Top 20 things to do (and eat) in East London
My top 20 things to do and eat in East London, by an East Londoner! My family are all from a long line of East Londoner’s so I guess I am a bit biased but this has always been my favourite part of London, and it has changed so much over the past 20 years.
On many a weekend I spend my afternoons strolling around some of the areas mentioned below, eating out in the restaurants and soaking up the atmosphere. I’m also lucky enough to work in the area too, so my commute to the office takes me past many of these highlights!
1. Brick Lane
This is arguably one of the most vibrant places in London. As the heart of the Bangladeshi community, curry houses down this road are plentiful and high quality. I’ve been coming to Brick Lane for years, first as a teenager with a large group of friends to have a curry and then carrying on drinking and dancing the night away at 93FeetEast and the late night bars and clubs. Now I’m too old for all that (!) I instead prefer a Sunday stroll, stopping at the MANY food stalls, browsing the markets (everything from antiques, vintage clothing to quirky boutique stalls) and soaking up the atmosphere amongst street performers, tourists and locals.
2. Beigel Bake
If your into cheap eats, this is the place for you. There are 2 bagel shops on Brick Lane (the white one and the yellow one) but make sure you pick Beigel Bake with the white shop front. Open 24 hours a day, it’s the perfect boozy late night snack… or frankly any time of the day. The bagels are freshly baked around the clock. Go for the salt beef, with plenty of mustard and a pickle for around £5 you’ve never seen so much crammed into one bagel!
3. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Take a stroll or grab a Boris bike and explore Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Before the Olympics were held here in summer 2012 (what a summer!) this area was mostly industrial waste land. It’s now been transformed into landscaped parkland with plenty of walkways, plants, play areas and a few cafés dotted around – all right next to the amazing architecture of the Velodrome, Olympic Stadium, and the Aquatics Centre.
4. Spitalfields Market
As one of London’s oldest markets, I always remember Spitalfields as having a slightly shabby charm. It was always a great market to find independent clothes, accessories and plenty of unusual jewellery, and that hasn’t changed. But nowadays it’s had a modern makeover and is a great place to shop anything from boutique and independent stalls, to larger brand names. And the food market is mixed in amongst the other stalls, but again this ranges from michelin starred Galvin La Chapelle, well known restaurant names to food trucks. I’d recommend Dumpling Shack in the middle of the market, for the spicy sesame paste noodles and piping hot dumplings.
5. Columbia Road Flower Market
This is a great place for a Sunday stroll but it can get horribly busy. It’s not the kind of place you’d come across accidently. To find it you need to come off the main Bethnal Green Road and head down residential roads until you stumble right onto it. This road started as a pathway that sheep were taken down when headed to the slaughterhouses at Smithfield... These days its flower and plant sellers on the market only, along with independent shops and cafes. Some of the market traders have had stalls since the 1950’s and pitch up early doors (3-4am) every Sunday to sell their seasonal wares. It’s a great place to grab some bargins and get inspiration but my tip is to get there early!
6. Crate Brewery
This is one of my favourite places in London on a warm sunny day. Right next to the River Lea with plenty of outside seating is The White Building, which was an old factory before it turned into a micro-brewery. This place serves its own beer and cider (the ciders are delicious) and the most amazing, thin and crispy pizza. Try the Kashmiri Dahl pizza, which has dahl, cumin seeds, mango chutney and chunks of banana on it… It shouldn’t work but trust me – it does!
7. Dennis Sever’s House
This is a completely unique experience that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and is perfect for anyone with an interest with history, how things were, or the downright nosey (like me!). This place is described as “still life drama” which I think describes it perfectly. An old London townhouse, it has been set up to look like it’s still occupied by a family of silk weavers who may have lived here in the 18th century. As you walk through the rooms of the house, its deadly quiet and each room has objects placed that allude to the family life. It makes you feel like you may have only just missed them as they have left for the day. Very interesting, slightly spooky and very difficult to describe. No booking required, and just a £10 entrance fee.
8. Epping Forest
Epping Forest is a ancient woodland stretching from Manor Park in East London to Epping in Essex. Within the 2000+ acre forest you will find boating lakes, the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge, Pole Hill (marking the Greenwich meridian line), the walls of an ancient iron age camp, and bomb holes left from the war. There’s plenty to see, and you might even be lucky enough to spot deer. Both Fallow deer and Muntjac (a type of tiny deer) live in the forest, but I’ve only ever seen one Muntjac whilst walking, and I’ve walked in this forest hundreds of times!
9. Sager + Wilde
The wine bar-come pasta place is a charming little spot in Paradise Row, right next to Bethnal Green station. Situated in a railway arch, the interior is pleasingly industrial and pared back. The pasta dishes are simple and amazing, and as you’d expect come with a great wine list. There’s lots of outside seating for sunnier days, and during the week there’s a £10 pasta deal if you are happy to eat a bit earlier. With pasta this good, why wait until later in the night anyway?!
