Chinatown is an icon of Central London. It is amazing how you can be slap bang in the middle of Leicester Square and then you walk five minutes northward you’ll find yourself on a street where red lanterns frame the Chinese supermarkets and the street is lined with window displays of whole Peking Ducks. The majestic fourth gate of Chinatown is the tallest Chinese gate in the UK and this red-pillared, Qing dynasty style archway proudly overlooks its vibrant community from its spot on Wardour Street – where it has been since 2016.
Chinatown is one of my favourite places in this whole city. Everything about this area shows how proud its residents are of their culture. I have never had a bad meal and have always been welcomed into every restaurant enthusiastically. The best part is that it has all of the street performers of nearby Leicester Square, but all with the unique flair brought only from traditional Chinese instruments, songs and sometimes even acrobatics if you’re lucky.
I truly would like to be able to say in the next couple years that I have sampled dim sum from every restaurant in this area and then go back again to make sure that my first review was correct. Until then (accompanied by extensive cultural and socio-political research extending far beyond just dumplings), I think I should leave the proper recommendations and tour guide tips for Chinatown to those who have significantly more knowledge and appreciation for the nuances of Chinese culture and food than I.
What I can confidently say is that just being a part of the crowd on the street is an experience in itself – and you should really dedicate some time to truly exploring it for yourself (and you might as well make a start on your Dim Sum Bucket List).
So, what I present to you here are the surrounds of Chinatown: what to do on your way to or on your way home from this must-visit part of London. The vibey enclave sits South and East of Soho, just West of Covent Garden, directly North of Leicester Square, which makes it slightly to the East of Piccadilly Circus. And yes, the exact co-ordinates are 51°30’43.1″N 0°07’54.2″W (I presume that was your next question).
Based on this prime location, it really is easier to name what you CAN’T do near Chinatown, but I shall endeavour to list a few worthwhile ventures, so you have an option wherever you’re heading to or from.
North of Chinatown (Soho)
You’ve decided it’s time to be hip and trendy. You are really backing your brave fashion choice today and therefore can’t miss the opportunity to pair your trip to Chinatown with a visit to Soho.
Soho is the perfect place to go art gallery hopping. You will find more contemporary art galleries concentrated just north of Chinatown then you could ever visit in one day. The Marian Goodman Gallery is undoubtedly successful as its namesake is an internationally respected art dealer with galleries spanning all over the globe. Visitors remark that the building is as beautiful as the artwork itself.
Then just around the corner, you will find Frith Street Gallery. Gone are the days where this gallery showed only drawings of the more traditional and conventional art mediums and genres, for now it is known for its cutting-edge exhibitions of painting, photography, sculpture and film. It has attracted solo exhibitions from the likes of Marlene Dumas and, most recently, Massimo Bartolini.
East of Chinatown (Covent Garden)
If you’re travelling to London and are trying to maximise your tourism experience, then you’re probably staying somewhere around the hub of the City of London. If this is the case, then I sincerely hope you did your research before booking because there are some unreal deals on London hotel packages if you know where to look. If your timing is right, you might even get a Montcalm Hotel like The Barbican. Although, timing is also important when you plan your activities as The Barbican hosts some of the best restaurants in London and you will need plenty of stomach space when heading into Chinatown!
If you’re heading to or from Covent Garden, I hope it’s because of a show. The theatre is such a treasure of London because it makes every trip here completely different from the last. Of course, it all depends on what is showing where when you happen to be visiting – but that’s the magic of the West End. All of these spectacular theatres are a stone’s throw away from each other and that means they are all close enough for you to have a great Chinese dinner before your show!
South of Chinatown (Leicester Square)
Leicester Square is another bustling part of the city where it is genuinely difficult to be bored. Even if you are on the tightest of budgets, there are cinemas with great membership discounts to the novelty stores that could charge you an entrance fee just for the experience of walking around them (but I really hope they don’t). And nothing compares to the street performers that breathe the life and soul into this place – so make sure to tip them well so that we can all keep enjoying their ridiculous amount of talent!
One novelty store experience that I will always recommend is the LEGO Store, which is around the corner from the Chinese Gate on Wardour Street. This is fun for all ages. If you have kids (or even grown-ups) who are LEGO fans, then I don’t need to sell this to you further. Even if they’re not, the grand-scale creations made entirely out of these colourful little bricks are astonishing and well worth a visit.
West of Chinatown (Piccadilly)
And lastly, if you’re looking for something truly original to do close to the Piccadilly Circus Station side of things, then you’ll find yourself at the starting point of huntfun’s Treasure Hunt London West End.
There are so many options for expertly crafted treasure hunts from corporate teambuilding, to family activities to hen and stag parties depending on the tone you are looking for. The West End edition options are all based in this general location, which gives you a good chance to scope out the Chinatown area before you visit it by yourself afterwards. That is, if you aren’t too absorbed in your treasure hunt.