I went on a quick trip to London in late August for my British friend's wedding, but I set aside some time to do touristy stuff. I've been to London a few times before, but it's such a big and overwhelming city. To keep sane, I focused on getting to know east London better this time.
Where to stay in east London
Qbic London provided me with a media rate for my stay. All opinions are my own.
I stayed at Qbic, a trendy eco-hotel (2021 update: this hotel is now The Corner London) that is the greenest in London. Sustainably built, the hotel uses solar energy, LED lights, chemical-free cleaning products, and eco-friendly toiletry.
It's a really cute, no frills hotel. They provided free tea and coffee on every floor, and bottles of drinking water (just swap your empty bottles near the coffee station or with the concierge when you run out). I recommend their breakfast, and their food in general, in the hotel's restaurant, Bar + Kitchen. There's also plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars near by. Brick Lane is steps away.
Where to eat in east London
Dark Sugars Cocoa House has the best hot chocolate I've ever tasted. The one I got had three different types of their chocolate slowly melting in the hot milk.
My hotel was conveniently located, as major London attractions are short Tube or bus stops away. Some would call the neighbourhood gritty. I say local and multicultural. There's a certain amount of sketch, sure, but nothing I felt uncomfortable with.
Gentrification of the area has its pros and cons. As the neighbourhoods become trendier and more touristy, the locals are being priced out. On the other hand, there's a vibrant art and youth culture here.
I remember reading about the Cereal Killer protest in the Guardian, where a bunch of locals damaged this hipster cereal cafe. It's interesting to consider the perspectives for and against the violent protest.
Graffiti is everywhere. I didn't do one this time, but you can take a graffiti/street art tour. There seems to be plenty to choose from.
Shopping in east London
Being in Brick Lane on a sunny Sunday is so much fun. Everyone's out browsing the vintage clothing, antique, and food markets. At The Vintage Market, I bought a cool men's '70s herringbone jacket. The vintage clothes here are amazing. No wonder east London girls are always wearing cool stuff.
Shoreditch is full of vintage shops. If you're here, you'll find them. If vintage is not your thing, there are ethical clothing shops in the city. The Good Place is in Chelsea and 69b Boutique is in Hackney.
Walking tour of literary London
I really wanted to nerd out on history and do a walking tour. If you're into literature, you might also enjoy this 3-hour tour about the literary history of London.
The tour mostly took place in Bloomsbury, home to the Bloomsbury group, which included Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. Our tour guide Jason knew so much about London's famous writers and artists, and the city is rich with literary history. He gave us a map of some of the places we went to on the tour and a list of book recommendations. I'm sure Jason could've gone much longer than three hours with interesting facts. We ended the tour with tea at Charles Dickens' family garden. How many people can say they had tea and scone at Dickens' old pad?
The little cafe is inside the Charles Dickens Museum. This used to be his old family house, where he wrote Oliver Twist and other novels.
There are so many museums in London, many of them free. Since I've visited these museums before, I just poked my head into Victoria & Albert, Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum, which are all on the same strip. I also went to Tate Modern for a couple of hours. They had live music there that night, and the whole scene was very industrial and hip.
Whenever I'm in a foreign city, I like to walk around aimlessly and stumble across random things, like this Damien Hirst sculpture of the male anatomy.
I was lucky that it didn't rain once the entire time I was there, especially since I had not brought an umbrella. It was actually sunny and hot that week. Apparently, Londoners didn't get much of a summer this year. The vacation gods were with me.
I don't think I'll ever really "conquer" London, as I feel I have with other cities. There are still too many neighbourhoods to get to know.
What do you love most about London? Let us know in the comments below.