Exploring London’s East End

Exploring London’s East End

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It was raining cats and dogs outside when I told Kerstin that we should spend our Twixmas in London. She was standing behind me, so I couldn’t see her eyes. But I was almost sure that she was rolling them. Urgh.. London, again?! She then handed me her iPhone: Read this. You wrote that article yourself…

 

Yep. I did write about our travel (mis)adventures in London. But In the end of the post, I also stated that “I’m sure that our next visit will be great!”

 

Besides, after visiting Oxford, Cambridge and Berlin, my niece was still undecided where she wanted to study art and design. To make sure she won’t regret her choice later on, I felt that we needed to take her to explore London. Not for a shopping spree around Oxford Street, nor to the touristy London in Soho or Westminster, which she already knew. But to a neighborhood that we had never visited before, and which is now an up-and-coming artsy area: the East End of London.

 

 

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So on the day after Christmas, my niece and nephew and the two of us flew to the British capital. When we left the Aldgate East Tube station, the streets were empty. In a crowded city like London, this was actually a very nice surprise. From our hotel room at Dorsett City, I saw the skyscrapers in the financial district of The City on my right side. The Tower of London and the Tower Bridge right in front of me. The East End was located behind us. I didn’t tell the others anything about this neighborhood, only that we were going on a food tour…

 

For centuries, the East End of London is an area notorious for its deep poverty, and for attracting waves of refugees since the 17th century. First the Huguenots refugees. Then the Irish weavers, the Ashkenazi Jews, and the Chinese opium and tea traders (who relocated to Soho after WW2). Qnd finally the Bangladeshis in the 20th century. In 1888, the East End is best known for being the neighborhood where Jack the Ripper went to look for his victims.

 

 

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But today, the East End is a hipster neighborhood, filled with street art, art galleries, designer shops, quirky boutiques, and musical events.

 

The place in the East End neighborhood that I liked best is the Spitalfields Market. It’s a covered market selling both art and food, surrounded by independent retailers, street food stalls and restaurants. It’s open every day and it also hosts public art.

 

Around the shopping streets and plazas, the neighborhood has several commercial and public modern art galleries, such as the Whitechapel Gallery, the Brick Lane Gallery and the White Cube Gallery. Between Whitechapel and Shoreditch High Street, there’s a wild garden filled with awesome graffiti and art installations. This street art oasis, called Nomadic Community Garden, is open to the public and can be visited every day for free.

 

 

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When we wandered around, mesmerized by both the quantity and quality of artworks in this neighborhood, I found out that the East End was actually the birthplace of the infamous graffiti artist Bansky. Was this the reason why the East End has become the new urban art hub? Or just because the area’s still one of the last still-affordable neighborhood in London? In any case, many of the area’s old warehouses and factory buildings have been turned into artists’ workshops. And if you ask the artists nicely, most of them wouldn’t mind letting you visit their place and artworks.

 

During our food tour, I was also surprised to discover all the types of food that the East End has to offer. In fact, when the foreign refugees settled down here, they brought their own specialties to the neighborhood. For two hours, our tour guide from Free Tours by Foot made us taste a plethora of delicious food. We started with a yummy samosa from Rajmahal Sweets. Then a hearty Ashkenazi Jewish beigel from Brick Lane Beigel Bake. Founded in 1974, this place has become the most famous spot in London that serves traditional Jewish beigel filled with hot salt beef. The craziest thing is that this place is open every day and for 24-hours. So basically, you could go there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack!

 

We were already full after tasting the Jewish beigel. But we couldn’t refuse a fish and chips when we arrived at the restaurant called Poppie’s. Apparently it’s where they serve the best fish and chips in London since the 1950s. So we ordered one portion to share, and it was a huge portion! We finished our food tour with a hot cocoa topped with tasty chocolates from West Africa. And my niece and nephew also tried a gourmet donut from Dum Dums Donutterie. Unlike those you get in other places, the donuts here are handmade with only natural ingredients and they’re baked – not fried, which means that they are less greasy.

