East London always feels a little more edgier and inspiring than the usual sepia soaked London that most tourists seek out. Although not always high on traveller’s hit lists when exploring London, the eastside of the capital deserves to be enjoyed by more than just the locals. From the striking street art in Shoreditch to the historic hidden gems like Abney Park Cemetery, here is why your next London adventure should be exploring the many things to do in East London.
Things to do in East London
East London Street Art
The best street-art in London hand’s down, East London is awash with incredible artistry. Art is all around, whether you accidentally stumble across it or purposefully go looking for it. We’d recommend you start your street art tour in Shoreditch and explore all the nooks and crannies near to Shoreditch Overground station, or around Hackney / Hackney Wick. Check out our guide to Shoreditch street art blog post >
The financial heart of London, Canary Wharf’s sleek and shiny skyscrapers reflect the money made (and lost) here with several banks having their European and international headquarters here. Aside from the wealth, there are lots of waterside bars and restaurants to indulge in, with some good shopping options in the malls.
Read more in our guide to Canary Wharf >
Container shopping malls and pop-up dining experiences are ten a penny now but Shoreditch BoxPark was the daddy of them all, first appearing in East London in 2011 and billed as the world’s first pop-up mall (although it is still here today so not that pop-up). Boasting heaps of street food kiosks plus lots of arts and crafts shops on the outside, the roster of retail here changes often so it is always worth a look.
Read more about Shoreditch in our things to do in Shoreditch guide >
Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road is a cute hotchpotch of cafes, bakeries and craft shops during the week, but on Sundays, it bursts into flower (literally) with a massive ensemble of flower stalls. Located between Bethnal Green and Shoreditch, London’s largest public flower market is open between 8am and 3pm every Sunday and is your best bet for bags of bargains and garden giveaways – the choice is immense and prices very good value. Read our complete guide to Columbia Road flower market here >
Old Spitalfields Market
One of London’s oldest public markets is open seven days a week (and located indoors too in case you want to avoid the rain), Old Spitalfields offers a variety of delicious street food from around the world, arts and crafts stalls plus lots of bars and restaurants around its perimeter. Different types of market operate on various days of the week, from record fairs to vintage clothing – read our full guide to Old Spitalfields Market here >
Bohemia, the best bagels in London and bags of street-art all on the same street. No trip to the east end is complete without a walk down Brick Lane, a gorgeous mix of grunge and gentrification. From the 24 hour bagel shops serving salt-beef or rainbow bagels (prepare to queue), to the weekend street-food markets, Brick Lane is like how Camden used to be, before Camden became a tacky tourist trap.
It is also renowned for its assortment of curry and international food restaurants, known as London’s curry mile. Make sure you also pop into the Old Truman Brewery for the weekend food stalls and retro / vintage clothing stores (open all week).
Stratford Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The former flagship site of the 2012 London Olympics (it houses the Olympic Swimming Centre as well as the main Olympic Arena, which is now home to West Ham United Football Club), Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a constant reminder of how successful the 2012 games were here in London and bucks the trend of former Olympic sites being left to become ruins.
The park now has riverside walks and is popular with cyclists (we feature it in our best London cycle routes). It also features the iconic Accor Mittal structure, which now doubles as the world’s longest helter skelter slide, and is also the start (or end) of the London Line Sculpture Trail.
Shopping fans will enjoy spending their money at Westfield Stratford Centre, located next to the QE Olympic Park and the UK’s fourth largest shopping centre with over 270 shops and 70 restaurants.
Hackney Wick, East London
Once a mainly industrial area, Hackney Wick is now one of our favourite weekend spots, with its waterside bars and breweries, top food joints, incredible street art all combining to create some pretty cool canal side culture. Read our full area guide for hanging out in Hackney Wick >
One of London’s best public parks, Victoria Park boasts a beautiful boating lake and two charming cafes as well as it’s very own Chinese pagoda, which moved here from Hyde Park after the famous Chinese Exhibition in the 1840s.
