East London is known to hold the trendy and cool neighbourhoods that really give London it’s edgy vibe, and you can jam pack a pretty decent trip into 48 hours. You can trawl central London looking at impressive historical architecture, marvel at shiny tall buildings, have a selfie beside iconic bridges and get involved with the tourist attractions (the queue to the London eye could make you age 5 years).
But you should be sure to journey out to London’s east side if you want to experience fantastic street art, sweet markets and see some of the best street style in the UK. From the legendary Brick Lane to uber trendy Shoreditch, see what you should add to your London itinerary next time you visit!
Where to stay in East London
We headed over to Bethnal Green for our accommodation as we had bagged a pretty sweet Airbnb pad high above the rooftops. With minimal research invested into this trip, apart from an epic browsing session on Instagram whilst surviving the MegaBus, we were pretty lucky to have booked a place that was real close to the Bethnal Green tube station and super close to great eateries and drinking holes.
When in London, you can explore on a budget and one thing to note is that you can actually walk a good chunk of it. You don’t always have to descend into the depths of the tube network when you’re wanting to stay in one particular area, as you can navigate the streets by foot. You get to patch together your geography of London and sometimes it actually saves time if the tubes are particularly busy on a weekend.
So according to my quick Instagram research, Bethnal Green was a stone’s throw away from Shoreditch, an easy ramble to Brick Lane and a stroll to some landmarks on the East side of the Thames. This is all we needed for an easy weekend of exploration, and it certainly helped that we were staying in a rooftop haven where green plants reigned supreme and the views of the London skyline were insane. If you fancy staying in this gorgeous penthouse apartment, then do check Sebastian and Sandra’s place out – it also helps that they know of the best things to do in East London and where all the locals hang out.
After unpacking our things in our lovely little apartment, we headed out for some grub. Sam was feeling pretty sick as a flu/cold virus thing had descended on him on the 2 hour journey to the big smoke. How convenient. We needed something delicious and filling to energise the poor lad, so one of my Instagram finds came into use: Cafe 338.
When in East London, you imagine that every eatery and bar would be hipster AF with kooky interiors and food served in jam jars. Cafe 338 is a little greasy spoon cafe that is understated, cheap and damn generous with portions. They do regular brekkies that you would see on Eastenders being served to Pat Butcher, and they also have an insane pancakes menu for those who want to go a bit decadent on their Saturday morning brunches.
Be prepared for epic portions, but this will surely fuel you for all the walking and exploring that’s in store for you!
Token Sightseeing: London’s iconic skyline
If the sun is high in the sky and you want to have a look at some interesting stuff, then you can catch some iconic landmarks without venturing too far into the depths of central London. Either walk from your east end lodgings over to St Paul’s Cathedral, or jump on a quick tube over to the St Paul’s stop if you’re wearing boots that are a touch too high (guilty as charged).
St Paul’s Cathedral is a place that I never realised I hadn’t seen in person. Memories of watching the Mary Poppins ‘Feed the Birds’ scene had tricked me into thinking I had been there already, but when we alighted from the tube station the building caused my jaw to drop.
Made of white stone, this cathedral has been part of the London skyline for over 300 years and was built during the major rebuilding phase after the Great Fire of London. It’s a magnificent building which is worth a walk around for a full view. You can go inside for free and see the incredible interior with it’s high domed ceiling, but alas, you cannot take photos inside. It’s a working church with prayers and services, so be sure to keep your voice down when looking inside.
Just south from the cathedral, you can walk along the Millennium Bridge and get some decent views up and down the Thames. Spot London Bridge and The Shard towering alongside the river, and pop into Tate Modern if you have some time before looping back east.
Vintage Shopping & Snacks
On your walk back to the east side, snake your way up to Spitalfields market for an explore. Spitalfields dates back to the 17th Century where the small market was such a success that people began settling in the vicinity. It was the epicentre of cultures coming together and East London still is a melting pot of cultures, making it an exciting and diverse area. Now Spitalfields market is a huge, sprawled area where you can take your time perusing all the local artists’ wares. Be sure to wander around the area surrounding the market for great pubs and cool boutique, vintage stores.
You’re simply a few minutes away from the iconic Brick Lane which is full to the brim of amazing street art. You can wander for quite a while looking at the adorned walls and venturing into vintage stores – the Brick Lane Market on Sunday is well worth a visit and if you love your vintage shopping, then head down into the basement market emporium that is Truman Markets. This basement is crammed full of awesome vintage clothes from sellers all around the UK. It’s open Thursday to Sunday, and you can definitely lose a substantial amount of time down there….
If you want to do some serious shopping along Brick Lane, take a look at Take Courage Blog’s fantastic vintage guide.
Traipsing the streets around Brick Lane is sure to get your appetite raging – you have such a choice of delicious eateries down this way, but sometimes the hunger can creep up on you. I suffer from severe hanger (definition: getting unreasonably angry due to hunger) and it can be stressful when it pounces after you’ve been distracted by the influx of sights and sounds when exploring. I was borderline insane with hunger, but thank the lords, we found Joe’s Kid.
