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If you want to discover London at its most creative, irreverent and fun, head east. The most multicultural corner of the capital has kept its working-class feel despite the arrival of hipsters and ad agencies. The vast area east of Liverpool Street Station and north of the River Thames is constantly reinventing itself. East London’s food, drink and art scenes don’t just push the envelope, they rip it open and invite you to the party. Here are the coolest neighborhoods to check out on a jaunt to the East End.

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Christ Church, Spitalfields | Photo: Zahra Pettican

Though it’s been trading as a market since 1682, Old Spitalfields Market has recently benefited from an extensive regeneration project. Big brands and boho boutiques share space with traders selling handmade crafts and food stalls seven days a week.

Opposite the market’s Commercial Street entrance, you can’t miss the imposing Christ Church. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the apprentice of England’s most celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren. Next to the church, The Ten Bells pub is famously associated with Jack the Ripper. The iconic cockney hangout is an atmospheric place to grab a pint, and it contains many of its original Victorian features, such as its striking tiled walls. Those with a predilection for dark tourism—and seemingly unsolvable murders—should join a Jack the Ripper tour.

Feeling hungry? A branch of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite British restaurant, St. John, is mere steps away (easy staggering distance!) from The Ten Bells. Chef Fergus Henderson was at the forefront of the “nose to tail” cooking revolution, and his roasted bone marrow and parsley salad made Bourdain swoon. It has some surprisingly good fish and veggie options too.

North of Spitalfields, Dennis Severs’ House is a “still life drama” of a Georgian house. It’s a uniquely immersive experience rather than a museum. The house is set up as if the occupants have just left, with glasses half-full of wine, flickering candles, the clattering of horses’ hooves outside, and even a suspiciously realistic full chamber pot.

Brick Lane

Brick Lane

Hanbury Street, Brick Lane | Photo: Zahra Pettican

Brick Lane is the epicenter of East London’s street art scene. Sometimes known as “Banglatown” because of its thriving Bangladeshi community, it’s packed with curry houses. Arbor City Hotel is a modern, stylish crash pad within walking distance of all the area’s attractions and nightlife. Check out the art in Brick Lane’s side streets and courtyards like Seven Stars Yard, Fashion Street and Hanbury Street. As with any outdoor urban gallery, there’s always something new to discover. Some long-standing pieces include Roa’s stork, Invader’s space invaders and Ronzo’s Crunchy. The latter is on the grounds of the Old Truman Brewery next to Banksy’s pink car, which is protected by perspex. Other high-profile artists who’ve brought cheekiness, subversion and bucketloads of talent to these streets include Stik, BK Foxx, D*Face and Mr Cenz.

Once the largest brewery in the world, the Old Truman Brewery is now a sprawling complex of pop-up stores and food stalls. Rest assured, beer is still very much consumed at its bars. Brick Lane is the place for vintage shopping; Beyond Retro’s curated collection of recycled items is a local institution. On Sundays, Brick Lane turns into a large street market selling vintage and new fashion. Five minutes’ walk away, Petticoat Lane Market has been doing a brisk trade ever since immigrant Huguenot weavers moved in to escape persecution in France.

Street food in Brick Lane has been influenced by Jewish immigration. Beigel Bake supplies a steady stream of bagels with traditional fillings like salt beef to hungry customers 24/7. It’s the perfect pit stop to prepare you for quaffing craft beer with hipsters. For nightlife, try 93 Feet East and Exit Bar. Alternatively, Alcotraz Penitentiary is an unexpectedly fun and imaginative concept bar involving actors, prison cells, orange jumpsuits and contraband booze!


Whitechapel, London

New Road Hotel, aerial view | Photo: Zahra Pettican

Whitechapel was once rife with slums and criminals. The shadowy figure of Jack the Ripper loomed large in the 1880s, and in the ’50s and ’60s, infamous gangsters the Kray twins ruled its streets. The Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road has been immortalized in numerous films and books after Ronnie Kray murdered a rival there.

These days, Whitechapel is a very respectable address and boasts one of the best art galleries in London. The Whitechapel Gallery is at the forefront of contemporary art, and past artists that have premiered their work here include Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo. Refuel at the gallery’s cafe or neighboring Exmouth Coffee Company and the halal-friendly Grounded Coffee Company. Nearby, the New Road Hotel is celebrating its first birthday this spring. Its industrial design pays homage to its origins as a textile factory and furniture has been sourced from local sellers making it fit right in with East London’s eclectic vibe.

Bethnal Green and Mile End

Mile End, London

Ragged School Museum, Mile End | Photo Zahra Pettican

Further east, Bethnal Green and Mile End have some excellent free museums. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the V&A Museum of Childhood, which is potentially the world’s best toy box. It is home to a vast and well-organized collection of toys, games, dolls’ houses and costumes dating from the 16th century onward. The Ragged School Museum in Mile End is only open on Wednesdays and Thursdays but provides a fascinating insight into how the East End’s most destitute kids could access free education in Victorian times. Stop off at The Coffee Room next to Mile End Park for a caffeine fix in cozy surroundings.

Tagged: Cheap Tips, City, Destinations, Types of Travel

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Zahra Pettican

Zahra Pettican

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