This is one for the meat lovers. As you walk past the brick and blackened glass façade, you are bound to get a waft of smoke from their BBQ. Smokestak specialise in slow cooked, barbecued meats such as pulled pork, brisket and burnt ends with plenty of fresh and unusual side dishes. The short but spot-on cocktail list is interesting too, I’d highly recommend the grapefruit negroni.
11. Hackney City Farm
This is a quaint little place to check out if you are in the area, and quite a surprise to stumble across in the middle of Hackney. Once you walk through those little wooden gates though, you could be in the countryside rather than London! Hackney City Farm opened around 35 years ago to give the local community and experience of farming in the city, and now it works closely with local schools to educate children on food, nature and farming. It’s got all the basic farm animals you would expect, and is just quite a nice little place for a wander.
12. Dalston East Curve Garden
This is another surprising green area in the otherwise busy area of Dalston. Dalston East Curve Garden is a social enterprise, built to give the people of Dalston some green garden area as Dalston is densely populated. I can honestly say on entering it really is a garden oasis with lots of beautiful plants and flowers. There are seating areas for taking it in and relaxing, as well as a café which serves wine, beer, tea and cake. Admission is free, so buy some cake and wine to help support them!
This is hands down one of my favourite places I’ve ever eaten. It had been long hyped before I actually made it here so my expectation was high. But it didn’t let me down! The interior wasn’t what I was expecting; quite plain, high ceilings, not much artwork adorning the place – just tables, chairs and the large bar at the centre. I didn’t know what to expect of the food either: North African tapas, what is that?! Think mezes, lamb, aubergine, molasses infused, all loaded with flavour. Take friends so you can order a bit of everything.
14. Victoria Park
Right across the road from the Olympic Park, in contrast Victoria park has been around for 170+ years. It’s a lovely place to stroll round, and plenty of space to whizz round for a few laps on your bike too. The Pavilion café is housed in a Victorian era glass dome, and serves great coffee, and hot food sourced from local producers. It’s a relaxing place to sit and look out at the boating lake. Another bonus is the pub on the corner of the park, just in case the weather takes a turn for the worst.
15. Kingsland Road
Another cultural melting pot in London is the Kingsland Road, a busy stretch of road on the A10 - don’t expect to be greeted by a beautiful shopping street! It’s lined with chicken shops, a veg market and run down electrical shops. But look past that and you will discover some gems of places to eat and drink, including ‘Pho Mile’ with its dozens of Vietnamese restaurants. I can recommend BunBunBun for Vietnamese, or Rudie’s for the best jerk chicken.
16. Whitecross Street Market
This place is always a mid-week treat, and a bit of a hidden gem – known to office workers around the area for the amazing amount of street food from around the world. It has to be one of the busiest lunchtime markets I’ve ever seen, but the hustle and bustle is part of the charm, with plenty of little tasters if you aren’t sure what to get as you pass all the food stalls. The queues in peak time (its only open Monday – Friday) are often wrapped around each stall, but they move pretty quickly so don’t let that put you off of whatever has taken your fancy. My top picks would be Hoxton Beach Falafels, or Beijummy who are friendly guys specialising in Beiju – a Brazilian flat bread made of starch (gluten free) and packed with whatever fillings you want.
Laphet started as a street food stall in Hackney, but luckily for me opened a restaurant right near where I work in Shoreditch in 2018. I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for somewhere to eat Burmese cuisine since visiting Myanmar in 2016, and this place is one of the only restaurants in London to serve this amazing cuisine. Try the Tea Leaf Salad (Laphet is Burmese for fermented / pickled tea which is the dish the restaurant is named after) – you can’t go wrong with its incredible textures and umami taste.
18. Graffiti hunting around Shoreditch
Shoreditch is a fun place to wander and spot lots of amazing street art, which is constantly changing. A mix of large, commissioned pieces for big brands is mixed with random artworks and tags across every wall around this area. Start at Shoreditch High Street and dive off down any of the smaller roads to see what you spot. One not to miss is down Great Eastern Street, where you can see 2 train carriages on top of a building with the ‘Lets Adore And Endure Each Other’.
19. Roof East
A summer-time favourite, Roof East is in an unlikely location on the rooftop of the Stratford Centre. You need to go into the shopping centre, and into the lift to access Roof East which then opens up into essentially a massive beer garden with bars, benches and games! You need to pre-book the games; choose from batting cages, mini-golf or (my fave) curling. The view of ArcelorMittal Orbit is a pretty good one, and it’s a nice place to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.
20. The Barbican Conservatory
The Barbican Centre was once voted London’s ‘ugliest building’ – despite that I actually really love it’s brutalist style and its worth just going to wander around the main public areas. Inside this iconic building is the Conservatory which is filled with over 1500 species of tropical plants from all around the world, as well as a few ponds with koi and terrapins. It’s a gorgeous place for a look around and I love the contrast of the green, tropical plants to the concrete structure of the building. Best of all, its free to visit you just need to book online in advance.