Are you seeking something to do in London other than the standard tourist spots? Want to avoid the likes of Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, and see the down-to-earth side of this great city instead? Then set your sights towards the East End. This alternative London walking tour blends quirky tales of history, dazzling street art, bustling local markets and multicultural food outlets. Scroll to the bottom for a map of the key points for you to follow self-guided.
We are lucky enough to live in East London. It’s our favourite part of the city. The East End is a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities. Many of the most prominent British political movements have been spawned on its streets over the centuries, and today the area is a seedbed of arts, culture and a diversity of international cuisine.
We have compiled this self-guided walking tour based on our own local knowledge. It combines some of East London’s most legendary spots with a few hidden gems that we’ve uncovered ourselves.
In this article:
What does this alternative London walking tour include?
Our tour features various highlights and hidden gems of the East End, including:
- Alderman’s Walk and St Botolph’s Bishopsgate Church
- Petticoat Lane Market
- Brick Lane: the mosque, street food and artwork
- Nomadic Community Gardens
- Notable street art examples
- The Curtain Theatre
- Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
Where are the start and finish points?
The tour begins at Liverpool Street Station and ends at Old Street Station, so it’s easy to reach the starting point and move on from the end, via either the London Underground or national rail.
Liverpool Street Station is on the Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan London Underground lines, as well as the London Overground and TfL Rail. You can reach it in less than 20 minutes from King’s Cross or Waterloo stations.
Old Street is on the Bank branch of the London Underground Northern line. The tube ride up to King’s Cross takes just five minutes.
The walking tour route explained
1. Arrive at the Kindertransport Statue
If you leave Liverpool Street Station by the south entrance, you will emerge out onto an area called Hope Square. The easiest way to find it is to look for McDonald’s – there are signs to it inside the station.
In Hope Square you will see a bronze statue of children with cases of belongings at the end of a railtrack. This is a memorial of what is known as the Kindertransport.
In 1938–39, just before the onset of World War II, thousands of Jewish children arrived at Liverpool Street Station. They had been transported from Austria and Germany to escape Nazi persecution.
The beginning of December 2018 marked the 80th anniversary of the first Kindertransports. The statue in Hope Square is one of a series created by sculptor Frank Meisler, who came to the UK as a child on one of the transports himself. He sadly passed away in March 2018.
2. Alderman’s Walk and St Botolph’s
From the Kindertransport Statue, walk down Liverpool Street towards Bishopsgate. Opposite Andaz, take the right turn along White Hart Court. This will lead you to Alderman’s Walk, a small passageway with a long and rich history.
If you loop around from Alderman’s walk to the right, you will emerge onto St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Gardens. To the right you will see the old Victorian Bath House, and to your left, St Botolph’s Church.
St Botolph was the original patron saint of travellers before St Christopher took over the mantle. Botolph, who lived in the 7th century, didn’t actually do a lot of travelling overseas himself. The patronage is believed to be connected to the legend that after he died, King Edgar the Peaceful had his remains divided and brought into London through the four city gates.
Churches were built and dedicated to Botolph near each of the gates, where incoming and outgoing travellers gave Botolph thanks for blessing them with safe travels.
Over the years, the church has been a charity school for poor children, and also staged the christenings of poet John Keats and actor Edward Alleyn.
3. The Bridging Home sculpture and the Gherkin
From St Botolph’s, step out onto Bishopsgate, turn right and walk the short distance to the junction with Wormwood Street. If you look to your right here, you will see a bizarre sculpture of a crooked house in the middle of a footbridge.
This is the work of Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist. Symbolic of the migrant history of East London, the traditional Korean house is a replica of his childhood home, designed to look as though it has fallen on the bridge.
From the junction, walk in the opposite direction to the bridge. After fifty metres or so, Outwich Street branches off to the left. Stop here for a moment and glance to your right for a great view of 30 St Mary Axe, a skyscraper otherwise known as the Gherkin.
