1. Where to Stay
Select a suite inspired by your favorite design movement at Terence Conran’s twelve-room Boundary (from $303), which opened earlier this year in Shoreditch. Sit at the rooftop bar for an aerial view of the East End.
Stay in one of only two rooms in 40 Winks (from $109), interior designer David Carter’s flamboyant townhouse. The “opium-den chic” drawing room bedecked with Chinese lanterns and baroque mirrors is often used for Vogue and Elle fashion shoots.
Drink a few pints of local microbrew Nethergate at the Fox & Anchor (from $159), a mahogany-wood, nineteenth-century pub topped by a six-room boutique hotel. Soak in the freestanding tub at the foot of the bed in the Smithfield suite.
2. Where to Eat
Sample U.K. classics like Welsh rarebit and kedgeree at the Albion, the just-opened “caff” on the ground floor of the Boundary Hotel, where chefs use locally sourced ingredients and nearly everything comes in at under $15—a bargain for your weak dollar. For dessert, pick up a couple of gingerbread men to go at the attached bakery.
Grab a window seat at Rootmaster, London’s innovative dining experience housed in a retired sixties Routemaster double-decker bus. The cucumber-and-melon vegan soup comes with a side of gluten-free mustard bread fresh from the tiny kitchen.
Enjoy Tbilisi delicacies and Soviet-era nostalgia at Little Georgia (87 Goldsmiths Row, E2 8QR, 20-7739-8154). Bring your own wine (there’s no corkage fee) and your bill could be less than $20 for two.
Bypass the restaurant scene altogether and let an elBulli–trained chef make dinner for you at his home. The ever-changing twelve-course menu ($168) at Nuno Mendes’s supper club, the Loft, highlights his experimental style and the open-kitchen policy means you have a front seat for the prep action. Book online at least three months in advance.
3. What to Do
Gallery hop in the arts district scattered among the printing plants and auto junkyards of remote Hackney Wick before it is usurped by the Olympic Games. The Residence Gallery displays contemporary art inside an 1890 church cottage, and whose original locale is slated to be torn down at the end of October. Enter the Elevator Gallery through a bright-red door on White Post Lane and find the work of emerging artists installed in a former chocolate factory. (Eat before you come, as Pret A Manger has yet to reach this corner of London.)
Find one-of-a-kind items in Columbia Road’s strip of independent boutiques. Artist Rob Ryan has collaborated with labels Paul Smith and Earnest Sewn, but you can find his more affordable illustrated tiles and screen-printed scarves at Ryantown (126 Columbia Rd., 20-7613-1510; Open Weekends). Down the road, Lapin & Me carries French designer Nathalie Lete’s fanciful tote bags inspired by vintage children’s books and toys. Stop for tea (but not coffee) and cupcakes at throwback bakery
Go clubbing amid the kebab shops and betting parlors on Kingsland Road in Shoreditch. At The Russian (267 Kingsland Rd., 78-0942-5905), be prepared to see partiers in full animal costumes. Take a cab to Dalston Superstore (117 Kingsland High St., 20-7254-2273), a bar-café/art-space that opened in an old supermarket in April. On weekends, expect a line around the block of asymmetrical haircuts and Day-Glo T-shirts — a mostly gay crowd packs the basement for disco and soul music. Make your way back to Shoreditch for a nightcap at the George and Dragon (2-4 Hackney Rd., 20-7012-1100), the always-jumping dive bar with fabulously kitschy décor, a mixed straight-gay crowd, and resurrected hits of the eighties.
4. Insider’s Tip
No visit to East London—home to a burgeoning South Asian community—would be complete without a taste of curry. Avoid the Über-touristy Brick Lane and its toned-down flavors in favor of Kolapata (222 Whitechapel Rd., 20-7377-1200) in Whitechapel. Try traditional Bangladeshi foods like koi and rui (two types of freshwater fish served with onion, tomato and green chile), and borhani, a yogurt drink popular at Bengali weddings. Thattukada in East Ham serves some of the best Kerala-style food (think banana fritters and coconut-infused fish curries) in the city.
5. Oddball Day
See London from the water. Pack a picnic lunch with supplies from gourmet deli Food Hall (374-378 Old St., 20-7729-6005) in Shoreditch and then rent a handmade wooden punt from
East End Window is a great insider blog, written by resident Irene Madongo, about “life, news, people, and places in East London.”
East London History gives historical context for the area going back 2,000 years prior. Find interesting facts about your sightseeing stops, like the fact that the Whitechapel gallery was the only one to have electricity back in 1902 — meaning their opening parties could last well into the night, whereas others in the area shut down at dark.
Get the latest real-estate happenings at Open-Shoreditch, a community-minded blog (and sometime activist forum) that tracks developments in the area.
The Hackney Podcast is a monthly radio program documenting the art scene.