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London: a cheapo neighborhood guide to the City of London

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Brick Lane
Brick Lane, packed with curry houses, is just one of the many sights in the City of London. Photo: Garry Knight

If you’re heading to London for work or just wish to explore the business heart of the city, then this is the area for you. However, unlike many urban hubs that see their business district shut down as night falls, London’s City area borders some of the most popular night spots in the capital, boasting a distinctly more laid back vibe with trendy bars, a huge choice of restaurants, plenty of culture and colorful markets which spring up over the weekends.

When it comes to accommodation, the choices are also blossoming and becoming increasingly boutique, but there are still plenty of affordable staples that will place you at the heart of the action and a short stroll home at the end of the night.

Where to stay

Qbic Hotel

The modern lounge area makes the Qbic Hotel an affordable home base to explore The City. Photo: EuroCheapo

Qbic London City
42 Adler Street, London E1 1EE
Tube: Whitechapel or Aldgate East
Read our full review
Website

A new arrival on the London hotel scene, Qbic is a great budget option for business and leisure travelers alike. Located just opposite Aldgate East station at the end of Brick Lane, it’s perfect for exploring East London.

The rooms are all built around the revolutionary Qbic pod formation which comprises a double bed, TV, bathroom, bedside tables and lamps and wardrobe, but you pay more for a window with a view. Rooms are clean, compact and very comfortable, but you’ll probably want to spend most of your time in the uber cool lounge area, which feels like the designer living room you always wished you could afford.

Related: Does Qbic London City manage to be both chic and cheap?

Ibis London City
5 Commercial Street, London E1 6BF
Tube: Aldgate East
Read our full review
Website

The Ibis offers what you would expect from an established hotel chain; comfort and cleanliness in a good location. While the design is nothing to write home about, the prices are always very reasonable and you will be guaranteed a good night’s sleep and attentive staff on hand all the time. Rooms come with phones and flatscreen TVs and all have private bathrooms. The hotel also boasts a modern bar and restaurant with decent value food—great for a snack after a long flight, but there are plenty of more inspiring places to explore nearby if you’re looking for a more memorable dinner (carrying on reading for ideas…).

What to see

Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Art Gallery is a focal point of the neighborhood. Photo: Phil Clark

Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX
Tube: Aldgate East

A great gallery that offers lots of free (and some paid for) modern art exhibitions ranging from sculpture and painting to photography and unique installations. If your visit falls on the first Thursday of the month, be sure to head to the gallery’s First Thursdays, which sees over 150 spaces in the area open their doors until 9pm with free events, exhibitions and talks throughout the night.

Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS
Tube: Barbican

Europe’s largest performing arts center is housed in an iconic building slap bang in the middle of the City of London. Everything from film screenings and theater to concerts and exhibitions take place here and, sadly, it is often missed off the tourist agenda. Some things are free and some are paid for, so check the website in advance and work out what you want to see to make the most of your visit.

Related: Our favorite free art galleries and museums in London

Spitalfields Market
65a Brushfield Street, London E1 6AA
Tube: Liverpool Street

Located just behind Liverpool Street you’ll find a creative and quirky market that contrasts wildly with the suits that inhabit this corner of London during the week. Spitalfields is home to artists, vintage clothes stalls, accessories and unique homeware, as well as plenty of tasty food. Sunday to Friday sees the Traders Market take place, or alternatively time your visit with the Saturday Style Market.

Eating and drinking

Brick Lane Brasserie
67 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL
Tube: Aldgate East or Whitechapel

You can’t visit The City without sampling one of Brick Lane’s legendary Indian restaurants. As tower blocks and offices give way to ethnic restaurants and supermarkets, so you’ll find yourself marveling at another of London’s fantastic contrasts. Brick Lane is absolutely jam packed with curry houses, many of which vie for your attention as you walk down the road and, while some of them serve up more questionable food than others, you can’t stay in East London without experiencing it once. My personal favorite is the Brick Lane Brasserie—which serves up familiar curries and some more unusual options if you fancy branching out. Make sure you negotiate before you sit down, because most places throw in a few free beers with your meal.

 

Box Park

Box Park is a rotating selection of shops and eateries housed in shipping containers. Photo: Matty Ring

Box Park
2-10 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6GY
Tube: Shoreditch High Street

This self proclaimed “pop up shopping mall” made out of shipping containers has become less pop up and more of a permanent structure next to Shoreditch High Street train station over the last couple of years. However, the shops that reside within it do change regularly and upstairs there are lots of fun eateries and bars. Cottons Rum Shack is a particular favorite for a Caribbean cocktail in the summer months.

All Star Lanes
95 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL
Tube: Shoreditch High Street

For burgers, shakes and some good old bowling and karaoke, All Star Lanes is the ideal place to let off steam after a grueling day in the office or a long day sightseeing. A filling meal in the form of a generously sized burger starts form £9.50, while bowling costs between £6.95 and £8.95 per person per game, depending on the day and time.

Nightlife

For late night drinks try Vibe Bar on a nice evening as the huge outdoor terrace is a great place to soak up the last of the sunshine, or head to Brick Lane staple, 93 Feet East, for DJs and live music Wednesday through to Sunday. Wednesday nights also play host to “Mundo Lingo” an intercambio style multilingual event for foreigners and locals to meet new people and practice language skills.

Special treat

Heron Tower

Heron Tower soars 40 stories above London for excellent city views. Photo: Martin D

Heron Tower
110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY
Tube: Liverpool Street

If you do feel like splurging, save your pennies for an unforgettable trip up the 40-storey Heron Tower. Here you’ll find the British-inspired Duck and Waffle, and the internationally renowned Sushi Samba, both of which will set you back a good £13 for a cocktail, but if you really want to get a bird’s eye view of The City from the heart of it, this is most certainly the place to do it.

About the author

Nina Derham

About the author: Nina is a freelance travel writer who will leave no stone unturned in her quest to discover the very best on offer in a destination. She recently relocated to London after spending over four years in Madrid and is currently enjoying rediscovering her home town.

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