Beau is an artist and Contributing Writer at ArtDrunk. Follow him on Instagram.
I’ve lived and worked in East London ever since graduating from art school. It’s a very special place, with a fascinating history. Originally one of London’s most important industrial quarters, it was bombed extensively during the Blitz. The staunchly working-class East End remained in ruins for decades, even as the rest of the city rebuilt. The East has always been an important immigrant community as well, from French Huguenots who settled around White Chapel in the 17th-century, to the Windrush Generation that came from the Caribbean to Hackney after 1948.
East London stretches from Shoreditch up to Stoke Newington, and out towards Stratford, where the Olympic Park stands. In recent years, the East accrued a certain reputation for hipsterdom – it’s not uncommon to hear it called “London’s Brooklyn.” Though many parts have been predictably gentrified to the hilt, there’s still a very sharp end to the blade: bustling markets and age-old pie shops still survive, and Hackney and Bow are full of artists’ studios. The entire area is packed with galleries of every size and description.
One of my favorite things about East London is its wealth of expansive parks and network of meandering canals, which make it a joy to explore on foot. Cafés and pubs abound, so you never have to worry about traipsing too far without being able to stop for a pint.
One of the oldest and most important galleries in the East End, Whitechapel Gallery opened in 1901, and was among the city’s first publicly-funded temporary exhibition spaces. As such, it stands as a powerful symbol of public support for contemporary art. Whitechapel has a range of diverse programming that encompasses both historic names and younger, emerging artists. I find it’s a great place to both brush up with household names, and to learn about artists you’ve probably never heard of. Oh, and they also have an absolutely wonderful bookshop!
Tue – Sun / 11am – 6:00pm (Thu until 9pm)
Between bustling Whitechapel and verdant Mile End sits Carlos Ishikawa, which represents some seriously hip artists: Oscar Murillo and Issy Wood both adorn their roster. The gallery is a force to be reckoned with, but remains engaging and inviting. It’s a great jumping-off point when exploring galleries in the East. Their program balances local London talent with big international names, and presents everything from figurative painting to conceptual installation.
Wed – Sat / 12pm – 6pm
No walk through East London is complete without dropping by the Chisenhale Gallery, the perfect destination for a trek across Victoria Park or a meander along the network of local canals. The Chisenhale’s home is an old industrial building that manufactured Spitfire propellers during the war. Its connection to East London’s history is palpable, and the gallery enshrines the curiosity, experimentation, and openness that make this area so rich for art. The Chisenhale runs an ambitious commissioning programme, and offers you the chance to see both red-hot names and less-known artists in a non-commercial context. There’s a quiet, reflective vibe here, which allows you to really pause and take in what you’re seeing.
Wed – Sun / 12pm – 6pm
Sometimes the name says it all. Ellie Pennick, the gallery’s founder, approaches the art world with courage, grit, and a tireless dedication to serving underrepresented and underserved voices. Guts set out to forge a new and more equitable path – “championing, not representing” is their watchword – and so far has done so with great aplomb. The gallery’s shows bring together a vibrant and diverse collection of young artists from the UK and abroad. After years of nomadic pop-ups, the gallery has found a permanent home just next to Hackney Downs.
Tue – Sat / 11am – 6:00pm
Don’t be fooled by this gallery’s hard-scrabble exterior: inside lies one of London’s most impressive galleries. Established in 2005 by Ash L’ange and Nicky Verber, Herald St represents more than 20 international artists, most of whom are held in museum collections and have track records showing with public institutions. This definitely lends an air of prestige to the works, but humor and quirkiness are just as present. In my experience, any show here is certain to get you thinking.
Tue – Sat / 11am – 6pm
Opened in 1998, Stuart Shave Modern Art belongs to the slightly older guard of the East End. The gallery’s shows are sharp and sophisticated, but also downright fun. Their tendency to show somewhat older and more established names makes a visit here an excellent opportunity for comparing and contrasting with the East’s plethora of younger spaces.
Wed – Sat / 12pm – 6pm
Kate MacGarry is a chic, stylish space in the heart of Shoreditch, neighbor to the likes of Soho House and Margaret Howell. The gallery’s shows are sophisticatedly beautiful, and often tinged with sly wit. Their artists are a diverse lot, but share a common interest in refined craft and material experimentation. Any stop here is a delight to both the mind and the senses.
