The first Chinese settlers arrived in Britain towards the end of the 18th Century. They were predominantly sailors who worked for the East India Company and set up home around the Limehouse and Liverpool dockyards, areas that subsequently became synonymous in Victorian consciousness with opium dens. Then, in the 1950s, lured by the cheap property prices around Gerrard Street, the migration to Soho began. Today, passing through the ornate red arches, tourists succumb to the tantalising aromas and visions of roast duck turning on spits in restaurant windows.

This year's Chinese New Year festivities take place tomorrow from noon until 5pm. In addition to the traditional celebrations in Chinatown and Leicester Square (40 stalls and Lion and Dragon Dancers), a stage will be set up in Trafalgar Square for martial arts demonstrations and music.

San Francisco

Chinese labourers were at the heart of the 19th-century Gold Rush. San Francisco's modern Chinatown, treading a thin line between tourist façade and reality, is testament to that time. The harsh immigration rules prevented wives and families of the workers from joining them. In the early days, there was a profusion of opium dens, prostitutes and gambling around Duncombe Alley. Following an earthquake in 1906, Chinatown was rebuilt, with Grant Avenue as its heart and the green Chinatown Gate as its southern entrance. Medicinal shops dispensing herbal remedies vie for space with tourist tat, and the narrow, crowded alleys possess a wonderful atmosphere reminiscent of another era. Go to Stockton to avoid the tours and get a sense of Chinatown's genuine character.

New York

New York's Chinatown is a maze of narrow, bustling streets; a sensorily stimulating area where you can explore fruit and fish markets and sample some of the best Asian cuisine. The neighbourhood is home to between 70,000 and 150,000 Chinese New Yorkers; it's the largest Chinatown in the United States. The first Chinese settlers (all male) moved here after the Gold Rush in California, keeping the family back home solvent with their wage packets. The area became renowned for gambling and gang warfare. A truce in the 1930s ended hostilities and paved the way for the development of art galleries, restaurants and shops. The Eastern States Buddhist Temple on Mott Street, dark and intriguing with incense and buddhas, is a must.


Sydney has several satellite Chinese communities but the hub is in Chinatown proper, a busy and colourful area that began as a small mall in Dixons Street and subsequently spread into Haymarket; Sussex Street is now its heart. Around the Chinese Gates, sand from Guangdong Province has been buried, making this a part of China in its residents' eyes. There are some excellent restaurants doing dim sum and the Kam Fook is Australia's biggest restaurant (based on number of seats). Paddy's Market moved back here to its original site and is worth nosing around. On the edge of Chinatown is the beautiful Chinese garden, an oasis of calm after the noise.