Situated in London’s historic East End, Bethnal Green has been one of city’s numerous districts to undergo a rather dramatic transformation in recent years. Once a gritty, run-down area, fast-paced regeneration over the past couple of decades has brought with it hipster bars, trendy restaurants, art galleries, and even its own boutique hotel.
As a result of these dramatic changes, Bethnal Green is now a popular stopping off point for visitors to the capital, as well as becoming a highly fashionable place to live for young London professionals. For those who are keen to explore this culturally vibrant neighbourhood, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do here.
Serve time with a drink in hand
Themed watering holes are ten-a-penny in London nowadays, but few are as inventive in their quirkiness as Alcotraz. Truly a bar with bars, the venue renacts 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, comfy seating is provided, and for the price of entry you also get four cocktails of your choice.
LOCATIONS 212 Brick Lane HOURS Tues 6pm-10.15pm Weds-Thurs 6.15pm-10.15pm Fri 5pm-11.15pm Sat 12.30pm-11.15pm Sun 1.45pm-5.45pm Closed Mon
Visit a truly unusual museum
A modern take on the classic Victorian cabinet of curiosities, The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities 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, books and endless other curios. There’s also an on-site bar that specialise in cocktails and absinth.
LOCATION 11 Mare Street, Hackney HOURS Weds-Sun 12pm-11pm Closed Mon-Tues
Enjoy a night to remember
For a unique night out in 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, cabaret, panto or burlesque, the venue puts on a busy and diverse roster of quirky shows and events – with many featuring local performers – that ensures there’s something to suit every taste.
LOCATION 42-44 Pollard Row HOURS Thurs 8pm-1am Fri-Sat 8pm-2am Closed Sun-Weds
Surround yourself with new furry friends
Cat cafes have been a growing trend across London in recent years and one such feline-themed establishment is Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Bethnal Green. Home to a diverse mix of moggies and pedigrees, the charming venue invites cat-lovers to come and enjoy a cup of tea and a light snack in the company of whiskered cuties. Booking is essential.
LOCATION 152-154, Bethnal Green Road DATES 12pm-6pm Mon-Tues & Thurs-Fri Sat-Sun 10am-6pm Closed Weds
Explore a magical flower market
Without question Bethnal Green’s most eye-catching landmark is the once-a-week Columbia Road Flower Market. Every Sunday, Columbia Road is transformed into a veritable panoply of flowers and plants, with seemingly never-ending rows of stalls peddling an assortment of colourful, scented wares. Venture beyond the market and the area is also dotted with other alluring shops and stalls selling vintage clothes, antiques, and plenty more.
LOCATION Columbia Road DATES Sun 8am-3pm Closed Mon-Sat
Relive your childhood memories
A sister venue to the iconic Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, the V&A Museum of Childhoodis one of Bethnal Green’s most distinguished cultural venues. Featuring a huge collection of kid-themed exhibits, including clothing and toys back centuries, as well as daily interactive events and activities, the venue makes for a fascinating afternoon visit for both adults and children alike.
LOCATION Cambridge Heath Road HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5.45pm
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.
LOCATION Newtown, Wellington DATES 51 Roman Road
Immerse yourself in an orgy of tequila-based fun
For one night each year, the Star of Bethnal Green turns the beer taps off and gives itself over to an orgy of tequila-based fun at the area’s annual Tequila Festival. As well as trying out an exciting range of tequilas, there’s also the chance to meet suppliers, learn about the tequila-production process, eat deliciously paired food, and listen to some great tunes courtesy of a live Mexican Mariachi band.
LOCATION The Star of Bethnal Green, 359 Bethnal Green Road DATES February each year
Check out a living museum of pugilism
The East End of London has always been a fertile breeding ground for top class boxers and at the epicentre of this rich heritage has been Repton Boxing Club. Once frequented by the notorious Kray gangsters, the club invites visitors to come and learn about the history of the sport in the East End, admire boxing posters plastered across the walls, see fascinating memorabilia including vintage punching bags, and get a first-hand (or should that be ‘fist’?) insight into boxing’s enduring importance in the area today.
LOCATION 116 Cheshire Street
Get stuck into a classsic British dish
When it comes to cuisine, a Full English fry-up is about as quintessentially British as you can get, and Bethnal Green has a long history of establshments that serve up the iconic dish. Among the most renowned is E Pellicci, a much-loved, family-run café featuring an eye-catching Art Deco interior and an always cheerful and friendly set of staff waiting to fill your stomach with hearty grub.
LOCATION 332 Bethnal Green Road HOURS Mon-Sat 7am-4pm Closed Sun