Things to do in Tower Hamlets: markets, museums and the merging of East and West
Found yourself in the busy borough of Tower Hamlets for the day? Our Local editor Gulnora shares her knowledge of a place packed with hidden gems - and the oldest trade route in Britain.
Traditionally a vibrant working class area and home to London's dock workers, Tower Hamlets takes its name from the historical association between the Tower of London and the surrounding hamlets. The docks around Canary Wharf were once part of the world's largest port.
What's your favourite thing about the area?
One of the best things for us in Tower Hamlets is the amazing sense of community drawn together by a fabulously ethnically diverse population. You can really feel how East and West merge here together.
And where can we go to experience the best of the Tower Hamlet's community?
Tower Hamlets is well served by its 14 Children's Centres where families can always benefit from various free sessions, courses, fun activities and events throughout the year.
We have idea stores and libraries spread all around the borough. As well as library services, they offer a wide range of learning courses and an extensive activities and events programme for all ages.
There are also independent venues such as Rich Mix and Oxford House that offer live music, film, dance, theatre, comedy, spoken word and a range of creative activities for people of all ages and all cultures.
Are there any other hidden gems in the borough?
The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is an amazing place to visit for adults and children alike. With free admission, it's very well laid out and there are interactive displays for the children and nostalgia for adults.
There's also Wilton's Music Hall (The City's Hidden Stage), the world's oldest surviving Music Hall and London's best kept secret. It has been fully restored in recent years to its former glory. Book tickets to a wide variety of musical or dramatic performances, or simply take a tour of this wonderful, historic venue.
What about venturing into the great outdoors?
We are lucky to have a lot of parks and gardens across the borough. Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, one of London's 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries, is the borough's only dedicated woodland park which has become a haven for wildlife.
Victoria Park is one of the largest Royal Parks in London and hosts and variety of activities and events throughout the year including Park Day, Lovebox and other open-air music festivals. It has two children's play parks and is very popular with little ones, hosting Play and Stay sessions for under-fives and a programme of summer activities.
All that running around in the fresh air is hungry work. Where can we find a child-friendly cafe to refuel?
Cafe Forever has a Tower Hamlets Silver Award for healthy eating and it offers free fast wireless internet plus various toys and activities for kids. They also host singing groups for 25 mothers and kids on certain days of the week.
Paper and Cup is another lovely place to visit with children where you can enjoy delicious homemade cakes, snacks and hot meals - they even have free babycinnos. There's also plenty of books and toys to entertain the kids while you treat yourself to the perfect coffee made by their skilled baristas.
If we have time for a big family day out, where should we go?
Mudchute Park and Farm, in the middle of Isle of Dogs, is a 32-acre site making it the biggest city farm in the country. They host a variety of indoor and outdoor events throughout the year for up to 1000 guests.
And if we're watching the pennies?
There are three wonderful museums which are all free. The Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf is a great place to take the whole family - this 200 year old warehouse reveals the long history of the capital. It displays the Port and River collection from Roman settlement to the development of Canary Wharf and hosts a wide range of family events during school holidays as well as at weekends.
The Whitechapel Art Gallery offers beautiful galleries, exhibitions, artist commissions, collection displays, historic archives, education resources, inspiring art courses and it's open all year round.
The Ragged School Museum is another fascinating and exciting place for families which contains a wealth of material from life in London's poverty-stricken East End.
And what about if we have an urge to splurge?
Westfield Stratford City, the largest shopping mall in Europe, is located right at edge of the borough and you can find all types of stores there, as well as leisure facilities and places to eat and drink.
Brick Lane Market is a large flea market with stalls selling antiques, clothes, bric-a-brack and all sorts of other weird and wonderful things. Actually, the whole area is like an open air gallery, with its buildings covered with the impressive work of some of the best street artists from all over the world.
Old Spitalfields Market is a premier indoor market and retail attraction for all. It is one of the finest surviving Victorian Market Halls in the capital.
Roman Road Market is situated on the oldest known trade route in Britain, on the road to Colchester. It's another friendly, funky place to shop for some real bargains.
We want to wrap up the day with a night out. Where should we go?
If you don't fancy sampling the delights of the many bars and pubs there is an abundance of different cuisines available in the various restaurants in Canary Wharf, Bethnal Green, Wapping and Spitalfields.
For special occasions Michelin starred restaurant Galvon La Chapelle in Spitalfields or Forman's Restaurant, where you can indulge in world famous smoked salmon, are both great options. Or why not head out to one of our theatres and cinemas?
It seems like a great place to live. Where should we pick if we want to settle down here?
Did you know that Tower Hamlets is London's fastest growing borough, with a population increase of 33% expected by 2020? For the last few years we have seen many new residential houses being built.
Areas around Victoria Park and Weavers Field are nice places to live, surrounded by lovely open spaces and two main markets nearby - Bricklane and Roman Road - plus libraries, a number of children's centres, shops, various restaurants, cinemas and outstanding schools.
Areas near the Tower of London, Wapping and Isle of Dogs along the River Thames and Canary Wharf - the United Kingdom's financial centre - all boast numerous new houses, market pubs, restaurants and shops. Unfortunately, house prices in these sought-after areas reflect this.
About the Local editor
My name is Gulnora. I took on the role of Local editor for Tower Hamlets (and later Newham) approximately two years ago, when I was on maternity leave with my second child. At the time I was keeping myself and my son busy by attending different courses in and around Tower Hamlets. I was surprised to find that the borough had so many amazing services and courses to offer for families - and majority of them are free.
I love sharing useful information with fellow mums and Mumsnet Local and its social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) are a great place to spread the word. Since I became an editor I'm delighted to see that parents and others in the community are finding Mumsnet Tower Hamlets a useful hub of information, where they can find all types of services and see what's happening in their neck of the woods.
Last updated: over 3 years ago