The Ultimate Guide to the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square

Two red Chinese lanterns

From a distant vantage point, crowds throng the streets of London's West End, adorned in vibrant hues to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

How to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square

Welcome to our guide on celebrating the Chinese New Year in the vibrant city of London! The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a momentous occasion steeped in centuries of tradition, cultural significance, and festive splendour. As the city comes alive with the spirit of this auspicious event, we invite you to join us on a journey through the enchanting streets of London, where ancient customs meet modern celebrations.

London’s multicultural tapestry makes it the perfect setting for embracing the rich heritage of Chinese traditions. From bustling parades to intricate decorations, from mouthwatering feasts to mesmerizing performances, the city offers a kaleidoscope of experiences that capture the essence of this cherished festival.

In this blog, we’ll unveil the key ingredients to ensure your Chinese New Year celebration in London is an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re a local resident or a visitor from afar, there’s something for everyone to enjoy – from the lively energy of the parade to the tranquility of participating in time-honoured ceremonies. Join us as we explore the various facets of this vibrant celebration and provide you with insider tips to make the most of your time during this festive season.

So, if you’re ready to be immersed in the colours, flavours, and traditions of the Chinese New Year in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, read on. Let’s embark on a journey of cultural discovery and festive delight.

A young girl stands beside a person dressed in a vibrant Chinese man cartoon costume. The girl appears delighted, smiling brightly as she poses next to the colorful character. The costume features traditional Chinese attire with bold patterns and intricate details, adding to the festive atmosphere of the scene.

Where to celebrate the Chinese New Year?

Annually, Trafalgar Square becomes the epicenter of Chinese New Year celebrations, a widely recognized event marked by the Chinese zodiac animals. In the upcoming year of 2024, the celebrated animal is the dragon, a quintessential symbol of China. This promises an exceptionally lively and festive atmosphere, as the dragon takes center stage in the commemoration.

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

What time is Chinese New Year parade London?

The Chinese New Year Parade route in London commences at 10 am on Charing Cross Road and winds its way through the vibrant streets, culminating in the heart of Chinatown on Shaftesbury Avenue. The exact duration of the parade can vary based on the number of participants, performances, and crowd interactions, but on average, the parade typically lasts around 1.5 to 2 hours from start to finish. This timeframe includes the time it takes for the procession to navigate through the designated route, showcasing colorful floats, traditional performances, and lively cultural displays. It’s important to note that arrival times, pauses, and overall pace may impact the overall duration of the parade experience.

A young girl stands beside a person dressed in a panda costume. The girl is smiling, while the person in the panda costume has their arms outstretched in a playful pose. The scene exudes a sense of joy and whimsy, as the duo shares a lighthearted moment together.

The Chinese New Year Parade

As you step onto Shaftesbury Avenue, the air is electrified with the promise of a sensory spectacle like no other. The Chinese New Year Parade in London unfolds before you, a symphony of sights, sounds, and emotions that awaken your senses.

Giant dragons, adorned in vibrant hues of yellow and red, dominate the scene. Their scales shimmer in the sunlight, casting a mesmerizing glow that bathes the parade route. As they undulate along the avenue, their movements are like ripples in the sea, flowing gracefully yet powerfully. The dragons’ eyes, intense and fiery, seem to pierce through the crowd, making a connection that resonates deep within your soul.

The air reverberates with the thunderous beat of drums, their rhythm echoing in your chest as they blaze a path for the parade. The resonant beats synchronize with your heartbeat, creating a pulsating energy that propels the procession forward. The collective gasps and cheers of the crowd blend seamlessly with the rhythmic drumming, creating a harmonious symphony of excitement and celebration.

As you navigate through the enthusiastic crowds, there’s a palpable sense of anticipation. Bodies press together, a harmonious chaos of people from all walks of life. The sensation of movement, of inching your way through the throng, is a tactile reminder of the shared experience that binds everyone present. Each step forward is a small victory, an achievement earned amidst the sea of smiling faces.

The scents of street food waft through the air, tantalizing your taste buds and adding yet another layer to this multi-sensory experience. The aroma of sizzling dumplings, savory noodles, and sweet pastries mingles with the festive atmosphere. It’s an invitation to indulge in culinary delights that are an integral part of the celebration, a way to further immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Chinese culture.

Amidst the lively parade, the distinctive aroma of incense swirls around you. It’s a fragrant tribute to tradition, a reminder of the spiritual significance that underpins the festivities. The mingling scents of incense and street food create an olfactory landscape that’s both grounding and invigorating, evoking a sense of timelessness in the midst of the vibrant modern city.

