Image courtesy of Hackney Bridge, @benedictpriddy
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The best things to do this summer in Tower Hamlets

New joints and old favourites alike open their doors to guests of all ages in Tower Hamlets this summer.

Not sure how to spend your free time now the summer holidays have arrived? Lucky for us, the East End knows how to be the life and soul of the party. Whether you are interested in art or history, deciding where to go for lunch or planning a night out, there’s a lot to choose from.

Here is a round-up of the best summer events in Tower Hamlets.

Enjoy a day out with friends

The Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition ‘Life is More Important than Art’ is on display throughout the summer. This exhibition explores themes of migration and difference in the East End. The work on display showcases a multitude of artists and performers, encompassing film, painting and installation. The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive events programme including talks, film screenings and takeovers by local music venues including Dalston Superstore. Check out our list of the best art exhibitions and galleries in East London to visit this summer

From one end of East London to the other, Canary Wharf has a number of events throughout the summer. Festival14 once again descends upon the high-rise business mecca, bringing with it five days’ worth of music, comedy, theatre and dance. The outdoor screens are pitched up, screening family favourites like Matilda, Glastonbury Highlights and the many twists and turns of this year’s cricket, tennis and cycling. 

While most of us will have a day or a week off (maybe even two), there’s inevitably going to be some work that just has to get done. Mainyard Studios on Bow Road or Hackney Wick provide co-working spaces that can be rented for £12 a day. And there, you then have the fun of the Hackney Wick playground on your doorstep for those after-work drinks.

Speaking of after-work drinks, one of our many neighbourhood pubs should also do the trick. With the continental weather, our pubs and their gardens come into their own. The Green Goose and The Approach Tavern offer large outdoor seating options, the former being walled and south-facing, and the latter overlooking the grand terraces on Approach Road. 

Mile End’s The Palm Tree is also a good choice. They might not have a formal beer garden, but the grass next to the canal can seat large groups. Plus on Sunday 13 August, it hosts another iteration of Let’s Make Music & Dance, presenting live jazz and interactive salsa workshops. 

Check out our pick of the best pubs by the Roman.

Fun things to do with the family

Faced with a long six-week holiday stretch, it can seem like a never-ending puzzle to work out how to keep everyone in the family entertained. Fortunately, East London offers a variety of museums, workshops and clubs to keep the kids, from babies to older teens, from getting bored.

The newly refurbished Young V&A in Bethnal Green has organised regular activities for children throughout the summer, with arts and crafts workshops on ‘Summer Family Fridays’ and interactive storytelling on Saturdays. 

The Ragged School Museum by Mile End Park has also recently reopened. The museum preserves the history of London’s largest ragged school, informing children about Victorian education through artefacts and a replicated Dickensian classroom. Drop by their new cafe, where you can enjoy a coffee and cake by Regent’s Canal. 

At another Victorian gem in the East, Oxford House, parents can find activities for young ones who love art. Children can play with clay, learn to sow or spend a few peaceful hours drawing. 

Photograph of Oxford House and the surrounding green areas in Bethnal Green, East London
Oxford House

We’re hopeful for weeks of unfaltering sunshine. Tower Hamlets Council has organised regular learning and play sessions at parks across the borough, ranging from gardening at Mile End Park to slime-making at Victoria Park. So while you revel in the greenery of our local area, you can rest assured knowing that your child is close by and having some fun themselves. 

From historic food production to present-day goods production, Roman Road’s Urban Makers continues to hold its market at Old Spitalfields Market on Wednesdays and on the last weekend of every month, selling everything from jewellery, prints, toys, and homeware. And at its Roman Road shop, it takes on different designers each month so there is always something new to discover. 

There are also a number of school holiday clubs available for those working and seeking weeks’ worth of childcare. We’ve compiled a list of the best ones in Tower Hamlets. No matter your child’s interests, your budget or working hours, you will be able to find a programme local to you. 

Best outdoor events

Spend your time outdoors at the borough’s most ethereal gardens – Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. Enjoy its historic, quiet green enclosures yourself or attend one of its many community events. This summer sees a fair and an event celebrating the park’s heritage with art and music. Expert botanist and forager Ken Greenway hosts monthly wild food foraging walks, but be warned – spaces are limited.

Now, for East London’s biggest party in our Vicky Park. Since 2018, All Points East has become one of London’s most popular festivals. This year, the headline acts gracing Victoria Park include Stormzy, The Strokes and Aphex Twin. Watch the park and its nearby streets bubble with life; maybe even grab yourself a ticket and enjoy the show.

For a quieter celebration of art in the outdoors, The Line offers free guided art tours every Saturday along the Greenwich Meridian, from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to The O2. Led by the artist Gisela Torres, attendees will be introduced to the artworks, architecture, history and nature of the East End. 

The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival will bring even more art to the Docklands at the tail end of the summer. Notable events include a play about the protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in Stratford and a fashion show in Canary Wharf.

