How to make the most of Shoreditch, London
Before we talk about how to make the most out of Shoreditch, London, let’s talk about the history, facts, the people, and why the neighborhood is quirky, trendy, popular, old, and new. There are three places that are worth the visit, Brick Lane Market, Spitalfields Market, and Box Park.
I suggest visiting Shoreditch on your first or last Sunday. Check out my 4-day London itinerary to make the most of London. The itinerary will give you brief information on the Shoreditch area. If this is your first time, check out my London Travel Guide for first-time visitors. There, you’ll find out information on travel during COVID, visas, the weather, and interesting places.
If you are spending half a day in the Shoreditch area, you can visit the South Bank, it’s only a 20-minute journey from here. There are 31 things to do in South Bank London, and it’s included in the 4-day itinerary too.
Walk to Commercial Street/Worship Street, take the bus 26 to Bank Station Queen Victoria Street, walk a minute to Bank Station. Take the Waterloo and City tube line, get off at Waterloo, and walk up towards Southbank Centre. Feel free to spend the rest of your half-day there.
Without further ado, let’s start reading about Shoreditch and its markets.
Present-day Shoreditch, London
Because of the history of textiles, Shoreditch, Spitalfields, and Brick Lane have become three of London’s fashionable areas. Throughout the centuries, since London became multicultural, Shoreditch and Brick Lane have become an area for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities to trade and set up shop. You’ll often see saris, hardware, and furniture stores in front of shop windows, curry houses, Indian jewellery, and many more. You can usually smell the hot spices mixed with different aromas of food as you walk past some of the South Asian restaurants. Sometimes, you can feel the heat from the hot pan as you choose your dishes in the food stalls.
Ermine Street is situated on the A10 (a code name given to roads in and around the UK), and it is the main road the Romans built. Although the Romans built the road, you won’t see traces of the Roman past. Instead, you’ll now see a modern road full of high street shops, office blocks, modern cars, walkers, red buses, black taxis, and 19th Century buildings. Beeping traffic and driving slowly are still common along this street. The area is now redeveloped with a million pounds worth of office buildings and apartments.
Is Shoreditch safe?
Like any other part of London, it’s more the people than the area. Just because the area looks run down, impoverished and many homeless people, it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to go through the streets. Shoreditch is nothing different, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be vigilant. During the day, you’re safe. After midnight, the streets get quieter. You don’t know who’s walking behind you. There are lots of alleyways and narrow dark roads, and at night, no one is around. Make sure you bring someone with you for protection. Alternatively, if you’re staying close by, it’s better to get an Uber for around £7 for a half an hour ride. It can be double if you’re going home on a Friday or Saturday night.
Brick Lane Market
Insider’s tips: Make sure it’s a Sunday when you visit Brick Lane Market. Every other day is closed. Brick Lane Market opens from 10 am – 5 pm every Sunday.
In and around Brick Lane Market, you’ll mostly see the lower- and working-class people, and you’ll often hear British cockney accents shouting and selling second-hand goods, persuading you to buy their products. From cheap clothes, DVDs for a pound, second-hand house ornaments, second-hand books, a packet of 3 shampoos, 3 conditioners, and 3 soaps for a pound, are some of the things you can find there. Although most areas look impoverished, it’s still one of the most expensive areas to live in London. People look for character in a property, and streets such as the ghostly Fournier Street still have the Georgian style character going back to the 17th – 18th Century.
There are 5 different markets. The Truman Markets sell bric-a-brac, fruit, and veg, vintage shops, bagel bars, and many more. This is the place if you love collecting quirky products. The Backyard Market sells arts and crafts, which include handmade jewellery, fashion accessories, and more. The Sunday Markets, Boiler House Food Hall, Ely’s Yard Street Food, and Vintage Markets include food from all over the world. On top of that, there are 200 market stalls selling vintage clothes.
Brick Lane Vintage Market is in a large, 3 story vintage warehouse. You’ll be swimming in vintage from Levi’s denim to 70s leather jackets and funky boots. You’re sure to find a treasure buried inside. Walk down the dark steps towards the basement, and the neon storefront lights up with “Brick Lane Vintage Market” written in red bold fonts. Colourful artistic stickers stuck on the lights. The wooden door is also covered in rock, retro, and vintage stickers.
