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101 things to do in London: east London

Discover our pick of things to do in east London and go mingle with the best of London's East End

© Real London Photos

Scanning through our selection of the best things to do in east London, it’s immediately clear that the East End – more than anywhere else in London – is an irresistible mix of old and new. On one hand, it’s home to a flower market that was established way back in 1869. On the other, it’s also where you can traverse the Thames at a great height, come face-to-face with creatures at one of the best city farms in London and dive into some of London’s best pop-ups and club nights. Cast your Shoreditch assumptions aside, and go explore the best bits that east London has to offer.

RECOMMENDED: 101 Things to do in London

The best things to do in east London

Meet the characterful creatures at Spitalfields City Farm

Get a taste of the countryside in central London at this welcoming and brilliantly maintained green spot just off Brick Lane. Friendly residents up for a pat include Bayleaf the donkey and a loveable pair of hairy hogs. The farm shop sells homegrown produce like freshly laid eggs – the range of veg grown is remarkable for the location. There’s always something going on, from the homely café and laid-back weekend festivals to the kids’ Wild Club. A proper city gem with a lovely vibe.

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Bethnal Green

See the balls fly at Bounce Shoreditch

Whether you’re a ping-pong pro or a wiff-waff wally there’s fun to be had at Bounce Shoreditch, the second of two vast bars dedicated to table tennis. Just like its Holborn predecessor this place buzzes with fun as balls land everywhere but the table. The music is loud, the pizza is good and when the lights go low you’d better hope you’re not wearing white underwear because those UV lights make more than the balls glow.

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Hoxton

Avoid getting bored at Draughts, the board game café

Board games are for life, not just for Christmas. If you’re already skilled at Carcassonne, Pandemic, Seven Wonders and other modern classics then Draughts, with its library of over 500 games, is going to rock your geeky world. If you’re a Monopoly fan looking to experiment then step this way – there’s a whole world of serious gaming to get stuck into.

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Haggerston

Plunge into the deep at Royal Victoria Dock

The craze for wild swimming continues to gather pace and you don't have to leave London to indulge a taste for adventure. For a bracing weekend dip in a spectacular setting, head to London’s Royal Docks, where on Sundays you can take advantage of sessions that cater for both casual swimmers and those training for competitive events. There are lifeguards to watch over you and all swimmers are issued with a safety tag in case they find themselves in metaphorical as well as literal deep water.

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Silvertown

Get your caffeine fix and your bike fixed at Look Mum No Hands

Banish thoughts of trouser clips and oily repair kits – now that pedal power is fashionable the savvy cyclist gets his bike checked while enjoying a barista-prepped coffee at a cycle café. Look Mum No Hands! is the cream of the crop. The Old Street branch has a large workshop, plus a menu of salads and hot dishes that changes seasonally, plus locally baked cakes and craft beers.

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Old Street

Get nostalgic over your old toys at the V&A Museum of Childhood

Remember your old Star Wars, He-Man or Sylvanian Families toys? They're all here, in fun displays that make for a fab afternoon of browsing and reminiscing. That's adults covered, and if you have kids you're in for an even fuller day of activities. Favourites include coin-operated vintage automata and old-school trains chuffing around tracks, dressing-up gear, the famous indoor sandpit, a nightclub-like baby sensory pod, plus craft activities galore in school holidays. As you’d expect from the V&A, the café’s pretty decent too.

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Bethnal Green

Visit a meticulously researched Midmod room at the Geffrye Museum

If you’re a fan of twentieth-century design, you can check out a carefully researched example of an authentic 1960s room set at this intimate east London museum. Housed in an old almshouse building, the Geffrye charts the change in British living rooms from 1600 onwards. A major change once we hit the 1960s was not just the way the telly replaced the fireplace as the focal point of a room but the big Danish influence, visible in items such as the teak storage unit and the Fritz Hansen coffee table (both now oh-so cool). You'll come away inspired.

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Hoxton

Have a laugh for nothing at the capital's longest-running free comedy night

A great way to see upcoming talents, Comic Mondays is held in the bar at Theatre Royal Stratford East and is London’s longest running free comedy night. Sessions start at 8pm, with a full bill of stand-ups on a mission to make you smile. And if one of the comics doesn’t tickle your funny bone, you’ll still have cash in your pocket to buy a drink.

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Stratford

Do some serious sporting at the Olympic Park

The London 2012 Olympics has left us with a collection of wonderful venues and attractions, and among the many great reasons to visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – playgrounds, waterways, meadows and a squiggly red sculpture – are the professional-level sporting facilities. Try track cycling in the velodrome where Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won gold medals in 2012, or sign up for a beginners’ course at the Tom Daley Diving Academy, which is based in the London Aquatics Centre.

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Stratford

Eat your dinner alfresco at a lively London night market

There once was a time when London street food meant hot dogs from a dodgy-looking cart at 2am. Nowadays our pavements offer such middle-class prizes as venison burgers, n’duja pizzas and lobster rolls, and the best way to lap up some atmosphere while you get gourmet grub all over your face is by heading to a night market. For crowds as trendy as the traders we recommend Street Feast’s various iterations (usually in Shoreditch, Dalston and Lewisham) and for smiling faces and family-friendly fun visit Make Night Market (usually in Bermondsey or Kingston).

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London
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How many things have you done?

The 101 things to do in London checklist

Living in London, it's amazing how many things we never quite get around to doing. See how many of the entries on our 101 things to do in London list you've actually seen and done...

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By: Phoebe Trimingham

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