How to celebrate Lunar New Year in London: live music, martial arts, cocktails and lion dances
The Year of the Dog celebrations in the British capital will be the biggest outside China, with up to 200,000 visitors enjoying Chinese culture, arts themed food and drinks, exhibitions and performances
February 16 marks the start of the Year of the Dog, and with it comes a fortnight of family gatherings, feasting and canine-themed festivities around the world. Outside China, the biggest organised Lunar New Year celebrations are set to take place in London, according to the London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA), attracting some 200,000 people from Britain and around the world. Here’s our pick of what’s on.
Things to see and do
Although Lunar New Year falls on February 16 this year, the main celebrations in London will take place on Sunday, February 18. Organised by the LCCA, festivities begin at 10am with a vibrant parade of handmade floats, dragon and lion dances, beginning on Charing Cross Road and winding its way through to the Chinese Gate in Chinatown. From there, a short walk takes you to Trafalgar Square, where a packed itinerary of performances starts at noon.
“As well as all the traditional elements, such as cultural dance from China’s top performance troupe and flying lions at Trafalgar Square, we will also be introducing a variety of contemporary performances with bands playing this year,” says LCCA deputy festival director Joseph Wu. This will include live bands and acts from Hong Kong and the UK, as well as a DJ set from television personality Gok Wan. Wrap up warm – the day’s celebrations will be followed by a pyrotechnic display in the evening.
Throughout the day, nearby Shaftesbury Avenue will host a martial arts and culture zone featuring tai chi chuan performances, while a community stage at Charing Cross Road will showcase local British-Chinese talent. The Leicester Square family zone promises to entertain children of all ages, with performers dressed in traditional Chinese costumes as well as a mini funfair games area.
There is plenty more to do and see in the British capital beyond the main celebrations on February 18. “I always remind people that the Spring Festival is two weeks long,” says Freya Aitken-Turff, CEO of China Exchange. Since its founding by the late David Tang in 2015, the Chinatown-based centre has put on themed events every Lunar New Year; this year’s programme includes a baijiu cocktail masterclass (February 20), a Chinese tea festival (February 23 to 25) and an interactive session with therapy dogs from charity Pets as Therapy (February 21).
London’s Philharmonia Orchestra is performing a special Lunar New Year programme on March 1 at the Royal Festival Hall (seats from £10, US$14), with Yunnan Province’s Xiaoshuijing Farmers’ Choir singing Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Chinese folk songs, and 13-year-old piano virtuoso Serena Wang playing Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto. New York performance group Shen Yun are also bringing their classical Chinese dance production to the Dominion Theatre between February 16 and 25 (seats from £60).
The show draws from over 5,000 years of traditional Chinese dance and folk tales, and is currently banned in China due to its connections with Falun Gong; in each city the troupe visits, the show is “presented” by the local Falun Dafa association, though this is not emphasised in Shen Yun’s marketing.
Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple off Oxford Street will host a special dharma service on February 16; this has been well attended in previous years, with many devotees bringing offerings of lanterns and vegetarian meals. Services continue throughout the Lunar New Year fortnight (February 15, 18 and March 2).
Food and drink
Lunar New Year is a time for feasting, so head to London’s Chinatown restaurants for roasted duck and lucky fried noodles. Be prepared to queue for a table at Golden Dragon and Imperial China, popular dim sum and barbecue stalwarts regularly frequented by the capital’s Chinese residents. Pair a traditional meal of meats and dim sum with zodiac-themed cocktails at Opium, a town house-turned-bar hidden behind a jade door down the road; their scrumptious Dog cocktail (£13) is made with Scotch whisky, noisette, biscuit syrup and chocolate bitters.
Chefs at high-end Chinese restaurants across the city are preparing special auspicious dishes to celebrate the new year. The recently opened Duddell’s at London Bridge is serving up Cantonese classics with a twist, including chive and dried oyster dumplings and an abalone, chestnut and chicken stew, while nearby Hutong at The Shard will present northern Chinese staples with a new year theme, including softshell crab with Sichuan chilli and sticky milk cake.
Dim sum tea house Yauatcha is commissioning two artists to create lantern-inspired artworks in addition to launching a celebratory menu; Lydia Kasumi Shirreff’s cut paper lanterns will be installed at Yauatcha City, while Jamie Julien Brown’s lantern totem poles will be displayed at Yauatcha Soho.
Lunar New Year coincides with British schools’ half term holidays this year, and the British Museum is hosting a week of free New Year-themed children’s activities to celebrate between February 12 and 16. Free one-day events featuring ribbon dancing, calligraphy demonstrations and more are also planned at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green (February 10), the British Library (February 13), the Museum of London Docklands (February 16) and the National Gallery (February 17), while illustrator Christopher Corr is running an interactive workshop where he tells the story behind the Chinese zodiac at the Southbank Centre (February 16, £6).
Getting there: fly direct between Hong Kong and London Heathrow with a range of carriers; Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights daily.