East or West London – Which Is Better?

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by Annabel Fenwick Elliott and Hugh Morris from The Telegraph, October 2018

First, the North of the river was pitted against the South, but now it is the turn of East and West. Which is better - East London or West? Our writers put forward their cases.

East London is better than West

Hugh Morris

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The City of London is so-called because it once was exactly and wholly that. Up until the Middle Ages all that was London was enclosed within the walls today visible only in parts (London Wall and the Musuem of London are good places to start). Anything outside the gates was just a leafy suburb.

Now the City is the gateway to East London (big e), the beginning of Kingsland Road, which cuts north through the capital’s most energetic postcodes, and the western boundary of a London that starts to thin out east through Whitechapel, Bow, the Docklands before arriving at the historic East End, at West Ham, Upton and Canning Town.

For the purposes of this article, pitting East London against west (small w), I will use this rough slice of pie above the Thames that reaches out to the noisy limits of the North Circular as East London (sorry Barking). Now, one might immediately think that to sell the appeal of East London is to talk straight away of craft beer, flat whites and beards; that all the capital’s eastern corner offers is a satirical museum of millennial leisure. But East London is more than that (though that, too, of course). It is the birthplace of London.

East London was home to the city’s industry, its industrious workforce, its docklands and warehouses, cobbled streets and canals, while the West is just where William the Conqueror set up shop, a safe distance from the powerful city government of the true London. The West expanded when the wealthy left the higgledy-piggledy streets of the City to develop vast squares of majestic Edwardian and Georgian houses, the gardens of which mostly remain under lock and key today. The West is all neat lines, palaces and pomp, while the East is a celebration of a more natural evolution, the boom, bust and boom characteristics of which are scarred into its character.

This in part explains why East London, from Shoreditch to Hackney Wick, and north to Stoke Newington and Walthamstow, has long been associated with London’s creatives, moving east in search of cheap accommodation and like-minded souls.

All of the above can be experienced by visitors and residents today. Visit Hackney Wick, where the River Lee navigation borders the Olympic Park, for Open Studios events and see the workshops of one of the most concentrated creative communities in the world. Or mosey around the railway arches at London Fields, or Hackney Downs, or Hoxton, for independent cafes, bars and craft enterprises. Further north in Walthamstow, birthplace of boyband E17, the William Morris Gallery - once the philanthropist’s home - gives an insight into an artistic industry of the 19th century that still looms large in the consciousness of the neighbourhood today.

And of course, where there are creatives, there are pubs. East London has by far and away the city’s finest pubs. Hackney just does pubs better than anywhere else in London; from the Ripper pubs of Whitechapel (the Ten Bells is a good place to start; grab some food in Spitalfields market before/after/during) to London Fields (start at the Cat and Mutton and head north then east, taking in Pub on the Park, before the Spurstow and Prince George, then end at the Victoria).

East London boasts, too, the city’s best beer (Crate, Five Points, Beavertown, Wild Card, Redchurch and so on and so forth) served in the most colourful buildings, many dating back centuries and offering open fired, conversation-awash watering holes, with the most curious clientele, from straight-up hipsters to weathered old boys. You will need to walk off your drink so let’s find some green space.

London Fields usually harbours a buzz akin to a pub so best avoid if you’re trying to be abstemious - but a visit is well worth a detour on mid-summer weekday evenings. Nowhere in the city does somewhere cultivate a continental cafe culture than Broadway Market. Abney Park, too, in Stoke Newington is (in decent weather) awash with families and friends enjoying a barbecue into dusk, though far more serene. To savour a bit of proper peace and quiet, Victoria Park is vast enough to find one’s own corner and is home also to a cycling, rollerblading and running circuit, boating lakes and Pavilion bakery and cafe.

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And then, of course, there is the Olympic Park, home to the magic of London 2012, and now, West Ham United. Many of the venues used in the Olympics are open to visitors and amateur athletes, today. For example, anyone can rock up and swim in the same pool in which Michael Phelps won six medals, or book a session on the same boards that Team GB dominated during the cycling events in the velodrome. Afterwards head to Here East, the former broadcasting centre and press centre of the Games, for breakfast, lunch or dinner, from any of a selection of outlets, all overlooking the lazy flow of the River Lee canal.

While on the topic, I might as well mention the recently opened Walthamstow Wetlands, Europe’s largest urban wetlands and home to myriad species of bird.

I’m running out of space to extol the virtues of East London, but there is just enough time to mention the area’s culinary creativity, from Dinerama’s street feast in Shoreditch and Brick Lane curry houses (and bagels) to Kingsland Road’s rich selection of eateries and Lyle’s, which has a Michelin star, in the Tea Building. 

