The writer enjoys the ambiance of the Leadenhall Market in winter. // © 2011 Gabrielle Hendren
Brick Lane is lined with curry restaurants and fun shops selling traditional Muslim clothing. // © © 2011 Gabrielle Hendren
Northeast London has been, in my opinion, greatly underappreciated in travel books. Because of this, many visitors have spent their entire trips within the confines of Central London. This is, however, all about to change when the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games take place there.
The recently gentrified Shoreditch area of East London is a melting pot of young, artsy people coming from a variety of backgrounds. A stroll through its colorful shops and lively markets makes for an inspiring Sunday afternoon. What follows, in no particular order, are my favorite ways to pass the time in this up-and-coming section of London.
An Architectural Gem
Start the day off at the Leadenhall Market. This covered market, located on Gracechurch Street, has been a London landmark since the 14th century. Opening at 7 a.m., it specializes in fresh food and is host to a variety of cheese shops, butchers and florists.
While most of the original market was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, the current structure reflects the talents of Sir Horace Jones, the architect behind the Billingsgate and Smithfield markets. Red brick, Portland stone, cobbled alleyways and green, maroon and cream arches help add to its appeal. It is a particularly special scene around the holidays, as you sip mulled wine and listen to live jazz music.
What used to be the heart of London’s Jewish community is now a lively hub of multicultural restaurants and shops. Brick Lane, a cobblestone street where pedestrians are free to walk completely undisturbed by cars, is lined with curry restaurants and fun shops selling traditional Muslim clothing and even Halal cosmetics. There is a distinctive international feel here, and you can be certain that any of its restaurants will provide an affordable, yet authentic, feast.
I highly recommend walking along the vibrant and artistic areas surrounding Brick Lane. Galleries, restaurants, markets and festivals flood the streets, catering to London’s edgier crowd.
The Old Truman Brewery located at 91 Brick Lane, for example, hosts a market every Sunday where local designers on the rise may sell their clothes, handbags and jewelry. You can also shop in some of the area’s many textile shops, particularly those selling African cloth.
Bargain Shoppers’ Delight
Spitalfields has hosted immigrant populations for centuries, as testified by its 18th-century French-style houses built by the Protestant Huguenots who fled to England to escape persecution. London’s oldest market, Old Spitalfieds Market, is located on Commercial Street and still features stalls and shops operating year-round. Sunday, however, is the best day to visit the market as vintage clothes, crafts and food stalls beckon bargain shoppers. In fact, strolling through the marketplace and people-watching at one of the many cafes would be a lovely way to spend the day.
The Real Deal
Stop for a snack at the first bagel joint in London, dubbed the Beigel Shop in respect to its Yiddish roots. The smoked salmon and salt beef — what Americans refer to as corned beef — with spicy English mustard are delectable toppings for these small, soft and wonderful bagels. As with all delicious local eats, however, there is a competition over who owned the first shop in town. The Beigel Shop and the Beigel Bake battle it out, both claiming to be the original. Regardless of your loyalty, and mine is with the Beigel Shop, you are sure to enjoy a delicious bite. Looking for a late-night snack? Not to worry, both are open 24-hours a day.