Shoreditch is hip and hoppin’…and it sure ain’t your Grandma’s London. Grandma’s London is full of old jewels, dusty Royal artifacts and dudes with ridiculously tall hats, but Shoreditch has none of that. Get street smart with these 19 things to do in Shoreditch and take a tour of weird museums, street art, street food, markets and neighborly pubs.
Why is Shoreditch So Street?
Shoredith used to be the industrial engine for London’s economy. Over time the East End has supported the brick and artillery industries (1,600’s), weaving (1,700’s), tailoring and rag trade (1,800’s). Shoreditch’s complicated history includes successive waves of immigration, an economic underclass, Dickensian slums and Jack the Ripper. But the neighborhood has always been an evolving community and there is now the emergence of a creative class in the East End. This creative class has brought street art, street food, markets and an energetic culture that makes the neighborhood a blast to visit.
For more on the history of Shoreditch, check out this historical walking tour.
Top 19 Things to Do in Shoreditch
Figure out what to do in Shoreditch with this street guide for where to go, eat, drink and stay. Skim the whole post or use this handy table of content to skip to what you want.
Weird Museums in Shoreditch
Brick Lane Street Art
Saturday & Sunday Shoreditch Markets
Best Places in Shoreditch for Street Food
4 Cozy Pubs
Great Guided Tours
Where to Stay
Essential Reads for the East End
Weird Museums of Shoreditch
The Geffyre was originally a 18th century almshouse and hospital built to support London’s East End economic underclass. It has been recast as a museum designed to illustrate typical London home life from the 1600’s to present day. It features a series of sitting and living rooms that demonstrate how daily life in London has changed over the centuries.
It might sound weird to tour a museum of living room furniture but I found that the format highlights the life of a typical Londoner. The museum offers a good counterbalance to the wealthy Royal history presented by London’s more popular tourist sites.
Tips for visiting: The nearest tube stops are Hoxton or Old Street. They are typically open Tuesday-Sunday and it’s free.
Dennis Severs Museum
The Dennis Severs museum is one of the strangest things to do in Shoreditch…nay all of London. It is less a museum and more of an art performance piece. Grandma’s historical home tour might visit some grand and polished manor house, but the Severs house is far more gritty and realistic.
Dennis Severs himself lived in the home and designed a series of rooms furnished to represent period living from 1724 to 1914, but the home’s authenticity goes way beyond the furniture. Severs never installed electricity or indoor plumbing in the home, preferring to live….au natural.
The tour is designed to make you feel as if you are lurking in the house while the residents are home. You’ll hear muffled conversations, see actual food on the table and smell aromas in the home as if it were occupied. Nothing is roped off, allowing you to closely study the set pieces. The museum meters visitation so there are never more than a few people in the house at any given time, giving you an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere.
Tips for visiting: You must book ahead. Normal tickets are £15 per person but they sometimes do special events with different fees. The closest tube stop is Liverpool.
Shoreditch Brick Lane Street Art
See Street Art
Street art tends to flourish in neighborhoods with economic adversity or an immigrant culture and Shoreditch is no exception. In the 1600’s, they made bricks on Brick Lane but now the locals make street art. Street art is still (sorta) illegal in London, so the pieces in Brick Lane tend to have a furtive political edge. There is also a layered element to the murals where one artist might add to or cover 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 (above) which is covered in murals. But return a month later, and you might see something completely different. Wander the streets and alleys around Brick Lane and you’ll get an eyeful.
Tips for visiting: Check out this post for a more thorough guide to street art on Brick Lane and suggestions for guided tours.
Visit Unit 5 Gallery
The Unit 5 The gallery is run by Gary who also gives the Alternative London street art tours (noted below in the tour section). Gary 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. They also work as a liaison between the artists and building owners to commission pieces and build collaborations.
Tips for visiting: The gallery is located just north of Colombia road and is open Mon-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 10-4, Sun 12-3.
Saturday & Sunday Shoreditch Markets
The best way to discover any neighborhood is on foot and one of the best things to do in Shoreditch is strolling the weekend markets. Saturday and Sunday in Shoreditch hops with markets featuring flowers, crafts, fashion, vintage items and antiques.
The original charter for Spitalfields market was granted in 1682 and the site sits smack in the center of Shoreditch’s evolving history. Spitalfields started as a series of fruit hawker sheds, evolved into a thriving food market, outgrew itself, then went idle for awhile before being reborn in 2005 as part of an urban renewal project. The market is full of designers and makers selling fashions, vintage items, housewares and kitschy goods.
