Get off the tourist trail and explore London’s East End:
When you’re only in a city for a few days, it’s easy to get sucked into the tourist trap of just visiting the famous landmarks listed in the guide book and missing the hidden gems just around the corner. To me, London is about anything but the West End and Westminster – so step off the tourist trail, and discover a very different – and intriguing – city.
East London has changed dramatically in recent years, and now the Shoreditch and Old Street areas are getting more and more popular with visitors, especially the younger crowds. These five favourite places of mine in the East End step even further off the beaten track – so here’s how to travel in London like a local!
Stoke Newington Church StreetStoke Newington manages to escape the crowds because it isn’t on a tube line, but it’s an easy bus ride from Angel or Highbury & Islington station.
Church Street is almost like stepping into another world and feels more like a trendy village than a capital city. From the organic farmer’s market at the primary school to cool brunch cafes, it’s the ideal place to while away a Sunday morning. There’s even an old cemetery to explore, with a wonderful crumbling grandeur.
Clicia Cafe (97) is my favourite place for breakfast with its beautiful Turkish décor, delicious Mediterranean platters and strong Turkish coffee.
For an evening out, try The Fox Reformed (176), a family-run wine bar that has an extensive but reasonably priced wine list and a cosy, intimate atmosphere that couldn’t be more different from the trendy establishments in the West End.
Running down from London Fields (the nearest station) to Regent’s Canal, Broadway Market is another East London gem. On Saturdays, it’s transformed into a bustling food market with some of the best and most competitively priced produce in the city.
There are also food stalls selling everything from bacon butties to cakes, so you can pick up a snack whilst you wander along and sit back in the park at London Fields to enjoy it. Although it’s very popular with locals and gets busy most weekends, the crowds can’t compare with Borough or Camden – which is ideal for a more relaxing experience.
At night, it changes again. Quaint cafes, old fashioned pubs and indie bars line the street and, when darkness falls, the East London crowd heads here for a loud evening of drinking. During the summer, the atmosphere is unbeatable, as everyone spills out onto the pavements with their drinks like one big street party.
Colombia Road Flower Market
On Sundays, this unassuming East End street becomes an oasis of colourful blooms for the weekly flower market. Between Brick Lane and Shoreditch, it’s a fantastic place to step back in time and experience a touch of East London’s rich history. There’s something really magical about listening to the barrow boys chanting their prices – and seeing these large East End men holding delicate flowers…
Mile End Park
Sprawling Mile End Park is an excellent place to explore on foot or by bike and take in the scenery on a fascinating journey along the canals through the East End. The waterways that wind their way through the east of the city are very much a part of the culture and geography of this area.
The park starts at Bow Wharf, with a towpath leading you alongside Regent’s Canal. It winds its way through the Ecology Park – a haven of rare orchids and water fowl – and Arts Park to the peaceful Terraced Garden and Kirk’s Place.
If you get thirsty along the way, stop off at the Palm Tree (Haverfield Road), a gem of an old fashioned boozer with gold wallpaper and good beer. The pub is right in the park next to the towpath and in the summer locals take their pints outside in plastic cups to relax on the grass.
Upper Street, Islington
Although it’s a little further north, Upper Street has to be my favourite place to eat in London. It runs from Angel station to Highbury & Islington, past a collection of restaurants that could satisfy even the most demanding foodie. From French to Turkish to Cuban to Afghan, there’s an outstanding array of global cuisines.
Le Mercury (140a) is one of the all time greats, serving French dishes in a quaint Parisian style building for the bargain price of £15 for three courses. Meat lovers will adore Rodizio Rico (77-78), an all you can eat Brazilian style barbecue restaurant with never ending steak. For a post dinner cocktail, try Public House (54 Islington Park Street), a boutique bar with an intoxicating drinks menu and an arty twist – all the furniture is locally designed and available for sale.