Opened in 2004 and standing 180 metres tall, the Gherkin is the most foremost example of how contemporary architecture is being amalgamated into the historic skyline of East London. It stands on the site originally earmarked for the 92-floor Millennium Tower, the plans for which were scrapped after various concerns were raised.
4. Devonshire Square
Walk around Outwich Street and then cut up Barbon Alley to Devonshire Square. Across the road, you will see the sculpture of a mounted knight in armour on a patch of greenery. This is the Knight of the Cnihtengild.
The sculpture, unveiled in 1990, represents one of 13 knights who were awarded land in East London in the 10th Century by King Edgar. Fascinatingly, it stands on a circular plate that turns by one degree every day, completing a full circle every year.
If you walk east from here along Devonshire Square, you will see a court area of bars and restaurants to the left under some archways. This is part of a Wework coworking space complex, which also features artwork installations in its grounds, and a giant Christmas tree during the festive season. It’s worth taking a little detour through here and then back out to Devonshire Square.
5. Petticoat Lane Market
From Devonshire Square, continue onto Cutler street and then turn left onto Harrow Place. At the end, turn right on Middlesex Street, and after a few steps you will reach the beginning of Petticoat Lane Market on Wentworth Street (if it’s a Sunday, the market extends across Middlesex Street too).
Petticoat Lane Market is one of London’s most fabled markets. It dates back to the 17th century, when traders sold second-hand clothes (hence the name). However, from those early days until it was legally recognised in 1930, the market was a notorious playground for petty thieves and peddlers of stolen goods.
These days the market is a hive of activity, especially on Sundays, when as many as 1,000 stalls are open. There have been the occasional rags-to-riches stories, too. British businessman Alan Sugar, star of The Apprentice, began his entrepreneurial career when he ran a stall on the market in the 1960s.
The market stretches all the way along Wentworth Street from the Middlesex Street end to the Culpeper pub. Take your time to browse through the stalls, and try to pick out a good deal. There are many to be had!
6. Brick Lane: street art and food
Continue walking along Wentworth Street for a couple of hundred metres and you will reach the south end of Brick Lane. This old, cobbled road is East London’s epicentre of street art, street food and vintage fashion. It’s also world famous for its curry houses.
Not far past the famous archway that welcomes you to Brick Lane, you will reach Chicksand street on the right. Just a few paces up this side-road you will see a bright and colourful mural of birds and god-like statues. This is the work of El Kolor Distinto, a street art duo hailing from Valparaíso in Chile.
The duo, who have been practicing street artists for two decades, were recently commissioned to create giant murals on the theme of ‘four seasons’ in their home city. You can read more about that in our article on Valparaíso street art. In 2015, they made a trip to London and created several works around the East End, including this one on Chicksand Street.
Continuing north you will soon reach Brick Lane Mosque. This might just be the greatest single example of East London’s cultural diversity. Over nearly three centuries, this building has served as a Huguenot chapel, a Methodist church, a synagogue, and now as a mosque.
If you’re doing the walking tour on a Sunday, then you’re in luck. Further up Brick Lane on the left-hand side you will reach the Sunday Upmarket. This is a lively marketplace of creative traders selling clothing, jewellery, artwork, crafts, homeware, and other creative delights.
Best of all, though, is the street food hall. The large hall area facing out onto Brick Lane is crammed with stalls selling delicious cuisine from all corners of the world.
7. Nomadic Community Gardens
As you approach the railway bridge walking north up Brick Lane, look to the right and you will see a painted sign saying Nomadic Garden. Follow the path to the right, and you will emerge into a large greenery area (Allen Gardens), surrounded by walls plastered with street art. Ahead, to your left, there is an underpass beneath the railway.
Through this underpass, you will find one of East London’s newest secrets: the Nomadic Community Gardens. This is where a group of volunteer creatives have transformed a derelict wasteland into a garden of allotments filled with colourful sculptures, artwork and beehives.
It took two years for the project to be granted permission to go ahead, and once it did, word began to spread. The team never placed an advertisement, but soon, passers-by began to volunteer to help with its creation.
