The Ultimate Guide to the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square

How to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square

 

When you want to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square, you need to be prepared, for the crowds, your attendance as the stage can be blocked by the people in front of you, the weather, where you’re going to go, and where you’re going to eat. Everything in this guide will help you prepare your day celebrating the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square. If you’re organised, you won’t miss anything. Read on.

 

Where to celebrate the Chinese New Year?

 

Every year, the Chinese New Year celebrations happen in Trafalgar Square, and as most know, the Chinese celebrate it with different animals. When I was celebrating in Trafalgar Square, I was celebrating the year of the pig. According to the Chinese zodiac, fortune, wealth, love, and career are normal, however, my wealth will increase as they are well rewarded. According to the Chinese zodiac, the pig’s personality is that they are diligent, compassionate, and generous.

 

My experience at the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square

 

As I stepped out of Charing Cross Station, I was overly excited to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square. I saw crowds of people walking towards the Square but I didn’t see the Parade. Usually, the street in front of Charing Cross Station is closed when there’s an event going on and there are usually metal fences between the parade and the crowds of people.

People would often stand in closed spaces, some would walk up and down the pavement, squeezing through thousands of people to get a better view of the parade. It can get stressful sometimes. Not when I arrived. I didn’t see dancing dragons, martial artists, and colourful banners flying above. I missed it but I knew there was more in the square.

As I crossed the road, I saw a few martial artists packing their belongings and a few banners on the iron fence from the parade. I felt disappointed because it was the main thing I wanted to see.

Dotting of the the dragons with the Mayor of London Saddiq Khan

The Chinese New Year Parade

 

Although I missed the parade, the Chinese New Year Parade route starts in Charing Cross Road, and Charing Cross Road is right in front of Charing Cross Station, you can’t miss it. It starts from East London and ends in Shaftesbury Avenue where Shaftesbury Avenue is. If you want to grab something to eat in Chinatown, make sure you reserve a table at least a week before the celebration because all the Chinese restaurants will be full and won’t be taking any walk-ins. Shaftesbury Avenue connects to Chinatown, and Piccadilly Circus, and it’s better to stay there, since you can just head over to Chinatown for your restaurant reservation.

Alternatively, hang around in Trafalgar Square after the parade and reserve your table for dinner that day. That way, you won’t miss the shows. If you decide to eat lunch in Chinatown, walk over to Trafalgar Square through Leicester Square for the events. It depends on what you want to do.

 

The Celebration

Before you do anything else, make sure you grab a program. The celebration is always multicultural, everyone from different nations come to celebrate, not just the Chinese. It’s advisable to walk in and around the Square to familiarise your surroundings and get a great view of the stage. Blending with the crowd feels like community and culture mixed. The best view of the stage is the steps in front of the National Gallery, there’ll be less people crowding around you. If you go further into the stage, you’ll be squeezed with the rest of the crowds, and your view of the stage will be limited, especially with umbrellas and tall people. Squeezing between people felt suffocating, especially when there are taller people in front of you but bring your selfie stick with you just in case. As the the Chinese New Year starts in January, it can rain a lot. One minute is sunny, the next minute it rains, so you’d have to just hold your umbrella in your hands and bring a thick hoodie coat.

As I stepped into Trafalgar Square, there were red and yellow food and drink stalls selling Chinese dishes, businesses from Chinatown getting the opportunity to make profit. You can smell the strong aroma of garlic and chili, which seeps through my nose. The smoke from the giant pans rose, obscuring the chefs cooking. Their sweaty faces from the heat of the pan. I did feel sorry for them, but it’s great for business. A long line of around 20 people waited to be served in front.

At the top of the square, there were more people gathering around. I saw a few businessmen networking with the community about investments in China. A lot of disinterest in people’s faces though, since all they wanted to do was to celebrate, and didn’t feel like doing business. In 2018, we saw banners and protesters outside Trafalgar Square against dog meat festivals in China. It’s up to you if you want to sign a petition and donate to the charity.

Further on, a group of people crowded in one corner. Someone dressed up in animated traditional Chinese costumes. A panda was keen on taking pictures with the crowds. Therefore, it’s important to scan your surroundings, so you don’t miss anything.

