Things to do, see, eat and drink in East London

Wednesday April 12, 2023

Photo by: Robert Tudor

Once upon a time, East London was known for pie and mash, jellied eels, and Albert Square. But in 2023, the picture’s very different.

While it retains its traditional, old-school charms, the day-to-day reality of East London is considerably more dynamic. Home to almost two-million people, it’s the thrilling, eclectic heartbeat of a world-renowned city — and whatever your tastes, you’ll find them catered for.

Based in historic Whitechapel, Confetti’s London campus is only a stone’s throw from hotspots like Brick Lane, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Hackney, Dalston, and Stoke Newington. East London is one of the world’s fastest-growing digital media hubs, but it’s also got age and pedigree on its side, hosting some of the city’s best museums, galleries, parks, and markets. It echoes with the game-changing legacy of migration, grassroots activism, and social reform, and stands today as a magnet for creatives from around the world.

It’s impossible to sum up everything East London has to offer — every niche museum, vintage emporium, sumptuous restaurant, or secret bar — but here are some recommendations to get you started.

Whitechapel Gallery — one of the first British galleries to be opened to the public, back in 1901. As with many of London’s museums and culture spaces, admission is free. The gallery has traditionally focused on up-and-coming artists, and it’s a key part of Whitechapel’s creative community. It’s hosted exhibitions from Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, David Hockney, Guerilla Girls, the Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, and hundreds more.

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

Brick Lane — it might be a single street, but few places have earned such an enduring spot in the hearts (and stomachs) of foodies. As the traditional hub for London’s Bangladeshi community, Brick Lane is lined with legendary curry houses, but the gastro-adventure doesn’t stop there — you’ll also need to sample the Crosstown donuts and world-famous salt beef bagels. Throw in some top tier coffeeshops, an array of clothes stores, a whole host of quirky pubs and bars, and a good time is guaranteed.

Old Spitalfields Market — clocking in 350-plus years of trading, Spitalfields is a relic of pre-expansion London. Once a countryside site, it’s now one of the city’s prestige destinations for boutique, one-of-a-kind craft shopping, and drips with retro charm. It still bustles with the old-school buzz of a proper daily market, too, bringing the past firmly into the present.

God’s Own Junkyard — fun and wildly colourful, this warehouse exhibition in Walthamstow is uniquely cool. It’s a sprawling showcase for the personal collection of Chris Bracey, the man who turned neon into an artform. His signs have illuminated fairgrounds, world-famous department stores, the foreboding alleyways of Soho, and films like Batman, Bladerunner, Captain America, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Photo by: Remi Boyer

Shoreditch — artsy Shoreditch is preceded by its reputation as the definition of London-cool, and it’s tough to pick out one single attraction. Boxpark is a particular highlight — an indie shopping, eating, and drinking extravaganza built around shipping containers. Another standout is Rich Mix — a three-screen cinema experience with a real difference.

V&A Museum of Childhood — based in Bethnal Green, this museum is a sure-fire hit for nostalgics looking to reconnect with their fondest childhood memories. From Optimus Prime to Pikachu and He-Man to Barbie, they’re all here — just waiting to be poured over and played with.

Columbia Road Flower Market — this gift to the senses is a Sunday-morning rite of passage for all true Londoners (providing you don’t get hayfever). Whether you’re searching for something to cheer up a window ledge, or you’re planning to turn the patio of your shared house into a jungle, this beautiful market is the place to go for fresh-cut flowers of every size, shape, and colour. Plus, there are loads of artisanal stores and bakeries to enjoy.

Emirates cable car — when is a cable car not just a tourist trap, but a key part of your morning commute? When you’re living in London. With stunning, uninterrupted views of the city, there’s no better way to cross the Thames. Heading south over the river, you’ll be dropped off in leafy Greenwich, on the doorstep of one of London’s most iconic parks; head north, and you’ll land at the O2, one of the city’s prime live venues (with stunning dome-top tours).

Victoria Park — sandwiched between Bow, Bethnal Green, and Hackney, this huge park (popularised as ‘the People’s Park’) is one of London’s most beloved green spaces. Historically a key meeting point for political rallies, the park today includes two big lakes with rowing boats, a couple of quaint cafés, a great skatepark, and a charming Chinese pagoda. It also hosts some great concerts and festivals.

Spring time, Victoria Park. Photo by: Unknown

The Olympic Pool — the 2012 Olympics kicked off the evolution of East London, and their legacy has stretched far beyond that single sunny summer. Fancy a swim? Today, you can enjoy the same facilities as gold-medallists: there’s a ten-lane competition pool, a training pool, and a dedicated diving pool for every level of ability.

Old Truman Brewery (aka Black Eagle Brewery) — street art has become a big part of the East End, and it’s perhaps most prominent at the Brewery, which includes original pieces by Space Invader and Banksy. Sitting in the shade of London’s towering financial district, hosting exhibitions and festivals throughout the year, and stuffed with hundreds of independent pop-ups, this exciting site has become a magnet for artisans, coffee purists, vintage clothing enthusiasts, and people just looking for somewhere to chill.