“If a spaceship landed and they said they had five minutes to report of a typical planet earth place, where shall we go? We’d say Spitalfields, Commercial Street, corner of Liverpool Street and Bishop’s Gate.” – Gilbert & George
East London has transformed beyond recognition. The streets around Spitalfields where Jack the Ripper once stalked his victims are now teeming with craft beer bars, cafés, record stores, clothes shops and all manner of 21st century life.
There is so much to see and do it can be overwhelming, so I’ve condensed what I’ve learnt from countless visits to seven activities, which include tips on accommodation, food, drink, shopping and clubbing.
The Magnificent Seven
1. Do a street art tour with a local artist, and say hello to Gilbert & George
Shoreditch Street Art tours offer one of the best ways to spend two and a half hours in East London. A local street artist leads you around the streets in and around Brick Lane and Shoreditch, and in a very Radioheadesque In Rainbows business model, you pay what you like. Book at the link above and meet at the Goat statue on Brushfield Street at 10am or 1.30pm most days. Keep an eye out for Gilbert & George. They live on Fournier Street and are regularly out and about.
2. Step back in time and go to a spooky ‘silent night’ in Denis Severs’ House
18 Folgate Street housed a family of French Huguenot silk-weavers in the eighteenth century. The house is open to the public on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, but booking is essential. It took me a few attempts to finally secure a ticket, but it was well worth it and one of the weirdest and most wonderful heritage experiences I’ve ever had. I won’t give too much away, so for more information and bookings click here. The Water Poet across the road is a good place for a drink afterwards as you try to take it all in. This busy pub is good for watching a match too, and it was absolutely rammed for this year’s FA Cup Final.
3. Catch a gig in Rough Trade
The polar opposite to a silent night. I used to think in store gigs were a bit of pain; marred by bright shop lights and dreadful sound, but I hadn’t been to one in Rough Trade. I saw Kate Jackson and Dexys do shows in Rough Trade East this year to launch their respective albums, and they were both great. A cold beer is only £3 and the Big Chill next door is a good spot for before and after. Radiohead famously tried to play here, but they were moved to 93 Feet East around the corner. Check out this cracking video of Dexys doing ‘Grazing in the Grass’ with some lovely local footage.
4. Tuck into a Brick Lane curry
Shopping and tours will make you hungry, and if Indian is your thing, you’re in paradise. While some curry lovers will say other parts of London have better curry houses and the service in some of the Lane’s establishments leaves a lot to be desired, I’ve never had a bad meal on Brick Lane. Sheba is particularly good and the last time I was in town, I enjoyed an excellent prawn biryani in City Spice.
5. Wash your dinner down in an East end boozer
The Ten Bells oozes history, as this atmospheric bar allegedly was a drinking den frequented by Jack the Ripper. I was slightly disappointed they’d stopped pouring Shoreditch Triangle Pale Ale the last time I was in, but they’ve still an exceedingly fine range of draught beers and food and cocktails upstairs. If you want an authentic old school East End boozer, then head to Pride of Spitalfields off Brick Lane for a very charming local with its own cat.
6. Hang your hat without breaking the bank
- The Tune Hotel on Folgate Street is the best no frills cheap sleep in the area with rooms without a window starting at £40. I used to like the deals in the Liverpool Street Holiday Inn but rates have gone through the roof. The Culpeper is a pub and restaurant with a lovely rooftop terrace and great food at a fair price. Double rooms are about £120. If you’re splashing out, Batty Langley’s is the place to go and bargains aren’t unheard of. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City is the most ludicrously named hotel I’ve ever stayed in and sounds like something out of Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris’ prophetic TV series Nathan Barley, but if you can manage to nab five-star accommodation in this spectacular building for around £100, it is not to be sniffed at.
7. Dance the night away in fabric and XOYO
fabric is a London institution and firmly established as the place to go dancing in the city. The sound-system is incredible and most people in the smoking area are incredibly friendly. Fridays host dubstep, grime and bass nights, while Saturdays go even later with house and techno. If you head after 3am it’s only a tenner in, but bring photo ID and expect a very thorough search. XOYO is another great spot in Shoreditch, where I recently caught Fabio and LTJ Bukem quite literally shake the floor with the bass-bins, and then carried on raving in fabric! If you’re looking for a nightcap before the tube home, Hamilton Hall in Liverpool Street station opens at 7am. Apparently, Dalston is where it’s at for nightlife now, so I better investigate.
Discover more: The Spitalfields Life blog by the Gentle Author is one of the best around. Go check it out.
Watch this short and very pertinent post-Brexit referendum video featuring recently elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Jarvis Cocker declaring #LondonIsOpen