Tue – Sat / 11am – 5pm
I love visiting the Approach: not only is their inventive and intimate programming reliably delightful, a trip to this small, upper-floor space gives the impression of being privy to a very well-kept secret. The gallery has been putting on characterful shows since 1997, but even as it expanded, it has always held true to its original mission of championing local, early-career artists. As an added bonus, the gallery sits above a lovely pub, also called “The Approach.” It’s a great place to grab a pint after a long day of art.
Wed – Sat / 12pm – 6pm
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With its sleek interior and mid-century designer furniture, Lyle’s is the spitting image of everything you’re after in a Shoreditch restaurant. It’s top-tier for Modern British cooking, and though the dishes may appear minimalist, the flavors are superb. Be aware: dinner is a set menu, but lunch is à la carte.
Tue – Sat / 12pm – 2:15pm, 6pm – 9pm
As the London days get shorter and the evenings colder, a trip to Little Georgia becomes obligatory. This tiny restaurant, just a quick walk from Broadway Market or Cambridge Heath, brings the spicy, comforting, and very filling cuisine of Georgia (the country!) to Hackney. The cheese-stuffed bread, made right here in the compact kitchen, should be the start of any order. And don’t skip the borscht, either.
Tue – Fri / 6pm – 10pm
Sat – Sun / 1pm – 10pm
This lively restaurant next to Victoria Park draws a hip and arty crowd. You can’t go wrong with any of the titular potstickers, and the melt-in-your mouth silken tofu is particularly delicious. For homebodies and those in a rush, they also sell frozen dumplings you can steam and fry back at yours.
Tue / 5pm – 10pm
Wed – Sat / 12pm – 10pm
Sun / 12pm – 9pm
Hidden just off Arnold Circus in a former elementary school is one of London’s most fabulous restaurants. It was one of the city’s first “tail-to-snout” places, and the menu changes based on whatever is freshest at the morning’s market. It’s not the cheapest place on this list, but trust me, you’ll want to order everything on the menu.
Mon, Tue & Sun / 12pm – 3pm
Wed – Sat / 12pm – 3pm, 5:30pm – 7:45pm
Dalston is one of the busiest and noisiest neighborhoods in the east, a go-to spot for dancing and karaoke. It’s only appropriate that, in a city known for pubs, it has some of London’s best bars: those just off the boat from NYC will feel right at home at Three Sheets. Unsurprisingly, they pride themselves on their cocktails, which are some of the very best around.
Wed – Sun / 5pm – 1am
Step into Labour and Wait, just off Shoreditch High Street, and you find yourself surrounded by practically stylish bits and bobs. Chore jackets from Le Mont Saint Michel hang next to beautiful enamelware pots and fancy brushes. If you’re looking to upgrade your desk with a touch of retro charm, or need the perfect gift for a cook or carpenter, look no further.
Mon – Sun / 11am – 6pm
Smack in the middle of boisterous – and gentrified – Broadway Market, Artwords is one of East London’s best shops for, well, art words. They have racks of glossy magazines, and enough beautiful art tomes to break the sturdiest coffee table. There’s a lovely kid’s section, too.
Mon – Sat / 9am – 8pm
Sun / 10am – 6pm
This boutique, specializing in womenswear and jewelry from small, independent designers, is inside historic Spitalfields Market (which is well-worth exploring too). Their earrings and necklaces are the perfect mix of edgy and chic, and their knitwear selection is among the best in London – which, chilly and damp England being chilly and damp – is saying something.
Mon – Sun / 11am – 6pm
After saying hello to the animals at the Hackney City Farm, head across the road to Henri. This shop features an ever-so-carefully curated selection of womenswear, with a particular emphasis on workwear-inspired designs. They also place overarching importance on sustainability and eco-friendly products.
Mon – Sat / 10am – 5:30pm
Sun / 2:30pm – 4:30pm
Every Sunday in Hackney, the streets and canal paths stream with people returning from the flower market, laden with cacti, wildflowers, and every imaginable type of house plant. It’s one of the East’s greatest institutions, and though you’ll need some sharp elbows to navigate the narrow street, it’s obligatory for all who love to look at things in bloom.
Sun / 8am – 2pm