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Local’s guide to east London

With its galleries, boutiques, artists’ studios and creative cafes, check out some of our favourite spots in East London

Local’s guide to east London
Netil Market, London Fields. Image: Alamy

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Art and soul
Some might argue that neighbourhoods south of the river now trump east London in the hipness stakes. The jury’s out, but creativity still bubbles away in the eastern bloc of boroughs. There’s a huge concentration of galleries in this part of London ­— more than 150, in fact. Whitechapel Gallery is the best-known of the bunch, and in its 100-plus years it’s shown works by everyone from Picasso to Hockney. The highlight this autumn: a series of striking installations by Scandi duo Elmgreen and Dragset. 

Over by big and beautiful Victoria Park, you could easily spend a night drinking at the Approach Tavern without realising there’s an art gallery upstairs. Tacita Dean and Jeremy Deller have both exhibited at
The Approach, while the current show, Splendor Solis, explores mythology and storytelling. Looking for the entrance? It’s through the pub. 

While you’re in the area, pop into Chisenhale Gallery, about 15 minutes’ walk away. Set within an old factory, it made a name for itself in the 1990s for exhibiting Young British Artists, but recently it’s had a great run of installations by international practitioners. 

You don’t even have to set foot in a gallery to see great art; around Shoreditch and Brick Lane you’ll find incredible street art. Look out for Roa’s animal murals, Christiaan Nagel’s mushroom sculptures and local boy Stik’s stick figures. Stop by Cargo’s beer garden on Rivington Street — that’s where you’ll find Banksy’s ‘Designated Graffiti Area’.

Combination cafes
Creativity flows like a perfectly poured flat white in east London’s cafes, where the drinks often come with a side of something unusual. Offering perhaps the most east London combination of them all is Benk + Bo in Aldgate — a hybrid cafe, yoga studio and co-working space. The coffee is excellent, but the focus is the baked goods, including the holy grail of plant-based eating — vegan croissants. 

Looking for a one-off piece of art, a hand-carved spoon or a clutch of old comics? One half of Pitfield in Hoxton is a treasure trove of vintage and designer homewares, while the other is a lovely cafe serving cakes, bakes and lunches. 

If you’re after a more classic accompaniment to your coffee, then Shoreditch’s Paper & Cup has shelves of second-hand books to browse while you sip. You can take one home for just a couple of quid, and it’s for a good cause — this is a social enterprise run by a charity. 

In Hackney, keep your ears open while you munch your brunch at Wilton Way Cafe — it’s the home of London Fields Radio, which records at a DJ booth in the corner. 

Hannah Davis’ top 5 places to shop
Hannah Davis is the founder and owner of Hackney-based jewellery label Wolf & Moon.

1 // Netil Market, London Fields
I ran a stall at Netil Market for a couple of years, so I feel pretty sentimental about this place. On Saturdays it becomes a lively hub for local designers to showcase their wares, and there are vintage stalls and food sellers too.

2 // Kate Sheridan, Clapton
I love Kate’s beautifully crafted leather goods and workwear-inspired clothing, some of which is handmade in the back of her shop. She also stocks homewares and accessories made by her favourite designers and local makers — including a range of my Wolf & Moon pieces. 

3 // Bonds, London Fields
Bonds is a store, coffee shop, studio and event space run by two of my favourite local brands: Earl of East London (candles) and Kana (ceramics). Both brands have their own workspaces and a shared shop/cafe space selling a mix of handcrafted lifestyle pieces made in-house or by local designers. 

4. // Henri, Hoxton
I live just two minutes from Henri; a lovely little clothing boutique specialising in sustainably made, timeless garments designed by Henrietta Adams. She also sells a selection of handpicked pieces by her favourite independent designers. 

5 // Nook, Stoke Newington
I used to live in Stokey a couple of years ago and I would pop into Nook all the time just to admire everything. The store has a beautifully curated selection of homewares made by designers from across the UK and beyond. 

Top tip
The bright yellow Ofo bikes are a cheaper and lighter alternative to TfL’s Santander Cycles (aka Boris bikes). Plus they’re dockless; you can unlock them via the app and leave them wherever you like once you’re done.


Published in the September 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)