Long before the hipsters and the Olympics moved in, East London was one of the last solidly working class strongholds in the city. As the area has become more fashionable, prices have risen. But there are still ways to enjoy the East End on the cheap – as the many broke artists and students who congregate here could tell you…
The recently opened Qbic Hotel in Whitechapel offers nightly rates for as low as $97. Rooms at this modern design hotel are built using a modular concept that utilizes what is known as a “cubi,” a cube-shaped piece of furniture that integrates the bed and bathroom. The cheapest rooms at Qbic are internal and have no windows. But all rooms are cheerfully decorated, with large murals behind the bed, funky and compact furnishings, and bright colors. A light breakfast is included in rates, and WiFi is free throughout the hotel.
Strolling down cluttered and colorful Brick Lane will bring you past scores of tempting Bengali, Indian, and Bangladeshi restaurants, all of which claim to serve the best curries in London. A few of the best known are Aladin’s and Cafe Bangla, both on Brick Lane, and Kolapata on nearby Whitechapel Road. You can get a filling meal at any of these places for £10-15 ($16-25).
For something lighter but with no less character, don’t miss the perennial favorite Brick Lane Beigel Bake, a 24-hour bakery staffed by true East-Enders, where a filled bagel (with smoked salmon or salt beef) will set you back between 90p and £1.60 ($1.50-2.60).
Street art abounds in East London, with work by artists such as Banksy, ROA (pictured), and Stik on view. You can just wander the streets yourself or take a guided tour with Street Art London or a self-guided tour using an app. If you prefer your contemporary art within four walls, the Whitechapel Gallery only charges an entrance fee for special exhibitions. The rest is free.
Vintage stores line Brick Lane and its surrounding streets. Nowadays bargains are a little more difficult to come by, but it’s still worth having a rummage through the clothes, bags, shoes, and homewares on offer at Beyond Retro, Absolute Vintage, Blondie Vintage, and Hunky Dory.