9 Unique Things to Do in London: East End & City of London (London Walking Itinerary)

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Unique things to do in London, particularly the East End and the City of London

Many of London’s famous neighborhoods are spread across the city. At the same time, there are plenty of areas within walking distance of each other with a plethora of things to do. This post features a walking itinerary of unique things to do in London roughly across two districts: the East End and the City of London.

The East End is a hip and popular area of the city, particularly for young people looking to party the night away, shop at vintage and boutique stores, eat at numerous food markets, and more.

The City of London is a special government district in central London that is the historic center of the city and a contemporary business district. These two areas are steeped in history and full of attractions, both well-trodden and more off the beaten path.

This London walking itinerary takes approximately 30 minutes to walk between the furthest points. Taking public transportation, it would be easiest to start from around Monument Station, Liverpool Street Station, or Shoreditch High Street Station. The suggested activities could really be done in any order, but are listed in a relatively linear fashion.

1. St. Dunstan in the East Church Garden

This former church was destroyed during the Blitz of World War II and later repurposed into a public garden, making St. Dunstan in the East Church Garden a very unique setting to stroll through.

The church ruins, lush foliage, and city backdrop make for striking photos.

Some parts of the old church

Though the grounds are small, there is sufficient space to sit and enjoy the scenery.

This garden is a bit further out than the other destinations on this list (though very close to the next attraction!), but it’s definitely worth a trip.

2. Sky Garden

This skyscraper (20 Fenchurch Street, aka the Walkie Talkie) is a mainstay along the River Thames and also a popular tourist attraction. If you reserve a free ticket, you can go up to the top of the building to Sky Garden and get a great view of London. But make sure to book your ticket as early as possible, as reservations can go fast.

The plants of Sky Garden

The foliage of Sky Garden

Sky Garden is a true oasis in the city: bright and airy, with a lofty ceiling and waves of greenery. While the building overlooks the financial district on its north side, the real attraction of Sky Garden is the open-air terrace overlooking the Thames, including a lovely view of the Shard.

View of London from Sky Garden, one of the best things to do in London

The view south, across the Thames

In the area immediately inside the terrace, you can sit and partake in some refreshments. Sky Garden offers both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, as well as pastries, cakes, sandwiches, and salads for purchase.

View of skyscrapers from Sky Garden

The view north, looking over the City of London

Sky Garden is absolutely worth a visit for tourists and seasoned Londoners alike.

3. Leadenhall Market

This small but iconic covered market has been featured in the first Harry Potter movie as Diagon Alley, as well as a handful of other films.

Leadenhall Market is an appropriate setting for a magical world, as entering is a bit like stepping into another world. Its charming, old-world appearance starkly contrasts with its more modern surroundings, and makes this spot one of my favorite markets in London, both day and night.

Leadenhall Market, day and night

Plus, I once spotted a fox lurking around the market late one night (an Animagus, perhaps?), lending the market a bit of extra magic to me.

It consists of an array of shops, restaurants, and pubs. Its close proximity to other sites makes it a great stop for those in the area.

4. Iconic Skyscrapers

The City of London is home to a number of striking skyscrapers, as it is one of London’s main financial and business districts. This includes the instantly-recognizable 30 St Mary Axe, otherwise known as the Gherkin.

30 St Mary Axe, one of London's famous buildings

30 St Mary Axe/The Gherkin

Just around the corner from Leadenhall Market is one of my favorite stretches of street in London. It features two buildings of diverging aesthetics across from each other: the Leadenhall Building and the Lloyd’s of London building.

Looking up at the Leadenhall Building

Lloyd's Building in London

Looking up at the Lloyd’s Building

The Leadenhall Building (122 Leadenhall Street) is an ode to modern architecture, a sheer, slanted, reflective cliff at the front and a facade of glass and color on the other side.

The Lloyd’s Building (12 Leadenhall Street), which has been featured in a number of films and a few album covers, has to be one of the most unique buildings in all of London. It is instantly recognizable for its industrial exterior amongst the other glass behemoths in the area.

Near these two buildings is the dizzingly-tall Salesforce Tower (previously known as Heron Tower; 110 Bishopsgate). As one of the tallest buildings in the UK, you can get fantastic views of the city from the Duck & Waffle or Sushi Samba on the upper floors.

Salesforce Tower in the City of London

Salesforce Tower (on the left)

Just on the other side of Liverpool Street Station, you can see two of my other favorite buildings in London, Broadgate Tower & 201 Bishopsgate (a pair of connected buildings at 20 Primrose Street and obviously 201 Bishopsgate) and Exchange House (plus Exchange Square; 12 Primrose Street).Salesforce Tower (on the left)

Broadgate Tower and 201 Bishopsgate are joined together by a beautiful glass-covered plaza, replete with light, bamboo, and seating. The Exchange House is a cool, grid-like black building with a wonderful plaza (Exchange Square) behind it, tucked away from the street.