Now complete, you will find find entrepreneurial nomads and artists at work in the gardens, as well as people stopping by to relax, read and enjoy the surroundings. Check out the project’s website for a really neat video on how it’s putting space to good use.
8. Bagels and Boxpark
Head back out onto Brick Lane (we’re not quite done there yet!) and head north under the railway bridge. A couple of hundred metres up, you will see Beigel Bake on the left. Welcome to London’s legendary 24-hour bagel shop.
Beigel Bake is so crushingly popular that it churns through up to 3,000 bagels every single day. Over the decades it has welcomed celebrity customers through its doors, from the Kray twins to Henry Winkler (The Fonz from Happy Days).
The shop’s famous bagels are boiled before baking to create their distinctive flavour, come with a variety of fillings, and are served in the shop’s signature brown bags. Try the salt beef bagel with a gherkin and smear of mustard – it’s incredible.
After your bagel fix, head back down Brick Lane and turn west onto Sclater Street (just before the railway bridge). Follow it to the end and merge onto Bethnal Green Road. On the left, you will soon see the phenomenon that is Boxpark.
There couldn’t be a more fitting welcome to Shoreditch, London’s hipster capital. Boxpark is a mall of street food, bars and independent cloth retailers, built in refitted shipping containers. On its launch in 2011, it was described as “the world’s first pop-up mall”.
9. Global Street Art giant mural
From Boxpark, continue walking west. Cross over Shoreditch High Street onto Holywell Lane. On the right, just before you reach Great Eastern Street, glance up King John Court and you will see a huge painted mural covering an office building. You are looking at the largest street art mural in the UK.
The artwork, unveiled in 2018, was created by 16 artists using 250 litres of black paint and 500 cans of spray paint. It covers 1,400 square metres of the London headquarters of telecommunications company Colt, who commissioned the piece through Global Street Art.
The mural is an astonishing achievement that combines the styles and ideas of some of Europe’s top street artists on the theme of connectivity. Check out Global Street Art’s Youtube channel to see some videos about how it was made.
For more street art examples and other quirky spots to explore in the area, see this article on London street photography locations.
10. Curtain Theatre
At the crossroads of Holywell Lane and Great Eastern Street, walk a few paces to the left and cast your eyes across the road. There isn’t any physical evidence standing today, but you are looking at the site of one of the very first theatres in the UK.
The Curtain Theatre in Shoreditch was the main venue for performances of Shakespeare’s plays at the end of of the 16th century before the world-famous Globe Theatre opened across the city in Southwark. Classics such as Romeo and Juliet were given their earliest public renditions right here.
A new development is being built on the site of the old theatre. The Stage Shoreditch, a mixed-use complex of offices, living spaces, leisure and retail, will feature a sunken amphitheatre at its base. Its construction began on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, and it is due to be opened in 2019.
If you’re feeling hungry, this spot is also right on location for one of London’s best street food spots. Dinerama is a two-level food and drink market built in a former bullion truck depot. In summer, the roof is taken off to create a an open-air fesitval-style feel.
11. Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
Step back onto Holywell Lane and continue walking west for around ten minutes. Holywell Lane will become Scrutton Street, which will become Epworth Street, before you eventually arrive at a large cemetery site. This is Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, where our walking tour meets a grave ending (sorry).
Bunhill Fields is the final resting place of some of London’s most celebrated radicals and creatives. William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan are just some of the legendary historical figures interred here.
The cemetery was originally established in the 17th century as a burial place for non-conformists. In 2011 it was given protected status as a Grade I listed park. At the entrance gate to the cemetery, a signposted map shows where you find the graves of the site’s most notable occupants.
Between April and October, you can take a guided tour of Bunhill Fields every Wednesday at 12:30pm for a fee of £8.
12. Finish at Old Street Station
From the entrance gate to Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, it’s a short walk up City Road to the big roundabout where you will find Old Street Station. You can hop on the London Underground Northern line here, or take a national rail service to your next destination.
Walking tour map
The map below shows the route of this alternative London walking tour: