10 Unique Things to Do in Bethnal Green

by Paul Joseph  |  Published February 26, 2024

Not so long ago a gritty, run-down area, major regeneration in recent decades has brought the East London district of Bethnal Green to life in a big way.

Flowers on display at Columbia Road Flower Market (Photo: Aurelien Guichard via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

With hipster bars, trendy restaurants, art galleries, museums, and even its own boutique hotel, Bethnal Green is now a popular stopping-off point for visitors to the capital, as well as a fashionable place to live for the city’s young professionals. But equally, this is also a place that hasn’t forgotten its roots. For those keen to explore Bethnal Green, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do here.

Explore a famous flower market

It’s been said that there’s no better way of getting to know a place than by taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a local market – and visitors to Bethnal Green can do just that at the once-a-week Columbia Road Flower Market. Every Sunday, Columbia Road is transformed into a veritable panoply of flowers, houseplants, herbs, bulbs and shrubs, with seemingly never-ending rows of street stalls hawking an assortment of colourful, scented wares. Prepare for crowds – and don’t be scared to barter.

Columbia Road / Sun 8am-2pm Closed Mon-Sat

Visit a museum

A sister venue to the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, the Young V&A (formerly the V&A Museum of Childhood) is one of Bethnal Green’s most renowned cultural venues. Featuring a huge collection of child-oriented exhibits, including clothing and toys dating back centuries, as well as daily interactive events and activities, the venue is designed to inspire and educate in equal measure by capturing and recording childhood culture and design for posterity. The museum is free to enter.

Cambridge Heath Road / Mon-Sun 10am-5.45pm

A mother and her child peer at a display through a glass cabinet at the Young V&A (Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum)

For an altogether more unusual cultural experience, head to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. Offering a modern take on the classic Victorian cabinet of curiosities, the museum is one of Bethnal Green’s quirkiest attractions. Part shop, part gallery, the venue is packed full of taxidermied specimens, skeletons under glass domes, vintage speculums, human skulls, erotica, modern art, and endless other curios. There’s also an on-site bar that specialises in cocktails and absinth.

11 Mare Street, Hackney / Tues-Fri 3pm-11pm Sat 12pm-11pm Sun 12pm-10pm Closed Mon

Quirky exhibits at Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities (Photo: Katexic Clippings Newsletter via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Escape the city at a public park

Bordering Bethnal Green, as well as its neighbouring East London districts of Hackney and Bow, Victoria Park is one of the capital’s most cherished green spaces. Offering the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the inner city, the 218-acre public park draws around 9 million visitors per year with its scenic setting and array of recreational activities and events. In the eastern section of the park closest to Bethnal Green, there’s an adventure playground and splash pool, a delightful English Garden, an angling lake, and a bandstand where performances take place every Sunday afternoon.

Serve time, gentlemen please

Themed watering holes are ten-a-penny in London nowadays, but few are as inventive in their quirkiness as Alcotraz. Quite literally a bar with bars, the venue reenacts the prison experience by putting all patrons in convict jumpsuits and inviting them to enjoy a drink from within the confines of barred prison cells. Fear not, there is no slopping out required and comfortable seating is provided. For the price of entry, you also get a very generous four complimentary cocktails of your choice.

127 Hackney Road / Tues-Weds 6.35pm-8.50pm Thurs 6.35pm-11.15pm Fri 4.10pm-11.15pm Sat 11.30am-11.15pm Sun 12pm-10.45pm

A guard keeps watch over ‘prisoners’ at Alcotraz (Photo: Alcotraz Bar)

Join a mile-long beer crawl

East London has a thriving craft brewery scene and at its epicentre is Bethnal Green – so much so that the district even has its own dedicated beer crawl route. Centred around Cambridge Heath Road, with the anti-clockwise starting point being The Florist Arms, a short walk from Bethnal Green tube station, the Bethnal Green Beer Mile takes in some of the area’s finest breweries, taprooms, pubs, bars and beer gardens. At some of the breweries along the route, you can even book on to guided tours of the premises that offer a behind-the-scenes look at the beer-making process.

You can book an East London Brewery Tour at Viator

Find your inner zen 

It’s easy to imagine that many of Bethnal Green’s previous, somewhat rough and ready, inhabitants may not have entirely approved of the London Buddhist Centre. Nonetheless, the venue, which sits on the site of a former Victorian fire station, is today a major gathering place for those interested in the practises and values of the Buddhist religion, with a busy daily programme of yoga, meditation, and courses relating to matters of peace, enlightenment and health.

51 Roman Road / Mon-Fri 10am-7.15pm Sat 10am-5pm Closed Sun

An exterior shot of the London Buddhist Centre (Photo: Robert Scarth via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Enjoy a night to remember

For a unique night out, the historic Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club is a sure-fire way to experience the very best the area has to offer when it comes to kitsch, offbeat entertainment. Whether your predilection is for comedy, dance, cabaret, poetry, panto or burlesque, the venue puts on a busy and diverse roster of quirky shows and events – many featuring local performers – that ensures there’s something to suit every taste. And despite its rather antiquated name, rest assured that the club welcomes both genders with open arms.

42-44 Pollard Row / Weds 7.30pm-11.30pm Thurs 8pm-1am Fri-Sat 8pm-2am Closed Sun-Tues

Pay your respects at a WWII memorial

During World War II, Bethnal Green tube station was used as a deep level shelter, with a capacity of up to 10,000 people. On 3 March 1943, an air raid siren went off and locals made their way to the tube. What followed was the worst British civilian disaster of the war, a tragic event that in 2009 was commemorated with the creation of a memorial sculpture outside Bethnal Green Tube Station. Those who wish to pay their respects can visit the Stairway to Heaven Memorial, and to learn more about the East End during the war there are also also guided tours that takes you to other notable locations of historical interest complete with expert commentary.

You can book on to a WW II Blitz Tour at GetYourGuide

Catch some live comedy

It may be a fair few miles from the bright lights of the West End, London’s entertainment heartland, but Bethnal Green boasts its own prestigious performance venue – with the pleasing addition of East End prices.  The Backyard Comedy Club has played host to some of Britain’s finest comedy acts since opening back in 1998, as well as a sprinkling of notable international names including American comic Dave Chappelle. Along with live comedy, the club also stages regular variety shows, cabaret, swing dancing nights, and assorted charity events.

231 Cambridge Heath Road / Thurs-Sat 6pm-12am Sun-Tues 6pm-11pm Weds 6pm-11.30pm 

A live stage performance at The Backyard Comedy Club (Photo: The Backyard Comedy Club)