East London skyline. (Photo: Dave Hunt/flickr)
London is a big, big city and because of that, it can be overwhelming to decide where to stay.
On my numerous visits to London, I’ve stayed in quite a few different neighborhoods, but far and away, my favorite area of the city is (predictably) the East.
East London (also called the East End) has been the “it” area for the past few decades. In the 90s, Shoreditch was the place for squatters and hipsters, bohemians and hippies.
Nowadays, for better or worse, this part of London has been undergoing the typical gentrification process. The areas of Shoreditch, Hackney, Clapton, Hoxton and Dalston are some of the coolest and trendiest areas of London right now.
In November, I stayed at a HomeAway vacation apartment in Dalston. Our apartment was a brisk 10-minute walk from the Dalston-Kingsland Overground stop, which I quickly learned is a hipster hub. The overground station sits at the end of an everyday food market (the Ridley Road Market), where we bought fresh fruit & vegetables so we could cook some meals in our apartment (though the empanada stand also got plenty of my business!).
Noticeably important in the neighborhood were an organic food shop, a cupcake bakery, Vietnamese restaurants, and a restaurant selling nothing but arancini balls. Kingsland Street runs directly down to Shoreditch (essentially all the way to the legendary Whitechapel Gallery) and seemed to be the main thoroughfare for connecting much of East London.
Here’s my short guide on just what makes East London so hip and cool — and why you should base yourself in this part of London (mainly the Borough of Hackney, but also in Shoreditch) for your next trip!
Pitfield London. (Photo: Martyn.C.Jones/flickr)
Shopping in London has long been a favorite past-time for tourists. Besides being an international fashion capital, thrift and vintage are words that were seemingly coined in London. We’ve probably got the rockstars to thank for that, but besides fashion, East London is overflowing with weird and quirky shops. I particularly like Present London — a menswear shop that sells fashion, housewares, books, coffee and other random things. Also try Paper & Cup — a local not-for-profit bookshop & cafe (coffee & cakes!) and Pitfield London, a cafe, exhibition space, and furniture store all rolled into one very cool & hip space.
Street art outside the Dalston Junction station. (Photo: Travels of Adam)
In the past few decades, East London has seen a resurgence of public street art. Local artists Ben Eine and Stik have left a trail of art throughout Shoreditch and the rest of the east, much of which you really can’t miss. It’s all over the place. I highly recommend taking a street art tour because, even if you might spot some of the works on your own, you’ll learn so much more about East London’s recent history and the commitment to public issues many of these artists strive to achieve. I took a walking tour with Street Art London (every day, 2-4 hours, £12-15) which I really enjoyed despite the large group size.
Just once a week (on Saturdays), the Broadway Market takes place at the foot of London Fields park. It’s basically a food market, though some of the shops along the street include bookstores and vintage shops, so you’re basically covered for all necessities. With more than 100 stalls and shops (most of them food), the street market has everything from Indian thalis to local fruits & vegetable vendors. The market’s a little less convenient to get to than some other areas of the Borough of Hackney, but if you make it there, you won’t be disappointed! The pub at the end, The Cat & Mutton, is also a cozy place to visit if you want the authentic London pub experience.
Broadway Market. (Photo: Travels of Adam)
If there’s a day to make sure you’re in East London, it’s definitely Sunday. While Saturday hosts the Broadway Market, Sundays are definitely for the weekly Brick Lane Market. On Brick Lane and its surrounding streets, it’s nonstop vendor after vendor. You’ll find everything a hipster needs: vintage clothes, used records, trendy T-shirts, hats and food stalls from seemingly every country in the world. With a top tip recommendation, I ended up eating at The Rib Man — London’s best rib meat (and vouched for by Adam Richman’s Man v Food). But honestly: the Brick Lane Market (every Sunday, 9am-5pm) is not to be missed. It’s one hundred million times better than the Camden Market. Also on Sunday in the same area as Brick Lane, you’ll find the Sunday UpMarket in the old Truman Brewery, and the Columbia Road Flower Market. Both are chock full of people and unique stalls selling everything from fresh oysters to local artists’ DIY crafts.
Columbia Road Flower Market. (Photo: Alex Segre/Getty Images)
Besides the street markets, which fill up with food stalls during the weekend, East London gets its fair share of food trucks and pop-up restaurants (and even food truck festivals). Across the street from Shoreditch Box Park on the High Street is a canopied food hall (inside you’ll want to try Tulum Tacos orYalla Yalla), but many food trucks set up shop during the weekdays on Dray Walk street just off Brick Lane.
Further north of Shoreditch, in Clapton, the local favorite food shop Palm 2 is also home to pop-up restaurants every weekend. That’s in addition to their organic food selection and homemade takeaway lunches & meals. Besides hosting various supper clubs (it was Jamaican the night I visited) every weekend, you can order freshly made sourdough pizzas from Latto’s Pizza at the deli counter in the back of the shop.
London Fields (Photo: D1v1d/flickr)
I was told countless times before visiting London that London Fields is *the* hipster park. In the summer months, it fills up with people of all ages having picnics, playing music and just generally enjoying life. Fun fact about this park: the land was historically used for grazing animals on the way to the livestock markets. On a warm day, this is without a doubt the best place to visit in East London.
One of the cool shops along Wilton Way. (Photo: Travels of Adam)
Not far from London Fields park is the small street Wilton Way. Now, this isn’t typically a tourist destination — it’s a bit of a walk from the nearest Underground station — but it’s totally worth it if you’re looking for that “travel like a local” experience. On Wilton Way are a handful of shops selling various local goods and knick-knacks but the real highlight is the Wilton Way Cafe. The independent coffee shop is also home to the local London Fields Radio so it’s got a real community atmosphere. Plus the food and coffee is great … and the twenty-somethings sitting at the nearby tables aren’t bad-looking themselves. Also on Wilton Way is the friendly neighborhood restaurant Mayfields which takes the theme so far that they actually refer to the restaurant as a “dining room.”
Lounge Lover (Photo: Rob Swatski/flickr)
With East London’s reputation for being so cool, it’s no wonder that they’ve got the right kind of nightlife to prove it. Whether it’s charming British pubs such as Red Lion, single-room sized neighborhood clubs such as the Ridley Road Market Bar or trendy cocktail bars like Lounge Lover, East London is nothing if not fun at night. There are two great websites for finding out about the best events, bars and clubs in East London: Design My Night and Bar Chick.
Vintage & Thrift Shopping
If it seems like you can’t go a block in East London without stumbling upon a clothing store, well…then that’s exactly the case. Luckily this is also the area to find some of the best deals thanks to all the vintage and thrift shops. Beyond Retro has a large collection for men and women, plus cheaper deals than I was able to find along the Brick Lane market. But really: there are hundreds of thrift shops in throughout Shoreditch, Hoxton and Hackney — it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your style and tastes.
F. Cooke (Photo: tunnelarmr/flickr)
Food, Glorious Food!
I didn’t realize it until I tried it myself, but East London is the historic home to some traditional English foods. Pie & mash (yummy!) and jellied eels (not-so-yummy, but I suppose some people like ‘em) are two of the food staples for the East End. The small, family-run restaurant F. Cooke is one of the most famous places to buy the local food (if you dare!). Besides the traditional foods, East London is now today a hotbed for innovative chefs and new, trendy restaurants. Pizza East in Shoreditch has that “oh-I’m-so-cool” appeal, but that’s not a bad thing here. The pizzas are great and the atmosphere is cool enough to leave you feeling special.
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