On my most recent trip to London I stayed with St Christopher’s Inn Liverpool Street (read the review here). Located in East London, the hostel was in an area I’ve spent little time exploring. So while I was there I got lost a lot, and eventually found 11 (almost) free things to do in Shoreditch and East London that I want to share with you!
But, before I get on with the list, I have to say how much I loved this area of London. I grew up in the West, and while I spend a lot of time in Central London, I’ve never explored East London.
So not only did I love my time there, I’m also sure that I will be back. So if you have any other suggestions on things to see and do in the area, please let me know in the comments!
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11 (Almost) Free Things To Do In Shoreditch & East London
A map of free things to do in Shoreditch & East London…
I’ve provided the map below to help you plan your future trip to East London. Each of the 11 suggestions listed in this article of free things to do in Shoreditch & East London have been divided into three categories: Photography & Instagram Locations, Food & Drink, and Markets. The yellow icon also points out the hostel I stayed in and used as my base when exploring the city: St Christopher’s Inn Liverpool Street.
1. Instagram the Pretty Houses of Wilkes Street & Princelet Street
Wilkes Street and Princelet Street are located in the historic district of Spitalfields, and the stunning terraced houses on these streets date back to the early 18th century.
Princelet Street was one of the very first streets to be built, and many of its earliest residents were the Huguenots. Otherwise known as French Protestants, they fled Catholic France under fear of persecution and came to settle in Spitalfields in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Not only did the Huguenots bring with them French blood that apparently can be found in one of every six Britons alive today(!), but they also brought weaving skills. This contributed to the boom in Spitalfields’ silk economy in the 18th century and eventually led to the creation of these beautiful houses that still stand today.
P.s. One of the Huguenot houses became a synagogue for the Jewish refugees who came later to Spitalfields. It can still be visited on request. Another has been renovated and you can now spend the night there! Although it comes at a cost.
2. Walk Along The Thames at Night
On my first night at St Christopher’s Inn Liverpool Street, I arrived pretty late in the evening. So by the time I’d unpacked my stuff and grabbed a beer, there was little time left until nightfall.
Which actually worked out perfectly. One of my favourite things to do in London is to take a walk along the Thames River. But I’d never done it at night before.
I soon found out that this is something I should have done a long time ago. All the bridges were illuminated with all the colours of the rainbow. Southwark Bridge, which you can see in the photo above, was especially colourful.
3. Visit Old Spitalfields Market
London has some fantastic markets, many of which began operating hundreds of years ago. Old Spitalfields Market is no exception.
There has been a market running on the same grounds as Old Spitalfields Market since the 17th Century!
Back in the Victorian era most of the stalls sold fresh produce, but the modern day market is now host to multicultural food stalls and independent artisans selling jewellery, books, and clothes. The mix of history and unique stalls makes it one of the best things to do in Shoreditch!
But what makes a visit to Old Spitalfields Market so pleasant is the people that work there! I bought a gorgeous top from one guy, who gave me £5 off when I told him I only had a tenner in cash, and gave me a free pair of gorgeous earrings!
4. Explore the Street Art Around Brick Lane
Brick Lane is also home to another one of East London’s most famous markets. A vibrant multicultural street, you can see independent artisans selling an array of exciting products and food every Sunday.
But if you’re visiting midweek like I did on my last trip to Shoreditch, then it’s the street art that will catch your attention!
I’ll be writing a much longer post on this soon, to add to my series on Street Art in Europe. But if you want an introduction to street art in Shoreditch, or street art in London in general, then you should definitely take a wander along Brick Lane!
For those that want a more in-depth experience of the street art in and around Brick Lane, then there is a street art walking tour you can take for £15. I haven’t taken it yet, so this isn’t an endorsement! But I definitely plan to in the future.
5. Visit the Roman Remains of London Wall
While most of these (almost) free things to do are a homage to the East End’s more recent history, ancient history buffs will love the Roman remains of the London Wall that are preserved around the city. So if you’re looking for the best free things to do in Shoreditch that will also up your knowledge of Roman history, make sure to check it out!
The section in these photos can be found on Noble Street (link to Google maps). Once hidden as new structures were built over and around it, sections of the Roman wall began emerging again as the newer buildings were demolished.
Which means that today there are plenty of examples of the wall that was originally built to defend the city in 200 AD!
6. See The Skyline from One New Change
The rooftop terrace of the One New Change shopping centre is one of my favourite places in London! To be honest, the view isn’t as great as the view of London from the Tate Modern, or Monument which I’m going to mention later.
