It got me thinking that there are a lot of places that people don't see by following the usual tourist trails through Brick Lane and Spitalfields markets, so I thought I would do a quick post on my favourite spots. I'm not a London expert, nor do I truly consider myself a Londoner, but I have lived in various parts of East London for the last four years...and these are a few of the places I love, in no particular order.
This bakery and cafe is full of creative types at lunchtime - but it's often too busy to get a seat then too! Get their tasty bakery goodies and drinks to take away and eat at the nearby Arnold Circus...
2-4 Boundary Street, Shoreditch, London E2 7DD www.albioncaff.co.uk
If I was to suggest you skip Brick Lane for a visit to a council estate you might think I was a little mad, but The Boundary Estate that surrounds Arnold Circus was built in 1890 as the world's first council estate in place of a notorious slum. The recently refurbished bandstand at the centre is rumoured to have been built on the rubble. It's surprisingly peaceful considering its proximity to Shoreditch High St and I personally love the buildings that surround it - though they are now mostly expensive appartments!
Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, London, E2 7ES (access via Calvert Ave, Hocker St, Palissy St, Rochelle St, Camlet St, Navarre St)
Victoria Park + The Pavilion
Victoria Park (or Vicky Park!) is by far my favourite green space in London. (Sadly?) most people visiting London only see it when it's jammed full of people for the various festivals held there during summer. On weekdays there's the usual mix of joggers, cyclists and dog walkers but you can often see the local police horses being exercised here too. The cafe, The Pavillion, in the west side of the park looks over the lake - which is currently drained for refurbishment - and is a great place to go for a hot drink when it's freezing cold.
Victoria Park, Old Ford Road, London E9 7DE http://www.the-pavilion-cafe.com/
My favourite pub in London despite it being part of a chain (Geronimo pubs). It has a modern but cosy interior with plenty of big, comfy sofas and a few outside seats too. I wrote a significant part of my dissertation in here with the help of their bottomless coffees (for about £2.25) and free WiFi. In the evenings it's always buzzy and they do a great pub quiz (with hefty bar-tabs as prizes!). They do seriously awesome food too - either bar snack style or sit-down meals upstairs.
The Crown, 223 Grove Road, London E3 5SN http://www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/thecrown/
Roman Road Market
This is a bit of a funny one as a lot of people say the market has lost it's way and in some senses I agree. Perhaps I have a soft spot for the market because I used to live at the end of it, but if you walk right up to the end there is a stall which sells pieces from Urban Outfitters and Topshop. There is also a guy who sells pretty rad floral shirts, dresses and harem trousers for about £2. If you're feeling especially east-end touristy, there is also a pie and mash shop on Roman Road.
Roman Road, Bow, E3 (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 10am-3pm) http://www.romanroad.org/market.php
The East End Thrift Store
Ditch the smaller (and often more expensive) shop in Brick Lane for its slightly out of the way big sister near Stepney Green. There's a good selection of clothes and accessories for men and women with most of the stock costing no more than £10. Also there are often parties at the shop on thursday evenings with free wine and beer.
Unit 1A, Assembly Passage, London E1 4UT http://www.theeastendthriftstore.com/
If you absolutely must go to Brick Lane, avoid the hipster tax of Rokit on Brick Lane itself and turn onto Cheshire Street. My two favourites on this road are the imaginatively named 'The Shop' and the rather more well known Beyond Retro. The Shop stocks loads of vintage fabrics and scarves so is perfect if you are planning a DIY. They also often have accessories, chunky knit cardigans and dresses.
Beyond Retro is better known but not bereft of the occasional bargain find, and is a huge warehouse space of vintage and recycled clothes and accessories for men and women.
3 and 110-112 Cheshire Street, London E2 6ED http://www.beyondretro.com/
Brick Lane Coffee
...and if you do go to Brick Lane, go during the week, go to Brick Lane Coffee and order a banana frappachino. You can thank me later.
157 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB http://www.beyondretro.com/