It’s been a decade since Dalston was London’s coolest neighbourhood. Now a familiar story of rising rents and venue closures has forced London’s creative scene down to Peckham, and in Dalston, posh wine bars have cropped up to replace shuttered nightclubs (RIP Visions, The Alibi and Efes). But that’s no reason not to stick around: this multicultural area is still packed with fun nights out, delicious (and very affordable) food and bargain buys. Dalston’s main drags, Kingsland High Street and Ridley Road, serve as two of the main shopping streets for the diverse borough of Hackney, and its strong Turkish community makes it one of the best places in London to get a kebab, a haircut or a hammam scrub. And that’s before you even start exploring the area’s residential backstreets, dotted with great pubs and cafés. Read on for our guide to Dalston’s best bits, and get to grips with an area that’s a glorious blend of London’s many tastes and characters.
How do I get to Dalston?
There’s no tube here, but two Overground stations – Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland – run trains west to Islington and Camden, and south to Shoreditch and Whitechapel. Bus links are also plentiful.
What else is nearby?
To the west of Dalston you’ll find the chichi Islington neighbourhoods of Newington Green and Canonbury. Hackney Central and London Fields are to the east, while south lie canalside Haggerston and pretty De Beauvoir. As you head north, the neighbourhood gradually shades into Stoke Newington.
Map of Dalston:
Time Out tip:
For a total contrast to chaotic Kingsland High Street, take a walk down Wilton Way or Shacklewell Lane: two cute little thoroughfares running east from Dalston. They’re positively villagey.
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Things to do in Dalston
A hub of local life and Dalston landmark since 1915, the Rio is one of the few properly independent cinemas in London. With a newly added second screen to go with its grand art deco auditorium, the Rio shows indie and foreign films alongside festivals, classics, Q&A screenings and films for kids during the holidays. Make sure to leave time to buy snacks: they’re all from local suppliers.
Sweeping along the former course of a railway line, Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is simply one of London’s greatest hidden green spaces. Run as a social enterprise with a café and pizza oven, it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours at one of the tables nestled amongst the shrubbery, or to check out one of the popular seasonal events like the annual Halloween pumpkin display.
In no particular order, this wildly popular Turkish grill is known for the following: its brilliantly snarky Twitter feed; its mouthwatering meat dishes, cooked over charcoal; its BYOB drinks policy; and serving artists Gilbert and George dinner practically every evening for the last three decades. It’s certainly not the only brilliant Turkish joint in Dalston, but it’s a great place to start.
London must be full of spectacular abandoned spaces like the Savoy Cinema. While its lower levels were converted into a pool hall and banqueting suite, the an art deco auditorium lay a derelict secret for years – until it was brought back to life in 2018 by the team behind Village Underground in Shoreditch. Now it’s a stunning space for music and comedy which has hosted acts as diverse as Fat White Family and Little Mix.
Free entry, no reservations, cheap booze, great DJs spinning disco, reggae and ’80s pop: it’s no wonder that Market Bar is packed out every Friday and Saturday with an amiable crowd whose average age seems to have hovered around 23 for the last ten years. Though tinnies of Red Stripe are the order of the day, the cocktail menu is very affordable and well worth a gander.
A Japanese izakaya on Dalston’s high street? It would have been unthinkable until a few years ago, when Brett Redman and Natalie Lee-Joe’s impeccably designed Jidori serving up unbelievably good chicken skewers and a now-famous katsu-curry scotch egg. It may be surrounded by pound shops, but this place is top-dollar.
Tucked away on Dalston’s northern borders, High Water is known as an industry-approved ‘bartender’s bar’ – meaning firstly that you’re likely to spot staff from other watering holes here, and secondly that the cocktails are pretty damn special. The quality here is certainly high enough to belie the shabby-chic interior.
Formerly (and still called by everyone) Vogue Fabrics, this tiny Dalston basement is a bona fide hub of London’s LGBTQ+ scene, hosting drag and spoken word events plus genre-spanning club nights and parties. Not that it takes itself too seriously: the most famous feature here is the massive penis mural in the loos.
Head down the nondescript alleyway by the Bootstrap Building and you’ll find yourself in a sun-trap car park, home to two businesses doing great things with yeast. The first is 40 Foot Brewery with its miniscule taproom. Right next door is The Dusty Knuckle Bakery, a semi-industrial space in which to chow down on some of the best bread, buns and sandwiches in the city. This is where some of London’s best restaurants buy their loaves. Not only that but it’s a social enterprise, offering employment and training to youth offenders and other young people who find it hard to get work.
This Kingsland High Street hangout is a stalwart of the east London LGBTQ+ party scene. Open from brunchtime till the small hours, it welcomes a large and diverse crowd with solid line-ups of DJs and drag queens all week.
Fried chicken maestro Carl Clarke opened this, his first permanent restaurant, back in 2015 – and it still very much does the business. Marinated in buttermilk, Southern-style, his signature fowl plays include a whopping Korean-spiced burger and a whole fry, available for Sunday lunch. and the ‘sours’ part? That’ll be the cocktail menu, which is worth exploring all on its own.
Antipodean coffee maestros Allpress, who’ve been roasting beens for 30 years now, have turned an old joiners’ factory on Dalston Lane into a temple of caffeine – and a regular weekend hangout for coffee cognoscenti. Bag an outside table if you can, and come hungry: the Green Goddess sandwich with poached egg, prosciutto and green herb sauce is a winner at any time of the day (though they often sell out by lunch at weekends). Naturally, the coffee is also stellar.
London’s own vintage clothes superstore (which also has branches in Soho and off Brick Lane, as well as in Stockholm) houses a vast but well-edited collection of secondhand garms, as well as a sweet on-site café. Its cavernous vintage warehouse is especially worth visiting when it’s hosting one of its regular clearance sales.
The Arcola Theatre was here before the hipsters and – despite one enforced venue change, to its present former paint factory site – remains a bastion of interesting work in theatre-light east London. In recent years the programme has included revivals of ‘serious dramas’, new plays from fresh voices, and plenty of work with a political, international outlook. Tickets are cheap as chips and the ramshackle bar fills up with artsy types on Friday and Saturday nights.
An outpost of the east London nightlife collective Jaguar Shoes, this old boozer is a pleasant enough place for a pint. But it has a secret weapon, hidden out back behind a fake bookcase: a 200-capacity gig venue that welcomes up-and-coming indie bands, sweaty clubnights and other fun goings-on.
Venue says Known for its art music and parties, a landmark Victorian pub with an infamous live room for up and coming bands hidden inside its book case
Well worth the entry fee and schlep upstairs (there are no lifts, sadly), this place would probably be the best rooftop bar in Dalston even if it wasn’t the only rooftop bar in Dalston. Atop the Bootstrap Building, it’s a small, astroturfed space that hosts DJs and parties all summer, plus offbeat events like sunrise yoga.