I seem to have been recommending a fair few ‘things to do’ recently – a slight departure from the normal bars and restaurants I chat about on the blog, but good fun nonetheless, and well-timed with the upcoming long weekend.
In the past couple of months, several people have mentioned Alternative London to me, so I headed over to Rivington Street for a tour of East London’s street art and graffiti. You can either do a pay-what-you-like tour, or you can cough up £25 for a tour combined with a workshop, where you get to showcase your inner Banksy after gaining inspiration from the streets.
First tip: Take a camera.
Street art is super photogenic, fact. I headed out with Jasmin (fashion & beauty blogger behind What Defines Us) and two big cameras, and we snapped about 400 photos between us!
The tour meets on Rivington Street, right near a favourite steak joint of mine, Tramshed, and covers various backstreets, alleys and railway bridges in the Shoreditch area.
Our guide Josh was a street artist himself (originally an illegal graffiti artist – now a fine art graduate!), and was incredibly interesting to listen to, as he explained the difference between graffiti and street art, different techniques – including ceramics, stencilling, sculpting using a pneumatic drill and explosives, and the usual spray paints – and how you can tell if an artwork was painted illegally or with permission (asking permission carries far less kudos, but does allow the artist to take his time over the artwork and do something more impressive).
East London is a street art and graffiti hub, with artists travelling from all over the world to leave their mark on our city. I spend a lot of time in East London but the artworks had become part of the wallpaper to me, not getting a second glance – but this tour really opened my eyes to the creativity that is showcased and made me appreciate all this free art that makes up East London as we know it.
The walking tour will always feel fresh, since street art is such a moving feast, with new artworks appearing constantly, and old ones being removed or painted over. Expect to see works from about 40 artists, in a huge variety of styles. We picked our favourites and snapped away madly.
Tip number 2: Fuel up at Boxpark.
I arrived to the tour with a bit of a hangover… Luckily Boxpark is currently home to two fabulous cures: Milk Tea & Pearl and Dum Dum Donutterie. Grab yourself a Japanese bubble tea (I highly recommend the coconut tea with strawberry bubbles) and a baked-not-fried “healthy” donut (the Zebra cronut combines chocolate and plain croissant dough and is an absolute delight). These snacks sorted me right out, and had me bouncing round the tour with the hangover a distant memory!
I definitely definitely recommend Alternative London’s tour – it’s a great day out, and the pay-what-you-like system ensures it’s accessible to everyone, regardless of budget. You can book onto the tours here.
Most tours start around noon – any recommendations for where to get a hearty brunch beforehand?
Of course! The Jones Family Project serves brunch between 10am and 5pm. They were the perfect hosts when I visited this weekend – read the full review here.
If we wanted to explore the street art of East London ourselves, which route would you recommend?
Our photography route was a handy loop, as follows:
Start at the east end of Rivington – there’s a great piece on Garden Walk. Walk the length of Rivington, past Callooh Callay (fab bar), until you hit Shoreditch High Street. Turn right, and right again onto French Place, then Bateman’s Row – around here you’ll find the huge red and black piece by the same artist who did Obama’s election campaign. Wind south through the side streets towards Holywell Lane, which has a great piece that’s wildly colourful with robots. Now you’re almost back where you started.
Keep an eye out for the foam mushrooms atop buildings around East London – these are the street art installations of Christiaan Nagel.
How about Space Invader – did you spot any of his artworks? The Star Wars piece is one of my favourites, and comes with a funny backstory: Although the artists didn’t gain permission, they hired a cherry picker, blocked off the street with traffic cones and made a real song and dance of it all while they completed their illegal masterpiece in broad daylight. Despite police cars driving by, everyone assumed they must have got permission from the building owners to do the artwork, because who would be so brazen or stupid to do this in full view otherwise?! Joke’s on them!
Alternative London also offer walking tours of East End pubs, bike tours, educational tours and tours in French. All details online.