The Lunar New Year is celebrated by the Chinese diaspora all around the globe. In fact, more than 20% of the global population observe Chinese New Year each year. The festive fun includes family, food, and fireworks – the essential components of a truly great celebration. In its entirety, Chinese New Year traditions and celebrations last about 15 days. But thankfully (for the sake of our economies, bellies, and capacity for dealing with certain family members), only the first two or three days are typically public holidays.
Chinese New Year 2020 falls on January 25, and this year belongs to the Metal Rat. The spirited rat is the first zodiac sign from the 12-animal cycle of Chinese Astrology. If you’re a believer in astrology, then you may be glad to know that this year will be full of fresh starts (and is apparently also a really good time to invest in real estate?).
Thanks to migration and culture’s insuppressible ability to integrate with local norms in vastly new places, the Spring Festival isn’t only confined to China. In most countries, Chinese New Year has become a thing of its own. From San Francisco to Borneo, you’ll find a uniquely local take on this holiday. Here’s a list of some of the top cities to celebrate Chinese New Year in 2020, in Europe, Asia, and North America.
Chinese New Year 2020 in Asia
1. Experience Guangzhou’s flowery Lunar New Year
Let’s start with the obvious place: China.
Here, Chinese New Year is known as the Spring Festival. Guangzhou is one of the top Chinese New Year travel destinations because of the myriad of events the city puts on. From flower fairs to drone spectacles at the Canton Tower and Zhujiang, there’s something new to experience around every corner.
Head to Guangzhou’s Spring Festival flower market at Haixinsha or stroll through Yuexiu Park and check out the Lantern Fair. Flowers are the central theme here, and each year the whole city center will be a sweet-scented wonderland full of Chinese New Year flower markets.
The city’s connectivity is also a huge draw for visitors. Guangzhou is one of China’s most modern and richest cities, with an excellent local metro system. Hong Kong and Shenzhen are also just a bullet train away.
2. Penang: Pray well, eat even better
Penang is the second-most populous state in Malaysia – and with a local Chinese demographic of 39.4%, it prides itself on having the largest Chinese New Year celebration in South East Asia.
Georgetown, the colonial-style capital city of Penang is the central hub for all events. Ask any Penangite what their culture is, and they’ll say food. But the island’s unique selling point is its distinct Peranakan heritage: a blend of Chinese and Malay cultures. The result of this mixing is a wholly fresh take on Chinese New Year, with many customs that you will never witness elsewhere.
In this UNESCO-listed city, you can expect a sky filled with red lanterns, but also other unique, somewhat culturally confusing Chinese New Year traditions. Temples and shops of various faiths and ethnicities sell all sorts of festive gear catered for Chinese New Year. Everywhere, residents put out oil lamps and keep them burning in altars around the streets.
For glorious views and amazing architecture, head to Kek Lok Si Temple perched on the hills of Ayer Itam, facing the sea. This is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia as well as an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists in South East Asia. The temple also puts on the Kek Lok Si Display of Lights from 7 pm. Other Chinese New Year 2020 events include a countdown party at Komtar tower, drum shows, lion dancing, and dragon boat racing over at the Straits Quay. Oh, and not to mention the city-wide firework spectacle – good luck sleeping!
3. Have an extravagant Spring Festival in Singapore
Discover one of the most elaborate Chinese Lunar New Year 2020 celebrations in Singapore. Like Malaysia, Singapore is also a multiracial, multi-religious country, which makes for some interesting takes on Chinese New Year traditions. As ethnic Chinese make up over 76% of the island nation’s population, Chinese New Year is naturally one of the most significant holiday seasons in Singapore.
From Hindu temples opening up their doors for Chinese prayers to Malay-Muslim treats being served alongside festive food, Spring Festival here is a rich tapestry of cross-cultural traditions.
Chinatown, with its lively markets and festive atmosphere, is the place to be during this time of year. Your inner Instagram star will come to life, as you’re surrounded by streets lined with glittering lanterns and handcrafted traditional decor. Taste your way through Chinatown, dodge fireworks, and witness lion dances with amazing acrobatic feats.
Make sure to check out the parades at the Formula One Pit Building near the Marina Bay Waterfront. It always features top-notch events and performances like decked-out floats, talented musicians, and dazzling performers and dancers of all kinds. There are also tons of family-fun attractions nearby to keep you busy all day long.
4. Don’t fear the Barong in Bali
Known locally as Imlek, Indonesia has a slightly altered take on Chinese New Year traditions. For example, did you know that they have their own versions of ‘lions’, called barong? In fact, Indonesian lion dancing has different forms that are distinct to the local cultures in Indonesia – some not even related to the lions of Chinese folklore. From Bali to Sulawesi, no two celebrations are the same.
The events are made even better considering the previous Suharto regime’s discriminatory policies and ban on public displays of Chinese-related signage or celebrations. However, since 1997, Chinese-Indonesians have slowly been reviving traditions. This makes the country an exciting Chinese New Year travel spot for more intrepid travelers who want a side serving of history and politics alongside culture.
