Traditionally, if you’d asked someone from the United States, the European mainland, or just about anywhere other than Britain to name some of London’s key attractions, it’s unlikely they would’ve named any landmarks east of Tower Bridge.
Famous sites such as BuckinghamPalace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and Downing Street are all scattered around the west of the city centre. Indeed, along with St Paul’s which lies within the square mile, the spot generally considered to mark the heart of the capital, the Tower of London and the aforementioned Tower Bridge, both of which lie a bit further east, used to mark the boundary where your average tourist’s knowledge of (or, indeed, interest in) London would stop. (This is in no way as criticism of said tourists, after all, the same could be said about the majority of people living in the UK, including many Londoners!)
However, this is no longer the way of things. Since the end of July, when the 2012 Olympics were opened in a spectacular, if utterly eccentric manner, the world’s eyes have been fixed on the east end, most notably the Olympic Stadium in Stratford where incredible sights such as Usain Bolt’s record shattering performance in the men’s 100 meters final were witnessed.
Thanks to the greatest show on earth’s presence in town, east London has enjoyed having a huge number of visitors and will hopefully enjoy a higher profile with travellers in years to come. It makes for a great place to visit, but, without the obvious allure of the west end’s landmarks, many of its treasures need to be searched out. Here’s a look at just 5 such places;
It may not be as grand as Hyde Park or St James’s over in the west end, but when the sun is shining, sitting in the pagoda and looking out over Victoria park’s boating lake is a lovely way to spend some time. If you want an extended stroll through urban greenery, the southern tip of Victoria park connects to Mile End park, a lush strip of canal lined greenery that will lead you to within a few minutes walk of Limehouse, which boasts a host of great Thames-side pubs. (The Prospect of Whitby comes highly recommended.)
The Ministry of Stories
Hidden on Hoxton Road, The Ministry of Stories is a creative writing workshop/place of wonders where strange, fun things happen. It was set up by novelist Nick Hornby (of High Fidelity fame) and can only be accessed through a monster supplies store that acts as a front for it. They put on all sorts of great events that people are able to attend. For example, they recently set up The Children’s Republic of Shoreditch- a little nation for kids, complete with a postal service, embassy and spy network. It’s a great place to take a child (or any human being) who enjoys making use of their imagination. Use their website to find out what they’re up to whilst you’re in town.
Brick Lane/ Spitalfields Market
These two locations are hardly guarded secrets anymore, but they aren’t exactly the biggest presence on the tourist radar. Both offer a great way to pick up some unique pieces of vintage clothing at a (relatively) good price, and if you want to (literally) get a taste for east London, a curry from a Brick Lane establishment should definitely take precedence over jellied eels!
If you’re looking for some East London nightlife with a twist, try Passing Clouds in Dalston. Depending on the night of the week, you could be partaking of swing dancing lessons, losing yourself to some live reggae, watching independent films, listening to spoken word poetry or being enlightened in a seminar. A hub for all sorts of great fun stuff, all with a feeling of inclusivity.
Maritime Museum Greenwich
A great attraction for those looking for a bit of history. Here you can learn how Britain developed it’s mastery of the waves. Complete with the newly restored Cutty Sark (the last surviving tea clipper class ship of its age) Greenwich offers a more traditional sort of tourist venue. Even without the museum, the location is worth a visit for the views of the city centre that are to be had.
When he’s not on the road Will Kurtz lives in Limehouse in east London. He writes about all aspects of travel and edits the UK Directory Travel and Accommodation section.