The plaza between Broadgate Tower and 201 Bishopsgate

Exchange House from the back

Exchange House from the back

Exchange Square overlooks the trains of Liverpool Street Station, and contains seating, a water feature, various art pieces, and restaurants. (Though I think it’s been renovated a bit since this picture.)

View of the City of London from Exchange Square

The view of the city from Exchange Square

If you are interested in architecture or skyscrapers at all, don’t miss this area!

5. Petticoat Lane Market

For more shopping, head to Petticoat Lane Market, a street market replete with vendors selling clothing and other fashion wares. This market actually has two different areas, which are open at differing times.

The section along Wentworth Street is open six days a week (closed on Saturdays), while the section along Middlesex Street is only open on Sundays. The market is open on weekdays from 10 AM to 4:30 PM and on Sundays from 9 AM to 2 PM.

Visit the sprawling Sunday market to have a greater selection of products to peruse.

6. Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields Market is a bustling covered market consisting of a number of restaurants and shops (both mainstream and boutique), but also independent stalls offering food and artisan goods, like bags, scarves, jewelry, clothing, and cards.

If you visit on the weekends between about 10 AM and 5 PM, there will be an even greater number of stalls selling their wares.

Some of the vendors at Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields Market is a great place to grab a bite to eat. With its myriad of food stalls and restaurants, there is something for everyone.

Try the egg waffles at Nosteagia, the wheelcakes at Wheelcake Island, the chai at Chai Guys, the bubble tea at Yi Fang, the dumplings at Dumpling Shack, and the chips with feta at Brother Marcus.

Dumplings, egg waffles, and feta chips

Spitalfields Market also frequently holds events, including an antiques market and a vinyl market.

Looking for more to eat in London? Check out these fantastic Asian restaurants!

7. Brick Lane

Brick Lane is definitely one of the most unique things to do in London. This famous area is another great destination for food, art, shopping, and ambiance.

Featuring an ever-changing assortment of street art, Brick Lane has an abundance of shops and restaurants, particularly a multitude of curry spots all claiming to be the best.

Street art of birds in Brick Lane

Some of the street art around Brick Lane

Don’t miss out on trying some mouth-watering chocolate (including vegan offerings!), ice cream, or drinks from Dark Sugars.

Brick Lane is also famous for its beigel offerings, available 24 hours a day at Beigel Bake.

On weekends during the day, there are stalls in the street selling food, clothing, souvenirs, and more, as well as a number of indoor markets offering their wares. There are also buskers playing music at various points along the street, so you can enjoy some performances while eating.

Shopping and food on weekends at Brick Lane

Also on weekends, there is an international food hall at Upmarket, directly across from Dark Sugars.

At both the street stalls and Upmarket, you can try foods from all over the globe.

To give you an idea of the huge range food, among the stalls you can find: Korean, Dutch mini pancakes, bao, pizza, vegan desserts, kebabs, Ethiopian, massive hot dogs, Venezuelan, decadent cupcakes, Japanese, pasta, curries of every kind, and coffee.

Burmese curry and a Biscoff cupcake

If you want to try something a little uncommon, grab some food from the Burmese curry street stall!

8. Cat Cafe

The East End also holds London’s first cat cafe: Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium.

You can have afternoon tea amongst a crew of sometimes-adoptable furry felines, lounging and playing across the cafe’s Alice in Wonderland-themed decorations.

An assortment of the themed decorations (plus cat)

They offer many afternoon tea menu options, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free selections. If afternoon tea isn’t your thing, you can simply pay for the entrance fee and purchase whatever drink or food you wish à la carte.

Afternoon tea set and more decorations

Enjoy your drink and the ambiance while petting and playing with some cats!

9. BOXPARK Shoreditch

This dining and shopping complex right at the Shoreditch High Street Overground Station is constructed from shipping containers (hence the name BOXPARK).

Stop here to do some browsing, or have a bite and a drink. The food court offerings are diverse, including Greek, Argentinian, bao and gyoza, Jamaican jerk chicken, burgers (including plant-based!), kebabs, loaded chips, and Asian rice and noodle dishes.

Though it features a range of shops, it’s probably a better location for food and drinks than shopping, so come here to hang out with friends with a bit of food and a few rounds.

This list is a great jumping-off point to for unique things to do in London. Try some or all of these activities the next time you’re in these areas!

In London in time for Christmas? Check out some of the best spots for Christmas lights in London.

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