Chinatown is impossible to miss. Situated in the centre of the West End, Chinatown is the true heart of London. Most tourists find themselves stumbling into the area, lured by the bright lights and delicious smells. The pedestrianised lanes are lined with beautiful red hanging lanterns, inviting guests to explore.
Each street is an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, bars, and beauty parlours, meaning you’ll never be short of something to do in this area of London.
Visitors and locals alike love Chinatown, meaning it should be at the top of everyone’s London itinerary. However, if you’re a foodie, a visit to London’s Chinatown is non-negotiable. The food here is unbeatable and offered at some of the most modest prices in the city.
The History of Chinatown London
Before we jump into the best things to do in Chinatown, it is interesting to cover a little background.
Chinatown has existed in London since the 18th century, but not always in the heart of the West End as we know it. Many Chinese sailors worked for the British East India Company, docking in East London. Over time, many of these Chinese workers settled in Limehouse, and eventually, this area became London’s first Chinatown.
By the early 20th century, a thriving Chinese community had settled in Limehouse, with a range of businesses catering primarily to the Chinese sailors who would dock there temporarily.
Unfortunately, the Second World War saw the destruction of most of East London, and so many Chinese immigrants relocated to the West End. By the late 1980s, the area was bustling with authentic restaurants and shops, attracting visitors from around the globe.
Although not many Chinese people now live in the area, the businesses here welcome tourists from around the globe daily. It is a hive of activity with restaurants serving dishes from across east Asia.
15 Things to do in Chinatown, London
Now that you’ve got a little insight into Chinatown’s history, let’s dive into the 15 best things to do in Chinatown, London.
Celebrate Chinese New Year
As you’re probably aware, Chinese New Year is celebrated in line with the Chinese Lunar calendar, meaning the date changes annually. However, this magnificent festival typically falls in either January or February.
Chinese New Year in London’s Chinatown is one of the busiest yet most exciting times to visit the area. Interestingly, Chinese New Year in London is the biggest celebration outside of China.
The entire area bursts to life with an exciting mix of colours, music, dance and food. Several parades pass through the streets framed by the stunning red lanterns hanging over the area.
Most restaurants also offer special menus to mark to occasion, serving dishes you might struggle to get your hands on the rest of the year. Many stalls also pop up across the area, often spilling out into other areas of the West End. These offer a whole host of Chinese goods ranging from homemade food to trinkets to hand-crafted jewellery.
The Four Gates
The four gates set the perimeter of London’s Chinatown.
These grand Chinatown gates are impossible to miss. They stand proudly at each entrance and are one of the most widely used symbols of this much-loved area in the West End. They are also one of the most photographed spots in the capital.
Whilst these gates look like they have stood proudly for centuries, the first three, located on Gerrard Street, were only actually built in the 1980s.
The fourth and most impressive gate was constructed in 2016 and is located on Wardour Street. It is the biggest Chinese gate in the UK and is truly stunning, adorned in spectacular shades of electric blue and emerald green.
International Dragon and Lion Dance Festival
Aside from the Chinese New Year celebrations, the International Dragon and Lion Dance Festival is the must-see attraction in Chinatown London.
This celebration originates from Hong Kong and is celebrated on January 1st every year. A colourful parade of dragons and lions tour the streets of Chinatown and beyond – a true sight to behold. This event is great for anyone who wants to appreciate and understand Eastern Asian culture and can be particularly fascinating for children.
Take A Walking Tour
One of the best ways to appreciate a new area is to take a walking tour. They are one of the more interesting ways to engage with the history of the site and an opportunity to ask any questions.
The China Exchange community-led walking tour is one of the more premium options but also one of the best. It even includes a family-style lunch to enjoy with your new friends. The tour costs £27, and tours are offered in Mandarin or Cantonese for groups of two or more.
Chinese Art Now
Chinese Art Now (CAN) is a not-for-profit founded in 2005. It showcases incredible artwork that explores Chinese themes. CAN is perhaps most famous for the amazing annual CAN festival, which showcases a diverse mix of arts, music, drama, and film.
They have various pop-up events throughout the year, so check their website before planning your visit to Chinatown.
Bubble Tea at Woo Tea
Bubble Tea is a Taiwanese drink that has taken the rest of the world by a storm, and Woo Tea provides the best in Chinatown.
Bubble Tea is most recognisable by the chewy tapioca balls that settle at the bottom. It is most commonly served as a milky tea but often features various fruit flavours.
If it’s your first time trying bubble tea, opt for the signature Woo Tea, filled with plenty of fresh fruit and peach gum. However, if you’re somewhat of a bubble tea connoisseur, try the delicious black Oolong milk tea with pearls.
The New Loon Moon Supermarket
The New Loon Moon supermarket is one of Chinatown’s biggest and most exciting supermarkets. Spread over two floors, this incredible shopping space offers culinary delights from Thailand, China, Japan and The Philippines, just to name a few.
This is the perfect spot to top up your kitchen supplies if you love Asian cooking. Whether you’re looking for sauces, vegetables, meats or anything in between, you will easily find it at this superstore.
The New Loon Moon supermarket is open 10 am – 6 pm every day, so be sure to check out the spot on your visit to Chinatown London.
Devour Roast Duck at the Four Seasons
There are an incredible number of places to eat in Chinatown, but few can compete with the Four Seasons restaurant. You should be aware this isn’t the Four Seasons you might be familiar with (the large, opulent hotel chain), but instead an incredible pan Asian restaurant in the centre of Chinatown.
Many people, including the Financial Times, rate the roast duck at the Four Seasons as the best in the world, so who are we to argue?
There is also an impressively large cocktail menu here, so grab a bunch of friends and make a night of it at the Four Seasons.