Make your way to Bali to witness a Balinese-Buddhist-Chinese take on events. The humble affair may lack in glitzy decor, but Bali’s beautiful temples speak for themselves. Many local islanders worship at local klentengs (Indonesian for Chinese temples). The most famous is Vihara Dharmayana in Kuta, which dates back to 1876. Rituals include burning incense and paper money for ancestors in the afterlife. Sometimes, you can even see elaborate paper cars, houses, and clothing being burned (great-grandma really wanted a Tesla, you know). You too can partake in the festivities and have your fortune predicted for the coming year by getting your future read at the temple.
If you’re in Bali for the Spring Festival, make sure to catch a Barongsai performance at the klentengs. Bigger Chinese-owned restaurants and shops have been known to organize them too. Unlike most other lion dancers, Barongsai performers are well-versed in kung fu, and their sharp, precise movements showcase their skills. Oh, and they do all of this while wearing costumes that weigh several hundred kilograms, in almost 30°C tropical heat.
Chinese New Year 2020 in Europe
5. Try traditional Chinese New Year activities in Dublin
Chinese New Year in Dublin may sound unheard of if you’re not familiar with the city. But the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival (DCNYF) has been a part of Dublin’s cultural calendar since 2008. Ireland has a long history of emigration, and the festival is a great example of how Dublin welcomes its own migrant communities. This year’s event will be their best yet, with tons of immersive workshops and performances running from January 24 to February 10.
While celebrating the Spring Festival in dreary old Dublin may not be your first choice, the city is a melting pot of culture that makes for some special sights. Be amazed by elaborate dragon dances juxtaposed against medieval buildings. For many locals (of Chinese descent or otherwise), the DCNYF is a testament to Dublin being a confluence of culture, and witnessing the events is a great way to experience the city in all its diversity.
The DCNYF will take place all over the city, from the famous Fruit and Vegetable Market on Mary Street all the way to Kildare Village. Try your hand at dancing, dumplings, folk art, Chinese tea ceremonies, and even make your own traditional puppet. Top it all off with a boozy treat by sipping Eastern-inspired cocktails at Chinnery Gin and The Little Pig. Award-winning mixologists will be exploring a different, slightly drunker side of culture.
The city has gone all-out, with various landmarks across the capital lit up in festive red to welcome the Year of the Metal Rat.
6. Watch lions dance in London
British-Chinese make up about 0.7% of the UK’s population. From London up to Birmingham, the UK expects to see around 100 events organized nationwide. As the UK’s Chinese community becomes increasingly integrated, London especially (no surprise) has become one of the best places in Europe to celebrate Chinese New Year. And there’s one place in particular where the festivities go off full blast: Chinatown!
The Lunar New Year has been celebrated in London’s Gerrard Street since 1963. This area is the Big Smoke’s official Chinatown, full of authentic grocery stores, piping hot regional Chinese cuisine, and an unmistakable blend of Chinese and British architecture. For Chinese New Year 2020, there will be colorful parades, performances, and displays in and around Chinatown. Expect lion dances, strings of red firecrackers, and enough drums to keep those bad Nian vibes at bay.
Trafalgar Square will also be home to fiery festivities, with some 200,000 people expected to ring in the Lunar New Year at this historic London landmark. There will be stage performances and all-day entertainment, including activities for families at the National Gallery. You can also watch the street parades and traditional dancing at the West End. The central location of the festivities means that you can sneak a quick peek at other nearby must-see things in London. Chinese New Year traditions are well and alive in Merry England!
Chinese New Year 2020 in North America
7. See San Francisco’s famous New Year Parade
With a huge Asian-American population, it’s a no brainer than San Francisco is a top place to celebrate Chinese New Year in the United States. The city celebrates for the entire month, with a repertoire of special exhibitions and events.
The most popular is the Southwest Airlines New Year Parade. This age-old parade is an illuminated spectacle, full of color and sound. Over the years, it has become a huge draw for visitors of all ethnicities and is by far the largest celebration of Chinese culture in America.
Chinese New Year 2020 in San Francisco doesn’t only mean festive floats, daring acrobats, slinky stilt walkers, thundering drums, blazing firecrackers, and a 288-foot-tall Golden Dragon named Gum Lung – ahem, where were we? – oh, no, it also means being able to enjoy that quintessentially San Fran brand of Chinese street food (P.S., head to the Richmond District for the best dim sum!).
The city’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia and dates back to the 1850s. This means the food and local traditions have had a long time to develop alongside various cultures here. Sniff your way through local shops; from centuries-old recipes to modern, fusion street food, you’ll find it all here. Add to that the iconic backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ve got yourself a great Chinese New Year travel destination. Top it off with a tour of San Francisco to say you’ve really seen it all!
If you’re traveling in search of festive locations or culturally rich destinations, buy your smartphone tickets beforehand and avoid long queues with Tiqets. Not sure where to start? Then check out our picks for the best cheap places to travel to in 2020. Your first big adventure of 2020 may just be around the corner!