Historically a working class area, Tower Hamlets is lately on the up in the cool and alternative London scene. With everything from vintage markets, great places to eat, queer bars and cutting edge art, it has a lot going for it. It’s also one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the whole UK with a large Bangladeshi population—embodying the rich diversity that personifies East London’s emerging hipster scene.
With so many alternative things to see and do, here’s my complete hipster guide to Tower Hamlets.
Check out our top five hipster hotels in Tower Hamlets here.
1. Whitechapel Gallery
One of London’s oldest publicly-funded art galleries, the Whitechapel Gallery features exhibitions from both major international artists as well as contemporary local artists. Open every day except Mondays, the gallery regularly hosts talks, film screenings and offers a range of art courses. Most of the gallery is free to enter, except the temporary exhibitions for which there’s usually a charge of around £12.
2. Columbia Road Flower Market
Photos by VisitBritain
Every Sunday, this calm and pretty East London street is transformed into a bustling market for all things floral by Columbia Road Flower Market. Wander through the crowd (if you can squeeze through) to check out the huge variety of plants, flowers, trees and other gardening paraphernalia on offer while soaking up the jovial atmosphere and cacophony of calls from flower-sellers. Stop to enjoy the less traditional buskers playing the accordion or double bass and enjoy some of the foodie delights on offer.
3. The East End Thrift Store
Inside a converted warehouse, which makes no effort to hide that fact, the East End Thrift Store is one of the biggest and cheapest places in London to find a huge range of vintage clothing and accessories. Jackets can be grabbed for as little as £25, shirts for £15 and dresses for just £10! They occasionally host what they call ‘fill-a-bag for a tenner’ (£10) events, so make sure to sign up to their mailing list to find out when these are taking place and plan your visit accordingly.
4. Genesis Cinema
The beautifully renovated Genesis Cinema not only shows a good selection of mainstream and art house films, but also hosts film festivals and live events as various as poetry slams, swing dance nights and, once a year, a Eurovision viewing party. Mondays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to visit with cinema tickets for just £4.50. Additionally, there’s a café inside that’s open all day, a bar that serves classic cocktails and even a small range artisanal pies on sale – delish!
5. Broadway Market
Photos by Broadway Market
Arguably the best food market in all of London, Broadway Market takes places every Saturday and offers a huge range of street food including vegan burgers, German baked goods, curries, seafood, French cheeses and Vietnamese baguettes. Try at least one of everything from Violet, especially the cupcakes and éclairs, but also the cinnamon rolls and macaroons. And don’t miss the amazing buttermilk fried chicken burger with guacamole and chipotle mayo from Butchies.
6. Cereal Killer Café
The Cereal Killer Café was made famous by anti-gentrification protests in late 2015 and still receives a lot of attention now because of that. On the surface it’s a café selling breakfast cereal, but in reality it’s something very unique. They offer over 120 kinds of cereal from all over the world (and even hard-to-find ones you’ll probably recognize from your childhood), with a wide range of milks to go with them. They also have pop tarts and some really inventive cereal “cocktails” as non-alcoholic breakfast treats. Great for a late breakfast or a mid afternoon snack to make you feel like a kid again.
7. Eating London Food Tour
Photos by Adam Groffman/Eating London
For an overview of all the culinary offerings of East London, be sure to check out the Eating London Food Tour, which takes you through some of the diverse East London history all the while highlighting the cultural diversity of the food available here. There are stops for Jewish-style bagels, traditional fish and chips, British-Indian curry, French cheeses and bacon sarnies.
8. The Glory
Photos by The Glory
A gay favourite, The Glory is a small but boisterous pub with low prices and a welcoming vibe that puts on drag shows and hosts live DJs. There’s enough going on there that any day of the week is a good time to visit, but Saturday nights are especially fun. Come for a cold beer or cocktail and stay for the outrageous drag acts.
9. Mother Kelly’s
Photos by Mother Kelly’s
For an ever-changing array of British and international beers and ales, check out Mother Kelly’s. They boast some hard-to-find beers and interesting concoctions (beer with coffee, anyone?) and a small selection of ciders and wines too, in case beer isn’t really your thing. Either way, it’s a great place to hang out and people-watch while enjoying your beverage of choice.
10. Happiness Forgets
Photos by Happiness Forgets
If your empty hand is in need of a classy cocktail, head to Happiness Forgets set in a cozy, somewhat hidden basement. The bartenders are cute and friendly and will happily make suggestions and customize you a cocktail if you don’t know what to choose. They play super cool music and the vibe is very intimate, making it perfect for a date or to meet some cool new people.
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While most of London’s hipsters congregate along Shoreditch High Street, the whole district of Tower Hamlets is really up and coming, so watch this space. For more hipster London tips, check out my guide to East London on travelsofadam.com.