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Ring in the Lunar New Year in Beijing

Enjoy some truly memorable Lunar New Year celebrations in Beijing. | By Paul Oswell | January 7, 2022

The arrival of the Lunar New Year (often called Spring Festival or Chinese New Year) is enthusiastically celebrated across China, promising new starts and fresh perspectives. In the capital of Beijing, the Lunar New Year will be honored with a host of spectacular ceremonies at the Beijing National Stadium (also called the Bird's Nest Stadium) and city-wide parades, fireworks and parties.

If you’re planning to visit, you’ll make your memorable trip even more special with our recommendations for an unforgettable start to the Lunar New Year in Beijing:

  • Master the ceremonies: Experience the many performative celebrations around the Chinese capital, from opera to dragon dances

  • Taste the excitement: Sample the traditional menus of the Reunion Dinner, and find out which foods are the luckiest

  • Gifts for others (and yourself!): New Year is a time of gift giving, and you can buy for yourself and others at the city’s chic shopping districts

Cultural arts

Lunar New Year is by far China’s most important festival. People all over the country observe traditions that have been honored for more than 3,000 years of history. As well as personal and family rituals, there are huge public events such as spectacular fireworks displays, and watching colorful lion and dragon parades.

For visitors, tapping into these traditions and exposing yourself to new music and art can make for transformative, memorable experiences. In Beijing, there are cultural performances at almost every place of worship, known as Temple Fairs. You can find different approaches from place to place. Popular events include a solemn celebration at the imperial Temple of Heaven and traditional entertainment at the Old Summer Palace from the Qing era. This can encompass opera and puppet shows as well as the dancing lions and dragons.

You can further immerse yourself in the Chinese art scene with a VIP tour of Red Gate Gallery, located in a 600-year old Ming dynasty watchtower. The gallery celebrates contemporary Chinese art and has blazed a trail on the local art scene for almost 30 years. If you find opera at the temple fairs most engaging, arranging for VIP seats to see the China National Opera at the National Centre for the Performing Arts makes for an exhilarating night out.

The celebrations get into full swing, too, at Conrad Beijing. On the first day of the holidays, you can enjoy the hotel’s own spectacular Lion Dance to call in the Lunar New Year and celebrate the Spring Festival. The sophisticated Lu Yu restaurant within Conrad Beijing will also prepare special Lunar New Year menus, honoring the New Year’s Eve family reunion tradition with Chinese delicacies, and locally influenced pastries and teas.

Celebratory dining

There’s a strong tradition in Chinese families to gather together for Lunar New Year’s Eve and eat what’s called a Reunion Dinner. ​​Dumplings, chicken and pork feature heavily in the dishes, as does fish, with some purposely left over and stored overnight for luck. Jiaozi is a ubiquitous dish; it's a type of dumpling that sounds like the Chinese word for wealth.

Beijing boasts some 30 Michelin-starred restaurants, and many of them will be open to serve their version of the Reunion Dinner. Among the most exclusive is King’s Joy, which you can find close to the Yonghe Temple. The kitchen was recently awarded three Michelin stars and a Green star for sustainability. Chef Gary Yin serves incredible vegetarian food in the striking, glass-ceilinged dining room.

The ​​Xinyuan South Road branch of the small chain Xin Rong Ji also has three Michelin stars. Here you can sample Taizhou and Cantonese regional cuisines, including its famed Peking duck, which you must order well in advance.

Waldorf Astoria Beijing is a great spot to experience the Reunion Dinner tradition and take a cultural adventure as well as a culinary one. The hotel’s Chinese restaurant, Zijin Mansion, has a Michelin star of its own, thanks to the creativity of executive chef James Wang. The sumptuous dining room is clad in orange, hand-embroidered fabric and the Cantonese cuisine is equally intricate and satisfying.

Gifting guide

Gift giving is a large part of the Lunar New Year celebrations, and as with all of the traditional practices at this time of year, it comes with its own special rules and etiquette. Gifts are usually red, gold or yellow in color, and money is given in red envelopes. Money given must not be an amount containing the number four, as this is considered unlucky (eight is the luckiest number in Chinese culture).

The type of gift to give is very much down to the individual (fruit baskets are very popular and also symbolize wealth and prosperity). If you’re visiting, then you’ll likely just want to shop for gifts for family back home or for souvenirs. Oriental Plaza in Dongcheng District occupies an entire city block and is replete with designer names such as Burberry, Givenchy and Valentino.

One of the trendier shopping plazas is Taikoo Li Sanlitun, with its unusual, colored glass buildings. As well as global brands, this upscale village is also home to many of the city’s best bars and cafes. If you’re looking for a piece of Chinese history as a souvenir, then head for Panjiayuan Antique Market, where you can buy a Qing-dynasty vase or ancient woodblock prints. Local influencers and those in the know head to Yang Mei Zhu Xiejie, a narrow alleyway in the Xicheng District packed with interesting boutiques and galleries selling artisanal furniture and pottery.

Both Waldorf Astoria Beijing and Conrad Beijing have wonderful shopping options close by. Waldorf Astoria Beijing is close to Beijing apm (also known as Xindong'an Plaza), which has existed for over 100 years. Conrad Beijing is within easy reach of upscale shopping malls, including Shin Kong Place, which houses stores like Dior and Gucci. Your personal concierge at either hotel can suggest the perfect places to buy those gifts for others and for yourself.

Make your Lunar New Year travel memory

The Lunar New Year is such an evocative time in the Chinese capital. Familiar New Year celebrations such as fireworks are mixed with traditions that you will only see in China and within global Chinese communities. Exploring and enjoying these different practices gives you a truly transformative and memorable experience, one that will stay with you for years to come.

Plan Your Perfect CelebrationView list of Hilton hotels in Beijing

Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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