I know I say this about everywhere in London (sorry, it’s just a really great place), but Brick Lane is one of my favourite places to spend time. It has an incredible life-force all of its own, which will sweep you down its streets until you realise you have been walking for hours and are laden with shopping bags. With markets, vintage clothing shops, world food, street art, and much, much more, there really is something here for everyone. Located in trendy East London, Brick Lane is also host to a number of the hottest trends in instagrammable foods (think: cronuts, bubble waffles, galaxy donuts and rainbow bagels). However, scratch the surface and you’ll find an incredible, longstanding community of South Asians who have made this particular part of London their home for around 100 years. This also means that you’ll find some of the best curry houses the city has to offer along the so-called “Curry Mile”.
How to get there:
Brick Lane is well connected – Take the tube to either Liverpool Street (Central Line and National Rail), Aldgate East (Hammersmith and City Line), or Shoreditch High Street (Overground), and with a short walk you will find yourself there in no time. There are also several busses that run through the area, so use either Google Maps or Citymapper to plan your route. Tip – Don’t take a taxi if you can help it – a lot of the area is pedestrianised on the weekends, and also full of traffic, so it’s probably the slowest and most expensive means of transport!
What to eat:
Get a Curry
If you happen to look even vaguely hungry or interested in a restaurant’s menu, it’s very likely that you will be approached by restaurant touts. As Brick Lane has so many Indian restaurants, competition is high, so don’t be surprised or put off by the touts – in fact, you can often bargain with them to get a set price for a three course meal, often with a free drink thrown in too! However if you are not interested in that particular restaurant, or have already eaten, don’t be afraid to be firm – otherwise they can be quite pushy.
I’ve tried a lot of restaurants on the curry mile, but am yet to find my firm favourite – they are all pretty good and seem to have similar quality and menus, so don’t be too alarmed when trying to choose (also, it seems like every single one has won thousands of awards – some looking a little more dubious than others). Several are Muslim-owned, and therefore don’t sell alcohol but do offer BYOB, so if you are looking for a cheap way to get some drinks with your food they are a good option.
Along with some cracking vintage markets, Brick Lane has an incredible food market – The Brick Lane Food Hall, with a huge variety of stalls from all around the world. If you are on a budget or low on time, grab some food from the market and eat on the go – you won’t be disappointed.
I always stop in Rajmahal Sweets if I am in the area, as I love trying all the different multi-coloured treats – my favourites are jalebi and burfi. Jalebi is made from dough fried in a coil shape, then dipped in a sugary syrup and is best when freshly made as the middle gets all gooey and sticky – heaven! Burfi are the multi-coloured crumbly cubes, which come in lots of different flavours – my favourites are coconut and pistachio – they are made of ground nuts of coconut, condensed milk and sugar. I recommend just buying one of everything that catches your eye as it’s all super sweet and super delicious!
If your sweet tooth has still not been satisfied, head to Dark Sugars Cocoa House where you can revel in all things chocolate. Founded by one woman and her love for chocolate (my literal life inspiration), this independent company is taking London by storm. For an extra special treat, try one of their famous hot chocolates (let’s face it, a day in Brick Lane is going to be a cheat day, so you may as well do it right!).
Before Brick Lane’s Indian influences, it had a large Jewish community who arrived in the Spitalfields area in the late 19th Century. The only real remnant of this is the two bagel shops next to each other – Beigel Bake and The Beigel Shop. Most East-Londoners have a fierce favourite, and the queues outside the shops speak for themselves – take a pit stop to grab a famous salt beef bagel from both and see which one you prefer! Tip – If you’re looking for a rainbow bagel, you’ll only find them at The Beigel Shop. Also, unfortunately, neither of them do gluten-free options.
What to do:
As a lover of all things brightly coloured and glittery, Brick Lane is my go-to place for clothes shopping, because it is filled with vintage shops and markets bursting with individual pieces. The Vintage (Up)Market is one of the best – a seemingly endless rabbit warren of stalls, each curated to have its own feel. A word of warning – as soon as I step in here, I find myself wanting to buy everything, so come prepared. The Tea Rooms will draw you into an Aladdin’s cave of antiques mixed with vintage clothing, the low ceilings making it feel like you have just stepped into a child’s dressing-up box! It also has a cute little café – perfect for resting those feet after hours of shopping! There is also a huge market that lines the streets on a Sunday, so the options are seemingly endless – my best advice is to just wander around with no fixed agenda, as I still discover new places to this day!
Crazy golf is taking London by storm, and one of the quirkiest out there is Junkyard Golf – with four courses to choose from, along with plenty of bars to ensure that your next drink is never far away, it’s the perfect place to while away a boozy afternoon with friends!
Check out the street art
East London is known for its creative and artistic influences, and Brick Lane is no exception. London is lucky to have one of the most international street art scenes in the world, and you can see it on almost every wall in the area. However, if you want to find the most special pieces, I really recommend taking the Shoreditch Street Art Tour with Dave Stuart – his passion and knowledge about the street art and artists of Shoreditch is absolutely contagious, and leaves you wanting more. He explains the history, technique, culture and with a cry of “tally-ho!”, draws you into the beautiful world of street art. One of the beautiful things about street art is that it is in a constant state of flux, so I absolutely plan on taking another one in a couple of months to see how the scene has changed!
Talk to people
The real beauty of Brick Lane lies in its incredible diversity, and I love nothing more than hearing the stories of people who make up this community. Stop and talk to the market stall owner, the guy playing three different chess games at once, or the girl painting passers-by in oil colours – you are bound to hear some incredible tales!
TL;DR – Food (all the food), vintage clothes and street art – enough to look at to fill a month of Sundays!
Have you been to Brick Lane? Do you have a favourite curry house? Please let me know, I am desperate to find the best one! Any other tips or tricks that I have missed?! Hit me up in the comments!
Want more? Check out my other posts on London:
In the interest of transparency, part of this post was kindly sponsored by Shoreditch Street Art Tours. However, all opinions and recommendations are completely my own and not as a result of any sponsorship!