Sandwiched between Liverpool Street, trendy Shoreditch and the City, Spitalfields in London’s East End buzzes with suits during the week and hipsters on weekends.
The area was rural until the Great Fire of London in 1666, after which a market formed on the spot where Spitalfields market exists today. The market’s success attracted Huguenots fleeing persecution in France in the 1680s, followed by Irish labourers escaping the potato famine in the mid-1700s and east European Jews escaping Polish pogroms at the turn of the 1800s. Since then, the area has been popular with the Bangladeshi community.
It’s now in its next phase, with new flats popping up and a vibrant atmosphere, especially on a Sunday when the streets around the market come alive with entertainers and food vendors.
Dennis Severs’ House
A ticking clock, a half-eaten home-cooked meal and lit only by candlelight, Dennis Severs’ House is staged to look, sound and smell as if former residents left the room just moments before. Created by the late American artist Dennis Severs, this Grade II-listed townhouse gives visitors the chance to enter a time capsule in the form of 10 rooms decorated as they would have been between 1724 and 1919, when a family of Huguenot silk-weavers lived here.
Old Spitalfields Market
Old Spitalfields Market is a Victorian covered market, built in 1876. Open daily, it has permanent shops and restaurants as well as a range of stalls to explore. You’ll find vintage collectables and antiques on Thursdays and clothes, arts and crafts on Fridays, as well as a record fair on the first and third Friday of the month. Saturdays offer a different theme each week, while on Sundays stallholders sell a little bit of everything. Look out for jewellery made from old cutlery at Fork Out and vegan wraps from Rainforest Creations—they’re amazing.
Even if you haven’t read Monica Ali’s novel “Brick Lane”, you should still visit this mile-long street. It’s lined with independent shops, galleries, bars and restaurants, many of which specialise in Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine. Sunday’s the best day to go, as it comes alive with markets selling new and vintage clothes, second-hand furniture, books, art and jewellery. Don’t miss the weekend Boiler House Food Hall in the Old Truman Brewery, which is packed with stalls serving dishes from all over—why not try, Ethiopian, Polish or Korean? One way to enjoy the area’s street art is on a guided walking or bike tour with Alternative London.
You’ll find Whitechapel Gallery at the south end of Brick Lane. It originally opened in 1901 with the aim of bringing great art to the people of East London—in fact Picasso’s masterpiece “Guernica” was displayed here for the only time in Britain. The gallery still specialises in contemporary and 20th-century art, plus regular special events. Although there isn’t a permanent collection, the venue comprises many small galleries which each hold a temporary exhibition—it promises to be varied.
Spitalfields City Farm
Goats, pigs, ferrets and Bayleaf the donkey are among the cute animals you can visit at this city farm. It’s set in lovely gardens, a haven for wild flowers. Look out for special events, from goat racing to sheep shearing. Don’t forget to pop in to the shop to buy some local honey and seasonal goodies before you leave. Tue-Sun 10 am-4 pm. Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, E1 5AR. 020 7247 8762.
Head slightly further north and you’ll reach this charming “Museum of the Home.” The Geffrye displays the history of English homes and furnishing, where you’ll walk through period rooms from the 17th to the 20th centuries, a journey from oak panelling through eclectic Victoriana to modernity. It’s set in 18th-century almshouses, open several times a month, which housed London’s poor and elderly. There’s also a peaceful garden including a walled herb garden. Its annual exhibition, “Christmas Past: 400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes” is a seasonal favourite (late Nov-early Jan).