A gorgeous little cafe on Fashion Street just off Brick lane. Comfortable and friendly, this lil’ hip cafe saved me with some freshly baked banana bread and espresso butter, and a smoothie. I’m pretty sure Sam was afraid of me for a good half hour until I shoved the food into my face.
Cocktails on Dray Walk
To kill some time before dinner, we ended up at Brick Lane’s Big Chill bar on Dray Walk. With affordable and inventive cocktails on offer, we ended up hanging out the front of the bar for a good few hours soaking up the sunshine on their small verandah. This spot is fab for people watching as shoppers and tourists meander through Dray Walk, popping their heads into the stylish shops and trailing past the shopping assistants having cigarette breaks on the curb.
At the end of Dray Walk, a collection of food vans gather on a Saturday to serve the hungry in the area. Choose between southern fried chicken, slow smoked grub and Mexican dishes to chow on the communal benches, or take away your meal to join the masses perched on the pavements when the sunshines. This area really comes alive when the weather’s good, so be sure to do some al fresco dining in London’s east end!
The best Thai food in London
A little merry, we headed to dinner at Kinkao that lists itself as the best Thai food in London. Hmmm, that’s quite a claim as lets face it, London is massive and has a heap of eateries jostling to stake their claim as being the best!
I looked into the TripAdvisor reviews and it seemed good enough for us, so I made sure to do a quick online booking to guarantee us a table. I rarely book tables, but seeing as it was a Saturday and Kinkao has rave reviews, i thought it would be best to play it safe… especially if it could mean that my hangry nature could rear its ugly head again.
Kinkao is on Brick Lane, a short 2 minute walk from Dray Walk, and has a darn strong authentic feel with psychedelic street art adorning the outside bare brick walls. Step into the traditional Thai furnished restaurant and be met by waitresses who invite you inside with a ‘Sawadee Kah’ Thai greeting. This will be quickly followed by a ‘have you booked a table?’ and thankfully we could sit immediately due to my booking. Cocktails had just been introduced to the menu so were at a brill introductory price of £5 (uh oh) so I took advantage of this offer, whilst the restaurant filled up quickly around us and people were turned away at the door.
Delicious starters of Peking Duck kicked off our dining, and was quickly followed by our noodle and stir fried dishes. The prices were real affordable, especially for London, and the food was top notch. Affordable and delicious? That’s what I love and we wandered back to Bethnal Green with full bellies and sleepy smiles.
See Paradise Row for hidden gems in Bethnal Green
Waking early the next day to catch the worm, our Airbnb host directed us to some areas where locals frequent. Paradise Row is a cobbled street that runs parallel to busy Cambridge Heath road; a metallic river of traffic. You can easily miss this little side street that runs alongside the raised train tracks and few bars/cafes shelter beneath the railway arches, including Mother Kelly’s and Resident of Paradise Row.
Mother Kelly’s is a craft beer emporium inspired by New York tap rooms, and also contains a bottle shop of over 400 beers from breweries worldwide in case you’re in need of some Danish brewed beer whilst on your trip. But beer was not on our list in the morning – we were on a breakfast mission and ended up in a very quiet Resident of Paradise Row.
Does a quiet place suggest that it’s not very good? I believe it was quiet as we had risen early and the regular folk were still snoozing off their Saturday night cocktails. This place gets pumping in the evenings and with a spacious verandah, it would be a brill place to sip a G&T in the summer! We enjoyed a flawless chorizo, egg and avocado brunch whilst watching a team of local street artists repaint a wall opposite. Designs ranged from the confusing to the beautiful – a very clichèd East London thing to entertain us as we brunched.
Broadway Market, Hackney
Bumble up Cambridge Heath road and alongside the canal for 15 minutes and you’ll find yourself at Broadway Market in Hackney. No weekend break in East London is complete without markets, and this is one of my favourite London locals market! Small and simple, the stalls run up and down Broadwalk Market Street alongside the plethora of independent shops where dog walkers, the young, the hip and the old stroll along.
This market champions quality, speciality and variety which can clearly be seen by what’s on offer – from gourmet scotch eggs to butter soft leather goods, you’ll be hypnotised by the artisanal offerings and fresh farm produce.
Sure, much here costs a pretty penny and I had to be surgically removed from the vintage clothes stall before I spent £80 on a soft suede jacket, but be sure to grab something to eat up here.
The range of cakes on offer are insane and you’ll be caught in indecisive purgatory from the choice. I picked up a decadent carrot cake with butter icing which I nibbled oh-so-slowly whilst watching the brilliant street performer Jonny Holliday perform this cover of No Diggity – by the way, the trumpet sound is done by his mouth.
If you only have 24 hours to spend in East London, then be sure to do a bit of research so you can take advantage of all the best eats and drinks available in the time you have. Wandering and exploring is key to this area, but it helps if you know the general direction which you wish to head as some things are a touch hidden.
You don’t want to walk straight past that basement vintage store on Brick Lane or miss out on booking a decent dinner when you only have a short weekend break in London! The hanger is real and could get you when you least expect it….
What are your favourite things to do in East London on a weekend?