Take a walk on the East Side

Forget Camden Town! The East End is where all the cool kids go these days… What used to be a notorious immigrant ghetto that you’d want to avoid as a tourist, is now a multicultural hotspot with a thriving fashion, restaurant and music scene. It’s different, it’s trendsetting and it’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of downtown London.

Six years ago I went to London, guided by an ‘alternative’ travel book. The book talked about places in the city that most tourists fail to discover: restaurants and pubs off the beaten track and up and coming neighborhoods throughout the metropolis. The East End was described in the guide as a district ‘to follow’: the author predicted that this whole area was on the verge of change, gradually being upgraded from shady and unsafe to hip and desirable. I had forgotten all about it, until I went back to London last month and a friend living in the Hammersmith district suggested we go to his favorite place to unwind in the big city: the East End. The area is no longer up and coming, it’s UP! It’s now a great destination for anyone looking for a rather unique and intriguing experience outside of the obvious London attractions. All around you’ll find an eclectic mix of people, art galleries, street foods and restaurants, music stores, fashion outlets, bars and vintage markets.

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Right near the Aldgate East underground stop
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In the front are the houses of the East side, in the back is the ‘Gherkin’ peeping through and a giant office building: the East side is very close to London’s financial district, but the contrast couldn’t be bigger.

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THe Modern Saree Centre – home of Indian tailors.
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One of the side alleys of Brick Lane: this café was already here six years ago!

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Northern Soul Kitchen and record shop – an interesting combination.

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From Jack the Ripper to fashion to die for

The bad reputation that the East End used to have isn’t entirely unjustified. Because of the proximity to the Docklands – the former port – a lot of immigrants and refugees stranded here. They lived in overcrowded houses, did factory work in poor conditions and for very low wages. Crime levels were high (the East End is also where Jack The Ripper went on a killing spree) but today, the tables have turned. Starting your own business in the heart of London was too expensive, so young artists and entrepreneurs slowly started gaining ground at the east side, giving the remnants of the old factory life a new purpose. Despite the slight neglect, the industrial buildings and baroque style houses really haven’t lost all of their grandeur. You can almost hear the inspiration oozing through the old factory walls…

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Especially vintage clothing has become a ‘thing’ here.

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A peak inside the brand new concept store Blitz in Hanbury Street at the East Side, London’s very first vintage department store. It’s huge!

Brick Lane and Spitalfields market

The main road is Brick Lane, known for its graffiti and arty decorations on walls and facades. It’s also packed with shops and little restaurants (apparently there are over 50 in this one street!). There’s loads of Indian themed restaurants here, which explains the nickname ‘Banglatown’. Especially the curry dishes are highly sought-after. Another nice area is the covered Old Spitalfields Market In the heart of the East End. Apart from the same old touristy stuff that you can find anywhere in London, there’s also quite a few local artists and designers selling their artwork or clothing. We spent a few hours strolling down the roads, had a great veggie burger at the Old Spitalfields market, took some snapshots of the graffiti walls and even did some shopping: I’m now the proud owner of a Gonsalves & Hall wool coat in retro-style!

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The street name is bilingual, because a lot of immigrants didn’t speak English when they arrived.
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Even the old brewery in the back (91 Brick Lane) has been converted into a meeting place for events, exhibitions and nightlife.

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Old Spitalfields market

A collection of street art

A collection of graffiti snapshots

How to get to the East Side?

Take the Green Line to Aldgate East. Brick Lane is only a five minute walk from there. Good to know: there were considerably more tourists arriving here in the late afternoon.