After you’ve seen the quintessential sights of London, a detour into less mainstream areas of the region will uncover a groovy array of local art, funky bars and pop-up markets. The following areas have gradually transformed into quirky scenes that are thriving with character, revealing a whole new side of London.
London’s east end is more hip than grit these days. The Brick Lane curry houses are still there, but in between, you’ll find London’s best street art scene along with designer and vintage clothing stores, quirky pop-up bars and cafes – like the Cereal Killer Café, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium and Bounce Ping Pong Bar. It’s also home to a thriving art scene and more than a hundred galleries, including iconic Whitechapel Gallery and its edgy modern art.
For a unique urban shopping experience, head to BoxPark, a shipping container pop-up mall of independent designers, or Old Spitalfields Market, abuzz with ad hoc designer shops and cafes. On the weekends, Brick Lane Market operates out of the old Truman Brewery, selling antiques, clothes and bric-a-brac. For a step back in time and a side of good-natured Cockney ribbing, don’t miss a fry-up at E. Pellicci, the art deco greasy spoon on Bethnal Green Road that’s been in the same family for over a hundred years.
Getting there: London Underground Aldgate Line to Tower Hamlets
South of the Thames and Tower Bridge, this once notorious slum in the borough of Southwark is now a vibrant foodie destination. During the weekends, the Maltby St Market is in full swing, turning the quiet corridor of food and wine providores, antique stores and restaurants along the LASSCO Ropewalk into one of London’s best artisan food and wine markets. A short walk away is Southwark Brewing Company and the start of the Bermondsey Beer Mile, the Saturday tap tour that takes in the handful of microbreweries nestled beneath the railway arches. Just south of the Shard, Bermondsey Street is a treasure trove of chic brasseries, cafes, bars and gastropubs, including The Garrison Public House with its downstairs cinema and the Bermondsey Art Club, a former public toilet turned cocktail bar.
Getting there: London Underground Victoria Line to Bermondsey
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Urban renewal has transformed this melting pot of ethnicities in the heart of South London, once the scene of riots between police and the Afro-Caribbean community, into an exciting and energetic spot. The colourful community vibe and fresh food markets are still here, and along with it, some of London’s best ethnic cuisines.
From noon and well into the evening, Market Village and Market Row are bustling with people and a great mix of restaurants and cafes, eco-friendly clothes, record shops and cheese and charcuterie shops. Nearby, Pop Brixton, a cool hub of repurposed shipping containers, has pop-up food stalls and bars, a community garden, weekend DJs and funky astro turf area for live sports viewing.
For Brixton’s flourishing live music scene (after all, David Bowie and Adele once called the place home), head to Hootananny or Brixton Academy. Beer lovers with time on their hands can learn about brewing and make their own at London Beer Lab.
Getting there: London Underground Victoria Line to Brixton
Best explored by “Boris bikes” (the public bike-sharing scheme named after former lord mayor, Boris Johnson), this leafy East London borough is becoming decidedly hip. The Marksman is here, voted best pub for food by Michelin, while back on Mare Street, a series of cool bars and pubs are popping up, including the quirky taxidermy-filled The Victor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History.
Saturdays, the Broadway Market in Haggerston is the place to go for vintage clothing without the price tag, or a ready-made picnic to share beneath the trees of nearby London Fields while Satan’s Whiskers, back on Cambridge Heath Road, is still shaking some of London’s best cocktails. Twenty minutes south along Regent’s Canal lands you in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, site of the 2012 Olympics. Along the western edge of the park you’ll find cafes, restaurants and art galleries, including Forman’s, a riverside restaurant, bar and smokehouse specialising in Scottish salmon. A short distance and a couple of small bridges away is Crate Brewery & Pizzeria, a cool industrial space on the River Lea serving up craft beers.
Getting there: London Underground Victoria Line to Bethnal Green