Widely considered the most important holiday of the year by those who celebrate it, the Chinese New Year (also commonly referred to as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival) is a time of rituals and raucous festivities. While the celebrations vary from country to country, you can count on massive gatherings lasting several days (and even weeks) in the name of a new year. Typically falling in late January or early February, this year’s Lunar New Year begins on January 28. From Sydney to San Francisco, people will be ringing in the year of the rooster with fireworks, flowers, family and lots of food. This week’s Bucket List features seven cities where you should head to ring in the Chinese New Year.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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With around 75 percent of Singapore's population consisting of ethnic Chinese, it should be no surprise that the Lunar New Year is a big deal there. The island goes red with decorations and festivities abound in the days surrounding the holiday. You can't go wrong with a visit to Singapore's Chinatown, but the River Hongbao is not to be missed either. Located on Marina Bay, the festival is full of events and experiences for celebrating the new year. Massive lanterns depicting the Chinese zodiac animals, street performances, fireworks, plenty of food for sampling, as well as Chinese cultural demonstrations like calligraphy are all on the itinerary. During the Chinese New Year, Singapore also hosts Chingay, Asia's largest street performance and parade. It features dragon dances, musical performances and impressive floats. While it's not solely a Chinese New Year parade, it happens during the holiday and is a spectacle not to be missed.
Photo by Akuppa John Wigham, CC BY 2.0
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Sydney honors its sister city of Guangzhou, China along with Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Korean culture by putting on one impressive Chinese New Year celebration. Festivities span from Chinatown to Sydney Harbour and include more than 80 different events. Several of the city's landmarks are illuminated in red like the opera house, town hall and Sydney Harbour Bridge during the new year. Circular Quay features a lunar lantern trail with large lantern versions of the zodiac animals, as well as a canopy or red lanterns at Martin Place. Other events during the holiday include dragon boat races with 3,000 paddlers in Darling Harbour, live performances and pop-up food festivals.
Photo by candiceecidnac, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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On any given day, Hong Kong is a lively city. During the Chinese New Year, this is amplified to an impressive degree. The city erupts with loud, colorful and exciting festivities during the days surrounding the holiday. Decorations, drums, parades and fireworks can be seen and heard throughout Singapore. On January 28, Hong Kong hosts a parade of more than 30 floats and performances, including dragons, traditional Chinese dancers and acrobats. The parade takes place in the evening and makes its way through Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. Don't miss the massive fireworks show in Victoria Harbour the evening of January 29. Fireworks are believed to scare off evil spirits and Hong Kong takes no chances. The 30-minute display can be seen all along Hong Kong's waterfront, but the best viewing spots include Tsim Sha Tsui and the Central Waterfront Promenade on Hong Kong Island, or better yet from a boat on the water. Also, keep your eyes peeled for dragon and lion dances that pop up throughout Hong Kong in the days surrounding the holiday. Finally, on the third day of the Chinese New Year, some 100,000 people flock to Hong Kong's Sha Tin Racecourse for a full day of horse racing and other festivities, including a variety show. The event is a bucket list-worthy experience if your itinerary allows for it.
Photo by Geneva Vanderzeil, CC BY 2.0
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China's capital city might be the most iconic place to celebrate the Chinese New Year, and one of the best times to visit for experiencing Chinese culture. While Beijing rings in the new year in a more traditional manner than some of the other cities in this gallery, there is no shortage of festivities. Red lanterns hang in the streets while spontaneous dragon dances march down them. Firecrackers can be heard at a near-deafening degree during the days and nights around the new year. One of the best and most traditional ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Beijing is to head to one of the many temples throughout the city for a temple fair. The largest and most popular of which is held at Ditan Park Temple. It might sound like a subdued affair, quite the contrary is true. While plenty of praying takes place, the fair features lively performances, games and hundreds of stalls selling everything from antiques and handicrafts to traditional snacks.
Photo by Song Zhen, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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As home to the oldest Chinatown in North America, you can bet on San Francisco for a lively Chinese New Year celebration. The city's Chinese New Year Parade dates as far back as the mid-1800s after the Gold Rush. It is considered one of the best parades in the world and the festivities surrounding the holiday are also among the biggest outside of Asia. San Francisco hosts its Chinese New Year Parade later than most other cities in this gallery. This year's will take place on February 11. It features more than 100 groups riding on impressively decorated floats, wearing elaborate costumes and shooting off firecrackers. One highlight is the 268-foot-long Gum Lung (Golden Dragon) that requires more than 100 people to carry. There's also a fair featuring Chinese opera singers, folk dancers and more than 80 vendors selling traditional Chinese treats. As flowers are an important part of the Chinese New Year, San Francisco also hosts a Flower Market Fair where stalls sell fruits, fresh flowers and sweets.
Photo by Steve McClanahan, CC BY-NC 2.0
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The Chinese New Year is one of the most celebrated holidays in Malaysia. While there's plenty to see and do in Kuala Lumpur, opt for George Town on Penang Island for some of the best festivities. The entire city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and there you'll witness all the revelry you'd expect during the holiday from dragon dances to copious amounts of fireworks, along with some additional noteworthy sights. Among them is Kek Lok Si Temple, which is considered one of the largest and most impressive in South East Asia. The temple complex is adorned with millions of colorful lanterns that are lit each night during the Chinese New Year. The island city also hosts an impressive Chingay parade that features people balancing large flags on their hands and foreheads.
Photo by cjette, CC BY-NC 2.0
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In Vietnam, the Chinese New Year is known as Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet). It is the country's biggest festival and is celebrated with food, family and paying respect to ancestors. Head to Hanoi to witness the festivities firsthand. While the city essentially shuts down during Tet and things are relatively quiet compared to the weeks leading up to the new year, there will be plenty of opportunity to see the holiday in action. The streets of Vietnam's capital become awash in red and yellow in the days surrounding Tet and flowers can be seen around every corner, especially peach tree branches and kumquat trees as they are considered good luck. Be sure to visit any of Hanoi's temples, which are sure to be packed with visitors in prayer as they make incense offerings, as well as in celebration. Ngoc Son Temple, or Temple of the Jade Mountain, is a good place to start. It's one of the city's most popular and is located on Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of Hanoi.
Photo by Motiqua, CC BY 2.0