Seeking Authenticity Through East London
Written by Kiah Searson
On 29 May 2024

Discover East London’s vibrant blend of culture, history and cuisine. From the captivating street art, fashion and diverse food scene of Brick Lane to the serene beauty of Victoria Park, this area offers a unique charm. Experience the true authentic and dynamic spirit of London by taking a trip to the East End.

London, the capital city of the UK, is often on the itinerary for those who have a passion for exploring new places. Travellers are typically drawn to Central London for its rich history, well-recognised landmarks and cultural attractions. However, if you crave true authenticity when travelling, then East London is not to be ignored. Even just a weekend in the East End will fulfil your travel desires and undoubtedly deliver a dynamic and eclectic travel experience.

As someone with roots deeply embedded in the East End and having spent a considerable amount of time there, I can attest to the area’s unique fusion of history, culture, creativity and diversity.

My uncle, Owen Searson is a 39-year-old local who grew up in the incredibly culturally rich area of Bethnal Green in the East End. He says: “The East End carries a massive mixture of different cultures, from Bangladeshis and Indians to Nigerians and Caribbeans.

“There is also a very strong Irish community here and it is centred around the churches and Irish pubs. With a lot of the family being Irish, I remember that there was always traditional Irish music playing every Sunday after mass in the Dundee Arms.

“The music was always being played in the pub by Joe and Micheal Searson and if you were with them you never had to buy a drink as the table in front of them would always be piled with pints bought for them by punters.”

Whilst East London is rich in history and culture, making it the perfect destination for those wanting to immerse themselves in the culture of travel, it is also a hub of contemporary creativity and innovation. Personally, I believe Brick Lane epitomises this blend perfectly.

Initially gaining popularity through the cultural contributions of its diverse migrant communities, including the Jewish, French Huguenots, Irish and Bangladeshi population, this street and Brick Lane market most definitely showcase a tapestry of cultural influences.

Owen says: “Going down Brick Lane as a kid with my dad, it was a largely Jewish market, hence the Beigel Baker shop, but as I got older it changed and became a Bangladeshi market and different things like new restaurants started to appear and open. But you could constantly hear the East End accent.

“You could buy anything down there from bread and magazines to tools and pots and pans. It was a proper working class market, very rough and ready, there were people with stalls but also people who just laid a blanket down trying to earn a few quid.”

In recent years, it has undergone significant regeneration and as a result has transformed into a scene for fashion, food and art.

“Even though the market is more well-known for selling vintage items and having a diverse range of street food nowadays, it is well worth the visit as it will always hold a lot of history”, Owen says.

As you walk down the streets of Brick Lane, there is always an array of exciting sights, sounds and smells. If you are a traveller that seeks to immerse yourself in culture through food, the Up Market Food Hall accommodates 40 food traders offering a range of different cuisines and promises a journey through a melting pot of cultures, each offering its own distinct flavours.

While exploring the diverse culinary offerings along Brick Lane, it is essential to highlight the iconic Beigel Bake shop which is an absolute staple in the East End. This bakery is open 24/7 and makes approximately 7,000 Jewish style beigels daily. These beigels are traditionally twisted and chewy and are filled to the brim with fillings from a classic salmon and cream cheese to the local fan favourite, salt beef.

These days, the area also serves as a thriving fashion scene, where the past seamlessly blends with the present. The electric atmosphere felt through wandering down these streets and hopping in and around the endless amount of retro and vintage shops is captivating. I regularly visit the Backyard Market to expand my vintage jewellery collection and find some classic pieces to embrace the ever-evolving spirit of fashion.

Despite the common perception that East London is a bustling urban landscape, it does in fact offer numerous beautiful green spaces, making it an ideal location for travellers who tend to seek an escape to the hustle and bustle of exploring different destinations.

For those who are travelling with children or simply want to appreciate life’s finer experiences, Victoria Park or ‘Vicki Park’ as it is known locally, is an essential destination for your travel itinerary whatever the season.

Owen says: “I grew up about a five-minute walk away from Vicki park so used to spend a lot of time there with my siblings and cousins. We would spend hours kicking around a ball or feeding the ducks in the pond and it was usually relatively busy with locals. Over the years it has gained more popularity especially with the Sunday food market but Vicki park is such a beautiful place that people should definitely take the time to visit.”

The park is London’s oldest public park and has been known as ‘The People’s Park’ for 170 years.
Spanning over 200 acres, the park features serene waters, charming gardens and ample space for picnics and leisurely strolls. It also hosts festivals, outdoor concerts and community events, making it a vibrant part of the local community.

Richard Desmond, an East End local, says: “I’m reaching 60 this year and have lived my whole life near the park, Vicki Park is the people’s park for all people.”

The park is the perfect place to unwind, recharge and reconnect with nature in the heart of London. From exploring the serene canals on foot to zipping through the park on a Lime Bike, you are bound to create unforgettable memories in this Park.

Carolyn Berry, 47, says: “Having lived in 5 cities and 3 countries I have landed in East London and have to say that it fulfils many requirements like having a beautiful park like Vicki Park. I love walking along the canal but try to go early to avoid the crowds as it is much loved.”

As someone who has been fortunate enough to have spent countless days lounging around Victoria Park, I can affirm that it holds a special place in my heart and is well worth a visit.

East London with its rich culture, historical depth, culinary variety and beautiful green spaces is the perfect destination for travellers who enjoy global cultures. Brick Lane and Victoria Park are two of the area’s hidden gems, showcasing its unique charm and making it an ideal spot to experience the authentic and diverse spirit of London.

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