Description: English barber’s shop

English barber’s shop

Walk around the area and a first impression of fading neon and dirty shop fronts may leave you wondering what the fuss is about. But you only need to scratch the surface to find fun. Behind an unmarked door on Great Eastern street is Lounge Bohemia, a semi-secret cocktail bar run by a Czech mixologist, famed for such outré creations as Campari Candy Floss and the Full English Brakfast Martini (far nicer than it sounds). The Start boutique on Rivington Street in one of the area’s longest-standing emporia, stocking London designers such as Chritopher Kane and Richard Nicoll. If you want to fit in among the neighbourhood’s creatively hirsute, get yourself shorn at Murdock’s – a distinctively modern take on the traditional English barber’s shop, complete with badger’s hair brushes and cut-throat razors.

Description: Mawi Keivom

Mawi Keivom, the Indian-born jewellyer designer, opened her flagship store on nearby Calvert Avenue

Mawi Keivom, the Indian-born jewellyer designer, opened her flagship store on nearby Calvert Avenue last year. There is no other part of London she would have chosen. “You have this amazing diversity of different cultures. It’s East End Barrow boy meets African high priestess – when they play high-life music by the African textile market at Ridly Road, it’s hard to imagine you are so near the City of London.”

Venture deeper you arrive in Dalston, a couple of miles up Shore ditch High Street. Always a lively centre for London’s West Indian and Turkish communities, it has now become a hipster’s paradise to rival Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and was recently described by Italian Vogue as the coolest place on earth. Again, it can seem unprepossessing at first glance – but you soon notice the trend for bars to take up residence in old shops without changing the signage. Try the Dalston Superstore – the most reliable place for hipster – spotting, the low-fi Visions Video Bar for its R&B nights, or the ever-rammed Jazz Bar

Description: London College of Communication - University of the Arts

London College of Communication - University of the Arts

Rising rents now mean the artists who used to have studio in the area have moved out to cheaper locales like Bow, White chapel and Hackney Wick (home to 600 artists’ studios, the highest concentration in Europe). But the recent arrival of the new east London Line has opened Dalston up in other ways. It now houses one of London’s most futuristic shops. LM-CC, a space-age warren that feels more like a museum than a clothes store.

“Dalston is booming,” says Dan Mitchell, LN-CC’s co-founder. “Cool stores, bars and cafés are opening up everywhere. But at the same time, the original local communities are still doing business, as they have for the last 60 years. The Turkish restaurants that have been here since the 1940s are booming. It’s really great to see these contracsts of cultures in one place. That’s the beauty of East London.”

Amid all this diversity, you’ll also find some unexpectedly great places to stay. A mile or two south in King’s Cross is Rough Luxe, a Grade II listed building transformed into a wonderfully eccentric boutique hotel; in Mile End you’ll find 40WINKS, a grand Queen Anne-era townhouse converted into a stylish home-from-home. Surely the Grandest place to stay for the Olympic, however, is the St Pancras Renaissance London gotel. A neo-gothic masterpiece built in the late-19th century to serve railway passengers, it is built over St Pancras station and has now been restored into one of London’s finest hotels. It is one part of a huge redevelopment around the adjacent St Pancras and King’s Cross stations that is steadily transforming what was once another downmarket stretch into an alternative hub. This is where the high-speed train to the Olympics site departs from. Connecting to Stratford in less than 10 minutes, it has made King’s Cross the new gateway to East London.

Description: the River Lea

the River Lea

If you have longer to spare, make the journey on two wheels, cycling down the Regent’s Canal, branching off to explore the River Lea. The towpaths of London’s industrial waterways are wonderfully tranquil, and offer an alternative view of London life. Follow the Lea all the way to the Olympic Stadium and you might even see some authentic Cockneys fishing for perch.

Or peel off around Broadway Market. On Saturday mornings, traders hawk artisanal produce while muddle-headed clubbers traipse home in last night’s clothes. If there’s a sight more likely to lift the soul of the urban explorer, I do not know it.

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