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A Cultural Guide to Bethnal Green

30 September 2017 Chloe Dormand

Nestled in the heart of East London, Bethnal Green combines the vibrancy of nearby Shoreditch with deep-rooted East End character. Join London Calling as we take you on a tour of our favourite spots in the colourful hotchpotch that is Bethnal Green.

Just north of Stepney and Whitechapel, Bethnal Green in Tower Hamlets has seen a wave of redevelopment and gentrification in recent years. This is a welcome change from the area’s post-WWII struggles and the notorious gangster activity of the 1960s. E Pellicci, a former Kray stomping ground and one of their favourite cafés, is still one of the area’s most popular eateries. Something of a local landmark, every weekend this family-run café has queues of people hungry for their famous fry up.


E Pellicci © Colin O’Brien
 
Today, Bethnal Green is a multi-cultural community full of art, history and culture. Every Sunday, Columbia Road Flower Market attracts people from far and wide. Traders take to the street selling everything from bedding plants to cacti, and even banana trees. The whole road is awash with bright colours and the smell of flowers travels through the air. Behind the stalls, the pavements are lined with independent shops, bakeries and galleries. Try one of Café Columbia’s famous bagels, and browse the eclectic graphic and street art on display at Nelly Duff.
 
After working your way through the hustle and bustle of the flower market, take a load off at one of Bethnal Green’s many pubs, cafés and restaurants. Sit down for a Sunday roast at the Royal Oak on Columbia Road, or head back to the high street and recharge with some of the best coffee in town. Second Shot is an independent coffee shop, aiming to tackle homelessness one coffee at a time. Not only do they offer employment and training opportunities to formerly homeless people, their Pay it Forward scheme means customers can buy something from the menu to be donated to the homeless community.


Second Shot. Image courtesy of Second Shot
 
Bethnal Green Road is also home to a plethora of cosy boozers with hearty pub grub to match. Grab a burger at the Star of Bethnal Green or get your fish and chips fix at The Old George. After the sun sets, Bethnal Green has all the ingredients you need for a night out. Try Padron for tapas, and follow that up with a signature cocktail at the Sun Tavern – an ideal date location with its low lighting and exposed brick interior. For something a bit livelier, move on to Paradise Row: a vibrant hub all of its own. Start with dinner at the Resident of Paradise Row, before sampling some hand picked craft beers at Mother Kelly’s and dancing the night away, cocktail in hand, at London Cocktail Club. If you aren’t much of a dancer, there’s always BackYard Comedy just a short walk away. With a variety of comedians – including regulars on the circuit and new talent – they have locals laughing over pizza and beer every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
 
As well as lively nightlife, Bethnal Green has a whole host of cultural, family-friendly attractions. Take the family to the V&A Museum of Childhood. A genuinely nostalgic experience, the museum takes you on a trip down memory lane with all of your old toys and games. Just next door, York Hall plays host to a number of vintage fairs and seasonal craft markets throughout the year. The building is also home to a gym, complete with spa and public swimming pool. That takes care of your healthy body: London Buddhist Centre will help with a healthy mind. They offer affordable (or free!) yoga classes, as well as sessions on Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation.


 
Bethnal Green is only a short walk from Victoria Park, perfect for walks with the family or picnics with friends and which also hosts multiple festivals throughout the summer. For greenery a bit closer to home, Bethnal Green Gardens is just a stones throw away from the tube station. Take a stroll through the gardens, past what will soon be the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ war memorial, before you come to Bethnal Green Library. A grand Victorian building with a recently renovated interior, here you’ll find a perfect quiet spot to get lost in your favourite book.
 
Where are your favourite places in Bethnal Green? Have we missed a cultural venue that you love? Tell us about them in the comments section below. 
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