As you step in, you’ll notice a photo booth where you can take fun photos with your friends. There are several photos that have been taken and shown to everyone at the photo booth entrance. A vintage red and grey “Coors Light” bomber jacket alongside a bright red “Budweiser” jacket hung at the top of the wall. At the bottom, there are hundreds of American football jerseys and t-shirts to choose from.
As I couldn’t take photos, I made sure to take their Instagram accounts, so you’ll know who to follow and what products you’ll find when you get there. Check out @vintageparadiseuk on Instagram and @vintagaparadise_uk on TikTok. For wall arts, check out olifowler.com, and @oli.fowlerart on Instagram.
On the other side of the warehouse, a white-walled area seems more spacious than the vintage floor. These are the traders that sell their bespoke handmade products ranging from candles, jewellery, furniture, and general ornaments. You can spend half a day in this warehouse.
From Brick Lane Market, walk a few minutes to Spitalfields. You’ll see a large khaki green/ 19th Century style building offering high-end designer fashion boutiques. These small outlets sell handmade jewellery from £30 upwards to clothes at £80 plus. Walk inside Spitalfields Market, you’ll be taken into a large Victorian market hall. In this hall, the crowds of people will prevent you from walking in a straight line. During COVID, the crowds are still plenty but are not as packed compared to pre-COVID times. You’ll still enjoy the atmosphere though. Check out the history of the market here. As you read the history, you’ll still see and hear stall traders selling the same products as they did during the 17th Century, with a modern twist of course. More on my experience in Spitalfields Market is below.
Don’t forget the bars, clubs, and Box Park. Box Park is a pop-up shopping centre where you can socialise with your friends. You can eat, play, and shop in the small quirky boutique outlets. The outlets are only small enough for 1 chef with his tiny kitchen, a couple of store assistants, and 3 customers to line up and buy quirky handmade products. Don’t worry, there are seating areas. In the middle, hundreds of people eat food from different outlets there. Box Park can be crowded, vibrant, and lively. If you want to avoid the crowds, the quietest time is Monday and Tuesday afternoons.
My experience in Shoreditch London
As soon as I stepped out of Shoreditch Overground Station, the first thing I noticed was the bright coloured graffiti splattered in a quiet, unoccupied fenced open area under the bridge. People will often use this space to get from A to B. It did feel eerie. As I turn left from the station, I notice hundreds of small locks locked on the steel fence. It seems people don’t take notice of this, but it’s quirky and creative for me. In front of me is the busy main road. Busy cars still drove past but not enough to cause traffic. On the other side of the wall, I can see more colourful graffiti. I thought “this place is more artistic than I thought”.
As I walk further, I notice a row of the red Boris bikes I can hire for the day. On my right, a large colourful poster of “Bimbay”, a young Lourdes Leon, Madonna’s daughter, can be seen with her large gold and silver jewellery, posing. Her large poster filled up several smaller posters of Van X Bape, advertising Japanese street fashion. You can still see the posters’ edges folded; most are creased from the rain. At 10 am, it seems quiet as I walk up the small narrow road where hardly any cars ever drive past. A small garage with its shutters closed, has a mix of colourful green, red, blue, and yellow graffiti painted all over.
I notice a dark shop selling leather, tartan, and corduroy jackets hanging on metal railings. The owner sits in front of the shop smoking a cigarette. He didn’t look immaculate though.
Just staring into space, watching people sell and buy. Opposite, stacks of colourful containers and cardboard boxes are messily piled up. Heaven knows what’s inside them. I assume second-hand miscellaneous objects of little value. Some people do love clutter. There are other traders selling shampoos, soaps, conditioners, and other household essentials for at least a pound. Cheaper than supermarket prices. I can also see kitchen utensils, silver cooking pots, bedside lamps, and general furniture all at a cheap price.
A former middle-sized car park that used to hold around 20 cars was now used for working-class sellers. As I enter, there are around 10 to 15 stalls selling cheap items from bric-a-brac and second-hand goods. Shoes are spread out on the floor, and it seems like it’s already been worn by their previous owners. Old bedside lamps and house ornaments, such as cheap glass vases made from the 60s, are sold to customers. It feels more like a car boot sale than a market.
I reach the end of the road, and I notice more stalls selling cheap items. A large red and yellow £5 – £30 price sign can be found. Stuck on the metal railings, sellers persuade people to buy cardigans, fashion tops, sweaters, trousers, and many more. Now, I’m in the middle of Brick Lane Market. A large, closed shop with its shutters down. The shutters looked like a long-bricked wall behind the graffiti sprayed all over. At the top, a large white font says, “Brick Lane Vintage” on a black background, and the London “Brick Lane” street plaque hangs on the red-bricked wall, with a Bengali inscription translated below.
