Bethnal Green Area Guide

Some people consider Bethnal Green to be the real heart of London, even if it’s nowhere near the geographic centre of the city. One visit to the area and you’ll soon realise why, as it’s a colourful, vibrant and exciting part of the capital – wonderfully well located and surrounded on all sides by hot spots such as Shoreditch. Today, it’s home to families and hipsters, young professionals and creatives from a melting pot of cultures, classes and backgrounds that is very representative of London as a diverse, modern city.

Bethnal Green has a heritage that stretches back through the centuries to when it was once all marshland, very different to the much more bustling environment that exists here today. It was originally included in the county of Middlesex but became part of London in the late 19th century when the boundaries of the city started to expand. When the area moved away from agriculture it became a hub for market gardening, weaving and light industry. Globe Town, for example, was developed for the increasing population of weavers who came to Bethnal Green in the 1800s as part of the expansion in the local silk weaving industry.

What you need to know

  • Bethnal Green was once known as Blithehale or Blythenhale (which comes from Anglo Saxon words meaning happy corner)
  • Just like many parts of East London Bethnal Green took some heavy hits from bombing during the Second World War. Not all of the bombs exploded – in 2007 a team of builders found a 1 metre long 500lb bomb that was a WWII relic.
  • A long list of famous and infamous faces hail from Bethnal Green. Among them, legendary gangsters The Kray Twins and the boxer Audley Harrison. This is also the birthplace of Carry On actress Barbara Windsor.
  • Bethnal Green hasn’t been sucked into total gentrification (yet) unlike many other areas of London. Time Out describes the local population as “old-school embedded East Enders, Bangladeshi families and recently arrived professionals. And the best thing is that everyone gets along famously.”

Moving and shaking

Bethnal Green is well connected when it comes to transport, which is why it has attracted a healthy sized local population of professionals who commute elsewhere for work.

Trains. Bethnal Green Underground Station is on the Central Line, which cuts through the centre of the city, heading east to west, via destinations like Bank and Marble Arch. The area also has an Overground station, which has connections to locations like Hackney Downs and Liverpool Street Station.

Buses. Multiple bus routes run through Bethnal Green – eight day routes in total and two night buses - so it’s easy to get elsewhere in the capital. The 8, for example, will take you all the way to Victoria Station in the south and the 52 to Portobello Market and Notting Hill in the west. The 106 goes to Finsbury Park while the 254 takes in Aldgate and Holloway.

Cycling. Two wheels are incredibly popular in East London, whether you’re mooching along the canal towpaths or using a hired bike to get to work every day. There are multiple cycling routes to explore and Bethnal Green has more than the average number of bike hire and repair shops (some with coffee available while you wait).

Taxis. It’s around 4.9 miles from Bethnal Green to a central London location like Oxford Circus. Traffic can be a nightmare during busy times but there are a range of taxi options to choose from, whether you like a black cab, Uber or one of the plentiful local taxi firms that are often considerably cheaper.

Airports. London City airport is the closest option to Bethnal Green if you’re flying – it’s around 5 miles away and accessible via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). Other nearby airports include London Heathrow (17.4 miles), London Gatwick (26.1 miles). Luton and Stanstead are both around 28 miles away.

Underneath the branches

Bethnal Green is a fairly urban location but enjoys multiple splashes of green throughout the area – plus Victoria Park and Mile End Park are also both within easy reach.

Bethnal Green Gardens. As well as play areas and basketball courts this park has a War memorial, known as the Stairway To Heaven.

Stepney Green Gardens. This used to be part of Mile End Green and has some pretty interesting history – it was here that Richard II met the rebels in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. This is a tiny park but a pleasant green space nevertheless.

Meath Gardens. This used to be the Victoria Park Cemetery but today is the holder of a Green Flag award and has multiple sports pitches and plenty of space for sunbathing.

Schooling you

When it comes to education, Bethnal Green has plenty to offer families looking to raise children in the area. There are around 15 primary schools here, including a number with different religious orientations. The area is home to seven secondary schools and two nurseries, as well as a number of other educational institutions, such as independent schools.

Getting fed

Restaurants. E Pellicci is considered something of a local institution in Bethnal Green and is an experienced not to be missed. This Grade II listed café serves what many still say is the best breakfast in the city, alongside a quintessential East End dining experience. Second Shot is a coffee shop with a difference, as you’ll be able to support the local homeless population if you’re buying your lattes from here. The breadth of menus available in this area is pretty astounding, from Korean at Hurwundeki through to vegan plates at The Gallery Café.