Best for a good night out

Hackney Wick is the adult playground of East London and the beautiful canal-side venture that is Grow is a great place to kick off – or end – a night of partying. Grow hosts events across the entire music spectrum, ranging from Latin American cumbia to jazz to jungle and grime. No matter how obscure your musical interests are, Grow has you and your friends covered. 

Colour Factory is another one on the Wick to keep your eyes on. If it’s a Saturday night and you’re not quite sure where to go, the Colour Factory has something on every weekend. This is however one mainly for the techno heads. 

If that’s not your thing but you still fancy a boogie, get your jazz shoes on and head to the Eleanor Arms’ weekly jazz nights on every Sunday. Pub by day, Old Ford Jazz Club by night, the best musicians from the local jazz scene perform at The Eleanor every week. An added bonus – it’s free. 

Outdoor bar area of Hackney Bridge
Image courtesy of Hackney Bridge, @benedictpriddy

On those long, mellow summer nights, grab a pint at Hackney Wick’s only pub, The Lord Napier Star. Stratford’s Roof East and the capacious Hackney Bridge are best for those looking to enjoy a drink and bask in the hazy evening sun. With a cosy wooden-beam interior, Limehouse’s hidden gem The Yurt Cafe is also a good call. Plus, Thursdays through Saturdays this summer Yurt is open late to host DJs. You’ll be able to squeeze in some dancing – when there’s a will, there’s a way.

The best places to day trip from the East End

With so many beautiful spots along our end of the coast, take the opportunity to visit English seaside destinations in search of sandy beaches, fresh fish n’ chips, and ice cream. You can check out our favourite East End day trips here.

A stream of water cuts through the salthous marshes in Norfolk, a traditional East End seaside holiday
Salthouse marshes near the sea, Norfolk

If you’re less willing to venture out of London, we’ve found something a bit closer. The community and arts space Big Penny Social transforms into ‘Walthamstow-on-Sea’ this summer. With deckchairs surrounded by sand, a fish and chips stand and a reservoir view, you’re practically on holiday. 

For all you foodies

Part of the wonder of living in such a multicultural area is that there is no need to keep going back to the same old thing. From Caribbean to Cockney, Turkish to Thai, you can travel the world without leaving the East End.

Globe Town’s latest fixture is the Caribbean eatery Vital Foodz, just off Old Ford Road. Think of all the delicious Caribbean culinary classics, but with a twist – it’s completely vegan. The menu includes jerk jackfruit, sour wheat meat and pumpkin curry, burgers and fresh juices. 

Bow Wharf’s also seen some new food joints popping up. Mexican Seoul presents a unique combination of Mexican and Korean cuisine: standout dishes include gochujang cauliflower bites and corn ‘ribs’. With exposed brick walls and neon lights, Mexican Seoul brings a bit of Los Angeles to our corner of East London. 

For something a bit fancier, there’s Hackney Wick’s Barge East. Barge East offers a modern, ethically and locally sourced menu. From drinks to main meals, their food is topped off with creative (and delicious) flourishes. Located on a 122-year-old Dutch barge, Barge East makes for a rustic yet refined dining experience. 

Speaking of unique dining experiences: the Nunnery Cafe at Bow Arts is home to regular supper clubs. Previous hosts include Camel & Jeans, the brainchild of ex-Masterchef contestants. Their supper clubs are often centred on a theme. Previous points of interest include experiences of the diaspora and climate change. Here, all your senses can explore something new.

And, finally, summer reads…

With all the raves to go to, exhibitions to see, walks to enjoy, and food to eat, there might be some days this summer when you just want to sit in a quiet spot and relax with a good book. 

Every week in our Tuesday newsletters, we are offering you a taster of four books we’ve read and reviewed.

The first in our reads is ‘A Child of the East End’ by Jean Fullerton. Known as ‘The Queen of the East End’, Fullerton is known for writing fiction set in Cockney London. Here, Fullerton turns the magnifying glass inwards, depicting her family history and childhood memories of growing up in East London during the 1950s and 60s. This is one for those interested in Cockney culture or the social history of post-war Britain. Check out our interview with Fullerton here.  

Next up is another memoir, but one about a very different type of East Ender. ‘Cack-Handed’ is the memoir of Nigerian-British comedian Gina Yashere. Yashere recounts her journey from a Bethnal Green council estate to the upper echelons of US TV comedy, exploring themes of family, race, class and sexuality. This is a funny but powerful story, perfect as a poolside read. 

Cover of Cack-Handed by East London comedian Gina Yashere
Courtesy of HarperCollins UK

Our penultimate pick is ‘From Sylhet to Spitalfields’ by Shabna Begum. Motivated by her own life experiences, Begum takes a deep dive into the history of Bengali squatters in 1970s East London. This is one for those interested in the social and political history of London and looking to explore the subject in a more academic way.

To end our summer reads is ‘A Quick Ting On: Grime’ by Franklyn Addo. Addo explores the rise and significance of 2000s Britain’s most dominant subculture. Grime music has a stronghold in the East End: Bow is home to the legendary rappers Dizzee Rascal and Wiley.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like The Best Rooftop Bars in the East End.

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