Poverty. Petty Crime. Prostitution. Not too long ago, the East End of London languished under a cloud of sinister stereotypes. Noxious fumes from industry, over-crowded workhouses, slums and slaughterhouses all defined the East End. But the past few decades have heralded a period of regeneration. The creative types moved in and little by little the East End pulled itself up by its working-class bootstraps. Slums have made way for trendy flats and warehouses have converted into studios. Theatre has revived, art galleries have opened their doors and the traditional boozers are doing a roaring trade…albeit with a more sophisticated clientele.
Want to explore East London beyond Shoreditch? Here’s what to see and do in Hackney.
Enjoy a leisurely side of city life in London Fields Park
If you’re used to the cram of the Tube or tourists swarming the big sights, then London Fields Park will come as a pleasant surprise.
Visit on one of London’s rare summer evenings and you’ll find young workers gathered, their sleeves rolled up and their shoes kicked off as they lounge on a blanket, picnicking over some Pimms in the ever retreating sun. Year-round, dogs bark playfully, parents push strollers and friends casually cycle through this tiny but constantly buzzing patch of urban green space.
Visit an East End boozer
Hackney had learned from the West End’s mistakes. When traditional Victorian boozers were being stripped of their heritage back in the noughties, in favour of internal décor cast in concrete and chrome, the same pubs in the East End held on tight to their history. Of course, nobody really wants the stench of a hundred years of a drinking establishment accompanying their microbrew, so many of the pubs have had their original features spruced up. Prosecco and gastro pub food will be on the menu, proving your presence in the 21st century, but the Victorian tile, dark wood, pull chain lavatories and etched glass all provide patrons with a nostalgic bit of London’s enduring past.
Shop in Broadway Market
Head down Broadway on a Saturday morning and this small, otherwise unnoticeable street near London Felds Park is transformed with stall after stall of artisan crafts, food and drink. Thali, Pho, Bratwurst and hand made English fudge illustrate the international nature of the food while the vintage clothes stalls can surely satisfy any Hipster’s wardrobe needs. You’ll be lucky to squeeze your posterior onto on of the crammed benches outside the packed cafes that line the street but if you do, you’ll have a prime spot for people watching.
Eat pie and mash – don’t forget the liquor
Remembering that you’re in London’s East End, take time to try some traditional pie and mash. A dedicated pie and mash shop will give you the most authentic experience where the pies are baked on site to a secret family recipe. Having your dish doused in thick, green liquor is something you should experiment with at least once. Historically, the pies contained eels fished from the Thames and the liquor was made from the cooking juice. Today, a steak pies is more common and the liquor is no more than parsley sauce – and, despite the name, there’s not a drop of alcohol in it.
See a performance at the Hackney Empire
The West End may be home to London’s official Theatreland but theatre still runs through the East End’s veins. Did you know that England’s first playhouse was built in the East End and Shakespeare performed there? Although today’s big productions go on near Shaftsbury Avenue out West, the Hackney Empire is one of London’s most glamorous theatres. With a history that began in 1901, the Hackney Empire has survived two World Wars and has a fascia so beautifully lit it cries out for you to go in, which is why it continues to entertain a global audience.
Experience Vietnam in London
One of the highlights of Hackney is its diversity. Stroll past gourmet delis, catch a whiff of frying falafel and, if you walk a couple of paces down Mare Street, you will wonder if you’ve landed in Vietnam. Playing true to London’s international appeal, nowhere in England will you find Vietnamese food more authentic than in the restaurants here, providing the ideal way to round off the perfect day in Hackney.
London is expansive and most visitors see only a tiny part of it. Whether you’re visiting from overseas or are a local who sticks to your own patch, see more of London. See Hackney.