Brick Lane, snaking from Bethnal Green towards Whitechapel, is a paradise for bargain hunters, foodies and fashionistas. If you’re heading to Shoreditch, plan to spend some time exploring this iconic East London street. Here’s what to see and do, where to shop, and what and where to eat.
In the heart of London’s East End, this cobbled street was once among the poorest slums in the capital; it became known for brick and tile production in the 15th century. Jews, French Huguenots and Irish immigrants later set up home here before the Bangladeshi-Sylheti community settled in the area and made Brick Lane famous for its curry restaurants. Today, there are more than 20 to choose from, alongside street-food stalls, vintage shopping boutiques, lively bars and independent galleries.
Shopaholics can spend hours rummaging for a unique find in Brick Lane’s vintage shops. Start at the Brick Lane Vintage Market in the Truman Brewery – an eye-boggling treasure trove of fashion from the 1920s to the ’90s. Specialist vintage stalls stock everything from bridal wear to shoes; however, be prepared for crowds at the weekend.
Next, hunt down the nearby entrance to the delightful Tea Rooms – an indoor space packed with vintage clothes, art and even furniture. Even if you’re not buying, its charming café is a must-stop for tea and unbeatable cake.
Rokit is one of the street’s best-known vintage shops, with a well-loved collection of men’s and women’s clothes, including many branded and upcycled items. It also has a huge military collection and a fantastic range of accessories, including sunglasses, bags and hats.
Anyone hunting for big-name designer classics should also make a beeline for Serotonin Vintage, which stocks a curated selection of covetable pieces from the likes of Fendi, Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana.
Finally, trawl through racks of rainbow-coloured designer must-haves, cute vintage sweaters, one-of-a-kind swimwear and elegant printed kimono at Here After, which started as a market stall at the Brick Lane Vintage Market before becoming a stand-alone store.
You won’t go hungry on Brick Lane. From traditional bagel shops to well-priced curry houses and street-food stalls, the road is lined with dining destinations from all over the world. The Indian restaurants are particularly unmissable, whether you prefer value-set meals at the Famous Curry Bazaar or upmarket Bangladeshi fish dishes at Bengal Village.
Vegans are well catered for, too, with a range of cafes, street-food stalls and bakeries selling plant-based nosh. The best of these gather for the monthly Vegan Nights party – a market meets nightclub with more than 40 vegan traders, a huge dance floor and DJs playing reggae, roots, grime and house music.
Hungry for more? Shipping container street-food market Boxpark Shoreditch is just around the corner, with stalls offering Argentinian, Greek, Thai, Italian and Jamaican dishes, to name a few.
Coffee and sweet treats
You’re never far from your next caffeine fix on Brick Lane. The road has become a go-to for those who prefer specialist brews and independent cafes. Many offer far more than a decent flat white and have become community hangouts, galleries and pop-up event spaces.
Café 1001 is all about good coffee, barbecue food and music. As it’s open from 6am until midnight, your morning espresso can turn into a lunchtime burger followed by craft beers in the evening. Expect DJ showcases, lively crowds and a bespoke cocktail bar stocked with premium Japanese whiskies and top-quality gins.
If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, Kahaila is the perfect place to slow down. Aiming to be a cafe with a conscience, it highlights local and ethically sourced ingredients and hosts charity events, and its slabs of sticky cake are some of the best around.
Coffee connoisseurs should head straight to Nude Coffee Roasters on Hanbury Street, which has a roastery, slow-brew and batch-filter options, and a daily brunch menu. You can even book in for a coffee masterclass to learn barista skills to use at home.
Then there’s the Canvas Cafe – a vegan cafe and event space holding free talks on mental health, film screenings and workshops. It’s been named London’s first Happy Café, dedicated to taking positive social action and improving the community with every cup.
Finally, don’t even think about leaving Brick Lane without devouring a Crosstown doughnut. A favourite at street-food markets across London, its Brick Lane outpost is a sugar-fuelled wonderland of home-made cookies, adventurous ice-cream flavours and doughnuts of dreams. Try the chocolate and honeycomb or the decadent peanut butter and blackcurrant compote.
Bars and pubs
There’s not a bland chain pub or soulless cocktail bar in sight on Brick Lane. Instead, drinkers are treated to cosy craft-beer locals, buzzing independent bars and intimate music venues.
Cocktail bar Apples & Pears is a favourite, teaming artisan cocktails with wood-fired pizza, live acoustic sessions, party-starting DJs and a heated courtyard for year-round drinks al fresco. Go before 8pm from Tuesday to Sunday to try one of its signature cocktails for a steal.
When you’re craving a decent pint, the Alice won’t disappoint. A short walk from Brick Lane, the pub has a staggering range of beers, an ever-changing selection of ales and even decent non-alcoholic options. Book in for its ever-popular weekend brunch, which comes with two hours of unlimited drinks.
After starting life as a boutique festival, Big Chill opened a brick-and-mortar bar in 2004 to keep the good times going all year. Inside the Truman Brewery, it’s known for excellent resident DJs, stacked burgers and well-priced drinks.
Meanwhile, the Exit Bar keeps it simple with top-notch burgers, inventive cocktails and off-beat decor. Try a giant Vodka Boom served in a fishbowl, or ask the friendly staff for recommendations. They might even make one just for you if you ask nicely.
Do and see
It’s not difficult to fill a day (or the weekend) on Brick Lane, even if you don’t fancy shopping. Grab a group of friends for a laugh and challenge them to a round of cocktail-fuelled crazy golf in a paint-splattered scrapyard at the Old Truman Brewery. At Junkyard Crazy Golf, there are four courses to choose from, mind-melting UV lights and four bars serving cocktails garnished with party rings and fizzy laces. Who said kids should have all the fun?
Maintain the competitive spirit with a game of bowling at the All Star Lanes – a retro bowling hall where strikes come with a side order of classic American dishes, karaoke rooms and Instagram-worthy cocktails and milkshakes.
For street-food stalls, vintage clothes and upcycled furniture, visit Brick Lane at the weekend to browse pop-up markets and craft stalls. It’s wise to go when it’s a little quieter to make the most of the area’s astonishing street art. Try and spot works by Banksy and D*Face, or book a self-guided tour from Inspiring City to guide you around the gems. Afterwards, visit Brick Lane Gallery, which hosts performances and painting, sculpture, photography and video exhibitions from contemporary and emerging artists.
The nearest tube station to Brick Lane is Aldgate East, but Liverpool Street tube and Shoreditch High Street overground are also within walking distance. Nearby attractions include the green spaces of Allen Gardens, Spitalfields City Farm and Old Spitalfields Market for vintage clothes, antique furniture and vinyl records.
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