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What to Do in East London: Guide to One Day in Spitalfields and Brick Lane

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3 months ago

When most people think of East London, they think of Shoreditch. They’d be correct to think that, but as you’ll find out from reading this one-day itinerary for Spitalfields and Brick Lane, Shoreditch is a far inferior option for spending a day in East London (though I do think Shoreditch is a better choice for the evening).

In truth, Spitalfields and Brick Lane is the place you thought Shoreditch is. Let me show you around Spitalfields and Brick Lane like a local.

What are Spitalfields and Brick Lane known for?

Nowadays, Spitalfields is known for its bustling day market which has some of the best food in the city. It is also the area closest to the City of London so there are a lot of office workers who eat and shop in the area.

Brick Lane is famous for having some of the best Indian restaurants in London (which is why you’ll sometimes see this area of London called Banglatown) – but it’s evolved far beyond that. Nowadays, Brick Lane is famous for expansive food markets, the best vintage shopping in London, and innovative shopping.

And Brick Lane is never the same on any given day: it’s a whole different experience on the weekends.

Getting to Spitalfields and Brick Lane

Getting to Spitalfields and Brick Lane can be tricky. If you’re coming by train, there are three options – but they each get you to different parts of Spitalfields and Brick Lane.

In short, our three best options for getting to Brick Lane are from Liverpool Street Station, Shoreditch High Street Station and Aldgate East Station (in that order).

If you are coming from London Heathrow Airport to Spitalfields, you can take the Elizabeth Line directly to Liverpool Street in about 40 minutes.

How to spend one day in Spitalfields and Brick Lane

10 am: Light breakfast and coffee

When you exit Liverpool Street Station, turn left and make your way to Middlesex Street only a minute away from the station’s exit. I’m about to take you on a scenic walk into Spitalfields, but you should know that most businesses will be closed because London tends to start a little later.

Walk along Middlesex Street until you get to the fork in the road. Take the fork left and continue down the picturesque Widegate Street. Keep following the narrow street and walk into Artillery Passage. You’ll notice Ottolenghi on our left.

Widegate Street and Artilley Passage are amazing in the later afternoon and evening. The streets are so narrow and they’re filled with amazing pubs and restaurants, so you might want to come back here later if you want to see it bustling.

Keep walking along Artilley Passage until you see a building with a triangular front. This building houses Crispin, a great option for breakfast as well but not where you’ll be going today. Turn slightly right and continue along White’s Row until you pass Gunpowder (one of the best restaurants in Spitalfields) at the intersection of White’s Row and Toynbee Street. You’ve almost arrived.

Potter & Reid

Continue walking a little further down and you’ve arrived at one of the best spots for breakfast in Spitalfields: Potter & Reid. Here you’ll find a delicious menu of comforting dishes with some seasonal Italian ingredients. Treat yourself to a coffee and a little snack.

And I say a little snack because Spitalfields and Brick Lane are all about food, so you don’t want to get full too quickly. Trust me, you’ll regret eating too much for breakfast when you get to Spitalfields Market.

If you don’t plan on having breakfast in Spitalfields, I wouldn’t plan to get to Spitalfields before 11 am. This is because business doesn’t really begin until 11 am so most places will be closed.

Take a breather. You’re about to have a big day.

11 am: Explore Spitalfields Market

It’s time to experience one of the best food and shopping markets in all of London: Old Spitalfields Market. All of the shops and the traders’ market will start around 11 am so don’t rush to get there too soon.

From your breakfast at Potter & Reid, walk back to the corner of White’s Row and Toynbee Street, but instead of going back to Crispin, walk up Commercial Street instead. The first magnificent building you’ll notice is the famous Christ Church, Spitalfields.

If you’re visiting Spitalfields on a Sunday, Christ Church is open to the public. Take a minute to walk into Christ Church. See if you’re able to spot anything particularly intriguing in the place where you might expect a crucifix to be.

It’s right next to the Ten Bells pub which famously gets its name from the number of bells in Christ Church next door.

Shopping

Keep walking up Commercial Street and you’ll eventually see the beautiful architecture of the gatehouses that surround Spitalfields Market. Some of London’s best shopping is here including Mulberry, Youth to the People, Diptyque, Doc Martens and Tag Heuer.

The shops in Spitalfields Market are in four places: outside on Brushfield Street (which is the first street you’ll encounter if you’re following this itinerary), outside on Commercial Street (the street you’re walking on), outside on Lamb Street, and inside the market itself.

Spitalfields Market is so big and busy so I suggest you take a lap around the market just to get your bearings. Feel free to walk into shops you like that you see along the way. When you’re ready, enter the Market from any of those three streets.

The Market is technically split into Old Spitalfields Market to the east (you’ll see a big, orange sign) and New Spitalfields Market to the east (where the more modern-looking shops are). There are traders and shops all around the market so take your time and enjoy yourself.

If you’d rather not go shopping, there’s a whole bunch of other activities you can do in Spitalfields.

1 pm: Lunch time

Whenever I take my friends on a tour through Spitalfields and Brick Lane, I always tell them that they won’t be eating a full meal until dinnertime because Spitalfields and Brick Lane are best experienced through small meals and snacks along the way.

My recommendation is to have lunch in Spitalfields Market itself. The tough thing about Spitalfields is that there are so many changing shops and pavilions. This is a neighborhood of fairs and pop-ups, so you have to stay current. I’m here most days so I know what’s new and what’s good to eat for lunch.

Check out the best food in Spitalfields Market if you need help deciding (but really, you can’t go wrong).

The finest coffee in Spitalfields

If you’re looking for coffee or tea, Nagare Coffee just across the road from Spitalfields Market is the place to go. The shopfront is decorated in old, chipped green panelling. You’d be forgiven for missing it because it almost looks like it’s shut down and nobody has touched it for years.

Also, right next to it is a fashion pop-up that changes every few months.

2 pm: Brick Lane

You’re about to walk into the best food street in London and the best street for vintage shopping in London all in one place. Exit Spitalfields Market from the west side (the old market side) and walk to the corner of Lamb Street and Commercial Street. You’ll know you’re at the right place because you’ll see a big painting of Vincent Van Gogh.

Cross the road and begin walking down Hanbury Street. When you’re walking to Brick Lane through Hanbury Street, just after you pass Rosa’s Thai on your right, stop and look at the garage. If you’re lucky, there will be some headphones hanging down from the side.

Don’t be afraid: put the headphones on. You might learn something new. This is an irregular art installation so you never know what you’ll see here.

London Undercover

Keep walking and you’ll pass London Undercover which I am very confident about saying is the only shop that sells umbrellas in fridges and baked goods (truly, you can only find these things in East London). Have a look around, or keep walking until you see a sign with H H above you.

If you’re visiting Brick Lane on a Sunday, there will be a small market with artisan sellers inside the H H building. You can always pick up something interesting here.

As you walk into Brick Lane from Hanbury Street, you’ll immediately see some of the best curry houses in London (but not all of them are made equal). If you’re visiting on a weekend, you’ll also see the bustling Brick Lane weekend markets and food hall (which are a whole beast in themselves).

Now just walk around – almost aimlessly.

It’s no secret that Brick Lane is one of the best places in London for vintage and costume shopping. If you’re looking for the vintage shops, turn left and walk up. There are so many vintage shops so you could be here for hours if that’s what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for Indian restaurants and provisions, turn right and walk down. Most people will want to turn left and walk up as that is where the action is.

Vintage shopping

If you are going vintage shopping, a lot of people Brick Lane forget to turn down the side streets. I would honestly say that Cheshire Street just off Brick Lane probably has better vintage shops than Brick Lane itself.

Brick Lane is also one of the best places to go vinyl shopping in London. Very often there is an art fair as well, so you can usually pick up beautiful pieces from emerging and established artists.

And while you’re walking around, make sure you’re taking a moment to lift your head and look up, too. Brick Lane is dotted with art across all of its buildings that give you a sense of its heritage. You’ll also see street musicians all along Brick Lane as you walk north.

Local tip: If you want to visit the famous Beigel Bake on Brick Lane, expect to line up for a long time if you visit on a Sunday. Best to go any other day of the week (and at any time – they’re 24 hours).

You might also want to check out the Old Truman Brewery Yard. There are art installations all around (see if you can spot the giant purple alien that is eating what I think is a cookie).

If you’ve heard of Backyard Market, please be aware that it’s only open on the weekend. It’s a great place for handmade jewellery and even more vintage clothes.

Backyard Market is also right next to the hidden Mada Mada tea and cake room. You have to walk through a little covered market to get there. Walk right to the back and you’ll get to the tea counter.

It’s one of my favorites in the area because they’ll put your choice of a praline on top of any treat you buy. I always choose the pistachio. The French family that runs the cafe puts in a lot of effort and you’ll feel it in the atmosphere they’ve created. It’s a great little hideout in otherwise bustling Brick Lane.

While you’re walking up, you’ll spot Katsute 100. They make an amazing yuzu financier (it’s tangy and soft) which is a great little dessert that you wouldn’t otherwise find.

4 pm: Gilbert & George Centre

I’ve written extensively about the Gilbert & George Centre which is new and one of the best things to do in Spitalfields and Brick Lane right now. If you have an hour to spare, walk yourself to Haneage Street and walk through the green gates for a beautiful exhibition.

If the Gilbert & George Centre doesn’t interest you as much, there are plenty of other galleries and shops to keep you entertained all the way up Brick Lane.

If you’re looking for a little snack to tide you over, head to Dal Fiorentina on Cheshire Street just off Brick Lane. They make tasty sandwiches with fillings of your choice called schiacciate. We get the Botticelli (mostly because my partner loves artichoke and this is all artichoke cream).

But one day soon I want to try the pistachio cream. Also, their small is the size of a large sandwich everywhere else, so be prepared to share or get very full.

6 pm: Dinner time

It’s been a big day, I know. And for me, the best way to reward a big day of eating and shopping is by eating again (I really mean this). East London is known for having some of the best restaurants in the country, so treat yourself to a nice dinner. You might have already spotted somewhere along the way that piqued your fancy.

That’s one day in Spitalfields – but it’s not every day in Spitalfields! The markets are always changing, and there’s always new things to do. So if you’re planning a trip back to London, I would always recommend checking back to see the latest happenings in Spitalfields and Brick Lane.

7 pm: The dark side of Spitalfields with Jack the Ripper

One of the best things to do in Spitalfields is to trace the footsteps of one of London’s most notorious serial killers, Jack the Ripper. After all, Brick Lane and Spitalfields were his hunting grounds. There are a number of excellent Jack the Ripper tours on offer, but we recommend the Ripper-Vision tour which uses hand-held projectors to recreate the atmosphere of Victorian London.

This is also a great way to see what this beautiful part of London once looked like. Spitalfields and Brick Lane weren’t always so fashionable – there’s a very dark past to uncover.


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