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The traditional heart of the IK capital may be in the west, but a young generation of artists, chefs, designers and hoteliers – as well as a brand new Olympic park – has taken up residence on the other side of town. Writing exclusively for Condé Nast

Description: The traditional heart of the IK capital may be in the west

The Olympic Games may be coming to the British capital this summer – but to call the jamboree of javelin throwing and synchronised swimming ‘London 2012’ is ever so slightly misleading. East London 2012 – that’s more like it. Sure, there’ll be horse-riding in Greenwich in the south, while Lord’s cricket ground in the north-west has been retooled for archery. And if Her Majesty Elizabeth II cares to look out of her bedroom window this summer, she might make out the bikini-clad beach volleyball teams patting a ball aloft on The Mall – the road that leads to Buckingham Palace.

Description: Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Pretty much everything else, however, will happening in the east of the city. The decision to build the Olympics Village here on a former industrial wasteland in Stratford, has shifted the city’s centre of gravity. London may be bisected horizontally by the River Thames, but the real divide cuts vertically, between the affluent West End and the working-class East End. If the West is the home of London’s old money, its royal palace and luxe department stores, the East is the dynamo, the creative heart, the embarking point for new generations of immigrants, the place where layers of history coalesce.

The East is where you’ll find the edgier art galleries; the fashion students emerging from squat parties; the hipsters ridiculing one another’s facial hair; the bleary-eyed bands playing rowdy electro in pubs. But if the creative types have been the shock troops of regeneration, what has followed has changed the face of these neighbourhoods. With every Hoxton boutique, every Shoreditch member’s club, every molecular gastronomy restaurant opening in Hackney, every air-conditioned shopping mall in Stratford, the East has inched upwards.

Description: Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

A pivotal moment came when West London seemed to collectively discover the East – Prince Harry was photographed at a ware house rave in Shoreditch in 2009. The new East London line extension linked this formerly Tube-less expanse with the rest of the network in 2010. Now, with the arrival of the Olympics in Stratford, it all suddenly feels very official. Where once lonely goods trucks trundled across a weed-infested wasteland, now there stands the austere chic Olympic Stadium, the hallucinatory curves of Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre and the planed bend of the Velodrome (the finest of the three structures and the most likely arena for British medals).

At the centre of the Olympics site is the twisted monument to East London’s newfound confidence; the ArcelorMittal Orbit. London’s newest and largest piece of public art, this rollercoaster-cum-viewing platform was designed by Britain’s most successful international artist, Anish Kapoor, and funded by its richest man, the steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal. Their shared Indian heritage is a reflection of London’s status as global melting pot, a dynamism that is very much centred on the East. If you climb 376ft to the top, what unfurls in a landscape that East London natives cherish not for its beauty but for its teeming strangeness. Up close, you will see graffiti-ed shells of Victorian factories, the JCBs of regeneration, houseboats, containers in which people have set up cafés, community gardens; beyond you see gleaming skyscrapers and grand municipal buildings. It illustrates the comings and goings, declines and falls, successive waves of migrants and money.

Description: the ArcelorMittal Orbit

the ArcelorMittal Orbit

For a visitor? Well, aside from the poetic urban walks to be had through this landscape, down canal towpaths and up Edwardian side streets, there are more restaurants, bars, venues, galleries and hotels in that melée than you could hope to experience in a single visit. Even residents find it hard to keep up. One thing’s for sure – there really is no need to go to the rest of London at all.

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