A short hop from the tourist-trap West End, there's a part of London brimming with galleries, street markets, gastropubs and converted industrial buildings. Head out on a Saturday and make a day of it
If you're coming to London for the weekend, why not escape the standard tourist trail in the city centre and discover the hidden treasures of the East End? Here, instead of queuing for museums or getting stuck among shopaholics, you can enjoy a relaxing visit to some lesser-known art galleries, try a meal in the latest fashionable restaurant or simply go shopping at an organic food market.
East London’s urban landscape is an increasingly curious blend of architecture, old and new, which reflects its constantly changing population and lifestyle. Art galleries, trendy bars and fancy designer hotels have replaced old buildings and unused factories – especially in the hippest hot spots, Shoreditch and Hackney.
You can start the day by heading to Vyner Street in Hackney – a 10-minute walk from Bethnal Green Tube station, or take a bus (number 8 or 55) from the West End. In recent years, this tiny street has become home to some of the most important art galleries in London. Along the short dead-end street, there are a number of internationally celebrated venues. It's hard to miss the Wilkinson Gallery (020 8980 2662, www.wilkinsongallery.com) at 50-58 Vyner Street. The black cube-shaped building, with a giant window overlooking the street, contains two major showrooms. A few metres away, the Gooden Gallery (020 8981 1233, www.goodengallery.com) at 25a Vyner Street is a former studio which owner Della Gooden, herself an artist, has turned into a gallery where exhibitions by painters and photographers take place on a regular basis.
On the opposite side of Mare Street, a few minutes' walk along Andrew’s Road and next to the Regent’s Canal, is Broadway Market – another Hackney institition.This is not only a magnet for radical chic Londoners, but a popular destination for tourists. If you come on Saturdays you can buy artisan breads, cheeses, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables plus all kinds of other food, much of it organically produced. If you're merely browsing and feel peckish, stop at the Cat & Mutton (020 7254 5599, http://catandmutton.co.uk) at 76 Broadway Market. This well-established gastropub offers a wide range of traditional British dishes. You can have a delicious full English breakfast for just £8, or come later for lunch or dinner. Given its popularity, booking is advisable. Don’t miss the chance to try Off Broadway (020 7241 2786, www.offbroadway.org.uk), across the road at 63-65 Broadway Market. Doubling as both a gallery and a bar, it offers a great selection of wines and cocktails.
Adjacent to Hackney is Shoreditch, the “New Soho” – London’s busiest hotspot, and ideal for a night out in the East End. Conversion of old buildings is a key feature, one example being Pizza East (020 7729 1888, www.pizzaeast.com) at 56 Shoreditch High Street. Don’t be confused by the warehouse-style exterior; inside is a busy, modern restaurant serving a great choice of pizzas and other hot dishes at very reasonable prices. Opened in October 2009 (by the same group as the über-trendy private club, Shoreditch House, next door), it combines echoes of its industrial past (concrete walls and exposed beams, pipes and pillars) with fresh, contemporary touches to create a warm, pleasant but stylish atmosphere. In the waiting area next to the bar, you can queue for a selection of fresh cheeses and Italian prosciutti straight from the counter.
Where to stay
The Hoxton Urban Lodge, also known as the Hoxton Hotel, offers startlingly modern accommodation in a swankily designed building. Double rooms start at £59 – and if you join the mailing list, you are entered into a prize draw every three months to win a one-night stay for only £1. A short walk away, towards Liverpool Street, The Boundary (launched in January 2009) is the creation of designer Sir Terence Conran. With 17 rooms, three restaurants, a bar and a rooftop terrace, it has more to offer than you might first expect. Built in a converted Victorian house with an eco-friendly design, it remains in keeping with the style of the area. Though a little pricey, at £150- £200 a night, it is well worth a visit – and even if you can’t afford to stay, you can still try one of the restaurants or visit the bar on the lower ground floor, which is cosy and very elegant. In summer, you can opt for a drink on the rooftop terrace while enjoying a 360-degree view of the skyline – the perfect end to any evening out in London.