On February 10, millions of people worldwide will join together to ring in the new lunar year, welcoming in the year of the Dragon.
Specifically, 2024 is the year of the Wood Dragon, said to foster growth, progress, and abundance.
Celebrated across China and throughout east and south-east Asia, the Chinese New Year — referred to in some countries as the Lunar New Year — marks the beginning of the Spring Festival, with celebrations in both China and London running until February 24, the 15th day of the first month of the new lunar year, when the holiday known as the Lantern Festival falls.
Marked by traditional costume, dancing, live performances, a parade and mountains of delicious food, London’s festivities will see tens of thousands of Londoners and tourists alike join together for one of the biggest New Year celebrations outside Asia. The capital has celebrated the occasion for around 50 years, and Chinatown has always been the epicentre for activity. Here’s everything to expect on the big day.
Besides the restaurants running Chinese New Year specials, there is the official Chinese New Year festival, organised by the London Chinatown Chinese Association. The big parade is part of it, and takes place after the official holiday, on February 11.
When is the Chinese New Year parade?
Exact timings for this year are still to be confirmed but in previous years, the parade has kicked off at 10am, with festivities starting in Trafalgar Square from 11am. The square will be a hub of vibrant activity, which usually commences with a screened show, followed by live firecrackers, dance performances and a thanksgiving ceremony, as well as the famous lions eye-dotting ceremony — a highly symbolic moment that enables the lions to ‘see’. Just as the name suggests, the eyes of the lion are dotted, or given pupils. Things tend to wrap up about 6pm, though many keep celebrating late into the evening. In total, expect dozens of floats, and around 30 groups giving performances.
Where in London is the parade?
The route of the parade should start on Duncannon Street, off Trafalgar Square, before heading up Charing Cross road, turning north to Shaftesbury avenue, before diving into the heart of Chinatown on Rupert Street.
What else is on?
Throughout the morning and well into the afternoon, there will be plenty of live music, traditional “flying lion” dances and other live staged and screened performances. Martial artists normally take to Trafalgar Square and hoards of street food vendors line the streets of the parade route and throughout Chinatown and Leicester Square.
As for food, expect Chinese staples typically eaten around this time: dumplings and spring rolls that signify wealth, hearty bowls of ‘longevity’ noodles — which denote a long life and happiness — and sweet rice balls, a traditional treat that symbolise family togetherness.
Is the event appropriate for children and families?
Performances are suitable for all ages, but families looking for entertainment geared specifically towards children should head to Leicester Square, where they’ll likely find more family-friendly activities, including arts and crafts, calligraphy and dressing up opportunities.
Where to eat
All of London’s best Chinatown restaurants will likely be busy, so knowing where to go will be crucial. Around the parade, there are plenty of top options; Dumplings’ Legend (W1, chinatown.co.uk) on Gerrard Street, Gold Mine (W1, gold-mine-wardour-street) on Wardour Street, and Tao Tao Ju (WC2H, taotaoju.co.uk) on Lisle Street are best for excellent dumplings and dim sum. Food House (W1, 020 7287 2818) and Four Seasons (W1, fs-restaurants.co.uk), both on Gerrard Street, are must visits for exquisite larger plates including some exceptional duck.
Cafe TPT (W1, cafetpt.com) also has a sterling reputation, deservedly so with their delicious and affordable set menus inspired by Hong Kong cafes. For a somewhat less traditional option nearby, Luke Farrell’s brilliant Speedboat Bar on Rupert Street (W1, (speedboatbar.co.uk) is inspired by dishes found in Bangkok’s Chinatown, while Bun House on Lisle Street (W1, bun.house) offers up some great value Cantonese-inspired bao — the salted egg custard bun is not to be missed.
If you don’t happen to be heading into Chinatown though, try one of the best restaurants celebrating the Chinese New Year across the capital.
What to wear
Given the festivities, many will want to adopt red into their wardrobes for the day as this signifies good luck for the coming year. It's also said that red symbolises passion and prosperity, as well as offering financial wellbeing, particularly pertinent at this time of year.
How to get to Chinatown
For anyone brave enough to try and drive in, there is a large Q-Park in Chinatown itself, as well as one just off Trafalgar Square. That said, the tube to Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern) or Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly, Bakerloo) will likely be best, though bear in mind these lines will will be busy.
Follow the official @TfL on Twitter for real-time service updates and, owing to the parade there will also be road closures, so be sure to check before you travel.