Tips for visiting: Open everyday 10a-5p, although there are more vendors on Saturday and Sunday. It’s located @ Brushfield two blocks west of Brick Lane. The nearest tube is Liverpool street.
Columbia Road Flower Market
If flowers make you happy, then be sure to visit the Columbia road flower market. The road is blocked off on Sundays for plant and flower sellers. Hidden behind the market is a two block stretch of cute boutiques selling kid’s clothes, jewelry, sustainable designs and antiques.
Tips for visiting: Columbia road is on Hackney (5 mins walk north of Brick Lane). The market is open on Sundays from 8am-3pmish.
Brick Lane Markets
On typical London streets, the right of way does not usually favor the pedestrian. But on Sundays, Brick Lane is closed to traffic. It’s a great way to wander the streets without fearing for your life. The street fills with pedestrians, baked goods, food stalls, used goods purveyors, crafts, jewelry, shoes and clothing. Hung over locals come out to fill up on lunch (with a beer chaser).
Tips for visiting:
- Brick Lane Street Market: located on Brick Lane- Hanbury to Buxton. The market runs Sunday from 10a-5p.
- Brick Lane Upmarket: located in the Old Truman Brewery right on Brick Lane. The market runs Sunday 10a-5p.
The Hoxton market is definitely a local’s market and if you are visiting the Geffyre on a Saturday, you should stop in because it’s only two blocks away. The market has used goods, baked goods, food stalls and an odd assortment of clothing. It’s not a top tourist trap and it’s one of the most authentic things to do in Shoreditch.
While you are there, please stop into the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Store. They offer “service with a snarl” and assorted snacks for feeding your monster. I purchased the “salt made from tears of anger” (smoked salt), but you can also feed your monster with “night terrors” (rainbow candies) or “impacted earwax” (caramels…I hope).
The Monster Supply Store
What’s really going on at the Monster Supply is a brilliant literacy program started by the author Dave Eggers in the US and perpetrated by Nick Hornsby in the UK. The organization inspires kids to become storytellers through literacy workshops. Sales of the night terrors and earwax help to support the nonprofit’s programs.
Tips for visiting: The Hoxton market is open Saturday 10am-4pm. The Monster supply store is open Thur/Fri 1pm-5pm and Saturday 11am-5pm.
Best Places to go in Shoreditch for Street Food
Grandma’s food tour of London might feature crustless cucumber sandwiches chased with a tipple of sherry served in an overly warm room crowded with doilies. Not so with Shoreditch, where the best food is served street-style, a la carte and “in plein air”.
Box Park is a two story pile-up of shipping containers featuring pop-up retail stores and street food. The food offerings range from barbeque, burgers, pasta, Mediterranean, donuts and crepes. The Box Bar helps you wash it all down with beer and mixed drinks. I had a deliciously filling mezze platter from The Athenian paired with a cold beer. The seating area is communal so you and your friends won’t be required to eat from the same booth–just grab what you want and meet up at one of the tables. The Box Park also has a lower level of permanent and pop-up retail stores featuring jewelry, clothes, gifts and eye wear.
Tips for visiting: They are open Mon-Sat 8am-11pm, Sunday 10am-10pm. The place is hoppin’ on weekends and check their schedule for events.
Pop-up food villages
There are several pop-up food truck courts that are semi-regularly located on Shoreditch High Street just north of Box Park. They all have street food, bars, whacky seating, games and loud music. You can get the full variety of street food there and they are a fun but noisy place to hang out and kill and afternoon. The Urban Food Fest is seasonal and runs spring through fall from midday to midnight. The Shoreditch Food Village runs daily 11am-midnight and Block runs noon to 11pm-ish.
Tips for visiting: Just head over to Shoreditch High Street (north of Bethnel Green road) and wander around. Check out all three food courts and pick the one with the best vibe, best bar or best pizza.
Old Truman Brewery- Ely’s Yard
The Old Truman Brewery has been repurposed from an abandoned brewery into a craft market and foodie scene where you can get a beer. In addition to the Upmarket (noted above), they also have a weekend food hall and several fixed restaurants. But the real gem at the Brewery is Ely’s Yard. It’s located in the back lot of the Brewery and it hosts a handful of street food geniuses making hand-crafted fried chicken, pizza and jerk chicken. I had the fried chicken from Cluck Cluck. It took forever to get because it was made from scratch and came out piping hot. It’s the crispiest fried chicken I’ve ever had.