Crowds in front of stalls selling Chinese goodies

Back at Trafalgar Square

 

If you’re feeling hungry, try to avoid the line at the food stalls, even if the smell of the garlic and herbs tempts you to buy it. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of the line and find the ceremony is about to start and not get a good view. Finding a good spot in front of the stage for the opening ceremony is your main priority or queue up if you don’t like the opening ceremony, (it can get boring). The Mayor of London, the Chinese Ambassador in London and the Councillor of Westminster will talk about the history of the Chinese New Year and the history of the Chinese community in London. I found it boring. It’s not that interesting. While they’re talking, grab your food, then enjoy the show at the top of the stairs.

To my left, someone said “I didn’t know whether to bring my umbrella or my selfie stick.” I thought, “Why couldn’t you bring both?”

Finally, the ceremony started with a big bang with the Mayor of London, the Councillor of Westminster and the Chinese Ambassador talking. Then… 

Eye Dotting the Dragon

 

Before the Dragon Dance, traditionally, the Chinese dots the dragon to “wake the dragons” for the season. The Chinese believe the dragons sleep throughout the off-season, and by dotting the eyes, it will seem like the dragons are awake.

 

The Dragon Dance

 

On the running up to the dragon dance, the sound of the beating of the drums were tensed. Although the people in front obscured my view for a few minutes, the two red, blue, and yellow grizzly dragons moved a few metres closer to the crowds.

To the Chinese, dragons are considered good luck and brings wealth, health, and prosperity. People think of dragons as fierce creatures but to the Chinese, they are thought to be friendly and beneficial to their lives. They dance to drive away evil spirits and when they perform their dance, they’ll rise to 100 metres high.

Despite the rain, I enjoyed the spectacle since the dragons looked adorable. It looked directly at people’s eyes individually for a few seconds and felt as if they communicated with us. It’s as if the dragons had souls.

The program stated that there would be some martial arts involved, and since the dancing dragons went on for more than an hour, grabbing a bite to eat wouldn’t hurt. By the time I finish eating, I’d go back to the Square and hopefully, I wouldn’t miss the martial arts.

The atmosphere in Trafalgar Square

 

Is China Town Open during the Chinese New Year?

 

From Trafalgar Square, I headed over to Leicester Square. The crowd in Chinatown was like any other day in Chinatown. I saw the thousands of red and yellow lanterns strewn on top of buildings, above our heads. Since I haven’t been to China Town in ages, I thought the red lanterns were especially put there for the celebration, but in actual fact, it’s there every day. People walked in different directions, bumping into each other, taking photos in front of the Chinese lanterns. It looked like a normal day until…

I walked further in where I noticed several rows of Chinese restaurants. A long line of people outside waiting to be served, some were waiting for free tables, some had reservations, and some had “Reservations only” sign on the windows. It’s unbelievable, everywhere is full, I couldn’t get a table to celebrate.

While looking for a restaurant, from a distance, I heard a soft clanking of the drums. The clanking sound got louder and louder. The louder it got; the more crowds gathered around the noise. A glimpse of a dragon’s tail flew up and down in the air again, repeating its actions several times.

As it got nearer to where I was standing, people pushed and shoved in front of me to get a better view to take videos on their phones. “STAND BACK PLEASE, STAND BACK, IF YOU STAND BACK, YOU’D BE ABLE TO SEE THE DRAGONS,” shouted the security officer. As the dragons made their way into the restaurants to entertain the customers, we crowded in front of the entrance. “PLEASE STAND BACK AND LET THE DRAGONS PASS, THEY’LL COME OUT FROM THIS RESTAURANT,” shouted the security officer once again.

I felt he was a little dramatic, it’s only a dancing dragon. All over Chinatown, you can see several more dancing dragons as you walk through the cobbled pavements. No cars can drive through here so everywhere you go, you’ll have a chance to see them dance.

