Seen the big sights of London and want to connect with what's really happening? Then head to the East End, where successive waves of immigrant communities have made their mark (and still do), artist communities thrive and the arrival of hip hotels and architectural renovations are creating a contemporary buzz. The streets are historically evocative (think Dickens and Jack the Ripper) and the vibe trendsetting in a patchwork of districts, each with their own particular character.
Dennis Severs' House (dennissevershouse.co.uk) showcases the life of a wealthy Huguenot silk-weaving family, and Geffrye Museum (geffrye-museum.org.uk) four centuries of domestic interiors. The V&A Museum of Childhood (vam.ac.uk) has one of the world's best collections of childhood objects. Local artists sell their work at Spitalfields Market (spitalfields.co.uk), which is slowly changing as hipster cycle shops and fashion brands move in. Recently restored Christ Church Spitalfields (ccspits.org) has a beautiful Georgian interior designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Get your dose of upmarket British seafood dishes such as mackerel or turbot at Michelin-starred Angler Restaurant, or your flame-grilled hunk of meat and accompanied shared dishes at the Chop House, both at South Place Hotel (southplacehotel.com). Kings Stores Pub (kingsstores.co.uk) does good hearty pub fare, while Ottolenghi Spitalfields (ottolenghi.co.uk) is a very popular eastern Mediterranean eatery. Hit Brick Lane for bargain-priced Bangladeshi curries and Beigel Bake (beigelbake.com) for filling salt-beef beigels with pickles.
Soak up the street vibe and brilliant street art and graffiti in districts such as Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields. Saunter down trendy Redchurch Street for upmarket boutiques, Fournier Street for many examples of 18th century houses, and Brick Lane for curry houses and Old Truman Brewery (trumanbrewery.com), converted to pop-up galleries and lively eateries. The Sunday Columbia Road Flower Market (columbiaroad.info) is a colourful spectacle. The latest in youthful nightlife is now happening in Dalston.
South Place Hotel (southplacehotel.com) has joined with Walk Eat, Talk Eat (walkeattalkeat.com) to create a bespoke food trail through the East End that explores its culinary and immigrant history. The 3½-hour guided wander through Shoreditch and Hoxton stops along the way to sample local foods from baked doughnuts and sausage rolls to smoked haddock croquettes and Bangladeshi desserts. Tour-company owner Charli Matthews is also very knowledgeable about the area's artistic community, street art and eclectic street markets.
The ultra-hip, high-energy South Place Hotel (southplacehotel.com) is the perfect example of the contemporary, eastwards-moving London hotel scene. It has Conrad-designed interiors, low lighting and a decor in shades of grey punctuated by sudden, arresting splurges of colour and curious artworks. The rooftop bar is a trendy nightlife spot. Rooms are large, beds enormous and bathrooms wallow-worthy. Gadgets and lighting variations keep you entertained. Located in Moorgate, the hotel is a 10-minute walk from Spitalfields.
Hanbury Street, Bacon Street and the alleys off Brick Lane provide great examples of street art. Don't forget to look up when walking in the East End: kebab and barber shopfronts are often topped by beautiful Victorian facades.
The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Britain, Viking Cruises and South Place Hotel.