East London: The Insider's Guide
Fancy a hip little mini-break to look forward to in January? Try heading off the beaten tourist track in East London...
It's one of the world's major cities.
It's close by, and with Irish people living and working there than you can shake a stick at, London has almost become a home away from home.
As with many big cities, however, there's often an instinct to play it safe, stay in the well-trodden areas and spend a fortune in the process. These days though, East London is where it's at.
Within the sound of the Bow Bells, where cockneys and hipsters reign supreme, it's the graffitied streets of Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston that are proving popular...
Where to stay...
The Hoxton Hotel is a very interesting place.
A ten minute walk from Liverpool Street Station (where the Stansted Airport Express drops you, handy if you're flying with Ryanair), it's a completely different hub depending on what time of day you arrive. For example, if you roll up at 2pm on a Tuesday you might think it's a very chilled and professional sort of establishment. Arrive after 7pm on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday though, and you'll find hordes of fabulous, trendy people drinking and chatting around the entire reception, while a DJ spins and cocktail bartenders create concoctions.
You may have to shout a little to check in, but the vibe is infectious.
The decor is warehouse chic with a retro edge, so think steel and industrial elements with woven cushions and old books. The furniture is so cool you'll want it for your own house, the beds are comfy and all the rooms are the same size, so you won't feel like a pleb. A very nice touch is the small breakfast hanging outside your door each morning - a banana, yoghurt and orange juice (plus tea, coffee and fresh milk in your room) will set you up for the day.
It's a genuine hotspot, and with double rooms from £69-£229 depending on availability in December and January, it won't break the bank either. www.thehoxton.com
Read more: Take Three: Unusual London hotels
Where to eat and drink...
As eating is the hip thing du jour, it's not surprising that a lot of the action in East London revolves around that very pursuit. Let's start with that most important meal of the day - brunch. Everywhere does it, but it's so popular that there are queues around the block.
The trendiest eatery for this meal is The Breakfast Club, which has two branches nearby - Hoxton and Shoreditch High Street. Expect to queue for at least 20 minutes at either, but it's worth it. Delicious egg dishes, sandwiches, pancakes, coffee and cocktails, big portions, good value and super cool surroundings. We liked the Fraggle Rock wallpaper in the loos especially.
For a late lunch or early dinner, get thee to The Diner for burgers, hot dogs and blue plate specials with a side of booze - there's one off Shoreditch Hight Street and a branch in the Old Spitalfields market. Or if it's a more tourist-y experience you're after, book in at Duck & Waffle. The glass building is next to the Gherkin, and the views from the 40th floor across London are pretty spectacular. It's open and serves food and drinks 24/7.
Street food is incredibly popular in London with markets and pop ups seemingly on every corner. If you've a Saturday free, head to Borough Market (above) just across the river to the South. There are stalls selling everything from cheese to cakes to paella to pork both to eat there and take away, and every second person is carrying a disposable prosecco snipe or a mulled wine. It's nice and festive, but can get very busy.
We stumbled across the Brick Lane Boiler House food market with full tummies and we were raging because everything smelled and looked amazing - food from the Carribbean, the Middle East, Asia and pretty much everywhere else in an array of stalls along this hipster haven.
If it's a nice dinner out you're looking for, you won't go far wrong with Pizza East. Sticking with the converted warehouse vibe, it's packed and buzzy, and does a mean line in modern Italian food. It ain't cheap, but then few places are in London.
If it's a party you're after, Barrio East is the place to be, a tropical themed nightclub with banging tunes and the people who go to see and be seen. If it's something more low key you're after, try the Queen of Hoxton pub, or drinks at the Ace Hotel.
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Where to shop...
Brick Lane (above) is an amazing lair of vintage finds, flea markets and cool shops like Beyond Retro and Absolute Vintage. Homewares, clothes, trinkets and artisan prints are all readily available, and who doesn't love bartering with a true Cockney?
Go on a Sunday, start your day at the gorgeous Columbia Road Flower Market and then wander down to the old fashioned end of the Lane. It's reminiscent of Dublin's Thomas and Meath Streets in D8, but just that little bit more recently gentrified.
Continue your mosey, stopping off here and there until you reach the Old Spitalfields Market. It's indoors, has come cool restaurants (like the aforementioned Diner) and proper shops if the market stalls get too much for you - this is where popular store All Saints started out.
Fly to London Stansted with Ryanair, or Heathrow with Aer Lingus and connect to East London via express train, bus or tube.
Read more: The world's hippest 'hoods...
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent