48 Hours in East London

Exploring London's East End
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It's no secret that London, England, is one of my favorite cities in the world. But the thing about London (like many other capitals) is that it's actually a bunch of smaller cities all rolled into one big one. Each part of London has a distinct history – and therefore a distinct character.

So on my most recent visit to London, I decided to stick to just one part of of the city. And that part was London's East End.

London's East End: A History Lesson

The East End of London has a long history, dating back to when the area was actually a separate village outside the Roman walls of the city. What happened, though is a typical tale of expansion and absorption – eventually, as London grew, it encompassed what is known today as the “East End” and beyond.

Old Spitalfields, London

Today, the East End is known for its amalgamation of cultures. This is because the area has always predominantly been a place where the poor and the immigrants went to live when they could not afford to live within London itself, or when overcrowding forced them out.

The first group of immigrants to this part of London were Huguenots escaping religious oppression in France. They brought with them looms and weaving, paving the way for Irish weavers and Jewish immigrants in later decades. By the late 1900s, immigrants from Bangladesh were the most numerous. They still make up a large part of the population in the East End, and are partially responsible for curry being England’s national dish.

London's East End

And, while today the East End is considered an “up-and-coming” part of London, this is a relatively new trend. Even as recently as 30 years ago, East London was NOT a desirable place to live. But that just goes to show you how quickly things can change in a city like London.

48 Hours in East London

If you're headed to London for the first time (or second or third), consider spending a couple of days in the city's East End. And here are a few things you definitely should consider doing:

Go on a street art tour

Start out your visit to the East End with a street art tour. East London has been home to some of the most influential graffiti artists in Europe (including Banksy), and street art is now a unique facet of the neighborhood's identity.

Street art in London's East End

Street art in London's East End

A mixture of murals just off Brick Lane.

I went on a walking tour with Alternative London, which ended up being a nice mix of history and street art. The guide was an artist himself, and not only showed us some of the most well-known pieces of art near Brick Lane, but also pointed out some of the smaller, less-inconspicuous pieces that he loves that most people would probably miss.

We saw stickers, tiny sculptures, stencils, and very small bits of art that hit home the fact that “street art” isn't JUST about huge murals – it's all about leaving a mark, no matter how small that mark might be.

Street art in London's East End

Our tour ended at the Nomadic Community Gardens, which is both a garden and creative space. The group that runs it identifies unused land (in this case, it's land that's awaiting development) and gets permission to turn it into a pop-up community garden and free artists hub.

The Gardens won't be here forever – just until development of the land starts. But their “nomadic” name suggests that they'll likely move to another spot when the time comes. This was a really cool place to visit, and a great way to end our tour of alternative East London.

Nomadic Community Gardens in East London

Nomadic Community Gardens – such a cool space!

Shop at Old Spitalfields

The Old Spitalfields Market is a staple of East London. In fact, there's been a market on this site for more than 300 years. Today, the covered market is filled with everything from restaurants to small boutique shops and is a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Old Spitalfields Market

  • What: Old Spitalfields Market
  • When: Open 7 days per week, with main market days being Thursday-Sunday
  • How much time should I spend? 1-3 hours

(And if you're in the East End on Sunday, you'll also want to check out the Columbia Road Flower Market!)

Eat your way around the East End

Most travelers can attest to food being a window into the soul of a place. It's one of the best ways to get a grasp on an area's history and character – and this is definitely true in the East End. Since East London has always been such a conglomeration of cultures, its culinary offerings strongly reflect this.

Meaning that going on a food tour in this part of London is almost a must-do.

East End Food Tour

Corned beef from Beigel Bake

I did a food tour with Eating London that focused not only on the food but also the history of East London. We had curry on Brick Lane, fish and chips at Poppies (an East End institution), corned beef bagels at the famous Beigel Bake, and more.

And not only did I get to taste some great East London food, but I also learned about how the area's history has influenced the restaurants you can find there today. This is one of the best food tours I've done anywhere in the world!

East End Food Tour

Stroll along Regent's Canal

Many people don't know this, but there's a canal system that runs through much of London. It's called the Regent's Canal and was built as an alternative way to transport goods through London, back in the days when horses and carts would get bogged down in the mud and muck that made up city roads.

The canal's most famous bit lies near Camden Town, where it's often called “Little Venice.” But the canal in the East End is well worth a visit, too. Take a stroll (or a bike ride) to see the various houseboats and a quieter side of London.

Regent's Canal in London

  • What: Regent's Canal
  • When: Anytime
  • How much time should I spend? At least 1 hour

Cuddle with kitties at Lady Dinah's

My newest favorite thing to do in East London is to spend time at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, the very first cat cafe in the city of London. The cafe is home to 13 cats and a very nice selection of teas, coffees, cakes, and other cafe specialties, and also offers High Tea Friday-Monday.

High Tea at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

Booking a table is recommended (even though Lady Dinah's has been open for more than two years, it's still extremely popular), and your booking nets you 90 minutes with the kitties and your snack/drink of choice.