But I think what best sums up the appeal of East London is that it has an identity nowhere else in the city does. There are cliches, stereotypes and satire, sure (2000’s Being a D***head is Cool rings a little true), but those origins have grown up, refined themselves and calmed, and today make for the liveliest, most intriguing, most enjoyable part of London.

Nice try, but west is best

Annabel Fenwick Elliott

Photo by ClaudioStocco/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images    

It's much like football really. Most of us support a club not because we chose it, but because we grew up with it. I've lived in West London all my life, and probably remain loyal solely because it's all I know.

That said, I suspect my argument will be significantly shorter in length than my East London opponent. There's more about West London to be proud of, and thus less to say about it. Ask an East Londoner what they think about their neighbours to the west, and they'll hurl back a laundry list of sneers and combative mockeries. Ask a West London native how they view their eastern counterparts and they'll probably shrug and say they don't go there much.   

I'll never leave my post. To move East at this point would feel like emigrating to a new country; one where graffiti is an art and not an eyesore, wine is served in tumblers without stems, and gentrified hippies with pointy shoes run riot amid streets that aren't very clean.

Not that we don't offer these fancies - should that be the sort of thing that floats your boat. We've got everything you see, which is why we're better. There are plenty of tattoos and pointy shoes in Notting Hill. But their wearers range not among not tarted up industrial sites, but quiet tree-lined Georgian crescents and nice parks.

Nobody doesn't like a good park. Draw a line down the centre of London and the vast majority of green space falls to the left. To the right, it's a concrete jungle. West London hosts Richmond Park, all 2,500 acres of it; the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens, a lesser-known Unesco World Heritage site; Hyde Park, home to Kensington Palace and the Serpentine; Green Park, the well-kept backdrop of Buckingham Palace; Holland Park, which has peacocks; Regent's Park; Ravenscourt Park; Wimbledon Common... I rest my case.

What have we over in London's eastern clutches, wedged in cramped clumps between graffiti-ridden (sorry, art-ridden) tower blocks? London Fields, and its hectic dance festivals; Shoreditch Park, its centerpiece being a giant grey boulder; Victoria Park, more music festivals; and Haggerston Park, which hosts the Hackney City "urban farm". Quick question: which species of bird would you prefer to share your park stroll with - peacocks, or chickens?

In 2014, YouGov polled Londoners as to what top adjectives came to mind in relation to East vs. West London. The former? "Poor", "rough", "up and coming", "dirty", "gritty", "arty" and "try hard" topped the tables. And the latter, to the west? "Posh, "clean", "pretentious", "clean", "cultured", "trendy", "cosmopolitan" and "pretty" won out. No one wants to be pretentious (or a try hard), but surely pretty is better than gritty.

Even when it comes to the name of its boroughs, East London pulls the short straw time and time again, with linguistic let-downs including "Dagenham", "Hackney", "Dalston", and "Hoxton". The West, on the other hand, is home to the likes of "Maida Vale", "Chelsea", "Chiswick" and "Westminster."

What else constitutes a city highlight, other than parks and nicely named neighbourhoods? Food. And where are the vast majority of Michelin-starred restaurants? To the west. I'm not saying East London doesn't have its own share of culinary strongholds. I'm saying that if the best chef in the world came to London in search of the very best menu it had to offer, you'd swerve them west, where London's only three-star Michelin restaurants reside: Alain Ducasse in Hyde Park, Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, and The Araki in Mayfair.

Fancy food not your forte? How about museums. We've got dinosaurs at the National History Museum; among the largest collection of human artifacts in the world at the British Museum; and all manner of important art shared among the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate and the Saatchi Gallery. West London has the Victoria and Albert Museum. East London settled for the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.

Pubs, a matter of national pride. Yes, East London is home to some great pubs. So is West London: the historic Dog and Duck in Soho, where George Orwell, and before him John Constable, used to drink; The Dove, in Ravenscourt Park, former haunt of Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas and William Morris; the Spaniards Inn on Hampstead Heath, frequented by Byron, Keats and Dickens.

OK: travel. Not just Britain's, but the world's most well-connected airport? Heathrow, west of London. Convenient.

Books could be written (indeed, I'm sure they have been) to support both sides of this debate. It’s a game played enthusiastically by every city dweller on Earth, and it’s only natural to swear allegiance to your own turf simply as a matter of principle.

But we know deep down when we’re supporting a weaker team - as any emotionally fraught England fan will know after this summer’s World Cup - our commitment is valiant. So Hugh, East London just doesn't have the goods to trump the British capital’s finest corner.

 

This article was written by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, West Londoner, Hugh Morris and East Londoner from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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