Shop Until You Drop
No visit is complete without perusing the Chinatown London shops. There are many unique shops that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. Chinatown is a great place to buy trinkets, souvenirs and birthday gifts or even just a fun place to window shop.
If you’re in the market for some eastern Asian skincare or makeup, Chinatown is the place to be! P2Bus is the best place in the area to grab yourself some Korean skincare, widely considered the best in the world.
Enjoy a Matcha Dessert at Tsujiri
Tsujiri is a hugely popular guilt-free dessert shop in London’s Chinatown, serving some of the most Instagramable puddings in the area.
Matcha is a very common ingredient across east Asia, in particular in Japan. It contains ten times the number of antioxidants than green tea, making it an excellent ingredient for the health conscious.
The matcha ice cream, lattes and sundaes are all incredible. But be prepared for a long wait to get your hands on these goodies, the shop is relatively small, and the queues are often huge.
Fish Shaped Waffles at Bake
The dessert shops in Chinatown are so good that we had to include two!
Located right at the entrance to Chinatown, Bake sells a mixture of sweet and savoury snacks to be enjoyed whilst wandering the colourful streets. For a savoury option, opt for their best-selling barbecue-pork steamed buns. They are the ideal cheap eat at just a couple of pounds each.
However, Bake is most famous for its delicious waffles and, more importantly, its unique fish-shaped waffle. This dessert has been made hugely popular after being featured heavily on social media. So fill your fish cone with a generous portion of soft serve ice cream and enjoy one of the most delicious and unique desserts in the capital for just £3.50.
Indulge in a Beauty Treatment
If you feel like going all out, London Rayner is considered one of the best massages in the capital and is just an eight-minute walk from Chinatown. Their services promise a host of benefits, including headache relief, lowered stress and help with digestion.
Karaoke at Plum Valley
Plum Valley is an upmarket restaurant in London’s Chinatown.
The menu here is a fusion mix of Chinese, Japanese and Thai, with an extensive fresh dim sum menu. As with all great Asian food, dishes are best-served family style and shared amongst your group, allowing you to sample a range of what the restaurant offers.
However, the real highlight of Plum Valley is its fantastic Karaoke set-up. The booths are slick and modern, transporting guests into their own private nightclub.
For the ultimate night out in Chinatown, book a booth for you and a group of friends and sing your hearts out well into the night. The systems have a huge range of tracks ranging from popular Chinese songs to western classics.
Street Food at Cafe TPT
If you’re looking for where to eat in Chinatown London, then Café TPT has to be at the top of your list. Visitors can easily stroll past the humble orange exterior of this place, but the food is exceptional.
A blend of Cantonese and Malaysian street food is available here, with an unbelievably long menu catering to every taste and preference. For a truly delicious and authentic plate, try the Zha Jiang Mian, an incredible noodle dish cooked in fermented soya bean paste.
This unassuming restaurant has developed a well-deserved excellent reputation in Chinatown, so expect to wait a little while for a table. Reservations are always recommended if you’re planning to visit on the weekend.
Enjoy a Cocktail in the Heart of Chinatown
Being just a stone’s throw from the party district of Soho, Chinatown is packed with great bars to enjoy a quiet drink or party the night away with your friends. There are three stand-out bars in Chinatown.
The first is Opium, which has become somewhat of a Chinatown institution. Allow your curiosity to take you through the little jade door and transport yourself into 1920’s Shanghai. The cocktail menu is extensive, and the décor is simply incredible. To get the whole experience, accompany your drinks with some late-night dim sum.
Next up is The Blue Posts, an incredible place for a relaxed drink. There is live music playing downstairs and a swanky cocktail bar upstairs.
Finally, the Experimental Cocktail Club is not only one of the best bars in Chinatown but one of the best in London. An unmarked door (you might be sensing a theme here) leads guests up a narrow set of stairs and into an incredible speakeasy. The décor is stunning, and the cocktails are perfect. So whether you want to impress your friends or a date, you simply cannot go wrong with the Experimental Cocktail Club.
Is Chinatown in London Worth Visiting?
In a word: yes! As you have seen, there is so much to do, see, and eat in Chinatown. Also, Chinatown is so simple to visit from just about anywhere in London – so it should be on everyone’s London itinerary.
Where Is Chinatown in London?
Chinatown is in the heart of London’s West End, nestled between theatreland, Soho and Leicester Square. The closest tube stations to Chinatown are Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
What Is the Best Way to Get to Chinatown?
The best way to get around London is by tube. The Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines will drop you at Piccadilly circus. Alternatively, take the Northern or Piccadilly line to Leicester square. If the tube doesn’t suit your plans, heaps of bus routes pass through Chinatown.
What Time Does Chinatown Close?
London’s Chinatown is open all hours of the day, and there is true magic to visiting this area of the city at night. Most restaurants stay open for dinner until at least 10 pm, and the best bars are open until the early hours of the morning.
What Is Chinatown in London Famous For?
Chinatown is famous for its rich history and is most recognisable for its incredible Chinese gates. Chinatown is also known as one of the best places in London to eat and offers extremely affordable prices.
Where Is the Best Place to Stay in Chinatown?
The best budget hotel option is the Premier Inn at Leicester Square, just a three-minute walk from Chinatown. However, stay at the W hotel if you feel like splashing the cash. Again, this hotel is just a two-minute walk from Chinatown and provides the ultimate luxury experience.
Chinatown is a must-see on all London itineraries, the atmosphere is unbeatable, and there is much to do in the area.
If your schedule permits, try to visit and Chinese New Year, which is a truly incredible experience.
Otherwise, spend the afternoon shopping, grab a bite to eat at one of the amazing restaurants, and spend the evening sipping delicious cocktails. Don’t forget, every great night in Chinatown ends with Karaoke!