However it’s a true locals hang out! On weekday evenings or lunchtimes during the summer you’ll see plenty of businessmen and women hanging out at the rooftop bar, or just sitting on the steps eating their takeaway sandwiches!
And the shopping centre also offers a view of London that few guide books talk about. Which makes it a hidden secret for tourists and travellers. Oh and it’s free!
7. Visit Beigel Bake
After many recommendations from locals and twitter followers I made a detour on my self-guided street art tour of Brick Lane to visit Beigel Bake. And I was not disappointed! In fact, of all the things to do in Shoreditch, this became one of my favourites!
Open 24 hours a day every day, including Christmas Day(!), Beigel Bake is an East-London institution. And it has been since it opened its doors in 1974. Their bagels are ridiculously cheap, ridiculously tasty, and the service is ridiculously friendly!
In the queue before me was a local lady (clearly a regular), who had popped in with her daughter’s ex-boyfriend. After they chatted with the staff for a while and left, we all had a giggle about how handsome he was before I left with my salami bagel.
Although next time I’ll be trying their incredible salt beef bagel for sure!
8. Visit Petticoat Lane Market
Here’s an odd fact: in the 1800s, the name of Petticoat Lane was officially changed to Middlesex Street. The rumour is that it was a result of prude Victorians wanting to avoid any mention of petticoats (which are ladies’ underskirts). But whether or not this is true, the street name change wasn’t really accepted and to this day the market continues to take its name from Petticoat Lane!
But considering that a clothing market has been running here since the early 17th Century, you can see why Middlesex Street Market never caught on.
Generations of stall owners have called Petticoat Lane their home since then, despite the fact that the market wasn’t officially recognised by the government until 1930. Apparently it was quite the place for dodgy East End dealings so before then the police were more likely to try and shut it down then acknowledge it as an official place of business!
9. Climb The Monument
Most of you who have been following me for a while know that I have a bit of an irrational fear of falling down stairs. It’s something I try and combat by climbing as many towers (usually church towers) as possible.
And my favourite of all the towers in London to climb is the Monument. Oh, and it’s also the cheapest!
Tickets to climb all 311 steps and 61 metres of The Monument cost just £4.50 and in my opinion it’s well worth the cost for the view you get from the top!
Built between 1671 and 1677, the Monument was built to honour all those that died in the Great Fire of London on the 5th September 1666. And while there is a wire cage around the viewing platform, you can still get a spectacular view of Tower Bridge, the Gherkin, The Walkie-Talkie, the Leadenhall Building, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Shard. Just to name a few!
10. Visit Aftab Ali Park
Aftab Ali Park is an incredibly moving location in East London. But you won’t find it on many lists of things to do in Shoreditch.
At first glance, the park looks like nothing more than a local community hangout. Kids were running around the grass, while parents sat and watched. Groups of all nationalities sat cross legged on the concrete floors, or swinging their legs over the grass while catching up with friends.
But the true meaning of the park comes in its name, and the circumstances of how the name was changed from St Mary’s Park to Aftab Ali Park in 1998.
Aftab Ali was a Bangladeshi textile worker who was the victim of one of many racist attacks that were occurring at the time he lived in Whitechapel. But it seemed that his murder on the 4th May 1978 was the final straw for the local community. They took to the streets in protest, carrying his coffin all the way to 10 Downing Street, and over time managed to make a positive change in reducing racism in the East End.
If you’re interested in reading more about the history behind Aftab Ali park, check out this BBC article.
11. Grab a Coffee at Quaker Street Cafe
Whether you need to start your day with coffee (like me!), or you want to grab lunch while ticking off all the free things to do in Shoreditch, then you should do it at Quaker Street Cafe!
I actually got a tip off from one of the owners of Quaker Street Cafe via Twitter, while I was staying at St Christopher’s Inn Liverpool Street. And I’m so glad he got in touch!
After his message, I decided to pop by while on my way to my favourite art supplies shop on Shoreditch High Street. But my quick coffee stop turned into a good hour of chatting, drinking bubble tea and getting to know the story behind the artwork, design and location of this new cafe!
And in case you’re wondering, their incredible coffee blend of half-Columbian and half-Ethiopian beans taste amazing! I’ll definitely be making this a regular stop when I’m in London in the future!
So there you have it, my favourite list of (almost!) free things to do in Shoreditch and East London! It’s safe to say though that I already can’t wait to go back and explore more. So if you have any tips just let me know in the comments!
Oh, and I discovered most of these places while staying at St Christopher’s Inn Liverpool Street – make sure to check them out!