The featured image is sourced from Flickr.
London doesn’t need an introduction. Only two hours from the continent by the fast Eurostar train, and a popular destination of all major airlines and European cruise lines, London is a top destination on everyone’s list. Everyone is familiar with West End musicals, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, the Victoria and Albert museum, Harrods … the list of attractions goes on and on!
Last summer, however, the Olympics moved everyone’s attention further east to the borough of Waltham Forest. This area has seen a great surge of gentrification, resulting in freshly painted houses, trendy nightclubs, and, of course, the giant Westfield shopping mall just outside of the Olympic village in Stratford. But this part of east London already had a lot to offer for those who knew where to look, and still boasts some hidden gems that more than justify a stay outside of the city centre.
Pubs and Cafes
The King William the Fourth, Leyton Baker’s Arms.
This pub doesn’t have the most original name in England, but the opposite can be said for its beers, brewed in the on-site microbrewery. A typical Friday or Saturday sees an average of ten home-brewed “Brodey’s” real ales and a couple of guest beers. The light ales are refreshingly citrus-y, while the dark ones have deep tones of coffee, and range from a standard 4% to the 12% Romanov – all for less than £2.50 a pint. Unlike many other pubs, the King William the Fourth doesn’t shut its doors at 11 p.m. on the dot, but is more than happy to stay open for a few more hours if there’s a good crowd of people. The best time to visit this pub is definitely around Easter, when an annual beer festival adds thirty beers and a hog roast in the small beer garden to the menu.
The Birkbeck Tavern, Leyton.
Another great pub, conveniently located near Leyton station, does not have the largest selection of beers (a pint of “Rita’s” for £2.90 is an excellent choice though), but does have a very large beer garden and many nights of live music, mainly performed by locals. This pub’s main selling point is its helpful, enthusiastic staff.
The Hornbeam Cafe, Leyton Baker’s Arms.
For everyone who’s looking for something different from a traditional English pub, this vegetarian cafe is the place to be. Not only does this cafe serve high-quality organic food and drinks, it also acts as a community centre by organising workshops and hosting open mic nights. The cafe also hosts several discussion groups, with subjects ranging from spirituality to science fiction. The Hornbeam Bakers Collective organises one-day baking courses, aiming for “substantial changes in the way we produce and consume bread”.
The William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow.
Perhaps the most famous inhabitant in the history of Walthamstow was designer, writer, artist and socialist William Morris. This recently refurbished museum, in the building where the Morris family lived from 1848 to 1856, houses a spectacular collection of textiles, wallpaper, tapestries, furniture and books from the Arts and Crafts movement.
E17 Art Trail, Walthamstow.
London has many, many art trails, and Waltham Forest has many art trails – but the most famous one is probably the E17 Art Trail. Every year in September, the local community is asked to participate, as artist or audience, in this open exhibition scattered throughout the neighbourhood. Some of last year’s highlights included an art exhibition and market at Walden Studios, the workplace of some talented young artists, as well as multi-media performances at Pulse Studios, a rehearsal and recording studio.
The Gallery 491, Leytonstone.
Over the past ten years, a group of squatters have turned this abandoned factory building right next to the tube station into the heart of Leytonstone’s most important creative community. The top floor contains an art gallery with regularly updates exhibitions, which are also the inspiration for many creative workshops. There’s also a live music venue, a band practice studio, and even a community botanical garden with hundreds of different species. As its occupants are currently being threatened with eviction to make place for a block of flats, this might be your last chance to visit.
Walthamstow Market, Walthamstow.
Of course, Westfield mall in Stratford provides all the popular high street shops, but for a more authentic flavour, you should head to Walthamstow. The Walthamstow market is not as famous as those in Portobello Road or Petticoat Lane, but it’s the longest street market in Europe, running the entire 1 kilometer from Walthamstow Station to St James Street Station. Apart from the usual “I heart London” T-shirts and one-pound-bowls of fruit and veg, many other things are sold here, including Indian fabrics and haberdashery, toys, jewellery and souvenirs. The weekend is the best time to visit the market. On Saturdays, the so-called “St James Street hub” is devoted to new traders selling ethnic food, art, vintage clothing, and ‘upcycled’ products; on Sundays there is a farmers’ market near Walthamstow Station with lots of local, organic delicacies.