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.
TRAVEL TIP: There are a few hostels and hotels in East London, but if you want the true “live like a local” experience, HomeAway has more than a few available apartments in the Hackney, Dalston and Shoreditch areas. Search apartments in Hackney here.
10 Reasons to Visit 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!
1. Quirky Shops
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 (140 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JE)—a menswear shop that sells fashion, housewares, books, coffee and other random things. Also try Paper & Cup (18 Calvert Avenue, E2 7JP)—a local not-for-profit bookshop & cafe (coffee & cakes!) and Pitfield London (31-35 Pitfield Street, N1 6HB)—a cafe, exhibition space and furniture store all rolled into one very cool & hip space.
2. Street Art
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.
3. Broadway Market
Just once a week (on Saturdays), the Broadway Market (naturally on Broadway Street, E8 4PH) 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 & 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 (76 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ), is also a cosy place to visit if you want the authentic London pub experience.
4. Sunday Markets
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 (91-96 Brick Lane, E1 6HR) — 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.
5. Food Trucks
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 or Yalla Yalla), but many food trucks set up shop during the weekdays on Dray Walk street (E1 6QR) just off Brick Lane.
Further north of Shoreditch, in Clapton, the local favorite food shop Palm 2 (152-156 Lower Clapton Road, E5 0QJ) 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.
6. London Fields
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.
7. Wilton Way
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 (63 Wilton Way, E8 1BG). 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 (52 Wilton Way, E8 1BG) which takes the theme so far that they actually refer to the restaurant as a “dining room.”
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 (41 Hoxton Street, N1 6NH), single-room sized neighborhood clubs such as the Ridley Road Market Bar (49 Ridley Road, Dalston, E8 2NP) or trendy cocktail bars like Lounge Lover (1 Whitby Street, E1 6JU), 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.
9. 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 (110-112 Cheshire Street, E2 6EJ) 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.
10. 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 (9 Broadway Market, E8 4PH) 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 (56 Shoreditch High St, E1 6JJ) 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.
TRAVEL TIP: To really discover East London’s food scene, try the East End Walking Tour with Eating London. The food tour samples everything from traditional English foods to modern takes on the classics, and it’s all interspersed between a walking history lesson about the East End. My favorite dish from the tour was a banana bread pudding but learning about East London’s unique history (from Jack the Ripper to new and old graffiti artists) was the real highlight. Check out their London tour offers here.
Win a trip to London!
Also — something I just discovered the other day… London’s official tourism website is giving away a trip to London (enter by January 6th, 2014). Check out their website for details on how you can enter. It’s pretty easy. Just, if you win, be sure to venture out from the main tourist sites and get out to explore East London!
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With special thanks to Visit London, Mae, David, Sophie and Yishyene for their suggestions and recommendations on these coolest things to do in East London.
Yaaaaay, East London. Lovely to hang out with you on the streets/in the pubs of Hackney
Thank YOU David! Had a great afternoon wandering around Hackney with you — even if the weather was shit. Can’t wait to get back there again!
Fun post! I really enjoyed the time I spent exploring the East End the last time I was in London – but I clearly missed a lot! A return trip will definitely be in order!
The East End is definitely the place to be. I know you enjoyed your time there on the last visit – just make sure you base yourself in this part of town on your next trip so that you can really reap all the great benefits!
For those that may be reading this and planning a visit to my home city it’s worth noting that Dalston is at the top of Kingsland ROAD, and if you follow it all the way down you’ll end up at London Bridge, some 2 miles away from the Whitechapel Gallery (for that you’ll want to walk down Kingsland Road, it’ll then become Shoreditch High Street and at the cross roads take the left down Commercial Street which will take you to the gallery).
Also Broadway Street is actually called Broadway Market (it’s also known as Broadway Market).
I’d also recommend you walk along the Regents Canal, from Kingsland Rd to Broadway Market.
Thanks Matt for the additional information – and yes completely forgot to mention the Regents Canal. That’s also near Broadway Market if I remember correctly — and really lovely in the summertime (as is much of London)
Yeah, I hear about those popular street artists all the time. It’s really amazing, you can see their work on almost anything. It’s amazing. It surely is a must-see for me.
Great suggestions here, Adam. You’ve got a few of my favourites there.
For food, I would also recommend Hackney Bureau. And for drinks, the Star of Bethnal Green is a great option.
There are lots of cool places along the canal as well (better in summer than winter). Towpath, just near Kingsland Rd, is a great place for breakfast on a warm day!
Thanks Michael for the extra tips. I’ve heard Star of Bethnal Green recommended before as well.
Nice post about East London! Will be visiting London on spring next year and I just get excited reading the places I should visit. Thanks
Awesome! Glad to hear it Kara – hope you get the chance to hang out in the East End while you’re in Londontown :)
I heartily agree. My recent return visit to my home turf has made me strangely proud of this part of the city. I have to offer a correction: East London and the East End are not the same thing; East London is a huge area covering basically everything north of the Thames and east of the A10, while the East End is a small part of that triangle down in the corner nearest central London, from the City to Mile End, perhaps?
Hey Sam – thanks for the information regarding East End vs East London. I must’ve asked a million times to try and figure out the differences, plus I was confused on what exactly Hackney, Shoreditch, Dalston, Hoxton and so on are by definition. I guess Hackney is a borough which includes Dalston and Hoxton, but Shoreditch is in a different borough. I found it all very confusing and still don’t fully understand. Also I’ve never been convinced that England is its own country, and WTF is the difference between the UK and Great Britain?!
It’s all Greek to me…
Ahhhh I have so much regret that I don’t live in East London (my flat is literally across the city, boo) because of all these things. Haven’t been to Brick Lane Market yet, but Broadway is amazing.
Amanda – you absolutely MUST go to Brick Lane on a Sunday. It’s a whole other world!!!
East London is definitely the best, of course! From Walthamstow myself and love it.
The street arts and Sunday markets would be the main reasons to visit this part of the city for me. I love exploring local fruit and veggies markets!
The markets in East London are probably some of London’s best! Brick Lane on a Sunday can’t be beat!
[…] From markets to street art, quirky shops to vintage shopping, East London is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in England’s capital city. Discover 10 reasons why this “hipster hub” is worth visiting. @travelsofadam […]
Great tips Adam! You know I’d love the street art. I really need to visit London and spend some time there someday. :)
Have you been to London before, Cheryl? It’s really an incredible city. I can see why there are so many people who move between both Berlin and London…
Thanks for the great tips, i wish you good successful :) .
This is exactly the type of area that appeals to me, so great job. It seems to have a real character to it. We had already ear marked the food walking tour, so I think that we will be happy little campers
Cool – glad to hear you’ve already got East London on your radar. Shoreditch has been popular for a while but if you go a bit further north into Hackney you’ll find some equally cool things.
And, oh yes – the food tour from Eating London is great. I’m sure you’d enjoy it!
Hi Adam, I have been to London many times and one area of London I think many would really enjoy, is attending a service at Westminster Abbey.The service was good, but the boys choir and the accoustics within the church was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. I checked for the services online before I left for the UK, and attended a service during the Christmas Holiday. The club scene, shopping and exploring are fantastic in London, but, If you want to really get a little English culture go to the Abbey and listen to the boys choir. Happy travels!
What a cool tip, Jerry! Sounds like a great idea on something to do.
[…] Street art outside the Dalston Junction station. (Photo: Travels of Adam) […]
Totally agree, I’ve live in Shoreditch, and I love East London for its atmosphere and spirit, that’s where you can feel real London :)
Broadway market – best of the best :)