For centuries Brick Lane has been known as an area with an eclectic mix of different immigrant communities; but today Brick Lane is perhaps best known for weaving together some of the most diverse artistic and cultural delights in London, ranging from street art, vintage clothing markets and even some of the best curry houses in London.
Brick Lane is essentially the heart of London's East End, which has become known as the alternative, cultural centre of London since the 1990s. But Brick Lane was not always viewed as the highly fashionable place to visit as it as seen as today. For centuries the area was home to many immigrants, outsiders and even “dissidents,” and before that it was used as a Roman burial ground as it was located just outside of the former city walls of London.
By the 16th century Brick Lane became known for its brick and tile production thanks to the rich brick earth deposits in the area (hence the name), but even at this point the street was relatively poor and considered a slum by those who lived in the more central, richer areas of London.
It wasn't until the 17th century when restaurants and bars started popping up around Brick Lane, with the most notable being the Black Eagle Brewery. The brewery was founded by Joseph Truman in 1683, and by the 20th century it expanded to consist of two buildings on both sides of Brick Lane. (Although the company stopped brewing during the 1980s, the buildings still remain to be a key attraction in the area, and are home to countless markets, restaurants and bars).
Also around this time, floods of immigrants like the French Huguenots as well as large Jewish and Irish communities moved to the area. In recent years, a large Bangladeshi-Sylheti community started settling down in Brick Lane as well, bringing with them new customs and food to the city that have helped coined Brick Lane with a new nickname (Banglatown), and as the “Curry Capital of the UK.”
Since the 1990s, Brick Lane has become a mecca for artists, hippies, bohemians and yuppies thanks to its countless pieces of street art, and it's also home to some of London's best-known nightclubs, independent boutiques, and vintage fashion markets that have attracted both locals as well as tourists from all over the world.
Brick Lane Highlights
- Look for street art by Banksy, D*Face and Ben Eine. (And if you have extra time, be sure to check out the surrounding streets like Fashion Street and Hanbury Street to see artwork by the likes of Conor Harrington, ROA, Borondo and Lily Mixe).
- Shop for vintage clothes, antique furniture and organic produce at the Brick Lane Market.
- Try some curry at one of the 50 different curry restaurants along Brick Lane; (if you only have time to try one, then make it Aladin – which is a favourite of Prince Charles').
- Buy some organic produce and meat at the Backyard Market.
- Flip through a massive collection of vinyls at Rough Trade East, and make sure you get a photo at the Rough Trade photo booth.
- Glance over artwork by Banksy, David Shackleton and Sandra Mennant at the Brick Lane Gallery.
- Scrounge around for vintage fashion, accessories and artwork at the Sunday Upmarket's 140 different stalls, and munch on some mouth-watering street food.
- Snap photos of Christiaan Nage's mushrooms at 115B Brick Lane.
- Check out The Director's House (which dates back to 1740), the hexagonal bell tower at the old Vat House across the street (circa 19th century), and the Engineer's House next to it (circa 1830).
- Snap photos of the Great London Mosque (and don't forget to take a photo of the sundial on the Fournier Street frontage!)
- Sample some Polish, Malaysian, Morroccan, Korean and Ethiopian cuisine at the Boiler House Market
- Watch an improv comedy performance at The Rag Factory (located just off Brick Lane on Heneage Street).
- Head to The Tea Rooms to shop for retro homeware and antiques
- Shop for vintage accessories and clothing at The Vintage Market
- See the same building where Jack The Ripper's first victim (Mary Nichols) was last seen drinking before her murder. (Today it is the Sheraz Indian restaurant, but in 1888 it was called the Frying Pan pub)
- Party it up at 93 Feet East and Ninety One.
Prices and Hours
If you want to browse around Brick Lane's many markets, be aware that each market has different operating days and hours; however, you can expect most of the activity to be happening sometime on the weekend.
To avoid missing out on any of the market action, the operating hours and days are:
- Brick Lane Market – Every Sunday (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Vintage Market – Fridays and Saturdays (from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Backyard Market – Saturdays (from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (from 10 am. To 5 p.m.)
- Sunday UpMarket – Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Boiler House Market – Saturdays (from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- If you want to see Brick Lane's amazing street art but don't have time to go on a tour, the best way is to start at the bottom of the street (near Aldgate East station) and walk north.
- Be aware that Brick Lane can get incredibly busy during its market days, so if you want to avoid the crowds try to visit the markets as soon as they open in the morning.
- If you're on a super-strict budget, you can always take advantage of the many free samples on market days!