hotels near Chinatown.
More about Chinatown
Find out more about Chinatown.