I love exploring big city neighborhoods. I always seek out the major attractions for photo ops, but I usually prefer wandering the places where people live, work, and eat.
We stopped in London for a few days in August at the start of our summer European adventure with no plans, other than a local history tour (post coming soon) and did just that.
I had put off finding a place to stay until a few weeks before the trip (bad idea at the height of tourist season!), so we wound up booking a dingy, AirBnb apartment with a mystery roommate who never even came out to say hi. It certainly wasn’t our worst AirBnb experience, plus it was cheap and in what turned out to be a fantastic neighborhood, just a block from the Aldgate East tube stop on the east end of London. We were able to walk to a lot of interesting neighborhoods, most of which were off the usual tourist track.
Here’s are some of the eclectic London neighborhoods we found, in photos.
Aldgate + Whitechapel:
This was the view from our Airbnb apartment in the wonderfully diverse Aldgate neighborhood–the guy we rented from was Chinese, our mystery roommate was apparently a Brazilian college student, and most of the tenants in the complex were Pakistani or Bangladeshi. The global scents wafting from the other apartments at dinner time was amazing! Also, the place had a view of one of London’s most revered modern structures, “The Gherkin.”
Our apartment was near the Petticoat Lane Market which specializes in new and used clothing and accessories. A few vendors set up on pedestrian-only Wentworth Street Monday through Friday, but on Sunday it expands to all the neighboring streets, hosting more than 1,000 stalls. It was an interesting mix of trendsetters and bargain-hunters.
The Aldgate and neighboring Whitechapel area has lots of centuries-old buildings, and walking the streets at night is a step back in time. In the 1880’s, Jack the Ripper roamed these streets and committed some of his bloody crimes. Bus loads full of tourists come into the neighborhood each night for organized “Jack The Ripper Tours,” which apparently the locals hate.
We didn’t do the controversial Jack the Ripper tour, but we popped into Ten Bells, a neighborhood pub dating to 1851 that was frequented by two of Jack the Ripper’s victims. Today it’s a comfortable local bar–good beer, good food.
Street art in the Aldgate neighborhood.
Our apartment was just a few blocks away from London’s Financial District and some of the city’s most recognizable modern structures like “The Gherkin” (30 St Mary Axe) and the Lloyd’s of London building.
Just next door was the historic Leadenhall Market, full of fancy gourmet shops, bars and restaurants catering to the after-work finance crowd.
Brick Lane is a hip street in Bethnal Green, East London. I’d visited the neighborhood a few years ago on a street art tour of the East End, and I was happy to wander into the neighborhood again.
The street is home to The Old Truman Brewery complex, a popular marketplace with food trucks, hip restaurants, and art galleries.
I couldn’t pass up the line outside of Beigel Bake, a Jewish-style bagel shop that has clearly been in the neighborhood for ages. We picked up a few bagels, including their famous salt beef, and ate them in a neighborhood park.
A few doors down, I spotted one of those bizarre, hipster spots that I remember seeing cross my Pinterest feed once: Cereal Killer Cafe, where you can buy bowls of cereal–choosing from one of 120 packaged cereals from around the world, or even mix and match the cereals in your bowl (gross…)
It started to rain at one point while we were walking around, and we decided to hop on a double-decker city bus and go wherever it went…
Brixton is a diverse community on the south side of that’s long been the center of London’s African-Carribean community, music, arts, nightlife, and struggles for social and racial justice. The weekly Brixton Market was open when we were there and I enjoyed browsing the global food products and chatting up the market owners at a Ghanian food market.
We also popped into The Craft Beer Company to check out their long menu of European and global (including lots of West Coast U.S.) craft beers. The first beer I asked to try, turned out to be from a young brewery that I’d never heard of in Santa Cruz, California–25 miles from home!
One of my favorite mornings was the one we spent walking around Hampstead Heath, a large public park and one of the highest points in London.
With views like this, we could see right away why the park is a popular weekend destination for couples and families.
The surrounding brownstone neighborhoods are lovely, filled with flowers, and very British.
Kevin’s a sports addict, but sometimes his crazy attempts to work games into every trip take us to places we would never visit otherwise. We made the trek out to Tottenham, a working-class northern suburb (25 minutes by train) to catch a Tottenham Hotspur soccer match.
I’m not a big sports fan, but soccer games are always fast-paced and fun. And I love to hear the roar of the fans!
And there was a fight. That always makes things fun…
Have you been to London? What are your favorite neighborhoods?