As you continue along the parade route, you witness the meticulous choreography of the dragon dance. Skilled performers in intricate traditional Chinese costumes move in perfect harmony, controlling the serpentine body of the dragon with fluidity and grace. Alongside this captivating spectacle, the iconic red double-decker buses proudly display “Happy Chinese New Year” banners, a symbolic union of cultures and festivities.

Among the crowd, you spot children donning colourful dragon masks, their faces painted with pure delight. Their infectious joy is a testament to the universal appeal of this celebration, where age and background melt away in the face of shared jubilation.

The Chinese New Year Parade in London is a sensory tapestry, weaving together the visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory elements into an experience that resonates deeply within you. It’s a moment of connection, a celebration that transcends the senses and embraces the essence of unity, culture, and joy.

Majestic Dragon in Trafalgar Square

The Best Spots to see the Chinese New Year

Finding the best viewing spots for the Chinese New Year celebrations in London can enhance your experience and allow you to fully immerse yourself in the festivities. Here are some of the prime locations where you can catch all the action:

1. Trafalgar Square

  • Trafalgar Square is often the heart of the celebrations, hosting vibrant performances and cultural displays on the main stage.
  • Arrive early to secure a good spot near the stage for up-close views of the performances.
  • The square also provides an excellent vantage point for the parade route, allowing you to see the procession as it makes its way through the city streets.

2. Leicester Square

  • Leicester Square is another popular gathering point for Chinese New Year festivities.
  • It’s often equipped with large screens broadcasting the stage performances, ensuring you don’t miss any of the action even if you’re not right at the front.

3. China Town

  • The streets of Chinatown itself offer fantastic viewpoints as they are adorned with vibrant decorations and lantern displays.
  • Head to Gerrard Street, the main thoroughfare, to witness the colorful celebrations up close.

4. Shaftesbury Avenue

  • If you’re keen on experiencing the parade, Shaftesbury Avenue is a key point along the route where you can witness the dragon and lion dances, traditional costumes, and more.

5. Charing Cross Road and Covent Garden:

  • These areas are often part of the parade route and offer good opportunities to catch the parade as it passes by.

Remember that popular spots can get crowded quickly, so it’s a good idea to arrive early to secure your viewing spot. Additionally, consider checking event schedules in advance to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time for the performances and activities you’re most interested in.

Dotting the Dragon

“Dotting the Dragon” is a significant and symbolic ceremony that takes place during the Chinese New Year celebrations in London. This ritual, full of tradition and meaning, marks the awakening and blessing of the dragon that will take part in the lively parade. Here’s an overview of the “Dotting the Dragon” ceremony in London:

Prelude: Leading up to the Chinese New Year parade, a beautifully adorned dragon is prepared. This dragon, often accompanied by vibrant colors and intricate designs, symbolizes strength, power, and good fortune.

The Ceremony: The “Dotting the Dragon” ceremony typically takes place before the dragon is set in motion. During this ceremony, dignitaries, community leaders, and sometimes even members of the public gather to participate. The ceremony involves applying the eyes to the dragon, which is considered to breathe life into the creature and awaken its spirit.

Dotting the Eyes: The most crucial aspect of the ceremony is the act of “dotting” the dragon’s eyes. This involves applying ink or paint to the dragon’s eyes, bringing the creature to life symbolically. The eyes are often painted in vibrant colors, and the act itself is accompanied by ritualistic drumming, dancing, and chanting.

Symbolism: Dotting the dragon’s eyes is believed to bestow the dragon with the ability to see and interact with the world. It’s not just a physical act; it’s a spiritual awakening. The ceremony is also a way of seeking blessings for the upcoming year – blessings of prosperity, good fortune, and protection.

Community Participation: What makes the “Dotting the Dragon” ceremony so special is its inclusivity. Members of the community are often invited to take part, allowing them to connect with Chinese culture and tradition in a meaningful way.

Cultural Exchange: “Dotting the Dragon” is a beautiful representation of cultural exchange and unity. The ceremony brings together people from various backgrounds and walks of life, fostering a sense of togetherness and celebration.

As you witness or take part in the “Dotting the Dragon” ceremony during the Chinese New Year celebrations in London, you’ll be participating in a time-honored ritual that bridges the past, present, and future. It’s a moment of connection, reflection, and hope for the new year ahead.

Weather in January

As January marks the start of the Chinese New Year, London’s weather can be quite unpredictable. Rapid shifts from sunshine to rain are not uncommon, so it’s wise to be prepared. Keep your umbrella handy, even if it means holding it throughout your time at the festivities. Additionally, donning a sturdy, thick hoodie coat ensures you stay comfortable regardless of the weather’s whims.

By keeping these insights in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to savour the multicultural splendour of the Chinese New Year celebrations while navigating the varying conditions London might throw your way.

Crowds in front of stalls selling Chinese goodies

There are so many things to do in Trafalgar  Square during the Chinese New Year. The ceremony started with a big bang with the Mayor of London, the Councillor of Westminster and the Chinese Ambassador talking. Read below to find out more of what you will see during the ceremony.

The Dragon Dance

The Dragon Dance is a captivating and vibrant tradition that takes center stage during the Chinese New Year celebrations in London. This dynamic performance symbolizes strength, good luck, and prosperity, making it a cornerstone of the festive atmosphere. Here’s a closer look at the Dragon Dance in London:

Preparation: Leading up to the parade and festivities, elaborate dragon costumes are meticulously crafted. These costumes can range in length from a few meters to impressive lengths that require a team of skilled performers to control.

The Dance: The Dragon Dance is a choreographed spectacle that involves a group of dancers working in harmony to maneuver the dragon’s body. The dragon’s movements are fluid, with sinuous motions that mimic the creature’s legendary form. The dance is accompanied by rhythmic drumming and the clang of cymbals, creating an exhilarating rhythm that echoes through the streets.

Symbolism: The dragon holds immense significance in Chinese culture. It is a symbol of power, courage, and good fortune. The Dragon Dance is believed to bring blessings of prosperity and ward off negative energies, making it a vital part of ushering in the new year on an auspicious note.

Crowd Engagement: One of the most captivating aspects of the Dragon Dance is its ability to engage and interact with the crowd. The dragon playfully weaves through the streets, occasionally lunging towards spectators in a playful and friendly manner. This interactive element enhances the festive spirit and encourages a sense of unity among the onlookers.

Community Connection: The Dragon Dance isn’t just a performance; it’s a shared experience that brings the community together. Spectators of all ages and backgrounds can’t help but be captivated by the mesmerizing dance, transcending cultural barriers and creating a collective moment of joy.

Cultural Heritage: By witnessing the Dragon Dance, you’re not only experiencing a visually stunning performance but also connecting with the rich cultural heritage of China. The dance is a testament to the enduring traditions that have been passed down through generations.

New Beginnings: As the dragon dances through the streets, it carries with it a sense of renewal and optimism. The dance signifies leaving behind the old and embracing the new – a fitting metaphor for the Chinese New Year and the opportunities it brings.

As you watch the Dragon Dance during the Chinese New Year celebrations in London, you’re participating in a centuries-old tradition that continues to inspire awe and wonder. It’s a chance to be swept away by the dynamic energy, colors, and symbolism that define this extraordinary performance.

The atmosphere in Trafalgar Square

Martial Arts

Martial Arts performances during the Chinese New Year celebrations in London add an electrifying dimension to the festivities. These displays of skill and discipline showcase the essence of Chinese martial arts, drawing spectators into a world of precision and artistry. Here’s a glimpse into what you can expect from the Martial Arts demonstrations:

Precision and Mastery: Martial Arts performers demonstrate a level of precision and mastery that reflects years of dedicated practice. Every movement is calculated, combining physical prowess with mental focus to create a seamless and captivating performance.

Variety of Styles: The Martial Arts demonstrations encompass a diverse range of styles, each with its own history, philosophy, and techniques. From fluid Tai Chi routines to dynamic Kung Fu forms, these displays showcase the depth and breadth of Chinese martial arts traditions.

Cultural Symbolism: Martial Arts hold cultural significance beyond physical combat. They embody principles of discipline, respect, and honor. The performances often incorporate symbolic gestures and stances that reflect these values, offering spectators a deeper connection to Chinese culture.

Energetic Routines: Expect energetic routines that captivate the audience’s attention. The Martial Arts demonstrations are a display of strength, flexibility, and agility. Flurries of kicks, punches, and acrobatic movements underscore the dynamism of these performances.

Storytelling through Movement: Much like a dance, Martial Arts performances tell stories through movement. The performers convey narratives that can range from mythical tales to historical events, adding an extra layer of engagement to the display.

Audience Interaction: Many Martial Arts performances encourage audience participation. Spectators might be invited to try basic movements, fostering a sense of connection and appreciation for the artistry involved.

Bridge Between Traditions and Modernity: The Martial Arts demonstrations bridge the gap between ancient traditions and modern-day celebrations. They serve as a reminder of the enduring legacy of Chinese culture while embracing the contemporary spirit of the Chinese New Year festivities.

Unity in Diversity: London’s multicultural environment is reflected in these demonstrations. Martial Arts performers from various backgrounds come together to showcase their craft, celebrating diversity while honoring the shared heritage of Chinese martial arts.

Inspiration and Admiration: Watching Martial Arts performances during the Chinese New Year celebrations is an inspiring experience. It’s a chance to admire the dedication, discipline, and artistry of the performers while drawing inspiration from their commitment to their craft.

As you witness the Martial Arts demonstrations in London, you’re immersing yourself in a display of physical prowess, cultural heritage, and artistic expression. It’s a window into the world of Chinese martial arts, where tradition and innovation intertwine to create a spellbinding experience.

What time does London China Town open?

Exploring Chinatown comes at no cost, with the majority of eateries typically commencing service from 12 p.m. until midnight; however, certain establishments might extend their hours until 4 a.m, depending on their business.

Is London China Town open during the Chinese New Year?

Yes, China Town is indeed open during the Chinese New Year celebrations. In fact, it becomes one of the liveliest and most bustling areas in London as people gather to revel in the festivities. The atmosphere in Chinatown was reminiscent of any other ordinary day in the bustling district. However, due to the popularity of the celebrations, China Town can become quite crowded, so it’s advisable to plan your visit accordingly.

Above, a sea of red and yellow lanterns adorned buildings, casting a warm glow overhead. The red lanterns that adorned the streets were not exclusive to the celebration – they adorned the area every day. Amidst the colourful scenery, pedestrians traversed in various directions, their paths intersecting as they captured moments beneath the Chinese lanterns.

With the sight of rows of Chinese restaurants, an elongated queue of eager patrons stood outside, a mix of those awaiting tables, those with reservations, and establishments sporting “Reservations only” signs on their windows. The scene was astonishing; every corner was teeming with activity, yet securing a table for the celebration proved a daunting task.

A distant rhythmic clanking reached your ears. Gradually, the sound grew more pronounced, drawing larger crowds to its source. Amidst the growing clamour, a dragon’s tail emerged into view, soaring through the air and repeating its graceful movements multiple times through the cobbled pavements of China Town. The area’s pedestrian-only nature facilitated ample opportunities to witness these enchanting performances.

As the dragon approached, the crowd surged forward, vying for optimal positions to capture the spectacle on their phones. Amid the mounting excitement, a security officer’s voice rose above the commotion, urging everyone to step back for a better view of the dragons. The dragons eventually made their way into the restaurants to entertain diners, and spectators congregated eagerly at the entrances. “PLEASE STAND BACK AND LET THE DRAGONS PASS, THEY’LL COME OUT FROM THIS RESTAURANT,” the security officer’s voice echoed once more.

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, but the crowds began to disperse and ready to go home.

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.

Insider’s Tips

To optimize your experience, consider strolling through the Square and its surroundings upon arrival. This not only helps you acclimate to your surroundings but also offers a strategic vantage point to catch the performances on the stage. The atmosphere exudes a sense of communal celebration, where a blend of cultures creates an enriching tapestry.

For an unobstructed view of the stage, the steps in front of the National Gallery are your go-to spot. This location provides ample space and relatively fewer people, ensuring you can relish the festivities without feeling hemmed in. Venturing further toward the stage might result in being packed within the crowd, limiting your view – particularly challenging if umbrellas and taller individuals are in the mix. While navigating through tightly packed spaces can be a tad overwhelming, having a selfie stick on hand can offer some relief and potentially enhance your perspective.

If your plan is to celebrate the Chinese New Year at Trafalgar Square, it’s essential to be ready for a few key factors: the bustling crowds, securing a good view as the stage might be obstructed, weather considerations, plotting out your destinations, and arranging your dining options. This comprehensive guide has you covered, ensuring your readiness to fully enjoy the Chinese New Year festivities at Trafalgar Square. By staying organized, you’ll be sure not to overlook any critical details. Keep reading to ensure you’re well-prepared for a day filled with celebrations.

Like any other events in Central London, it’s advisable to get there half an hour to an hour early to avoid the crowds.

If you’re considering booking lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in China Town, it’s recommended to make reservations well in advance. Given the high demand during the Chinese New Year period, it’s a good idea to secure your dining arrangements a few days or even weeks before your intended visit. This way, you can ensure you have a seat at your preferred restaurant and avoid the disappointment of not finding availability on the day. The queue on the day can be a 15 – 30 minute wait, which can dampen any mood.

By making reservations ahead of time, you not only guarantee your spot for a delicious meal but also provide yourself with a more seamless and enjoyable experience, given the potential crowds. This foresight allows you to savour the culinary delights of China Town without the worry of long wait times or unavailability.

While China Town is open during the Chinese New Year celebrations, it’s essential to anticipate the crowds and plan ahead by making reservations for lunch or dinner. Doing so ensures you can fully relish the festive atmosphere and partake in the culinary delights of this vibrant and culturally rich neighborhood.

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.

An aerial view of the bustling M&M's Store in Leicester Square, London, revealing a colorful mosaic of shoppers milling about the vibrant displays of candy. The store's iconic logo gleams in the sunlight, beckoning passersby to indulge in the sweet delights within.

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.

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, check out other parts of the West End in the evening, but make sure you get some rest.

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

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