London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. But sticking to the city’s major tourist hotspots can mean missing out on some of the city’s best cuisine, local markets, and nightlife. Neighborhood-hopping is a great way to experience London’s multiculturalism. While some areas like Chinatown are obvious and easy to access, others require traveling further afield. These areas are often less touristy and offer more authentic representations of London life. Use this globally inspired neighborhood guide to travel the world within London:
Got a few days to kill in the best city on earth? Here’s our 5 day, pick-and-choose itinerary for your weeklong visit to London.
Brick Lane or ‘Banglatown’
With its vintage shops, graffiti-coated walls, and bustling Sunday market, Brick Lane is a hipster haven. But take a closer look at the surrounding street signs — the names are written in both English and Bengali. This east London hotspot is known as “Banglatown” in honor of the numerous Bangladeshi immigrants.
Brick Lane is the city’s curry capital: visiting one of the many authentic Bangladeshi restaurants is an essential east London experience.
Aladin is a local favorite for its Bangladeshi, North Indian, and Pakistani food. Enjoy fresh garlic naan and creamy chicken tikka masala; or brave the vegetable vindaloo. Aladin is also BYOB, so feel free to bring your favorite beer, wine, or soft drinks.
Brick Lane’s Bangladeshi immigrants arrived primarily in the late 20th century. Before this, the area hosted French Huguenots, Irish Catholics, and Eastern European Jews. In fact, Brick Lane’s famous market began taking place on Sundays to accommodate the Jewish Sabbath.
For a closer look at Brick Lane’s fascinating history, visit 19 Princelet Street This terraced house previously held 18th century Huguenot refugees, an industrial school, and a Victorian synagogue. Now, it is home to the Museum of Immigration and Diversity, which explores immigration’s impact on both the Spitalfields area and London at large.
Located in the city’s West End theatre district, London’s Chinatown boasts authentic food, supermarkets, and bakeries. Instantly recognizable due to its four large, ornate gates and lanterns strung overhead, Chinatown is a great escape from the nearby tourist traps of Leicester Square.
Chinatown started to take off in the late 1960s, and now it’s one of the most vibrant spots in the city. The biggest draw is, of course, the food: for dumplings galore, visit Jen’s Café or Dumplings’ Legend, the latter offering 47 varieties of dim sum and nine types of dumplings. You’ll see plenty of roast ducks hanging in the windows of Chinatown’s shops — try it for yourself at Four Seasons. Or visit supermarkets like New Loon Moon, Lucky Foods, and SeeWoo for Asian spices, sauces, and fresh produce.
Though Chinatown is bustling year-round, the area truly lights up at Chinese New Year (taking place on February 12th) with hundreds of red lanterns, a parade with floats and lion dances, and live performances in Trafalgar Square.
Brixton feels worlds away from central London, in a good way. A hugely multicultural area, Brixton is also home to London’s largest Afro-Caribbean community. This is the place to go for Caribbean fare, lively local markets, and (in normal times) some of London’s best nightlife and live music venues.
Brixton is easily reachable on the underground by taking the Victoria line right to the end. Upon arrival, head down Electric Avenue, just steps from the station. In the 1880s, this avenue became the first market street to light up with electricity. The street was also immortalized in Guyanese-British musician Eddy Grant’s 1983 hit song “Electric Avenue,” which was inspired by the 1981 Brixton riots.
Today, the pedestrianized street is full of local vendors selling fresh produce, fish, meat, and other goods. In Brixton Market and the adjoining covered arcades – called Reliance Arcade, Market Row, and Brixton village – vendors sell vintage clothes, crafts, fabrics, cookware, antiques, vinyl, and more. Be sure to check out Fish, Wings, and Tings, a standout Caribbean restaurant in Brixton Village, known for their curry goat, codfish fritters, and jerk chicken.
And, to properly understand the area’s history, visit the Black Cultural Archives. The archive aims to preserve and celebrate people of African and Caribbean descent in the UK. It is located on the east side of Windrush Square, which commemorates the Caribbean migrants that arrived on the Empire Windrush ship from Jamaica in 1948. For those who cannot visit Brixton, check out the Black Cultural Archives’ digital showcase space.
Elephant & Castle
Elephant & Castle is home to the largest Latin American business cluster in London. More than 8 percent of the local population in the London borough of Southwark is Latin American – resulting in a neighborhood full of excellent Colombian, Ecuadorian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Dominican restaurants.
Yet, the area has been hampered by gentrification. Recently, the Elephant and Castle shopping center, a major hub for London’s Latin American community, shut down and now faces demolition, despite local outrage. Seeking out Latin American businesses in the area is a great way to support this community.
La Bodeguita is a popular spot that has secured a new location amid the tear-down. The Colombian restaurant is particularly hopping at night when the tables are cleared away to make room for dancing. Another Colombian spot, Leños y Carbon, is popular for its meat-heavy menu and Sancocho: a soup with oxtail, cassava, and plantain. Paladar is also an exciting option for Latin fusion cuisine.
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Brick Lane may be London’s curry capital, but Tooting is another “curry corridor” of the city, a hub for South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. This South London neighborhood has become trendy in recent years; in fact, Lonely Planet named Tooting one of the ten coolest neighborhoods in the world in 2017.
Dosa n Chutny is a great value spot for South Indian food: go for the iconic dosas, of course – the stuffed masala dosa and the podi and rava dosas are particularly popular. Apollo Banana Leaf is known for its Sri Lankan specialties including aubergine curry, stringhopper fry (fried chopped noodles), and kothu (fried chopped paratha).
Neasden’s Shri Swaminarayan Temple
Neasden is a bit of a trek from central London, but this north-west neighborhood is home to the largest Hindu temple outside India. The 70-foot high temple is as impressive outside as it is inside, with its beautifully carved stones and intricately decorated shrines. The place of worship is open seven days a week and welcomes visitors, offering guided and audio tours. In the time of COVID, you can even take a virtual video tour specially made this year.
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Follow your Tastebuds
Some more areas deserve an honorable mention. Kingsland Road in Hoxton boasts a ton of excellent Vietnamese restaurants (try Song Que and BunBunBun). New Malden, a quiet suburb in West London, is known as Little Korea due to its concentration of Korean immigrants, and has a high street full of Korean gems; and Peckham’s large Nigerian community has the area sometimes dubbed “Little Lagos” or “Yorubatown” – making it the perfect place to try authentic West African cuisine.
And if you’re short on time, visiting any one of London’s markets lets you sample plenty of international fare in one space. Borough Market on the south bank, Old Spitalfields Market in east London, and Camden Market in Camden Town are all popular spots for foodies.
The best part about London’s multiculturalism is there is always a way to feel at home. For Canadians like myself, there’s the Maple Leaf pub in Covent Garden, where the hockey memorabilia and generous helpings of poutine transport me back to Halifax pub nights. For my Dutch flatmate, a food truck sitting, coincidentally, outside Canada Water station serves authentic Dutch fried snacks and fries piled high with fritessaus (specialty mayo), straight from the Netherlands. There’s something for everyone — if you know where to look.
Did we miss your favorite neighborhood in London? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!