I totally forgot I wanted to grab something to eat to celebrate. I noticed another restaurant had a short line but had to wait 20 minutes for a table. It was very disappointing since I had waited 15 minutes, I was still not tended to. Frustrated, I didn’t know where to eat or what to do after this, plus, I probably missed the martial arts in Trafalgar Square, so that’s out of the picture. I felt my stomach rumbling, so I opted for the Japanese chained sushi restaurant Wasabi. It was busy but the line was short by about 5 minutes. Finally, I was able to sit down and eat something.

The atmosphere outside was still crowded with people, litter strewn all over the floor, and dragons still entertained walkers. Rain continued to pour, after rain came the sunshine, then it poured again, eventually, no one really bothered with the dragons. Nearly everyone had already finished their lunches and I felt ready to go home.

Before I headed home, I wanted to take a sneak peek back at Trafalgar Square, just out of curiosity. As I got out of Charing Cross Station, people had already dispersed, half of the crowds went elsewhere and only 10 people sat in front of the stage. Three Chinese people wore a traditional Chinese costume on stage talking about the history of their garments. It didn’t look interesting, the people watching them looked bored as ever. “Thank God there’s nothing going on now, it’s an excuse to go home,” I thought.

Oh, what a day!! It was exhausting, so glad I’m on the train home. 

Check out Chinatown’s website for more information on events, attractions, restaurants and more.

Annisa’s Advice

 

When you want to see the parade, look on the website to see when it starts. Like any other events in Central London, it’s advisable to get there half an hour to an hour early to avoid the crowds.

Reserve a table a week in advance so you can plan where and when to eat. Be prepared for a hectic lunch. Most restaurants in Chinatown are quite small and there’s not enough room to walk around. Even if it’s a big restaurant, the tables are squeezed together, it will look like you’re eating with the strangers sitting next to you.

If you want to try street food, make sure you get there early to avoid the long queue. You might miss a show.

Bring an umbrella, a raincoat, a thin or thick jumper with a hood depending on how heavy the rain is. At times, it can get sunny sporadically, other times, you’d only get sprinkles of rain for 10 minutes and heavy rain for another 10 minutes. Be prepared for different weather forecasts in one day.

 

Nearby attractions

 

After Chinatown, visit several social gathering places such as Leicester Square, the home of film premiers, and a chance to sit in the square overlooking the Shakespeare Statue and the surrounding fountains. It’s a great time to relax after the show. While you’re here, you can shop around for 50% off tickets on theatre shows on the same day in Shaftesbury Avenue and watch major long-running theatre shows like Les Misérables, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. When COVID restrictions have been lifted, I’ll write a review on the shows, and how easy, or hard to get the 50% off tickets.

You can also visit Piccadilly Circus, where you can take pictures of the Statue of Eros overlooking the billboards.

You can visit Regent Street and Oxford Street for some late-night shopping or visit Soho for a vibrant nightlife.

Check out my post on other events in Trafalgar Square here. The celebrations are usually different, but the crowds are the same. Once COVID restrictions have been lifted, I’ll post a review on each celebrations.

Leicester Square is next to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus is linked to Leicester Square. 

Check out the free National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, 2 of the 9 free museums and galleries you must visit, opposite Trafalgar Square, if your feet can handle it. You will see the Admiralty Arch here too. Walkthrough there, and you will see St. James’ Park, Buckingham Palace and The Horseguard Parade as well as as the Churchill War Museum, all next to each other. Visit my West End Walk for more information on the attractions mentioned above. Alternatively, you can take the bus numbers 12, 159, and 453, (tap your Oyster Card, they’ll charge you £1.50 per bus journey, and takes you there in 10 minutes. Pre-COVID, buses can be packed, so be careful) from Trafalgar Square to Westminster towards the Southbank. It talks about things to do in the Southbank, and tips on walking by the Southbank, near the River Thames.

Alternatively, if you walk 14 minutes from Trafalgar Square to Westminster, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the Queen’s guards at Horse Guard Parade, and see people protesting outside 10 Downing Street (You won’t see the Number 10 door though. You’ll only a tall black ironed gate with police officers). You won’t get lost, just walk towards Big Ben as your guide. You’ll see the Big Ben Clock Tower from Trafalgar Square.

After the celebration, you have half a day left. The top suggestions are great ideas on things to do in London.

In the meantime, be safe and take care!!!

 

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