Drinking. Bethnal Green often used to be passed over as a destination for going Out Out, in favour of nearby Shoreditch. However, today the cosy pubs, hip bars and unusual establishments hold a lot of appeal. The Star of Bethnal Green is a popular choice for drinking in Bethnal Green but has plenty of space to accommodate everyone – as well as the option of karaoke if you’ve had enough beer. The London Cocktail Club has a branch here for those seriously into their mixology and Satan’s Whiskers is the place to go if you’re looking for unusual combinations and cocktails in a nicely dark and charming space. If you can’t quite make up your mind between pub and speakeasy then head for the Well & Bucket pub on Bethnal Green road, which effortlessly combines the two.

Markets. Some of London’s best markets fall in or close to the boundaries of Bethnal Green. Brick Lane Market (Brick Lane, E1, Sundays), for example, is considered ‘proper’ East End but also excels at fashion and art.

On Sundays, Columbia Road Flower Market is an essential visit even if you’re not particularly into the blooms (Columbia Road, E2, Sundays).

Globe Town market (Roman Road Square, E2 0RN, Monday to Saturday) is also known as Roman Road Square Market. This is a great option for fresh produce and the fish sellers here are a big part of the market’s appeal.

Getting into the culture

An “average” day or night out is just not really something you’ll get in Bethnal Green. You might start out at a cabaret show and end the night dancing to live jazz or find yourself at a pop up bingo event. A quintessential part of the slightly eccentric experience that is Bethnal Green is the cat café – or Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium to give it the proper name. Here, the most ardent kitty fans can get their fix, ideal for anyone who doesn’t have a pet of their own.

Art. Galleries are pretty abundant in this part of London – which has also been nicknamed “the art quarter” - so whatever your taste in art it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed with what you find. The IMT Gallery (Image Music Text) is all about the experimental while Four Corners is a haven for those who love film and photography. French Riviera is a pretty fascinating concept – a studio and exhibition space where you can see unknown artists and also listen to the owners’ band Das Hund.

Performance. Given the strong emphasis on the arts here it’s probably no surprise that there is plenty of performance art too. Oxford House is a community arts centre with a theatre and space for film screenings, for example. You’ll also find a wealth of pop up theatre here and smaller productions, as well as live events and cinema in venues like Rich Mix.

Shopping. Going shopping in Bethnal Green is not your average retail experience. It’s one of the only places in London where even the most eclectic shopping list could be realised. Vintage stores, for example, abound here, as do independent boutiques and tiny shops selling antique furniture or hats. You’ve also got access to the ultra cool Boxpark just down the road in Shoreditch and it’s a short ride on the Central Line to Westfield at Stratford. Local food options cover everything, from national supermarket brands to small corner shops with an incredible selection of spices.

Going out. There’s no doubt that the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club has become an ironic, and essential, part of many an East London night out. Some also say that it’s had a big role to play in changing the character of the area. It remains a working men’s club to this day except now you can expect some rather racier nights on the agenda. The Dead Dolls Club in Bethnal Green offers some similarly eclectic experiences, from jazz bands to candle lit dinners. If you’re more of a fan of laughs than lots of dancing and drinks, The Backyard Comedy Club on Cambridge Heath Road brings some of the finest in West End comedy to the heart of the East End.

Families. There is a great sense of community in Bethnal Green and this has huge appeal for families settling in the area. There are plenty of local play facilities in parks and gardens and most of the cafés are family friendly as well as many of the restaurants. Many of the local attractions are great for children too, including the fascinating Museum of Childhood, which also runs programmes of free events for kids at weekends and during the holidays.

Getting your gym on. This part of London benefits from access to a range of fitness facilities, whether you’re looking for a standard gym like Energie Fitness or you prefer to use a local leisure centre like York Hall Leisure Centre. York Hall is particularly popular with swimmers as it has a 33 metre pool, as well as a teaching pool. Cross Fit has made as much of an impact here as it has across every other vaguely hipster part of London and you’ll also find a collection of running clubs and even military fitness options. Yoga is on tap at The Yoga Place as well as locations like the London Buddhist Centre.

Keeping up with the locals. People who live in Bethnal Green tend to love it with something approaching a passion. As a result, there are plenty of local blogs to browse where you can get an idea of what’s going on in terms of news, events or just the best place for a flat white. Love Bethnal Green is one of them, covering all things local, from where to get the best pie and mash to festivals and parties. As letting agents in Bethnal Green Storeys also likes to stay on top of what’s happening in this part of London – you can too by following us on Twitter @storeys_london.


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