Tips for visiting: Ely’s is open everyday but the times for individual trucks vary. I was there as late as 10pm and they were still serving.
Four Great Pubs in Shoreditch
The beer culture in Shoreditch was created in the 1790’s when the local workers were encourage to “stay healthy” by drinking alcohol. Of course, the neighborhood was an open sewer slum so clean drinking water was unheard of. The process of brewing and the resulting alcohol was sufficient to kill off the bacteria from the bad water so the workers were encouraged to drink four beers a day. While today’s London does have potable water coming from the tap, there’s nothing to prevent you from immersing yourself in East End history with a 4-beer pub crawl.
Pride of Spitalfields
The Pride of Spitalfields is a traditional East End boozer favored by residents of Brick Lane…but visitors can drink there too. They have a great selection of local beers and a snug interior that spills out into the sidewalk on warm nights. The owners of the pub run the bar along with their gigantic fat cat.
Tips for visiting: Located just off Brick Lane on Heneage street.
The Ten Bells
The Ten Bells pub is a Spitalfields institution named for the ringing bell of the nearby Christ Church Spitalfields. It was opened in the 1890’s and still has some of the original interior tiles. They specialize in pulled ales.
Tips for visiting: Located kitty corner from northeast Spitalfields market.
The Princess Pub
The Princess is located on a quiet corner near Old Street. They pride themselves on their food, offering a full dinner menu and a Sunday brunch. In addition to beer, they have a good wine selection and carry local gins.
Tips for visiting: Located just south of Old Street on Paul.
The Old Fountain is a cozy little pub in the western edges of Shoreditch. The pub doesn’t have a fancy history but it’s a very friendly local’s bar that stocks a huge selection of craft beers. Even though the bar is busy, the bartender will take the time to explain what they have on offer and help you select something delicious.
Tips for visiting: Located two blocks north of the Old Street tube station on Baldwin.
If you aren’t drunk enough yet, you can also check out the following pubs for good atmosphere and local brews: the Birdcage, the Well & Bucket pub, the Carpenter’s Arms, the Crown & Shuttle or the Fox & Anchor.
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Great Guided Tours
If you aren’t sure where to start, consider having a guide showing you the best places in Shoreditch. Guided tours can be a great introduction to a neighborhood, giving you the basics from which you can later explore on your own. Here are a few cool tours in Shoreditch worth taking:
- 2.5-hour small group walking tour of Brick Lane street art and Spitalfields offering a good introduction to the neighborhood.
- Indian food features heavily on Brick Lane and this food tour samples Bangladeshi snacks and treats and includes a sit down dinner.
- Take a craft beer tour with Alternative London. The guy running the tours lives on Brick Lane and he know all the best pubs.
Where I Stayed in Shoreditch
My stay in Shoreditch was very kindly hosted by the PointA hotel. London is a pricey hotel market and the PointA has managed to create budget hotels that are cool, well appointed and conveniently located in fun neighborhoods. They had an excellent breakfast selection and the lobby had a spacious area for eating and lounging. The rooms are quite small but ingeniously designed with all manner of little hooks and shelves that will store your stuff very efficiently.
I stayed at the hotel on Paul street and they also have another that’s just across the street from the Dennis Sever’s house. Both are great locations for exploring Shoreditch and close enough to tube stops that will take you everywhere else in the city. Check reviews and book on Trip Advisor or Hotels.com.
Click here for some additional alternative itinerary ideas for London.
Essential Reads for the East End
Get to know Shoreditch before visiting by checking out one of these essential reads.
- The infamous Fagan character from Dicken’s Oliver Twist is said to be based upon a notorious fence who operated in Whitechapel. Indeed many of DIcken’s works featured the East End slums as a major character.
- Monica Ali’s Brick Lane features a Bangladeshi immigrant women torn between her duty and her true love.
- In The Report, Jessica Francis Kane has fictionally recounted a civilian disaster that occurred during an air raid in WWII’s Bethnel Green area.
- Get twenty centuries of London history in Edward Rutherford’s epic London.
- Bone up on other things to do in London with the Lonely Planet or Rick Steves guides.
Next time you’re in London, ditch Grandma and use this Shoreditch guide to find what’s cool and street in London. Have fun and happy trails.
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