Made famous by Dickens and infamous by Jack the Ripper, the East End is one of London's most enduringly evocative neighborhoods. It may have fewer conventional tourist attractions but it is rich in folk history, architectural gems, feisty burgeoning culture, and one of the hottest gallery scenes in the world. Once home to French Huguenots, then Ashkenazi Jews, and now a large Bangladeshi community, the area has also attracted—since the early 1990s—hip artists and designers attracted by affordable Georgian buildings and converted industrial lofts.
Nowadays the East End is one of London's most exciting neighborhoods, bohemian in places, culturally diverse, and though hit hard during the Blitz of World War II, historically charming here and there, with a surprising number of fine early Georgian houses. Your explorations, accordingly, will reward you with a rich variety experiences.
Two hot districts are Spitalfields and Shoreditch, together with Hoxton, which are filling up fast with stylish boutiques (especially on Cheshire Street) and cafés, artists' studios, and galleries in once-derelict industrial spaces that were bought up cheaply and have been imaginatively remodeled. Brick Lane, the heart of the Bangladeshi East End, is lined with innumerable curry houses and glittering sari shops, and is also home to the Old Truman Brewery, a remnant of the old East End and now converted to studios and gallery space.
Markets bring shoppers to the East End from all over London. The Sunday morning junk market on Brick Lane complements the neighborhood's many vintage-clothing shops, while Columbia Road is enlivened with a fun and fab flower market; Spitafields Market, with its crafts and designers booths, is open daily, but weekends are the liveliest. Some of London's most distinctive attractions are tucked away in the East End. The Geffrye Museum, a collection of domestic interiors, occupies a row of early-18th-century almshouses, and Whitechapel Art Gallery and the East End branch of the White Cube gallery are bastions of contemporary art. Pockets of notable historic buildings remain. Christ Church, Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawkmoor's masterpiece, soars above Fournier Street.Dennis Severs's House, in a Georgian terrace, has been transformed into a "living house museum" that authentically re-creates several periods. TheSpitalfields City Farm offers rare open space in this built-up area and is a favorite with kids, as is the quirky V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.