Full of vibrant urban life, quality retail opportunities and marvellous food and dining options, Spitalfields is a great area to head to should you be visiting London and fancy dipping your feet in the real Cockney corner of London. Founded in the 17th Century (and taking its name from the once nearby hospital and priory, St. Mary Spittel, which itself existed way back in the 12th and 13th Centuries), Spitalfields today borders the exciting night-life hub of Shoreditch and is in very easy reach of the major Liverpool Street mainline and Tube station (Central, Circle and Hammersmith and City lines), so should you fancy sampling the pulse of East London, you’ve really no reason not to pay Spitalfields a visit – after all, could you pass up the chance of discovering all this…?
Exploring Shoreditch London
Old Spitalfields Market (open 10am-5pm, seven days a week) can lay claim to being in exactly the same spot it was when originally established approximately 400 years ago. A sprawling covered market, it’s an absolute institution of the area – and throughout the whole of London. Not least because it remains an excellent place to go bargain-hunting, packed to the rafters, as it is, with individual stalls. Thanks to the quality vintage and items hidden gems you’ll discover by having a root around (and all at bargain-basement prices), it’s understandable why this site remains a hugely popular retail destination.
The perimeter of the market is made up of a fine collection of restaurants and, best of all,clothes shops. However, unlike those you’ll find on a high street, these outlets are small and boutiquey. They comprise the likes of traditional UK brands and retailers Barbour and Hackett; indeed, in the latter you can browse and pick up some real British classics, like tweed blazers with elbow patches and sharp and sophisticated, tailored suits.
In terms of Old Spitalfields Market food options, you can’t go wrong with the seafood at Wright Brothers. Enjoy some fresh oysters at the bar or why not sample crab, shell-on Atlantic prawns or go all-out and order a shellfish platter with a bottle of white wine?Just make sure you visit between 3pm and 6pm, when it’s the equivalent of ‘happy hour’ and all oysters are priced just £1.
Located actually inside the market, Taberna do Mercado is another excellent eatery. A casual restaurant, it nonetheless focuses on fine modern versions of classic Portuguese dishes; mostly small plates, such as marinated then tinned-to-cure raw fish. Pleasingly, a visit here – like elsewhere in the market – won’t damage your wallet either, as practically everything’s under £10.
Alternatively, should you be staying at The Montcalm Brewery London city hotel, which is situated within walking distance of Spitalfields, you might well be tempted by its two restaurants, Chiswell Street Dining Rooms and The Jugged Hare. The former offers the best of new and old-fashioned British cooking, while the latter focuses on traditional seasonal dishes; both of them are to be found in the building that originally served as the Whitbread brewery.
The market is also surrounded by quaint alleys and little lanes, together offering welcome refuge from the busy activity of the market. They’re brimming with appealing stores and old-school cafés that offer full English breakfasts, popular not just with the market-going tourists but also the working Londoners of the area. If you’ve the time to check out any of these alleyways during your visit, then make a beeline for Artillery Passage – especially if you have any kids with you. Why? Because this charming, small lane that’s suitably cluttered with outlets and pubs has a big claim to fame – it doubled as the popular Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movie series.
As mentioned, the alleys off the market are full of several drinking holes, but if you fancy the experience of a tipple in a real East End ‘boozer’, then a short walk away from the Spitalfields area is the Pride of Spitalfields pub, which is well worth a visit – especially as its doors have been open since the mid-19th Century. With plenty of beers and ales on offer, it’s a charming old place whose atmosphere is topped off by a resident cat that you’ll likely find lounging in a corner, completely unperturbed by all the noisy revellers around it.
The street art
Finally, lest we forget, just around the corner from Spitalfields is the area of Shoreditch. Becoming ever trendier as both a mecca for digital start-up businesses and hip, young things looking to sample its exciting nightlife, it’s also home to ever-changing art that adorns the walls of its buildings, whether they be corner shops, clothes outlets or old warehouses. Mostly the work of talented up-and-comers, the street art’s quality and diversity shouldn’t disappoint – you may even discover something by Banksy. A good tip is to get off the main road and peak down side streets to discover some real rare nuggets.