London espresso: East End Trend

Part of a series highlighting one area of London.

Shoreditch is the inner city district in the historic East End of London and modern Central London. It lies within the London Borough of Hackney, lying immediately to the north of the financial district, known as the City of London. The districts of Hoxton and Haggerston are part of Shoreditch. As such, when you hear about Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Haggerston, know that those places are generally “the East End.”

Shoreditch was once described as ‘desolate and rough’ by the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, but now the area is evolving into what’s been described as the ‘new Prime Shoreditch’ with one bedroom flats averaging around £565,464.
– from 20 Facts about Shoreditch

Indeed, the East End used to be synonymous with grime and poverty. Before experiencing what the area is like today, I highly recommend viewing photos of Victorian East London, so that you can appreciate just how much has changed – and what hasn’t.

Although still a poor part of town when compared to the absurd wealth of the West End, I  consider the East End to be London’s best neighbourhood for art, fashion and food – it’s an important part of my London story. The East End was where I first lived in London, and I now work in the nearby City. Read on for my suggested tour of the area which I recommend for the afternoon, as it can be pretty sleepy in the mornings.

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Day Planner
Distance: The loop itself is 3.3mi (5.3km) and would take a little over an hour to complete.
Stops: Liverpool Street, Spitalfields Market, Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, Shoreditch High Street, Greffrye Museum, Columbia Road Flower Market, Old Street.

Start at London Liverpool Street Station, but try to avoid morning rush hour (8 – 9am) and lunchtime (12:30pm – 1:30pm) as this is the heart of financial London as well as a main transport hub. Walk northeast to the large (and indoor!) Spitalfields Market, which has been around since 1638. Note how the steel and glass of the City quickly transitions into graffiti-covered brick and concrete, and how suited professionals morph into bearded, tattooed hipsters.

At Spitalfields Market you can see a ton of vintage finds and trinkets, with plenty of food and drink options. If rummaging through market stalls isn’t your thing, the market boasts more traditional and upscale brick-and-mortar shops like Anthropologie, CHANEL, Zadig & Voltaire, Benefit Cosmetics, and Starbucks.

After Spitalfields Market, continue northeast towards the Old Truman Brewery. which is East London’s arts and media quarter. It is home to a hive of creative businesses as well as  independent shops, galleries, markets, bars and restaurants. Nearby shops include Number Six.

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Brick Lane in summer

Head north along Brick Lane which is a microcosm of London’s shifting ethnic patterns. The area around Brick Lane in East London was once associated with poor Jewish and Eastern European slums, and the scene of the crime for the Jack the Ripper murders.

After WWII, Bengali and Pakistani families moved in (note the Bengli ব্রিক লেন on the street signs!) and the area transformed again. Today, it’s still known for great southeast Asian cuisine as well as its vibrant nightlife, art, and fashion scene. If you’re in need of a quick snack try Cereal Killer Cafe or Beigel Bake.

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Brick Lane Coffee, and Beigel Bake! No, that’s not a typo. A Bagel (Yiddish: בײגל‎ beygl; Polish: bajgiel) is also spelled beigel, and originated in the Jewish communities of Poland.

Turn left on Bethnal Green Road and wander east, passing by shops like Rachel Entwistle. After a few moments you’ll arrive at BOXPARK, which is the world’s first pop-up mall with 60 shipping containers converted for use as shops and restaurants. Across the street is Pizza East, a nice upscale pizza spot for lunch or dinner.

boxpark-shoreditch

After BOXPARK, turn right and head up the Shoreditch High Street, which has many quirky shops like MAIDEN. Keep going north until you hit the junction at the Old Shoreditch Station. From here, consider taking a detour to the Geffrye Museum, or if on a Sunday, the Columbia Road Flower Market.

The Geffrye Musuem (Tuesdays through Sundays, free) is a really unique “Museum of the Home,” where you can explore interior design from 1600 to the present day. There are evocative displays of London living rooms and gardens illustrate homes and home life through the centuries, reflecting changes in society, behaviour, style and taste.

From Old Shoreditch Station (and after your optional detour) turn left to walk along Old Street, towards Old Street Station. This is a 10 minute walk due east, but don’t hesitate to take a few detours to explore the many restaurants and cafes (like The Breakfast Club) and shops (like EDIT.TOKYO) in the area.

Once you reach Old Street Station, you’ll be in the epicentre of entrepreneurial and tech startup London known as Silicon Roundabout. From Old Street Station, you can take the Northern Line either north towards Camden, or south towards Bank and London Bridge. However, if you’re still keen to walk on, head due south towards the skyscrapers in the distance, along City Road.

City Road leads to Bunhill Fields, the ancient cemetery.  Although originally used for victims of the plague, you can also find the graves of many notable people, including author of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan (died 1688), author of Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe (died 1731), and poet William Blake (died 1827).

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The Honourable Artillery Company. The trees off to the right are within Bunhill Fields.

Next to Bunhill Fields is the impressive home of the Honourable Artillery Company, which looks like a castle in its own right. The HAC is oldest regiment in the British Army, and dates back to 1537. The university where I attended law school is located just a block away from HAC, and it was not uncommon to see helicopters land on the field during our lectures!

From the HAC, it is safe to say you’re back in the City. Continuing south, you’ll pass by Finsbury Square which is home of Bloomberg’s London office (wave “hi” to Joe!). From Finsbury Square, meander east towards Liverpool Street Station. While there is not a single best way to get there, look for the signs which point towards the most direct route. You should end up near Broadgate Circle, which has some shops and cafes if you’re in need of a sugar of caffeine boost. Broadgate Circle is adjacent to London Liverpool Street, which means you have successfully come full circle!

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