 

 

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After exploring the East End of London, we also visited the touristy neighborhoods of London in Covent Garden and Westminster, as well as several museums. While these places were also captivating and beautifully lit during Twixmas, they were all very crowded. The horde of people in the West End’s shops was unbelievable. And the long queues to the museums almost drove me crazy.

 

So when our London trip came to an end, I was glad that we explored the East End. The certain something of that neighborhood’s brick houses, artsy spots and quirky shops made us want to visit London again. Considering all the travel mishaps that we had experienced before this last trip, I think that says a lot about how fascinating the East End of London really is!

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Exploring London's East End © Travelwithmk.com

 

Exploring London's East End © Travelwithmk.com

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Mei is a 30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, she loves eating sushi and stinky cheese (although not at the same time), as well as listening to Kerstin's funny stories while driving on long road trips. She's afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

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18 Responses

  1. Mel Butler
    | Reply

    I use to work around the corner from this part of the city, near Liverpool street station. I do love this part of town and wandering around the streets and exploring the many eateries in the area. Next time that you are in the area, make sure to check out one of the many Jack the Ripper walking tours that are really interesting to do.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      I actually booked the Jack the Ripper walking tour too! But after exploring the city on our own and walking around for sooo many hours, we decided to cancel the tour. Next time we’ll make that tour though!

  2. Ketki Gadre
    | Reply

    Now this is what I call offbeat in the most tourist visited cities in the World! The fact that it is less crowded and yet so amazing is just my kind of perfect holiday. The street art and sculptures look lovely. Thanks for recommending this.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Glad that my post inspired you, Ketki! I hope you’ll explore the East End when you visit London again! 🙂

  3. sunsetsandrollercoasters
    | Reply

    We visited London a few years ago but didn’t explore the East end. We’re definitely heading there next time. I’d love to try the fish and chips at Poppies!

  4. Yukti
    | Reply

    I loved reading your unique way to see sightseeing attractions of London. London’s East End looks very beautiful and very colorful. East End really looks hipster neighborhood with quirky colorful shops and boutiques.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks, Yukti! Glad you liked my post. 🙂 If you visit London again, make sure to spend a day in the East End too!

  5. 100cobbledroads
    | Reply

    London has so much to offer beyond the mega sights. All its different neighbourhoods like West End have a distinct character of their own. Some fabulous street art and quirky sculptures here.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You’re right, London does have a lot to offer! One has to visit several times to cover some of the neighborhoods.

  6. uoprincess
    | Reply

    What a nice aunt you are! I always find a food tour the perfect way to learn about a new place and that sounds like it was a great one. Is your niece going to go there?

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha, thank you! After visiting several European cities and universities, my niece finally decided to study in Berlin. 🙂

  7. Carol Colborn
    | Reply

    My daughter lived in the East End when she was assigned in London for a couple of years. I loved to visit her there, especially Spitalfields Market!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh how cool is that?! Did your daughter like living in this area of London?

  8. I am sure it must have been strange to find the London streets empty. Luckily this area has recovered and is not a quite trendy spot. We would definitely want to visit to see all the artwork. But would not want to miss the food tour. We have eaten bagels around the world and are a bit picky. So would want to see how the Jewish one stacks up. We did have Poppie’s fish and chips on one of our visits to London. We too shared one large portion. I am glad this visit was better than the last. And that you will want to go back again.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Linda! I’m also glad that our last visit in London was way better than all those before that! The Jewish beigels are quite different from the “American” bagels, so you definitely have to taste them when you visit London next time!

  9. Chelsea Messina
    | Reply

    What a great new perspective on London, I hope you didn’t regret your decision to go for the holidays 🙂 did your niece make a decision on where to study art and design?

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you Chelsea. And yes, my niece is not studying in Berlin! 🙂

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