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Sunday is a great day to explore the markets around Bethnal Green, Brick Lane and Spitalfields.
Historically, this was a Jewish area between the late 1800s and the Second World War. As the Jewish day of rest, the Sabbath, takes place on Saturday, special dispensation was made to allow the markets to trade on a Sunday and this quickly drew in traders from all around, grateful to have an extra days' trading.
Start your day at:
COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET
Every Sunday, 8am to mid-afternoon although starts to wind down after 2pm. This otherwise pretty if unassuming street of terraced houses bursts into life on a Sunday: colourful, loud, lively and crowded. As well as the spectacle of all the plants and flowers for sale, there are a number of speciality shops here, many of which open up specially for the market, as well as a number of places to grab drinks and snacks. This makes a great start to a Sunday in the area; get the Overground to Shoreditch High Street or Hoxton; or take the 8 or 388 bus (alight at the Barnet Grove stop and walk up Barnet Grove) or the 26, 48 or 55 bus (alight at the Queensbridge Road stop and walk down Horatio Street, by the traffic lights).
Columbia Road even has it's own website, if you want to find out more about this fascinating street: www.columbiaroad.info
When you're done with the Flower Market, head down to Brick Lane. Head down Chambord Street then left through a car park into Brick Lane and walk down. Or just follow the crowds!
Interesting any day of the week, on Sundays the top part of The Lane, between Bethnal Green Road and Buxton Street, is closed to traffic until 4pm and given over to market stalls, selling just about anything you can think of. It's a great place for street-style food too.
Stop at the world-famous beigel shop at the top end of The Lane for a cheap and tasty snack - they are famous for being open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - yes, even Christmas Day. Don't be put off by the queue; the brisk and sometimes brusque service soon shifts it and keeps the prices low. The top part of The Lane is street stalls and shops, many selling vintage clothing - this spills over into Cheshire Street on the left and Sclater Street on the right, so do take time to explore. If you fancy something more exotic than beigels, the middle part of The Lane, by the new railway bridge,has lots of stalls selling street-style food from all over the world. Just past here, if you like bookshops don't miss the 'Brick Lane Bookshop', an independent with a range of books about London in general and the East End in particular - some of the titles you won't see anywhere else. Further down, the Old Truman's Brewery complex has been transformed with bars and clubs; on Sunday it houses the Backyard Market and Sunday Up-Market - again there are a number of street-style food stalls.
Like Columbia Road, Brick Lane also has its own website: www.visitbricklane.org
You could also take a side trip to:
SPITALFIELDS CITY FARM
Situated just off Brick Lane, next to Allen's Gardens (turn left into Buxton Street, before you get to the Trumans Brewery), this is the closest City Farm to the City of London and a great place to get up close and personal with the chickens, sheep, goats and pigs (no cows or horses though, they don't have enough room). They do excellent work in the local community, enabling inner-city children to experience farm animals and farm life at first hand; as well as running a gardening project for Bangladeshi women, reducing isolation and giving them a chance to cultivate the vegetables that are traditionally grown by women in Bangladesh. The farm also participates in the conservation of rare breeds, preserving the traditional British farm animals that are in danger of dying out. They have a café too. All in all it's a great pit-stop to get you out of the crowds for a while. Open from 10 to 4 on a Sunday (and every day except Monday), admission free.
And yes, they have a website too: www.spitalfieldscityfarm.org
MEANWHILE, BACK ON BRICK LANE:
Once you get past the old Truman's Brewery, Brick Lane changes character and becomes 'Banglatown', the heart of London's Bangladeshi community. It is noted for its concentration of curry houses; a few are decent, the rest exist to serve gloop to tourists and people from outside the area who don't know any better, and use touts to lure in the unsuspecting (although by law they are not supposed to). If you want a genuine, authentic curry, try Tayyab's on Fieldgate Street, or Lahore Kebab House at 2 Umberston Street, just off Commercial Road, both less than ten minutes' walk away. However, if you are interested in Asian spices and foods, do have a look round Taj Stores which caters to the local Bangaldeshi community.
This is now time to head on to Spitalfields Market. Turn right into Hanbury Street, just after the bridge over Brick Lane that connects two parts of the former Truman's Brewery, or walk through the 'Up-Market' to the right. You will see Spitalfields Market at the end, across Commercial Street. Alternatively continue down Brick Lane if you want to have a look in Taj Stores, then turn right into Fournier Street at the London Jamme Masjid (mosque) which is marked by a tall silver minaret that you cannot possibly miss. The building started out as a Hugenot chapel, was adapted to become a synagogue and is now used as a mosque; it is believed to be the only building outside the Middle East that has been used by all three of the main monotheistic religions, and its history reflects the successive waves of immigrants who have come to this area. At the mosque, Fournier Street is full of 17th Century town houses, most of which have been restored to their former glory. At the end you come to:
Originally purpose-built in the 1890s as a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, this moved out in the early 1990s. Now the old market building has been refurbished and extended, and houses market stalls galore as well as small speciality shops. Many of the stalls are run by craftspeople and designers, who make their goods and clothes during the week and sell them here on Sunday. Definitely the place to come if you are looking for something unique/out-of-the-ordinary! There are also plenty of eateries in and around the Market, from full-blown cafes and restaurants to street-style stalls - again, something for every taste and budget. There are a couple of pubs on Commercial Street, directly opposite the Market, if you are ready for someting stronger by now - try The Ten Bells (named after Christ Church Spitalfields next door), or The Golden Heart on the corner of Hanbury Street where the landlady has her own decidedly unique take on customer service (in other words, she's downright rude - either ignore her or be rude back!).
Website? But of course: www.spitalfields.co.uk
If you've had enough by now, Liverpool Street and Shoreditch High Street stations are just a few minutes walk away, and there are numerous bus routes serving Bishopsgate.
However, if you want to stay in the area a little longer, head back up to Shoreditch for the oh-so-achingly hip and cool clubs and bars. You could also check out 'Boxpark', which describes itself as London's first 'pop-up shopping centre' - a mall created out of shipping containers, right next to Shoreditch High Street Station.