Updated: Oct 1, 2022
London has always had a special place in my heart. Every time I go back, I get this special feeling and excitement that I don't get anywhere else. I don't know if it's just the buzz from the city or the nostalgia of childhood memories (or both?), but London never disappoints. I mainly go back to the UK to see family, so this isn't your typical tourist visit guide, I will be sharing some activities that really allow you to experience London in a more authentic way, so let's dive in!
This particular week in London I was in the East End. This was my first time in this district as I lived in the South West of London when I was a child (my only two years in the UK) and never had the chance to explore different neighbourhoods, probably because I was too young to really care for such things. At 24 however, I really enjoyed discovering this historical and iconic area which allowed me to experience the "real" London. Don't get me wrong, there's still the city hustle as it's central, but there is definitely more of a local feel.
So what makes the East End special? Between the City and Hackney, artists, students and young professionals occupy the former slums of Spitalfields, Brick Lane, and Shoreditch. The area has always been home to people from all different cultures and is full of eccentricity amidst the smell of food, art galleries, independent shops, markets, and trendy bars.
Known for its heterogeneity, it offers a total immersion into different little worlds and looks nothing like the centre of the capital, it's a place where barbecues are organised in the parks, and cycling is the primary means of transport (which I really enjoyed!). Hopefully, I've got you excited now, so let's see how to experience the East End of London!
I think when most people visit London, they either go to Saint James's or Hyde Park. Now, although these parks are beautiful and have a particular charm and atmosphere, Victoria Park in the East End offers a more authentic and down-to-earth vibe. Known as "The People's Park" or "Vicky Park", Victoria Park was London's first public park. Its central location makes it a popular venue for festivals, concerts, and outdoor cultural activities throughout the year. With its canals, lakes, ponds, statues, and, my personal favourite, the Chinese Pagoda, Victoria Park is the perfect place to discover the East End of London. I suggest packing a picnic blanket with some fruits, snacks, and Prosecco and having a lovely evening picnic with friends by the Boating Lake. Don't forget your camera if you're into photography, you won't be disappointed!
You can reach Victoria Park by taking the tube to Bethnal Green or Mile End from which you will have a 10 to 15mins walk or you can hire a Santander Cycle for £2 at one of their numerous docking stations.
Walk along Regent's Canal
Whilst you are in the East End, I recommend ambling down Regent's Canal. During your walk (or cycle), you'll see Victoria Park, local artwork, colourful houseboats, the odd person canoeing, and small bridges as well as locals walking their dogs or going for a jog (or both!).
Brunch at Zealand Road Cafe
There are many restaurants and cafes from which to choose when in the East End of London, but I do have a personal fave and that is the Zealand Road Cafe. It's a small cafe mostly frequented by locals from Mile End and Bow that offers an array of yummy dishes that are perfect for brunch (I also particularly appreciated their iced Americano). I love this place as it's small and cosy, you can sit outside in the sun, the food is delicious and very affordable and the service is very good. And like many places in London, they are veggie friendly! I recommend their veggie fry-up or their avocado toast with extra poached eggs. And the coffee, don't forget the iced coffee.
Stroll around Columbia Road
When you're walking along Regent's Canal you will eventually arrive at Columbia Road, famous for its flower market that takes place every Sunday morning from 8 am to 12 pm. When I was there, there was a lovely market selling food and artwork. My favourite part about this area though is the little independent shops that you can find just off Columbia Road. I loved strolling down the cobbled streets and seeing all the little boutiques selling antiques and bits and bobs, small cafes, and cute bakeries.
There you go then, my little guide on how to experience the East End of London. There is obviously so much more to do and see but the recommendations above were definitely the highlights of my trip!