The rise and rise of London’s East End is familiar to those who live here. Starting at the Docklands and extending up through Hackney, Dalston and Shoreditch, this formerly blighted area is now home to the city’s hottest bars, clubs, galleries, hotels, restaurants and retailers. Shoreditch in particular seems to open a hip new venue every week—in part to cater to the monied whiz-kids at the nearby Silicon Roundabout. Planning a visit here can be overwhelming, but Brick Lane is a good place to start. A strip of squat brick buildings, the street has long been the hub of London’s Bangladeshi community. Today, its array of fantastic curry houses has been joined by scores of hip boutiques, restaurants, galleries and bars. Highlights include the Old Truman Brewery, a lively complex that includes the underground Vintage Market, which offers some of the best clothes shopping in town.
The epicenter of North London’s shopping and drinking scene has long been Camden Town. The area’s sprawling markets sell everything from edgy fashion to quirky trinkets, while the local pubs have counted the likes of Amy Winehouse and The Pogues among their regulars. The cool factor has subsided a little, but Camden still has plenty of life left in it. Angel, in Islington, is another counter-cultural hotspot that has smartened up—though Upper Street still has the indie Almeida Theatre, along with the wonderful Camden Passage, a narrow strip of vintage shops, eateries and stalls. Then there’s King’s Cross, whose attractions range from the restaurants and bars in the Gothic St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel to those in the newly restored industrial complex Coal Drops Yard. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Historically, South London has been uncharted territory for those looking for something to do, but in recent decades, formerly drab neighborhoods like Peckham, Tooting and Brixton have changed all that. Brixton’s markets are still a rich source of cellphone repair kiosks and butcher shops, but there are more and more spots selling art, fashion and fabulous food—wander the arcades near the Tube station for the best of these. Peckham (a.k.a. the “new Shoreditch”) is packed with exciting restaurants like Aside (modern British) and kudu (South African), along with bars like Brick Brewery (craft beer) and El Segundo (cocktails). Tooting, home to some of the city’s best Asian restaurants, is now being touted as London’s Next Big Thing—though, despite the fashionable brunch spots and breweries popping up, this one is still a work in progress.
There hasn’t been much need for a revival in a part of town containing the King’s Road, birthplace of the punk movement and now a shopping and dining mecca, and Soho, the old red-light district that has also become super hip. Figure in the theaters of the West End, the museums of South Kensington and the Royal Parks—St. James’s, Green and Hyde—and you have an area custom-built for tourism. There are, though, plenty of new additions among the old hotspots. The area around Portobello Road—the city’s most famous street market—is buzzing with trendy bars and restaurants. The new Battersea Power Station complex will up the ante on that neighborhood’s lively food-and-drink scene. Under-the-radar Marylebone, meanwhile, is home to a growing number of top-notch restaurants, including the Chiltern Firehouse. And if none of that suits you, you can always go and visit the Queen.