Most Londoners would tell you that east is where it’s at for arts, culture, music and brilliant markets. With this summer’s Olympics, the once-forlorn boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham have undergone considerable transformations.
From Zaha Hadid’s curvaceous Aquatics Centre and the gigantic VeloPark through to Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower, the stadia that have sprung up at the Olympic Park in Stratford are as much of a marvel as the sporting feats they will host (toursof2012sites.com; tours from £9).
One of the largest stretches of green in the city, Victoria Park has lakes, bandstands, an oriental garden and the lakeside Pavilion café, which serves excellent breakfasts (thepavilioncafe.com; breakfasts from £2.50).
For vintage clothes, music, art, antiques and kitsch collectibles, Brick Lane is hard to beat (visitbricklane.org; Sun 9am–5pm). Established in 1869, Columbia Road Flower Market offers everything from bulbs and bedding plants to 10ft banana trees – and all at bargain prices (columbiaroad.info; Sun 8am–2pm).
The Shoreditch Triangle, a trio of streets between Old Street and Liverpool Street, has been integral to London’s music and arts scene since the late 1990s. White Cube is the most famous of the many galleries here (whitecube.com; closed Sun and Mon; admission free).
The Lea Valley Walk runs 50 miles from Limehouse through Hackney Wick and up to Luton. Explore the 18-mile stretch from Limehouse to Waltham Abbey for a peaceful canalside walk lined with barges and filled with wildlife (leavalleywalk.org.uk).
Eat and drink
The sympathetically restored Grade II-listed pub King Eddie’s is a classic English tavern and easily the best pub in Stratford – all low ceilings, open fires and frosted-glass dividers. There’s a good selection of beers and wines, including Eddie’s Best, brewed especially for the pub (kingeddie.co.uk; 47 Broadway; pint of ale from £3.25).
Combining a café, bakery and small food shop, Albion serves its customers hearty British comfort food, including fish and chips, game pie, rabbit stew and plum crumble. The same building also houses Boundary, which serves upmarket French cuisine (albioncaff.co.uk; 2–4 Boundary St; mains from £5).
Those hankering after one of east London’s famous curries should avoid overpriced Brick Lane and head to nearby Tayyabs. This Pakistani curry house serves up delicious, great-value food (tayyabs.co.uk; 83–89 Fieldgate St; curries from £6).
Columbia Road’s Brawn is a top-class bistro that serves an array of small plates. Start with oysters or quail’s egg with celery salt, moving on to an expertly sourced charcuterie (brawn.co; 49 Columbia Rd; Thu–Sun; sharing plates from £6).
Gourmet San serves Chinese food like you’ve never eaten before – pigs’ trotters in soy sauce, chilli crab, prawns and chicken cubes cooked in Coke. A lot of the menu is in Chinese, so ask staff for recommendations (020 7613 1366; 261 Bethnal Green Rd; mains from £7).
Adopting the budget airline’s attitude to pricing means that the earlier you book at the Hoxton Hotel, the cheaper the price. Guestrooms are fantastically priced given the hotel’s location and quality – expect big comfy beds, top-notch linens and TVs that double as computers (hoxtonhotels.com; 81 Great Eastern St; from £49).
Located a short walk from Brick Lane, Broadway Market and Victoria Park, The RE London Shoreditch is a quality four-star hotel with quiet rooms decorated in a modern, neutral style (hotelshoreditch.com; 419–437 Hackney Rd; from £80).
Set atop member’s club Shoreditch House, Shoreditch Rooms is east London deluxe. While the tiny rooms are exactly that, the plush furnishings, rooftop pool and one of the best restaurants around these parts more than make up for it (shoreditchhouse.com; Ebor St; from £105 excl breakfast).
Marlin Serviced Apartments, a new group of self-catering apartments, is an ideal budget option if you’re staying in a group. Each neutrally decorated, luxurious apartment can sleep up to six people, with kitchens and great views (marlinapartments.com; 2 Millstone Cl; apartments from £150).
During the Olympics, hotel prices are going to rocket – so how about luxury urban camping instead? Camp in London in Walthamstow will have more than 100 huge yurts available for the duration of the games, fitted out with comfy beds and private lounges. Showers and breakfasts are also provided (campinlondon.com; Low Hall Sports Ground; open 26 Jul–13 Aug; two-person tents from £200).
There are excellent tube, Overground train and bus links across east London – one-day Travelcards are available from newsagents and stations (£8.40). Access for 24 hours to the Cycle Hire scheme costs £1, with cycle hire £1 per hour (tfl.gov.uk).
When to go
In May, Brick Lane hosts the Baishakhi Mela (Bengali New Year), which includes a colourful parade, and the Brick Lane Curry Festival (curryfestival.co.uk). The Olympics run from 27 July–12 August, and the Paralympic Games from 29 August–9 September.
How to go
To get to Stratford, home of the Olympic Park, take the Central Line or an Overground train (from £2.60; tfl.gov.uk). Trains to Liverpool Street run from Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich (from £23; greateranglia.co.uk).