Exploring London’s Soho district within the West End can lead to some unexpected discoveries. Strolling through the streets can suddenly bring you to a dramatic Chinese gateway in the style of the Ching dynasty. You have entered Chinatown, a brilliantly colourful, lively area home to everything related to China.
From the moment, you step out of hotels in North London through those gateways, you can sense that this is a very unique part of London. Street signs suddenly appear in two languages – English and Mandarin. There are lots of dragon sculptures, stone lions and even a brilliantly coloured pagoda. Have your camera ready as there are countless photo opportunities!
This is where you can buy some stunning Chinese clothing and other items such as the maneki-neko (beckoning cats) which are said to bring good luck. Try light and fluffy buns or delicious cakes from the Kowloon Bakery or the Golden Gate Cake Shop; find exotic cookery items at the SeeWoo Supermarket and enjoy Chinese food at one of the many restaurants and cafes in the area. Most types of Chinese regional cuisine can be found here including Cantonese at Plum Valley, Golden Dragon which specializes in dim sum, spicy Cichuan dishes at Baiwei and Leong’s Legend with its Taiwanese cuisine. For something alcoholic try the Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour or the Experimental Cocktail Club on Gerrard Street.
Throughout the year there are numerous seasonal celebrations which are enjoyed by everyone not just the Chinese community. By far the most spectacular event is the Chinese New Year celebrations which are the largest in the world outside Asia. This is when the whole area is decked out in scarlet and gold, the good luck colours and thongs of people pack the streets. It is one of the most popular events of the year, attracting hundreds of thousands of people keen to see the dramatic displays.
This year, the Chinese New Year procession marking the start of the Year of the Rooster takes place on February 16. It starts at the heart of Chinatown, weaving its way through the maze of streets down to Trafalgar Square and involves lots of participants including dancers, musicians, singers and of course, the spectacular Lion and Dragon dancers. Along the way are stages where you can watch a variety of performers, visit craft stalls and enjoy some Chinese food. As for accommodation, one good option is to stay in hotels near Wembley stadium for an easy access to popular tourist attractions.
Once in Trafalgar Square, the festivities continue until late at night. Expect colour, drama, and stunning costumes. The dragon and lion dancers perform frequently entertaining the onlookers, and there are also martial arts displays and acrobats as well as Chinese opera singers. Naturally, there are also lots of fireworks to end the event in a blaze of noise and spectacle making this an event not to be missed.
Make sure to pick a well-located hotel like Best Western Palm Hotel to ease off the travel heck.