If you like your London with a bit of edge, then you’ve got to see the Shoreditch street art. The neighborhood is ground zero for a global street art movement that has attracted both local and international talent. The murals and graffiti in Shoreditch coat the neighborhood with edgy, political, ever-changing spash of paint.
Shoreditch was first settled by brick makers (1600’s) followed by waves of immigration from the Huguneots (1700’s weaving), then the Eastern European Jews (1800’s tailoring and rag trade) and then the Bangladeshis (1900’s restaurateurs). This history has given the neighborhood a hard-working, gritty edge.
Street art tends to flourish in neighborhoods with economic adversity or an immigrant culture and Shoreditch is no exception. A creative class has emerged in the neighborhood and it has become a fertile ground for graffiti and street art.
Learn more about Shoreditch’s history here.
Brick Lane Street Art
The global origins of street art stem from the 1980’s graffiti culture. Graffiti and tagging started out as a territorial pissing contest but by the 1990’s it had evolved into artistic movement. Like the street art in Buenos Aires, Belfast and San Francisco, Brick Lane has become a hub for street art. In all of these cities, the street art expresses the neighborhood’s history, culture and modern sensibilities. But Brick Lane’s murals are particular to London and the way that the murals interact within their space is unique.
For instance, in Buenos Aires there is a reverence for for the pieces. They stay up for the long term and there is an unspoken agreement among muralists and taggers not to cover up each other’s work. But the Brick Lane murals tends to layer over one another with one artist adding onto or covering up the work of another. Sometimes this is done in the spirit of post-facto collaboration but sometimes it is done as a statement of disapproval of the previous artist’s work.
The walls (and street signs and doors) are not sacred. You can visit the parking lot below which is covered in murals. But return a month later, and you might see something completely different.
While you are in Shoreditch, you can see more than street art with these other 19 cool, quirky and foodie things to do there.
Street Art Elsewhere in Shoreditch
Brick Lane proper is just one of many spots where you can find Shoreditch street art. You can wander all over the neighborhood finding pieces down alleyways and up the sides of buildings. If you are doing a self-guided street art tour, be sure to stop by Holywell Lane. It’s located about six blocks northwest of Brick Lane. In the grand tradition of unimaginative place names, Holywell was established in 1158 with a holy well and a nunnery.
It’s hardly a crusty old nunnery now and the street art there has a very modern sensibility. You can also find additional pieces by walking up and ducking down alleys off of Shoreditch High street and Great Eastern street.
While you are wandering around, stop into the Unit 5 Gallery. It’s run by Gary, who also gives the Alternative London tours noted below. He lives on Brick Lane and personally knows the street artists working in Shoreditch. The gallery showcases original art and sculpture by world class street artists. The gallery also acts as a liaison between the artists and building owners to commission pieces.
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Shoreditch Street Art Tours
You can see plenty of street art in Shoreditch walking around on your own, but you’ll get more context for it with a tour.
- Quick tour and overview of Shoreditch. This guided tour is 2 hours long and provides a quick overview of the history of Shoreditch as well as a look as some of the key areas in the neighborhood for street art. It’s a good introduction that you can use as a base for exploring on your own.
- A deeper dive private tour. This 4 hour private tour is specifically focused on street art photography. It’s run by a professional photographer and throughout the tour, you’ll get photography tips. It’s more expensive than a group tour, but you’ll get personalized attention and be able to go at your own pace.
- Make your own street art. Alternative London runs a variety of Shoreditch street art tours. They offer 2 hour bike and walking tours but you should really do their street art workshop. It’s a 4 hour event that combines a street art tour with the opportunity to make your own street art in their gallery.
Read up on Street Art
- Get the Lonely Planet global guide to street art.
- Get the world atlas to street art and graffiti.
- Check out my street art posts for Chicago, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, San Diego, Belfast, Los Angeles and Cuba.
- And here’s even more of best European cities for street art.
- Join the @StreetArtChat hosted on Twitter on the last Monday of every month.
This piece is meant to serve as an inspiration for you to visit London and see the Shoreditch street art. The pieces there are edgy, exciting and most of all…evolving. So go now…and then go again next year. That’s what I’ve done and I know that I’ll be back. Happy mural hunting.
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