London’s East End is a treasure trove of history, culture, and hidden gems that often go unnoticed by the typical tourist. While the West End may boast of its theatres and the South Bank its iconic landmarks, the East End offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modern vibrancy. In this blog post, we’ll take you on a journey beyond the usual tourist spots to explore the lesser-known attractions of London’s East End.
The Rich Tapestry of Brick Lane
Brick Lane, often dubbed as the ‘Curry Capital’ of London, is much more than its aromatic Indian restaurants. It’s a melting pot of cultures, from the Bangladeshi community that has called it home for decades to the Jewish bakeries and the vintage shops that line its streets. Stroll down Brick Lane on a Sunday, and you’ll find the bustling Brick Lane Market, where you can pick up everything from vintage clothing to artisanal food.
Additionally, the street is adorned with vibrant graffiti, showcasing the area’s artistic flair. The numerous bars and cafes offer a diverse range of cuisines, reflecting the multicultural essence of the lane. At night, Brick Lane comes alive with music, as local and international DJs spin tunes in its many clubs.
Columbia Road Flower Market
Every Sunday, Columbia Road transforms into a floral paradise. The air is filled with the scent of fresh blooms as local vendors display their colourful wares. It’s a perfect spot to pick up a bouquet, a houseplant, or simply to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. Don’t forget to explore the independent shops and cafes that line the street – they’re full of character and charm.
Beyond flowers, you’ll also find vendors selling gardening tools and accessories. The market’s history dates back to the 19th century, making it one of London’s oldest street markets. As the day progresses, local musicians often serenade visitors, adding to the market’s lively ambiance.
The Geffrye Museum of the Home
Housed in a set of 18th-century almshouses, the Geffrye Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the domestic lives of Londoners over the past 400 years. The museum’s period rooms showcase the changing tastes and styles of the English middle class, from the 1600s to the present day. The museum also boasts a beautiful herb garden, perfect for a peaceful stroll.
Throughout the year, the museum hosts various events and workshops, allowing visitors to delve deeper into historical domestic life. The on-site café offers delightful treats, making it a perfect spot for a mid-visit break. For those interested in design, the museum’s library contains a vast collection of literature on home and interior design.
Wilton’s Music Hall
Step back in time at Wilton’s Music Hall, the world’s oldest surviving music hall. With its original cast-iron pillars and ornate balconies, the hall is a testament to the grandeur of Victorian entertainment. Today, it hosts a variety of performances, from theatre to live music, making it a must-visit for culture enthusiasts.
The hall also offers guided tours, giving visitors a chance to learn about its storied past. The bar area retains its vintage charm, serving classic cocktails and snacks. Throughout the year, Wilton’s also conducts workshops and community events, fostering a strong bond with the local community.
While Spitalfields Market may be well-known to some, many tourists often overlook it in favour of more prominent attractions. This historic market offers a mix of contemporary fashion, unique crafts, and gourmet food stalls. The surrounding area is also home to some of London’s best street art, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled as you wander the streets.
The market’s origins trace back to the 17th century, and its Victorian architecture is a sight to behold. On weekdays, the market is less crowded, offering a more relaxed shopping experience. Many local artisans and designers have stalls here, making it a hub for unique, handcrafted goods.
The Hidden Canals of Limehouse
Limehouse is home to a network of picturesque canals that offer a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a leisurely walk along the Limehouse Cut or explore the Limehouse Basin, where you can watch boats glide by and enjoy the serene atmosphere. The area is also rich in history, with many old warehouses now converted into trendy apartments and eateries.
For those interested in maritime history, the Limehouse Town Hall and St Anne’s Church are must-visits. The local pubs, many of which have been standing for centuries, offer a cozy spot to relax by the water. Seasonal boat tours also operate in the area, providing a unique perspective of London.
The East End’s Street Art Scene
The East End is a canvas for some of the world’s most renowned street artists. From the iconic works of Banksy to the colorful murals of Roa, the streets of Shoreditch and Hackney are alive with creativity. Join a street art tour or simply wander the streets at your own pace, discovering the ever-changing landscape of urban art.
Local galleries often showcase works from these street artists, blurring the lines between street and formal art. The art isn’t just confined to walls; many shop shutters and doors are also adorned with striking designs. As the sun sets, some artworks come alive with integrated lighting, offering a different visual experience.
Eel, Pie & Mash Shops
For a true taste of East End tradition, visit one of the area’s remaining eel, pie, and mash shops. These establishments have been serving up this classic London dish for over a century. While jellied eels might not be to everyone’s taste, the pie and mash are a comforting treat that’s worth trying.
The green liquor sauce, traditionally made from parsley, is a unique accompaniment to the dish. Many of these shops have retained their original interiors, transporting diners back to the early 20th century. For those curious about the history of this dish, some shops display old photographs and memorabilia, offering a glimpse into the East End’s culinary past.
London’s East End is a testament to the city’s rich history and diverse culture. From its bustling markets to its serene canals, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant corner of the capital. So, the next time you find yourself in London, venture beyond the typical tourist spots and discover the hidden gems of the East End. You won’t be disappointed.