London is huge, and whilst you might know your London Eye from Buckingham Palace, here’s the best of London from my end.
I grew up in East London and my friends and I have been exploring the city from a young age. Rather self-indulgently, we always used to complain about those who took this city for granted. “Ugh” we said “there’s so much more to this place than bloody Wanstead.” (Side note: Wanstead is actually a really nice suburb on the East of the Central line. If you like gentrified high-streets with a Gail’s Bakery, charity shops galore, a slew of boutiques and at least four supermarket chains then it’s definitely a contender for ‘places I want to settle down and start a family with but might be renting for an eternity’).
All the same, Wanstead isn’t exactly the most exciting spot that London has to offer, so we made a commitment to hopping on the central line every weekend to martial the rest of the city’s parameters. Think of it as something out of the Great Escape on Channel 4, replacing the Z-list celebs and phone-tracking for a bunch of over-confident teens, huddling over their phones and screaming directions at one another.
Because we considered ourselves such determined explorers, I have found it impossible to come up with a concentrated list of things I would recommend. In my mind’s eye, East London is not just the adjacent stops of Wanstead and Leytonstone. This covers a radius that is too small, and is an offence to the manoeuvrability that the tube affords us. Therefore, I have created three subcategories (food, pubs and parks) that you cannot miss out on if you are in the East End. Even better is that they are all within thirty minutes tube-ride of each other.
“Think of it as something out of the Great Escape on Channel 4, replacing the Z-list celebs and phone-tracking for a bunch of over-confident teens”
When I think of food, I immediately think of Brick Lane. This was the place where all the trendy people in the year above went to shop for vintage at Rokit and Beyond Retro. We soon realised that the vintage was badly handled and overpriced, and that the food venders were the real catch. Brick Lane’s Bagel shops are one of London’s worst kept secrets, so it’s good that they are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Yup, that’s not a spelling error, you can stumble down to the bakery at 4am and waffle down a freshly toasted salmon and cream cheese bagel if you’re so inclined.
“An urban regeneration project that houses a variety of food vendors and cute boutiques in one giant container”
Brick Lane also has a parade dedicated to Indian restaurants and while you may find tastier Indians elsewhere, it’s worth going for the novelty experience. Expect restaurant managers waving their menu in your face, and a too-good-to-be-true drinks deal that starts as a free beer and ends as a quarter-pint glass of lukewarm kingfisher, though.
Outside of Brick Lane, there’s a much more sophisticated Indian chain situated five minutes walk away from Liverpool Street station. It’s called Dishoom, and anyone who is anyone goes there. Don’t let this put you off, as the prices are surprisingly cheap and they produce some of the most innovative takes on traditional Indian cooking out there. Their house black dahl is a must. For those willing to walk a bit further, try Box Park, an urban regeneration project that houses a variety of food vendors and cute boutiques in one giant container. You can find pretty much anything here, but I would recommend the vegan kebab joint What The Pitta. I wasn’t convinced that kebabs could be 1) made or 2) taste good, without meat, but this place has shown that anything is possible.
If you can avoid the increasing number of start-up pubs that try way too hard to be rustic and trendy at the same time, then London’s portfolio of public houses is second to none. In either case, a pint will usually set you back between £3.50 to £5, so if you’re on a budget then Wetherspoons is a good place to start. I like to think that our local spoons, The George, is one of the chain’s better examples. It’s certainly renowned in the area for being the best place for a big get-together, and you’d be a fool to spend a Christmas Eve in anywhere other than this place.
“Community feel? Check. Cosy? Check. Great atmosphere? Bags of the stuff.”
Aside from Wanstead’s game-changer, The Half Moon in Mile End is another Spoons that’s worth a pint-stop. Hiking up the price a little, I couldn’t talk about London’s pubs without mentioning The Royal Oak in Bethnal Green. It’s well worth the walk from the station and is situated along Columbia Road (where you’ll find me on the last Wednesday before Christmas for their carol sing-a-long and late-night shopping).
Inside, the walls are covered in a gorgeous mahogany wood, and the seating hugs the bar area positioned in the centre of the restaurant. I don’t want to use the term beautiful, because when I think of a good pub I actively avoid associating it with some worthy aesthetic ideal, but it ticks off the boxes for what a proper British pub should be. Community feel? Check. Cosy? Check. Great atmosphere? Bags of the stuff. If you’re committed to doing a crawl of the East, might I suggest stopping off at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch if live bands are your thing, and The Red Lion in Leytonstone if beer gardens are a must.
“Thankfully, all remains of the discarded Lambrini bottles and fag ends from Richmond Menthols of our youth are no longer visible.”
London is an international city, and you’re bound to meet people from all over the globe. I have lost count of the number of newcomers who have remarked that the sheer volume of green spaces in London is what sets this city apart from metropolises like New York, Melbourne and Paris. Their observations are bang-on and the East is replete with parks for walking the dog, commuting to work, or a leisurely Sunday stroll.
My local is Wanstead Park, a gorgeous 140 acres of tumbling woodlands that serves as a great escape from the city buzz. Thankfully, all remains of the discarded Lambrini bottles and fag ends from Richmond Menthols of our youth are no longer visible. (Don’t let that put you off, they keep this place in spick and span). Closer to the centre is Victoria Park, or as we like to call it ‘Vicky Park’ in Mile End.
This mighty patch of land was opened to the public in 1845 (!) and if you’re lucky, you can eavesdrop on a weekly cricket match or a game of tennis if you’re there at the right time of day. I’d highly recommend checking out The Pavillion Café onsite for a stonkingly good fry-up with a view overlooking the lake. For those who are fanatic about sport, or in the mood for a shopping spree (overdraft permitting), make your way to the easterly corner of Vicky Park, where you’ll find a passageway that leads to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (bring you swimming gear if you want to sample the Olympic pool that is open to the public) and Westfields (one of the largest urban shopping centres in Europe).
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