Take a journey into the Far East at Chinatown. This is the bustling epicenter of London’s East Asian community, home to bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s also a main venue for flamboyant celebrations and a place to attend painting and marital arts classes. Chinatown started in London’s East End during the 18th century and moved to its current location, close to Leicester Square, in the 1950s.
Chinatown is essentially two parallel streets, Gerrard Street and Lisle Street. Start your journey at the either end of pedestrian-only Gerrard Street and walk through one of the ornamental gates. These feature red-painted columns, intricately-carved calligraphy and dragon sculptures. Admire the traditional Asian-style shopfronts, many guarded by statues of mythical creatures and decorated with lanterns and Chinese symbols.
Appreciate the intoxicating aromas that escape from the dozens of restaurants that line the area’s streets. Choose from casual and fine-dining options to fast food joints and teahouses. Sample typical Chinese dishes such as stir fry and dim sum, which is an array of bite-sized steamed or deep fried snacks. Find venues dedicated to Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese flavors, too.
Spend some time poking around the shops packed with colorful souvenirs, which include Buddha figurines, incense sticks and lucky charms. Treat yourself to a massage at a reflexology salon.
Glimpse into the cultural activities of the local community at the Chinese Community Centre. Long-term visitors might want to take Cantonese lessons or sign up for art, tai chi and taekwondo classes.
A great time to visit this district is for the Chinese New Year celebrations, which take place in January or February. Watch parades of flamboyant dance troops and dancing dragons. Enjoy live music and theatrical performances at a temporary stage on nearby Trafalgar Square.
Situated in London’s West End district, Chinatown is easy to get to via the city’s extensive public transport network. The most convenient Tube stations are Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Carnaby Street, The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are among several attractions that are just a short walk away.