Is East End London safe for tourists?
I am being rhetorical.
Simply asking this question evokes emotional responses from Britons about ignorant American tourists. I posed the question if Best Western Peckham was a safe neighborhood in London after seeing £36 room rates in Nov 2016.
An article I read in a London newspaper mentioned international tourism to London increased in 2017 and is forecast to grow even more in 2018, while it is UK domestic tourism to London in decline due to safety fears of vacationing in the capital.
Boxing Day London
We spent Boxing Day eating at a Bangladeshi restaurant on Brick Lane Whitechapel, drinking in a dive pub at Watney Market, Shadwell and shopping on Whitechapel Road. Kelley enjoyed hanging out in East End London, a place where she found a local pub with character she loved and beer prices I loved.
Since we did our shopping mostly on the street and not in the malls, we missed the Boxing Day gang fight in Stratford Westfield Shopping Mall at 2:30pm in the afternoon during one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
We had checked into Moxy by Marriott Stratford Hotel 200 meters down the street two hours before the mall fight and were already dining at Brick Lane by 2:30pm.
Stratford Station in Newham Borough of London is the Underground station for access to many of the 2012 Olympic venues.
The area has a lot of high-rise development with new hotels like Moxy by Marriott London and a couple of IHG hotels. Prices were 50% of West London chain hotels and frequent trains transport you to the touristy city center in 20 minutes for about £2.40 in off-peak times.
In London geographic distances from city center are measured by the distance from Charing Cross, adjacent to Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square. Stratford is 9.6km/6 miles from Charing Cross.
This was our first time in Stratford and we did not explore the area. The weather sucked with cold windy conditions and rain.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Whitechapel in September 2016 and wanted to share the areas I had visited with Kelley. That hotel in the historic East End of London is about a 30 to 40 minute walk east of The Tower of London complex.
Despite weather that sucked, Kelley and I walked around Whitechapel, Brick Lane, Shadwell and Wapping to St. Katherine Docks and back through the day until about 9:30pm at night when we headed back on the London Underground to Stratford.
Is East London Safe?
The reason I started this piece with the question, “Is East London safe?” is Kelley was shocked to hear the negative descriptions of Whitechapel and Shadwell when I read her reviews of the pub and neighborhood we were hanging out in for several hours on Boxing Day. We never felt in the least bit concerned for our safety, but I would have probably been quite paranoid if I had read the descriptions of the neighborhood on the web before our day out.
My shortcut path from Whitechapel Road to Brick Lane.
Whitechapel is the area where the Salvation Army was founded in 1865 to assist the destitute residents of the overcrowded East End. Immigrants have settled in this area for centuries, from Jews and Huguenots in the 1600s to a large Bangladeshi community residing here in current times.
There are a couple of dozen Indian restaurants and curry shops on Brick Lane.
We dined for two days on our set meal for two from Preem Restaurant for £26. Healthier and cheaper food than paying £15 each for fish and chips in a West London pub.
East London Mosque, Whitechapel Road, London.
Whitechapel Road street market
Whitechapel Road has an extensive street market on the sidewalk with dozens of stalls selling clothing, cloth, produce, fish and all kinds of goods.
Old Royal London Hospital
London geography is confusing for tourists with neighborhoods like Whitechapel, Shadwell, Wapping all parts of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Royal Hospital of London historic building is scheduled to be refurbished at a cost of £105m and open as Tower Hamlets Civic Center in 2022.
Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, first president of Bangladesh
Thomas Neale Free House Watney Street, Shadwell
Finding an open pub in Tower Hamlets turned out to be a challenge on Boxing Day. When we walked down Watney Market to Watney Street in Shadwell, Kelley spotted Thomas Neale Free House with patrons inside.
I felt it was a sign that “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals was playing on the TV when we entered the pub. We considered that our 1989 honeymoon song when we spent a week in London at what is now the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences.
We entered and ordered pints of Stella Artois and plopped down on a couch with the house cat and Lola the pub house dog checking us out, never mind the East End locals.
Patrons welcomed us and talked to us, but honestly, I could barely understand a word of anyone’s cockney accent, besides the lady behind the bar. I understood about 70% of what she was saying.
At £3.80 per pint for Stella Artois and £3.30 during 6-8pm Happy Hour, we were accepted as honorary east enders for the evening. Kelley enjoyed playing with the animals and a preteen played football in the middle of the pub floor with Lola, who shredded bits all around the pub. I enjoyed the retro music that was all 1980s videos for a couple of hours with The Clash, The Fall, John Cooper Clarke and some familiar songs I had not heard in many years.
The place had working class east end character. The evening was like being in a London East End participatory theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.
Our day was more enjoyable than Boxing Day at the mall, a traditional London outing for December 26.
These two well-buzzed American tourists on Boxing Day evening walked past Shadwell Overground station and through Wapping to the River Thames and to Dickens Inn at St. Katherine Docks, a typical overpriced London tourist pub. Beer cost £5.80 pint and everyone in the pub was speaking another language besides English, even the bartenders.
We wandered back to Whitechapel Underground for the 9:30pm train back to Stratford in East London.
No Jack the Ripper types, muggers or terrorists accosted us along the way. The worst experience we had was getting hit by a wave of water when I pressed a street crosswalk button just as a car sped by into the puddle of standing water at the curb.
Is East London safe?
Safe enough for us this holiday season that Kelley looks forward to staying at Holiday Inn London Whitechapel in the future, only a 5-minute walk from Thomas Neale pub.
The Californians cometh.