London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and you’ll no doubt want to experience a taste of some of its many cultures when you’re on a city break there.
If you’re keen to get a flavour of somewhere far away and exotic, then you mustn’t miss Chinatown and having a stroll around some of its wonderful streets.
Where is Chinatown?
The first area of London known as Chinatown was situated in the Limehouse area of East End, where much of the city’s Chinese population was concentrated around the beginning of the 20th century to capitalise on trade around the ports.
Unfortunately, much of this area was heavily bombed during the Second World War and the population dwindled as people moved away from the damaged buildings.
However, new businesses opened and flourished and today’s Chinatown is located in and around Gerrard Street in the City of Westminster, just off Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square to the south. The area boasts some excellent Chinese trading, including restaurants, bakeries, shops selling trinkets and supermarkets, and it is well worth a look around.
It’s really easy to get to Chinatown thanks to its central location, so you won’t have a problem if you’re using public transport. Indeed, you can easily stop off in Chinatown on your way back from other attractions in the middle of the city, including the West End theatres.
The nearest stops for the London Underground are Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, while numerous bus routes link the area to other parts of the metropolis and buses stop regularly, although please note that they do not travel through Chinatown itself.
Once you’re there, it’s best to get around on foot since many of the streets are narrow and pedestrianised, but you’re sure to be so fascinated by the sights all around you that you won’t notice the extra exercise.
What to see
Chinatown is a truly amazing place to be and you’ll probably want to walk around outdoors for a little while first as you soak up the atmosphere. Street signs are written in both English and Mandarin, giving you a chance to see the beautiful calligraphy that makes up Chinese words and phrases.
You can also check out traditional Chinese iconography such as dragons and lanterns, all intricately decorated and visible on the sides of buildings almost everywhere. Don’t miss the Chinese gates either, the newest of which were completed in 2016 and are situated on Wardour Street. They are the largest in the country and definitely call for a photo opportunity to post on social media later.
Once you have wandered around, you can then start checking out some of the individual businesses nestled along these narrow streets. You’ll be able to pick up souvenirs to your heart’s content, including the traditional waving cats you’ll probably have seen in Chinese restaurants and takeaways up and down the country.
Authentic clothing is also available at great prices and you’ll be amazed by the workmanship, particularly when it comes to the footwear.
For snacks, don’t miss an opportunity to grab some wonderful treats at one of the many bakeries the area has to offer – but for a real culinary delight, you’ll want to venture inside some of the excellent restaurants.
Where to Eat
Visitors will be truly spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out in Chinatown, as it boasts in excess of 80 restaurants, all offering some of the best Asian cuisine you’ll find anywhere.
If it’s dim sums you’re after or an all-you-can eat buffet of spicy Szechuan, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll probably find you’re full to bursting before you’ve managed to eat anywhere near as much as you’d like.
Just take a look around to examine the menus and see what appeals to you and the members of your party, as there’s sure to be something suitable on offer. If you’re not sure, some of the big names and most regularly recommended eateries include Baiwei, Cafe TPT, Imperial China and Gerrard’s Corner. These have various price points and serve up plenty of different types of food, so might be a good place to start.
Where to stay
When you’re choosing your London accommodation, it’s best to go for somewhere central that’s close to as many of the attractions you want to visit as possible. Based on this, you can’t go wrong with the Piccadilly West End London, which is just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus.
A contemporary, stylish hotel, it is five-star rated by the AA and offers all the mod cons you’ll need to make your stay truly luxurious. It’s also really close to Chinatown, so you’ll be able to put your feet up after soaking up all that culture in no time at all.