As well as being near to lots of picture perfect pubs in nearby Victoria Park Village, if you visit on a Sunday, you’ll find the Victoria Park Farmer’s Market, selling all kinds of fine food fare like seasonal fruit and veg, sweet treats and street-food stalls. Check out our detailed guide to Victoria Park Village and park >
Emirates Air Line
A bit of a transport oddity in London, the Emirates Air Line opened to much fanfare in 2010, to coincide with the London Olympics and to act as a way to get from the Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula over the River Thames. It is also the closest thing to a London cable car that we have, and is a fun diversion if you’ve already done everything else that East London has to offer. After the initial flurry of curious and inquisitive locals, the Emirates Air Line never really ‘‘took off” (pun intended) and seems to be a bit of a quirk in the capital.
Broadway Market and London Fields
Broadway Market is great to visit any day of the week (especially the legendary Cat and Mutton pub for a cheeky pint) – however, try to coincide your visit with the Saturday Broadway Market, as the high street lines with over 100 different stalls, most of which sell superb street food from all over the world. Once you’ve got your gourmet goodness and super snacks from the stalls, retire to London Fields and enjoy your posh picnic.
God’s Own Junkyard, Walthamstow
There is much to rave about in Walthamstow (or ‘Awesomestow’ as some locals like to call it), from the bounty of brewery taprooms serving ice-cold beer at the source through to the cute and wonderful Walthamstow Village, London’s oldest village. We like it so much we wrote a dedicated guide to things to do in Walthamstow >
That said, if we had to pick a highlight here, it’d be God’s Own Junkyard, a neon nirvana of weird and wonderful installations and retro signs – totally unique and free to visit at the weekends, this is the warehouse of Europe’s oldest sign makers and the brainchild of Chris Bracey, who started out making signs for Soho’s strip joints.
Abney Park Cemetery Walk
One of London’s hidden gems and potentially most ‘spirited’ walks, Abney Park Cemetery is one of London’s ‘magnificent’ seven’ garden cemeteries – a woodland memorial, it is eerily beautiful walking amongst some of the most grandiose gravestones you’ll ever encounter. Established in 1840 and with no new burials since the 1970s, you’ll also discover a central Gothic chapel in the undergrowth – quite the spooky setting. More recently, the music video for Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ was filmed in Abney Park
Stoke Newington, East London
The best cafe culture in East London, Stoke Newington boasts a high street with mainly independent or small chain stores such as Ginger Pig butchers or Mother Kelly’s Bottle shop, and ample coffee shops to choose from (no Pret A Mangers or Costa Coffees here thank goodness). Two of the most popular spots are The Good Egg, a Jewish deli-style cafe serving Middle Eastern and New York inspired dishes (incredibly busy at breakfast) and The Spence Bakery (you’ll find it easily enough – just look for a bright orange bakery on the corner with a huge queue of people!).
Nearby Clissold Park is also a delight, one of the best parks in East London which also contains a deer park enclosure (!) and a cute cafe at Clissold House, a magnificent 18th century manor house.
Trinity Buoy Wharf
Billed as ‘Docklands most exciting arts quarter’, the entrance to Trinity Buoy Wharf is barely recognisable these days as it becomes East London’s next property hot-spot. That said, it is still a fun place to visit with a couple of quirky cafes (including Fat Boy’s Diner) and numerous art-installations and container based exhibits. The Longplayer project is located in an old lighthouse and is a musical composition that plays without repetition for over 1,000 years – beat that, Spotify shuffle! The views of the Thames here are spectacular, especially looking towards Greenwich Peninsula and the Millenium Dome / O2 arena.
We finish our list by going back to nature. Incredibly, Walthamstow Wetlands is Europe’s largest urban wetlands and only a short walk from the Victoria Line (alight at Tottenham Hale tube). Situated over a massive 200+ hectare site, this birdwatcher’s paradise comprises ten reservoirs and still provides much of London’s drinking water to this day. As well as wetland walks, you can enjoy breakfast and lunch at the Larder Cafe in the old Victorian Engine House Building or take part in one of their free wildlife activities. This is one of our most favourite things to do in East London – check out our Walthamstow Wetlands guide >
Other London posts
- The best brewery taprooms in London
- Best restaurants and places to eat in Hackney Wick
- Bermondsey Beer Mile in London – the ultimate guide
- Guide to Maltby Street Market in London
- Top things to do in Brixton
- The Churchill Arms – the most colourful pub in London
- Top things to do in King’s Cross
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