Shoreditch’s rough-and-ready neighbour Bethnal Green has managed to remain an authentically East End ’hood despite the steady spread of gentrification. For every new coffee shop and cocktail bar that crops up in the area, you’ll find a family-run restaurant and a traditional boozer not far away.
Bag some bargain blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market
East London’s vibrant Sunday flower market is a local favourite. Here, you can barter with market stall merchants for everything from houseplants and fresh bouquets to succulents and seeds. Columbia Road is well worth a visit from Monday to Saturday, too: the lack of Sunday crowds leaves you free to wander the street’s many independent businesses, including art galleries, antique stores, homeware boutiques and even an old-school sweet shop.
Take a trip down memory lane at the V&A Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood is London’s most nostalgic museum, showcasing dollhouses, action figures, teddy bears and various other childhood objects dating as far back as the 1700s. Alongside its permanent collections, Bethnal Green’s toy museum hosts film screenings, workshops for kids and inspiring exhibitions. Admission is free.
Run by the same family for over a century, this much-loved café on Bethnal Green Road is a must for breakfast or lunch – even if just for the cool Art Deco interior. The place is small and always busy, but known for its incredibly friendly, hospitable atmosphere. You’ll leave with a smile on your face and, if you’re lucky, some free bread-and-butter pudding.
Get rowdy (and raunchy) at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club
Gastropub, Nightclub, Pub Grub, $$$
A working men’s club since 1887, this East End institution remains London’s go-to spot for a night of proper entertainment. With a roster of offbeat events ranging from comedy and cabaret to panto and burlesque, the club proudly supports local performers and creatives, as long as it’s a party worth throwing. Head here for everything kitschy and kinky – just leave your pretensions at the door.
Down the road from Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club is London Buddhist Centre, the perfect place to cleanse your chakra after all that debauchery. Offering drop-in yoga classes, meditation and mindfulness courses and even creative writing workshops and film nights, the centre is a tranquil respite from city living.
If you’re looking for bona fide East End grub, look no further than G Kelly. An acclaimed pie shop serving up jellied eels, classic meat pies and mashed potatoes, head here for hearty meals that will fill you up without emptying your purse.
This Bethnal Green comedy club is one of London’s best, biggest and longest-standing comedy venues, and is owned by British stand-up and TV regular Lee Hurst. Big names and bright newcomers take to the stage almost every night of the week, and customers are free to enjoy table football, ping-pong and board games. It’s the perfect place for a cheap and cheerful evening out.
Test your knowledge at The Star of Bethnal Green’s quiz
Pub, Pub Grub, Vegetarian, $$$
A friendly, modern boozer that’s become a hit with E2’s bright young things, The Star of Bethnal Green is a must-visit for its Tuesday quiz night. With a boisterous quizmaster and extra points available for dancing during the music round, the quiz night is a regular on lists of the best things to do in London. The pub’s bottomless brunch and raucous karaoke room also draw in locals.
Go to Repton Boxing Club and learn about the history of the sport
A legendary old boxing gym once frequented by the Kray twins, Repton Boxing Club allows visitors to learn about the history of boxing in the East End and get a first-hand insight into its modern-day significance. It’s housed in a Victorian bathhouse, and you’ll find walls adorned with boxing posters dating back to the ’50s, framed photographs, vintage punching bags and, of course, a huge boxing ring.
Of all the new cocktail bars opening in the area, Coupette is the slickest of the bunch. It was set up by former head bartender at the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar, Chris Moore. Expect immaculately concocted drinks using regional French liqueurs and a menu of classic French dishes, including confit duck leg and croque-monsieur.