I've been to the cafe twice and loved it both times. And, if you're a cat-lover like me, you'll probably enjoy it, too!

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium in London

  • What: Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium
  • When: Every day except Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (12 p.m. – 8 p.m. in winter)
  • How much time should I spent? A booking gets you a table for 90 minutes

RELATED: A Purrfect Afternoon Tea at London's First Cat Cafe

Where to stay

Note: This section contains affiliate links.

Qbic London City

For my foray into East London, I decided I wanted to stay IN East London, too. I decided on the Qbic London City hotel, located in Shoreditch. This hotel has a lot of things going for it: it's less than a 5-minute walk from the Aldgate East tube station, there's an attached bar/restaurant, and the whole hotel is full of quirky character.

Qbic London City hotel room

I love hotels like this – ones that have a mixture of really useful features (like free, fast wifi) and features that just make you smile (like the “do not disturb” sign in the form of a stuffed animal).

The hotel is also truly eco-friendly (ask them about their solar panels and electric car charging stations), AND won't break the bank – rooms start at around £90 per night.

The Qbic London City is absolutely a hotel I would stay at again in London!

Read reviews hereBook your own stay at Qbic London City here!

Have you ever spent any time in East London? If so, what are some of your other favorite things to do?

 

48 hours in London's East End

 

*Note: I was a guest of Qbic London City during my stay, and took a free Eating London food tour back in 2013. But, as always, all opinions are 100% my own.

 

22 Comments

  • Dominique says:

    I’ve never ventured into East London, but now that you mention it; to try the curries there would be quite amazing! I need to pay that area a visit!

  • tanya says:

    Oh my, that Orange smoothie bar is so funny. Lovely pictures too. I would love to see that canal too, so cool 🙂
    tanya recently posted..5 Qualities of Effective HR Managers

  • Danielle says:

    You know, while I’ve always had London on my list of places to see, I’ve never really looked into the different parts of the city, so I appreciate this glimpse into the East End. Looks very cool! The street art definitely looks worth a walking tour so you don’t miss anything. And I’m really charmed by the Nomadic Community Gardens. What a great idea that is!

  • Sara says:

    I’ve always been fascinated by East London — it just seems so funky and cool! Of course, I love every part of London I’ve visited, but I haven’t had a chance to check out East London! It’s what I plan to do next time I visit next summer while I’m over in London for the Harry Potter play!

    • Amanda says:

      Great plan! It’s a very cool part of the city, and I don’t think you’ll regret spending some time there! (Also… so jealous about the Harry Potter play!! One of these years I hope to see it too!)

  • Brilliant post, Amanda! East London has some of the best restaurants and street cafes, not to forget the outstanding street art. My favorite restaurant is Dishoom located in Boundary Street and I think you should try it sometime if you haven’t already. Thanks for sharing this post and these amazing pictures. You’re a great photographer. Cheers!

    • Amanda says:

      I’ve heard that Dishoom is great, but sadly I’m not really a fan of most Indian food! Not for lack of trying it… it’s just not my favorite. (Which is a huge shame in the East End, of course!)

  • I’m looking forward to heading to the area on my next visit to London to try and spot some cool street art. Been to London 3 times and never headed to East London so really looking forward to it.
    Sarah Jane Goldsworthy recently posted..Butchart Gardens..

    • Amanda says:

      If you’re into street art at all, this is definitely the place to go! The tour I did was really great (I noticed much more of the small stuff than I ever would have on my own), but you can see plenty of it just wandering around on your own, too.

  • Great job bringing some press to East London! It is typically an area not touched upon by visitors, but we went on our first trip to London. Another great spot is Crate Brewery and Pizzeria – right near the canals with some outdoor space and awesome pizzas!
    Bridget @ A Traveling B recently posted..A Night in Monument Valley

  • Love East London and the salt beef bagel at Beigel Bake is the best thing ever!! Best £4 I’ve ever spent!

  • Leah says:

    That header shot reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows- Call the Midwife. It is based in East London in the 1950s. I’ve been to London two times but just did the typical tourist stuff- this looks like a great place to visit once you’ve already checked off all of the usual subjects. Thanks for your post- I’m forwarding to a friend that currently lives in London!

    • Amanda says:

      Yes, I totally agree – this is one of the places you go on your second or third trip to London when you’ve already ticked all the must-do touristy sights off your list!

  • Great post! I think the ultimate in travel luxury is the ability to focus on just one neighborhood, not trying to see everything in one visit, with the knowledge that you’ll be back again.

    It’s the same with Chicago – hotels are largely in one area and tourists rarely get to experience other neighborhoods.

    • Amanda says:

      So true! I can totally understand sticking to the famous and touristy parts of any city on your first visit. But if you visit multiple times, focusing on just one or two neighborhoods is definitely the way to go!

  • THL says:

    Having drinks at the Hoxton hotel… catching a live gig at Cargo, Columbia Flower market on a Saturday afternoon, cocktails at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green or brunch at The Boundary…. great list BTW : )

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