Your Guide to London Chinatown
Where is Chinatown?
Chinatown is the place in the heart of London that you can head to for an authentic experience of Chinese culture and a real taste of the Orient! One of the most striking features of Chinatown is the entrance gates, or Paifangs, and it’s abundance of colourful authentic shops, bars and restaurants. Loads of vibrant festivals and carnivals take place here every year too, such as the Chinese Lunar New Year. As an added bonus you’ll be surrounded by the famous districts of Soho, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Piccadilly. Chinatown may be situated inside the congestion charging zone, but as it’s in Zone 1 of the London Underground you’ll find plenty of tube stations like Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square to whisk you all over the capital!
History of Chinatown
Chinatown’s area history stems back to the 17th Century, when Lord Gerrard set up a plan for the development of Gerrard Street, one of the main streets that lie in the boundary of the area. Throughout the next century the first Chinese settlers began migrating to the UK and in the 1880s the first roots of Chinatown were established in the East End area of Limehouse. Limehouse became known as the area for Chinese business and several restaurants and shops operated here until the Second World War. Due to the incessant bombing of the East End during the war, the Chinese community began moving and settled in the area in the West End that we now know as Chinatown.
Chinatown took advantage of the returning soldiers’ new found love of Chinese food and several new restaurants popped up in the area to cater for the demand of this new taste. The area continued to grow throughout the 1950s and 60s, with an influx of Chinese migrants from Hong Kong. As the area continued to develop over the next decade or so, it became known for its collective Chinese community, rather than just as a place to go for Chinese food. This was as a result of the increasing population and the creation of a working community in the area. In the 1980s the council recognised the importance of the area and began assisting with developments and improvements, largely shaping Chinatown into what it is today. In 1985 the first Chinese New Year celebrations were held in Chinatown and these have since expanded into other areas of London, including Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. The area has grown dramatically since its early roots and now covers Gerrard Street, Wardour Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Lisle Street and Macclesfield Street among others, making it a small yet incredibly vibrant and fascinating part of Central London.
The Positives of Chinatown
Perhaps the biggest selling point for Chinatown is that you’ll find no other part of London like this! When you visit Chinatown it’s your chance to get a true taste of the East and to experience the culture and everyday life of a working Chinese community. There’s a great selection of authentic restaurants for you to try, and you can also pick up products and gifts in the many Chinese shops in the area. Another huge plus of Chinatown is its amazing location! From here you have the shops on Oxford Street, the theatres in Covent Garden, and Leicester Square among the amazing places within walking distance. Due to the tourist interest in Chinatown you’ll also find that the place is always buzzing and you’ll get a real sense of atmosphere and excitement.
Need to Know Chinatown
Chinatown is a really small area and one where millions of people flock to every year, meaning that crowd congestion is pretty high here, particularly during popular times of the day. Having said this, you’ll definitely get a real buzz from the crowds and to be honest, as the area is so small it’s really easy to find everything and make sure you get to visit everything you want to see. Another negative is the fact that you wouldn’t really want to drive to Chinatown due to the layout and the fact that it is right in the heart of Central London. In truth though, you really don’t need a car as you can walk to so many other famous places, and also have a selection of buses and tube stations within the surrounding areas. Chinatown is not a place to come if you want a peaceful stroll, but let’s be honest, none of Central London is and it’s not why you would want to visit in the first place. To sum things up, the positives of Chinatown far outweigh the negatives and it is one exciting part of London you should really want to see!