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If you want a snapshot of everything that makes London such an incredible city, then you only have to spend an afternoon wandering around Brick Lane - one of the capital's most eclectic and iconic streets.
A myriad of vintage clothes stores, independent coffee shops and book shops, quirky bars, pop-up stalls and street markets stand alongside some of the best curry houses in the UK. Street art is everywhere and it manages to pull of that difficult task of being a place where which feels both local and touristy.
Here's why exploring this nook of East London is one of our favourite ways to discover the city.
food, glorious food
Never ever come here on a diet; walking from one end to the other will be tantamount to taste-bud torture.
Although Brick Lane is home to some places which we can't really get behind (£5 for a bowl of cereal anyone!?), there's no doubt that this place is unrivalled when it comes to foodie options.
Starting from the entrance by Bethnal Green Road, the iconic (and cheap) Beigel Bake is a local institution . Don't be put off by the huge queues that seem to be permanently outside their door - it's just testament to how amazing these bagels are (we recommend the smoked salmon)!
For those with more of a sweet tooth however, wander a few doors down to Crosstown and be prepared to have perhaps the best doughnut of your life. You can thank us later.
Here on a Sunday? Then you're in for a real foodie treat! For one day a week, Brick Lane is turned into what appears to be the UK's largest food market, with independent food stalls as far as the eye can see, offering up every conceivable dish from across the world - all of which will leave you slavering!
In addition to the food carts that line the street, this popular market offers up not one but three separate street food markets to choose from - The Sunday Upmarket, The Boiler House Food Hall and The Backyard Market. On our most recent visit, we even discovered a guy literally making made-to-order fresh ice-cream in 5 minutes by freezing fruit on a gridle (like a crepe).
With so many options, don't be surprised if you struggle to choose! Our top tip? Give the Ethiopian stalls a go - the food is delicious!
However, this isn't even the cuisine for which Brick Lane is most famous - no sir! This part of East London has, since the 70s, been home to a large Bangladeshi population. As you pass the intersection with Hanbury street, the influence becomes very clear and it's in this part that you'll find dozens of curry houses.
In the evening, don't be surprised to be inundated with offers from all sides to give you the best deal to try and get you inside - just remember, you can play these guys off one another to get a great meal offer for your group!
the music scene
Music lovers won't want to miss Rough Trade East - one of London's best independent record shops. This was a place that was still doing vinyl right before the recent resurgence and it's become a cultural hub over the years, with live music and events taking place most weeks. It also has a great photo booth if you want a unique souvenir.
On weekends, the music offering expands with a number of stalls selling an eclectic range of vinyl and CD - you'll be guaranteed to find one hidden treasure for your collection back home.
Uber-cool vinyl aside, one of the things we like most about Brick Lane is the emerging talent that can be found performing on a corner or under an archway. Buskers are common place and, although quality isn't guaranteed, there is usually always somebody who rolls up with a guitar, a speaker and microphone to blow your mind.
Remember, if you're going to take photos or videos of buskers, always put some money in their hat - it's just common courtesy!
If we had an endless pot of money and way more wardrobe space than our apartment actually has, then we know where we would head to stock up on vintage treasures.
Clustered in and around the street are at least a dozen vintage stores for you to get lost in. We really like the more intimate Hunky Dory (because they always have great music on from the 50s and 60s), although Rokit Vintage and Blitz (it's the biggest vintage department store in the world don't you know!) should definitely be on the must-do list for any burgeoning vintage fashionista.
For those who prefer to observe the latest fashion trends rather than indulge in them, then Brick Lane is also a great spot for people watching. Vintage shops and an eclectic East London clientele mean that on any given day you can spot the most extreme, and the most stylish swishing along the pavements. We saw a man wearing a pair of waders (yep, the kind you go fishing in) and ugg boots the other day. We kid you not.
If vintage isn't your thing, then you'll be delighted to discover that there are also a range of boutiques and higher-end shops scattered around.
Wherever there is street art, that's a sure sign it's somewhere we want to visit.
Although Camden can lay claim to some wonderful pieces, our latest visit to Brick Lane on a sunny Sunday afternoon left us in no doubt about the area's own credentials. We even stumbled upon seven separate artists all out creating their own pieces and it was a real privilege to watch the process up-close-and-personal.
We don't like to give away too many specific recommendations and locations for street art, as we truly believe the best way to discover certain pieces is to stumble upon them on your own explorations. Thankfully, with Brick Lane being a relatively small place, you won't have too much trouble finding some of the most colourful or iconic murals...just remember, the best work is often hidden away on the side streets.
quirky shops and flea markets
Saturday and Sunday see some...interesting...stalls take to the street, selling everything from military memorabilia, precious stones, clothes and antiques to...things which look like they've literally just been pulled out of a skip.
Regardless, there may be a hidden treasure here or there but, even if you don't find anything to your liking, the stalls are all manned (womanned?) by some incredible local characters.
Our two very favourite spots however are The Team Rooms Market and The Backyard Market, located a stone's throw from each other, about halfway down Brick Lane. The former is in a small, open space and houses a splendid array of retro furniture and contemporary design pieces - and perhaps the most fascinating place in the whole of the market, Spitalfields Taxidermy. Old dolls, human bones, stuffed animals (we so nearly bought the stuffed mouse!) and all sorts of weird and wonderful body parts - don't worry, mostly NOT human - in jars of formaldehyde. It could be a place of nightmares if it wasn't all so damn interesting!
Next door, the larger market is more conventional, with independent jewellery and clothes designers and artists. If you want to pick up a unique piece in London, this is the place to find it.
Brick Lane Bookshop is always a lovely place to visit but we both absolutely adore Libreria (68-80 Hanbury Street). Inspired by Jean Louise Borge's 1941 short story - Library of Babel - it has to be seen to be believed. With mirrors on the roof and on the walls, it feels like a never-ending book shop and is somewhere you could lose hours in its nooks and crannies and fantastically curated literary offering. Recognising this, it had the quite fantastic idea of selling beer and allowing you to browse its fantastic collection at your pleasure.
bars and bowling
On a sunny day, there's no shortage of great outdoor spaces to sip on a craft ale or cocktail. The Old Truman Brewery is a sensible place to start, whilst 93 Feet East and Big Chill Bar amongst our favourites.
If you feel like something a little less hipster (or more hipster?!), then grab your friends and head to All Star Lanes for bowling, Karaoke and Americana. It's not terribly cheap, but they make a mean cocktail, and the restaurant serves up some excellent burgers!
coffee coffee coffee
As with many parts of London, shop fronts come and go, and even a popular store can go out of business. The same can be said for several coffee shops which have graced this part of town, with many of our favourites but a latte-scented memory.
But do not fear - you'll still find plenty of caffeine-based hits in Brick Lane. Lovers of all things retro should head to Vintage Bean Café on Cheshire Street, or instead check out the recently opened Pretty Cuppa. True coffee affecionados however should look no further than Nude Espresso - experts at sourcing and roasting the best beans, and then serving it up all fancy to the caffeine-addicts of East London.
Us on the other hand, well, we have a NEW favourite. As people who spend too much time working out of cafés, we're always eager to find another spot with excellent wifi, good coffee and many, many plus - Kahaila provides on all three counts. Throw in the sort of cakes you'll happily throw this weeks diet out of the window for, and we'd say that this is the perfect spot for anyone who needs to get a little work done in between their vintage shopping!
Our pick for a London layover is Brick Lane, but if you want to find other great suggestions, check out the Take Over Your Layover site here.