Recently I posted the first of two walking tour routes that take in East London’s fantastic street art. The first walk focused on the historically significant Boundary Estate area (once the notorious Old Nichol slum) and the eclectic art scene of surrounding Hoxton and Shoreditch. This second walk focuses a lot more on the street art scene, sticking pretty close to Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road, where it seems that every free surface is coated in graffiti, paste ups and even sculptures. You can check out all of the images I took in my Street Art Gallery, but if you want to see these sights for yourself, read on.
The best tube stations to start from are Aldgate or Aldgate East, both of which come out onto Whitechapel High Street on either side of Osbourne Street. The best time for the walk is a Sunday or a weekday evening, when more shops are shut revealing shutter art. Brick Lane is closed to traffic for a street market on a Sunday which provides a fantastic diversion – as well as a great soundtrack – on the walk, but it does get very crowded. The good news is, most of the best art is to be found on side streets, meaning momentary escape from the crowds.
One. Start at the bottom of Brick Lane, where Osbourne Street ends (A) at Wentworth Street and turns into Brick Lane, the legendary London curry spot known to some as Banglatown thanks to it’s historic Bangladeshi-Sylheti community. You will start to see traces of the strong artistic heritage of the area immediately, from the black and white painted mural that decorates Suzzle’s exterior to the multitude of peeling paste-ups. Head straight up Brick Lane until you reach Fashion Street, and this is the first point for exploration.
Two. Take a left onto Fashion Street (B), to find a quiet lane of narrow, red-brick town houses facing the stately exterior of the GCU University building. A few pieces of street art can be found around here, but what really stands out are the bright, primary colours of the shop shutters, making a great backdrop for photography. Towards the far end, near Commercial Street, you will also find a brightly coloured mural by Irish artist Conor Harrington.
Three. Head back onto Brick Lane. On the left hand side just after Fashion Street, you will spot a little alleyway leading to an off-road car parking area behind some shops. This nondescript, rubble-strewn yard is a hidden treasure trove bursting with colourful art, including a great multicoloured skull by Jimmy C and a jubilee themed balloon art painting. Back out onto Brick Lane and keep heading up to Hanbury Street.
Four. Turn left onto Hanbury Street (D), home to a huge indoor vintage market and some great little bespoke clothes shops. Cool down in the sweetie green interior of Frogz frozen yoghurt bar, or just drink in the vibrant street art. The left hand branch of the street has a scruffier, grittier feel – but cross back over Brick Lane to the Eastern side of Hanbury Street (C) to find a road bursting with lively, eclectic street art. Here you will find Roa’s crane, a long-standing piece the street is known for, as well as several of the unmistakable Malarky animals. Between artist’s studios and graffiti coated walls, you will also find fab vintage store Blitz, where you can relax with a free coffee if you spend more than £10, or just splurge on some delicious homemade cakes while you browse fashionably bespoke clothing!
Five. Back on Brick Lane, keep heading up until you reach the junction with Pedley Street. On the left you will see one of Christiaan Nagel’s mushrooms – a bright red sculpture made from polyurethane ‘surfboard foam’, fiberglass and stainless steel – sitting atop the lean-to furniture market at 115B Brick Lane. On your right you will find the small alleyway leading to Pedley Street, which is always home to some great large-scale graffiti, at the moment a beautiful portrait and one of Pez’s brightly coloured cartoon murals.
Six. If you’re visiting on a Sunday, under the railway bridge is where the market really kicks off, so check out the stalls and buy yourself a delicious fruit salad or some falafel. Past the bridge, turn left into Cheshire Street – jam packed with fascinating shops – and take the first left into Grimsby Street. This is another hot-spot for street art, and at the moment you can find two of Dscreet’s owls, as well as a couple of Stik’s stickmen. Grimsby Street will lead you right back around to Brick Lane, so turn right and start heading back up the way you came.
Seven. Turn left at Bacon Street for more of the colourful Jimmy C, and a little Malarky. The real treasure here though, is a gorgeous black and white portrait of Charlie Burns, a ninety six year old resident known as the King of Brick Lane, known for watching the world pass by from the passenger seat of his daughter’s car seven days a week, outside the family’s second hand furniture store. You can read a fascinating interview with him at Spitalfields Life.
Eight. Carry on to the top of Brick Lane. On the other side of Bethnal Green Road (E) you can see a few more fantastic pieces, including another Stik, as well as a “legal wall” used for commissioned street art, usually advertising. If your feeling tired, stop for cocktails in Verge – great for music – or the shabby-chic Casa Blue with it’s hippy vibe and hookah pipes. For non-alcoholic refreshments, stop into Benet’s for deliciously thick milkshakes.
Nine. Turn around and walk back down Brick Lane, stopping at the justifiably famous Beigel Bake for replenishment – the best bagels in London served up with huge chunks of salt beef and mustard. Open 24 hours, this incredible bakery also makes a great post-club pit-stop! Turn right into Sclater Street (opposite Cheshire Street) and walk right to the end. Sclater Street used to be a good spot for street art, but recent renovations have left it fairly bare. At the end of Sclater Street, cross over Bethnal Green Road (the crossing is round the corner to the right).
Ten. Take a left into Club Row, where you will see another Jimmy C portrait outside Lounge Lover on Whitby Street, as well as Roa’s squirrel.
Eleven. Turn left into Redchurch Street – where at the moment you can see Pure Evil’s Olympic ring thief piece – and then left again onto Ebor Street (F), where you will find Eine’s Anti and Pro walls.
This is the end of the tour – although there is still loads left to discover – and from here it’s a short walk to Shoreditch High Street overground station, or about a twenty minute walk to Liverpool Street.
NB – Credit where credit is due, I took inspiration for this post from Laura Porter – although I think I’ve made plenty of relevant updates and my own changes.
All photos are owned by me and have been re-touched by the lovely Sam Larner.