One of the side roads connected to Brick Lane feels like a ghost town. There are many 19th Century retail boutique shops that are closed on a Sunday. It feels the shops have closed for good but are closed on the weekends. I can see piles of black bin bags store assistants dumped by the pavement, and rubbish (garbage) is left on the floor. It seems this road isn’t occupied, but it is. That’s the beauty of this road, it feels run down, but still has that spooky, 19th Century, vintage feel to it.
Street art and graffiti in Brick Lane Market
When I think of Brick Lane, I think of graffiti, graffiti, and more graffiti. It’s full of colourful graffiti. It’s as if I’m surrounded by them. This is the home of street art. Salt beef Biegel can be found in Biegel Bake Shop, a famous 24-hour beigel shop popular with locals and tourists. The queue for the beigel bake is long, but overall, the Shoreditch neighbourhood still holds its history.
Among the street art, a large artwork of a white bird can be found on the side of a bricked building, (a photo most people use for social media). Take advantage of taking several photos of graffiti when you pass them. Don’t forget to give the noisy busker playing Caribbean, R&B music your attention. He’s not always there though.
Before COVID, I used to visit Brick Lane, and I’d have to squeeze through people walking. I used to visit the street food market, and there’d be nowhere to sit, even though there were hundreds of long benches. I remember the outside open-spaced area where crowds of people would eat from the perspective stalls and sip their cocktails and beer on a summer’s day. These people have now gone.
The red double-decker bus converted into a restaurant that used to serve fast food, vanished. The open-spaced area is just that now, an empty space. Overall, there are still crowds of people browsing the warehouse, people choosing their meals, and crowds everywhere, but unfortunately, the buzz has disappeared. Hopefully, when everything’s back to normal, Brick Lane will get its buzz back. All in all, Brick Lane Market is young, vibrant, multicultural, colourful, and artistic all rolled into one. A place not to be missed. It’s quieter during COVID, but it kept its hallmark.
Old Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields Market is situated next to Brick Lane Market. It’s an indoor market that’s been around for 350 years. The 19th Century building architecture painted in green is still the same as it did three hundred years ago. Unlike Brick Lane Market, Old Spitalfields Market is open 7 days a week and sells many items. It’s also livelier than Brick Lane Market during COVID.
The nearest train and underground station is Liverpool Street, and it’s a few minutes’ walk from there. Shoreditch Overground is further away. Get off at Shoreditch if you want to visit Brick Lane Market first but get off at Liverpool Street if you want to visit Spitalfields Market first.
Rows of simple wooden stalls are placed nicely in a row. Large plastic containers and wooden boxes sell vinyl, CDs, and records. Several metal railings full of vintage jackets and trousers are squashed together. Colourful printed t-shirts hang from the stalls. Colourful florists selling bespoke flowers ranging from £10 – £20 can also be seen.
As for street food? Why not grab a hot Thai noodle soup with eggs and greens? Buy a thick grilled cheese sandwich cooked in front of you, accompanied with ham or beef. Not enough? Try out the dirties, juiciest, and tastiest gigantic hamburger while you hear buskers and street musicians singing and playing music in the background. There’s also a fish and chip shop in the corner of Truman’s Brewery. As soon as I see the large red Neon Truman’s Brewery sign on top of the 19th Century building and the All-Saints store, I knew I was already in the middle of Shoreditch.
When I arrive outside the Old Spitalfields Market, I see the Ten Bells Pub in the corner. This was the pub Jack the Ripper used to drink in 1888, and one of his victims used to work there too. Now, trendy young “punters” drink outside. I took a walk through Fournier Street next to the large Christ Church Spitalfields. I see many 18th Century Georgian townhouses painted khaki green, dark red, creme, black, and dark yellow. Young, trendy fashionistas usually live here. It also kept its architecture since then. It’s as if I stepped back to the Georgian period, and if I may add, the townhouses could still be haunted. After a whole day walking around Shoreditch, my feet were tired, and decided to head home.
If you want to know more about Shoreditch, London, please feel free to visit me on Facebook and ask me any questions you may have. For now, stay safe and take care!!!