This might be the world’s tastiest two-week festival.
Lunar New Year, a.k.a. Chinese New Year, a.k.a the Spring Festival, is a fantastic time to exercise your passport, eat some tasty auspicious foods (long noodles equal long life and who would want to argue with that?) and immerse yourself in the festival’s celebrated culture and traditions. According to the Chinese calendar, the new lunar year starts on Feb. 5 in 2019 (welcome to the Year of the Pig!), which marks the beginning of 15 days of celebrations. We’re talking pop-up flower and gift markets, extravagant 12-course feasts (including lobster, squab and whole fish, for good beginnings and endings), traditional lion and dragon dances, parades, and city streets beautifully decorated with endless strings of lucky red lanterns. Luckily, the spring festival is on event calendars across the globe—here are five of our favourite cities to take it all in.
There are a few places that compete for the largest and oldest Chinatowns outside of China, and San Francisco is one of them. San Fran’s Chinatown started in 1848 (making it the oldest in North America) and this area was the one spot in the city that Chinese were legally allowed to live in and inherit housing. Today, Chinatown is centred around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street and is prime time for any Lunar New Year celebrations, with the Chinese New Year night parade going right through it, on Feb. 23, starting at 5:15 p.m. Other events to check out: Chinese Flower Fair (Feb. 2, 3), Miss Chinatown USA Pageant (Feb. 16) and the Chinatown Street Fair (Feb. 23, 24). For more info, visit sftravel.com.
Being in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year is like being in the North Pole for Christmas, Dublin for St. Paddy’s, or Zurich’s Lindt Chocolate Factory for Easter. Chinese New Year is the biggest event of the year for Hong Kong and the best time to experience peak Hong Kongness.
There are loads of events throughout the festival, including a night parade, fireworks display, lantern carnival, horse races (kick off the new year with some lucky bets!), and the famed lion and dragon dances (these are a must). For these, picture dazzling, colourful, larger-than-life costumes with fur and jingly adornments that perform dances to heart-pounding drum beats and cymbol clangs. According to ancient Chinese folklore, loud noises and the colour red were used to scare away a mythical beast called Nien, so the musical accompaniments for these dances are demonstratively loud and raucous-y and you’ll often hear sputtering fireworks going off throughout festival events. And then there’s the food. Dining out is tradition, so eat as many wealth-and-prosperity-promoting dumplings as you can, make reservations for a CNY dinner, and snack on pomelos (like a mild, sweet grapefruit) during any breaks in between. For more info, visit discoverhongkong.com.
Celebrating Lunar New Year in any city in China is going to be one for the books, but Shanghai is a particularly beautiful setting because of its Yu Garden, the Garden of Happiness. This tranquil natural respite covers five acres in the northeast corner of the Old City of Shanghai and dates back to 1559! Inside there’s a serene garden pond, Shanghai’s oldest teahouse (Huxington Teahouse) along with ancient halls, rockeries and pavilions. Coming here for the free and famous Lantern Festival on Feb. 19, which marks the end of the spring festival, is going to be PURE, UNSTOPPABLE MAGIC. It’s at night, so the phone photos won’t be great, but just walk around and enjoy the bright and colourful lit-up lantern characters and scenes with your eyes. Other places to visit during the festival: Nanjing Road, the Bund and local temples, or take a cruise down Huangpu River. For more info, visit meet-in-shanghai.net.
Luxe, ferociously clean Singapore is an island jewel in Southeast Asia that was a big deal long before the blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians. And even though this is a bustling metropolis of more than 5 million, some of Singapore’s most iconic features belong to its waterfront Garden by the Bay (160-foot vertical garden Supertrees, an elevated garden path, glass biodomes, public gardens, waterfalls and more). The garden’s Dahlia Dreams exhibit will be in full bloom for Chinese New Year, and, as if it couldn’t get more romance novel, there will be rotating water wheels, flowers as big as your face, Year of the Pig sculptures and a go-big-or-go-home 40-metre-long archway of red lanterns. Naturally, this city is also going to shoot off an enthusiastic amount of fireworks (head to the River Hongbao for opening night and/or the Chinese New Year Eve Countdown Party), launch a parade (the Feb. 15/16 Chingay Parade is the largest street performance and float parade in Asia), and feed you well (Singapore’s historic Chinatown has its own Food Street filled with hawker stalls of stir-fried noodles, satay and roast duck). For more info, check out visitsingapore.com.
5. London, UK
Oh what a joy it is to find a free event in London. And you might be thinking, what does Queen Elizabeth’s jolly old tea-drinking, crumpet-loving England have to do with Chinese New Year?
The answer is, lots of to do with. The UK capital, London, is ALL OVER CNY (official hashtag #CNYLondon) and it’s actually the single-biggest CNY celebration outside of Asia. Hundreds of thousands of people head to the city’s West End to take in the festivities, this year, on Feb. 10, and the day’s celebrational itinerary is as follows: sample food and entertainment at your leisure in Chinatown (lots of food, lively entertainment) or Leicester Square (food and more chill, family-friendly entertainment). Catch the downtown parade and all its colourful floats kick off at Charing Cross Road and then take in screen shows, firecrackers, speeches, traditional lion dances and Chinese acrobatics at Trafalgar Square’s main stage. Street food stalls will be lining the square in all directions (because no one’s going hungry on Elizabeth’s watch) and you’ll know the party is over when the fireworks go off, marking the end of Year of the Pig festivities (but just the start of a lunar year filled with good fortune, wealth, honesty and prosperity). More info at visitlondon.com.