The top non-tourist things to do in East London
Whether you are a Londoner, a first-time visitor or a repeat visitor to London there are always new things to see and experience and more often than not they pop up on the East End of the capital.
For most tourists, the West End takes priority as it hosts most of the world-renowned landmarks of London but the East End has been on the rise for a while now.
The East End is the area east of the Tower of London and the Roman fortifications and its most popular neighbourhoods for visitors are Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Hoxton and Hackney. These areas for centuries were commercial areas mostly due to the number of docks located there. These were often named after the areas where the merchant ships were coming from such as Canary Wharf, used by ships coming from the Canary Islands, or West India Docks that were used for facilitating the sea trade with the British West Indies during the 19th and early 20th century.
The area saw a lot of cultures coming together and over the past decades, it was transformed into an urban cultural and artistic hub that is unique to the British Capital.
In order to help visitors gain the most of their experience in the East End, we have put together a list of things to see that you would not find in your standard travel book.
Our Top 10 “un-tourist” things to do in East London
Museum of the home
For lovers of design and especially of home items this will be a treat. This interesting museum features interiors of middle-class homes throughout the centuries all the way from the 17th century to today. You will be able to see exhibits that include furniture and textiles as well as other decorative elements.
The Castle Cinema
There is a line with the popular animated series “Archer” where one of the characters says “Yes, and everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up, and everyone's Kickstarter has merit. Ugh.”. Whether or not this is true the Kickstarter campaign that raised almost 60 thousand pounds for this cinema to be returned to its former glory was definitely one with merit. Here you can find a cinema that opened its gates originally in the 1910s and also has an art deco bar that is not to be missed by visitors to the establishment.
Spitalfields City Farm
London is a Metropolis. The hustle and bustle of the city can get exhausting for even the most devoted members of this lifestyle. When this happens you can either visit any of the numerous parks in London or try this city farm that has been welcoming guests since the 1970s in a former railway depot setting.
Brick Lane Bagel
The first one whilst obvious is definitely not to be missed. It is London’s answer to the famous New Yorker sandwich and it is a dish that no one that is in the area is skipping. It is open literally all day and it serves the famous Salt Beef Bagel that they carve in front of you. For the non-beef lovers, there is always a salmon option but it does not hold the same iconic status. Be warned that depending on the time you might face a queue and that the mustard in the bagel is not one to over-indulge as it is properly spicy!
Whereas slightly obvious this is an absolute must in the East End. This unique venue is composed of shipping containers that have been transformed into retail pop up and street food heaven. It opened its doors in 2011 and has
been entertaining Londoners and tourists ever since. There are many events hosted here so keep your eyes out for any upcoming ones that fit your taste!
If you are particularly competitive this place might ruin a perfectly good day out in East London but if you enjoy playing and discovering new board games then this is the place for you. For years now this quirky cafe-bar has been a favourite among “gamers” in the area and its wide selection is sure to not disappoint!
Just by the famous Regent’s canal which is the home to many cafes, bars and restaurants you can find the famous Broadway Market. It is not to be confused with New York’s famous theatre destination but for fans of urban markets, it would be equally exciting. Here you can find more than 100 stalls selling anything from groceries to vintage clothing. The cafes and bars around the market echo its style and they are great if you are looking to take a break.
In the middle of what used to be London’s industrial hub, you can find the largest urban wetland not just in the UK but in the whole of Europe. The industrial past of the area is evident in many details but this natural space in the middle of the city is definitely a good place to rest your mind while in London.
God’s Own Junkyard
You might have never heard the name Chris Bracey but if you are a fan of neon signs then this is the place to visit. The most famous among these neon signs were used for Soho sex clubs but some of them were used in famous Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Stanley Kubrick’s ‘eyes wide shut’.
Do you remember the ball pits you used to dive in when you were a kid? Now there is an adult version of it in East London and it is exactly as you imagine it. An added benefit: you can have some cocktails before diving into the ball pit!
While these are our picks on some of the off-key things to do in the East End we cannot close this post without mentioning some of the staples of the area!
Columbia Flower Market
This is one of the best places in London to buy flowers and plants but it is also a classic in a lot of Londoners’ weekend plans. Even if you are not looking to buy some flowers, the market in itself is a great place to check out and relax in the nearby cafes.
Street Art Murals
The East End has been the hub of street art and urban culture of London for a long time and this is evident all around. While picking them out yourself is always an option we recommend taking a guided tour to explore the scene and learn about the works and their makers.
Link to our favourite street art tours!
Jack the Ripper
Probably the most famous criminal to have walked the streets of London, Jack the Ripper, terrorized the streets of London in the 1880s. His crimes involved female prostitutes that worked in the impoverished streets of East London and they have picked the interest of many writers and moviemakers since then. Jack the Ripper was never officially arrested and speculation around his identity is still going on.
Link to our favourite Jack the Ripper tours!