There’s nowhere hipper in London right now than Hackney, one of the capital’s most diverse boroughs and home to some of its coolest creatives. As recently as five years ago, only the most tenacious of urban explorers would have set out for this gritty area north of London, but it’s become a destination in its own right, with an ever-evolving foodie scene, vibrant nightlife culture and some fantastic independent shopping. There’s enough going on to warrant multiple visits, but the following plan for a packed day trip gives you a taste of the delights on offer.
Begin in Shoreditch, an area that rivals the West End in terms of its nightlife. Come here in the evening and you’ll find hordes of pretty people strolling between its myriad bars, clubs and restaurants. First thing in the morning, however, there’s less to see, so head straight to Leila’s Shop, an adorable café and delicatessen just off the main drag. The coffee, eggs and Serrano ham will set you up for the rest of the day.
After you’ve eaten, wander north via pretty Hoxton Square, one of the oldest garden squares in London. The rent in this area is now too steep for the sorts of young artists who first colonized it in the 1990s, but there are still a handful of small galleries around showing all manner of contemporary work. One of the standouts, KK Outlet, is a multi-purpose gallery and office space that sits on the square itself. Continue up Hoxton Street — on Saturdays, you’ll find a traditional London street market selling clothes, homewares and fruit and vegetables here — then east to The Geffrye Museum. Located within a set of beautiful 18th-century almshouses on Kingsland Road, the museum is a celebration of English urban interiors and gardens through the ages.
A little farther north you’ll reach the Regent’s Canal, part of a network of waterways created in the 19th century to transport goods around the country during the Industrial Revolution. Gorgeous new apartment blocks are going up at this section of the canal all of the time, and a walk along the towpath gives a glimpse of London life rarely encountered by visitors. Keep your eyes peeled as you stroll east for Bob & Roberta Smith’s Shop Local: Ron’s Eel and Shellfish Van, a large-scale mural across the water from Denne Terrace.
Get off the canal at Cat & Mutton Bridge for Broadway Market. The best day to visit is Saturday, when the street is taken over by dozens of stalls hawking vintage clothing, crafts, gifts and food and drink. A couple of shops to look out for are L’Eau a la Bouche, a delectable French deli and café selling superb cheeses and artisan breads, and Stella Blunt, a store with handpicked antique furniture and home goods. Graze the stalls for lunch and don’t miss the additional vendors in the school playgrounds at the top of the market off Westgate Street. If you’re there on any other day of the week, The Dove is a good bet for a hearty gastropub-style afternoon meal.
After lunch, walk north through the lovely greenery of London Fields, then west toward the center of Dalston to catch a matinee at the Arcola Theatre. One of the best Off West End theaters in London, the Arcola presents a varied program, from fresh theatrical roundups (The Story Project 5: Fame, Fear & Fables, October 15 through 19) to remastered takes on classic works (MacBeth of Fire and Ice, October 30 through November 16).
Fill the time before dinner at independent stores, such as quirky fashion boutique Pelicans and Parrots, vintage emporium Beyond Retro and funky coffee shops like Café Oto, which is next door to the Arcola. It’s an avant-garde music venue by night but a chilled-out java spot during the day, and just one among many great coffee places in the area.
When you finish shopping and light snacking, dine on outstanding European-influenced fare at A Little Bit of What You Fancy, an intimate, informal eatery whose charm (wooden tables, chalkboard signs) belies its urban location and whose whole-roasted mackerel with juniper salt is a must-order. After dinner, catch a concert at The Vortex Jazz Club, one of the capital’s most respected jazz venues, then go for cocktails at Platform Bar. It’s hard to find — it’s located within a block of artists’ studios — but worth the effort for the laid-back vibe and fantastic views over London. If that proves too subdued, on the ground floor of the same building is The New Empowering Church, a club where the party goes on until the early hours.
Photos Courtesy of Jo Caird and Jayne Lloyd