Is Sydney Chinese new year the best outside mainland China? Fabulous lunar lanterns, bustling new year markets and exciting dragon boat races are among the attractions.
Sydney Australia is home to a large Asian population. And we’ve adopted many of the wonderful foods and traditions they’ve brought with them.
Among some of the best loved are Sydney Chinese New Year traditions, which give great opportunities to glitter and sparkle in the warmth of summer.
Here’s what to expect in Sydney at the Chinese lunar new year.
When is Chinese New Year?
The exact date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar. It is usually the second new moon after the Chinese winter solstice. So it changes from year to year.
Chinese New Year dates for the next few years are:
- 2018: 16 February, Year of the Dog
- 2019: 5 February, Year of the Pig
- 2020: 25 January, Year of the Rat
- 2021: 12 February, Year of the Ox
- 2022: 16 February, Year of the Dog
- 2023: 22 January, Year of the Rabbit
- 2024: 10 February, Year of the Dragon
- 2025: 29 January, Year of the Snake
- 2026: 17 February, Year of the Horse
- 2027: 6 February, Year of the Goat
- 2028: 27 January, Year of the Monkey
- 2029: 13 February, Year of the Rooster
Then the animal cycle starts again.
Chinese New Year falls at the end of, or immediately after, the Festival of Sydney. So January holidays will often give you a two-for-one experience.
Sydney Chinese New Year Activities
It all starts in Sydney’s Chinatown.
Belmore Park is a relatively small park abutting Chinatown, right opposite Central Railway Station. On any given morning you’ll see small groups gently doing their tai-chi exercises there.
It’s also where you’ll find all the traditional Chinese New Year foods.
Special open air markets accompany the launch of Chinese New Year celebrations.
The markets spread all the way to Dixon Street, the main Chinatown Sydney thoroughfare.
Sydney Chinese New year celebrations are officially launched in Belmore Park. The open air markets operate from 1600 (4pm) on Friday and from 1100 (11am) on Saturday and Sunday. They’ll continue till 2200 (10pm) each night.
They have Chinese new year food, flowers, toys and clothing. For more elaborate food go to any restaurant in Chinatown, indeed, any Chinese restaurant in Sydney.
And don’t miss Chinese new year food stalls, demonstrations and the chance to see some of Sydney’s top chefs in action at Carriageworks in Newtown. It’s easily accessible by bus and rail and definitely worth a visit.
Opening night sees fireworks light up the night sky. During the next 10 days the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be bathed in a red glow, the auspicious colour for luck, health and wealth in the new year.
Fireworks also feature in Sydney Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown. This time focused on Chinese crackers which are set off every Friday through Sunday during the festival. You’ll find them accompanying the Lion Dancers who can be anywhere at all in the area. Listen for the drums. They’ll be loud and insistent.
One of the repeating joys of the Sydney Chinese New Year festival is the display of lunar lanterns around Circular Quay.
They’ve all been designed by Asian-Australian artists. They light up at night but are equally striking during the day.
If you stroll from the Sydney Opera House to Cadman’s Cottage on the other side of the Quay you’ll pass them all. To find out more as you go around the Quay, download the Sydney Culture Walks app. This is one of the included walks.
Up to 13 metres tall, the lunar lanterns are larger than life artworks, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Of course they’re a favourite for accompanying selfies, you can absolutely see why.
Sydney Chinese New Year Parade
Sydney’s traditional Twilight Parade from the Town Hall to Chinatown has been temporarily (we hope) suspended as the city’s main streets are ripped up for the new light rail. So ignore this section until further notice!
You can still catch the Chinese New Year Parade and festivities in Cabramatta, about 30 kms from Sydney centre. It has a large Asian community and celebrates all the major festivals. More on Cabramatta here.
As well as beautiful dancing girls and energetic drummers, the entire Chinese New Year Zodiac animals parade in front of you.
100,000 others will join you in one of the great free things to do in Sydney.
Buildings along the Parade route – from Sydney Town Hall on George Street through Chinatown to Darling Harbour – are lit up in contemporary Chinese New Year designs
The Twilight Parade starts at the Town Hall at 1945 (7.45pm). It finishes in Chinatown around 2130 (9.30pm).
There are floats, lanterns, dancers and plenty of dragons.
Don’t hesitate to bring your children. It’s safe and the crowds are good-natured.
It’s a fun Chinese New Year for kids.
Darling Harbour Dragon Boat Races
Dragon boat races! Energy, excitement and mad drumming. They’re an annual feature at Darling Harbour, and very much part of Sydney’s Chinese New Year traditions.
Each boat has up to 22 people, and they paddle to the beat of the drum – which gets frantic in the heat of the race.
The races are short but intense. And they go on non-stop for two days over a weekend.
Happy New Year in Chinese
I wish you Kung Hei Fat Choy to welcome in a new Sydney Chinese new year.
And special thanks to Sydney photographer Richard Taylor, whose photos have made this page a visual treat.
It was hard to choose among the many photos he’s made. Here’s a link to Richard Taylor’s Chinese New Year pictures.
The Festival of Sydney Chinese New Year boasts more than 60 events including temple tours, a film festival, art exhibitions, kids’ events, cultural and historical tours, calligraphy demonstrations, opera and banquets. Catch at least some.