Thanks to having friends in East London who are always very generous with offering me a bed at the weekend, I have been spending a lot of time in the East End over the past year or so. I love this area of London; it’s so vibrant and interesting, and there is always something new to see and do every time I visit. I really appreciate the fact that it is a real cultural melting pot, and always has been. Despite its traditional working class roots, the East End has attracted immigrants throughout London’s history, and though it is now mostly known for its Asian influences, predominantly due to the fantastic array of curry houses on Brick Lane, it also has a rich Jewish heritage that can still be found if you know where to look. These days it is rapidly gentrifying and is a mecca for young urban professionals, who love the wide array of independent shops, cafes, markets, clubs and bars available on its streets, as well as its lively art scene.
Thankfully, the gentrification hasn’t scrubbed away all of its character, and I love the constant juxtaposition of graffiti and crumbling old shop fronts sitting side by side with new glass office buildings, restored Victorian pubs and bustling streets of market stalls. What is most magical, however, is the incredible array of beautiful Georgian architecture that has somehow managed to remain intact. Around Spitalfields Market, there are streets of stunning terraces that would almost convince you that the clocks had turned back three hundred years, if you couldn’t see cranes and high-rise towers in the distance. Nearby St Leonard’s Church, which had a starring role in the hilarious BBC series Rev and is one of the most beautifully decrepit churches I have ever seen, is a fantastic example of Wren-inspired architecture and provides some fascinating evidence of Shoreditch’s artistic heritage. It seems that creative types have long been attracted to this area, with Shakespeare starting his career in the theatres that were once located on its streets, and the church contains the remains of a host of Shakespearian actors who were buried there before it was rebuilt.
The best part about Shoreditch is how fantastic it is to visit on a Sunday. You can go and shop for flowers on Columbia Road, and peruse the independent shops that are filled with an array of interesting finds, before wandering down to the UpMarket on Brick Lane, where there are stalls selling everything you can imagine alongside a wonderfully eclectic selection of freshly cooked food from all over the world. You can then finish up at the beautifully restored Spitalfields Market, where there are upmarket shops and restaurants alongside stalls run by independent traders. While walking between these spots, you will pass a huge range of architecture, both ancient and modern, and see the blend of tradition and innovation that London is so renowned for. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend, and a better way to see the real heart of the city. If you want to find out more, head over to the wonderful Jane Brocket’s blog, where her Pocket Brocket guide to Shoreditch is free to download, and offers a brilliant array of hints and tips for exploring this glorious patch of the capital.