Its streets and squares boast wonderful Georgian and Victorian properties. It is home to the 79-acre Mile End Park, Mile End Climbing Centre, Roman Road (and its traditional market and trendy shops and eateries), the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Nature Reserve, and Queen Mary’s College (part of the University of London).
Mile End is within a stone’s throw of East London's other premier attractions: Victoria Park, Shoreditch, Canary Wharf, Stratford City and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. And it has wonderful cafes, pubs, restaurants and other amenities.
The Park runs north to south, stretching from Victoria Park in the north to Limehouse (close to Canary Wharf) in the south. It is divided into a number of different zones, as follows (north-south):
In addition, there is the Mile End Leisure Centre and Stadium. The leisure centre is equipped with a large gym, group exercise studios and 25 metre swimming pool. The athletics stadium, upgraded in 2011 before the 2012 London Olympics, is UKA graded and was the American athletics team’s base for the Olympic games.
Continue south from the leisure centre to find a large and popular skate park, a 650-metre go-kart track operated by Revolution Karting. Prices for karting start at £25.
Mile End Park aims to be self-funding, using income from the shops and restaurants underneath the Green Bridge. It is cared for by Park Rangers and the Friends of Mile End Park, who organise regular litter-pick days.
This 78-hectare park, opened in 1845, is one of jewels in East London's crown.
There is a pretty boating lake, packed with wildlife and featuring a reconstructed Chinese Pagoda. There are great eateries and pubs in and around Victoria Park, which also offers a host of sporting activities, regular music concerts (such as Lovebox) and other things to do... Read More
Mile End Climbing Wall’s 16,000 square feet of climbing space include the Peggy Day traversing wall (opposite reception, and a great place to warm up), bouldering at heights of up to 5 metres in the main indoor room, upside-down climbing in the Monkey Room, and outdoor bouldering in the ‘Secret Garden’ at heights of up to 3.5 metres.
In addition, there is a beginners’ room and a Board Room – where seasoned climbers can hang on to tiny holds to improve their physique and technique.
The Centre has an informal, friendly atmosphere – so beginners are not intimidated. It also offers a variety of courses for all ranges of abilities, has its own climbing shop (called Rock-On), offers drinks, snacks, coffees and pastries, and is staffed by knowledgeable climbers.
The Centre is open from 10am to 9.30pm on weekdays, and from 10am to 6pm on weekends and bank holidays. Climbing for the first time costs £14 (which includes your membership card and a tour), with subsequent trips costing £8.50 at peak times and £7.50 off-peak.
One of the magnificent seven graveyards—privately run sites established in Victorian times to keep up with London’s spiralling population—the cemetery was closed to burials in 1966. In its early years, the cemetery was predominantly used to bury poor Londoners in public graves.
The cemetery also contains the graves of 279 Commonwealth servicemen who died during the two world wars. Some local celebrities are also interred here, such as John ‘White Hat’ Willis, the first owner of the Cutty Sark. Nine of the cemetery’s graves have Grade II listed status.
The Cemetery has since 1966 been turned into a nature reserve, comprising mainly tranquil woodland, five wildlife ponds and grassland. The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, whose patron is the environmental campaigner and broadcaster David Bellamy, provide regular educational events, such as guided walks, grave research days and ‘Bow Beasties’ family fun days.
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park also acts as an educational facility, welcoming about 8,000 schoolchildren each year to discover the flora and fauna available at what is dubbed ‘London’s most urban woodland’.
The cemetery is open from dawn till dusk. A lap of the Park is about 1 kilometre in length and takes about 15-20 minutes. We guarantee that you will forget that you are close to the centre of one of the world's biggest cities!
Ackroyd Drive Greenlink
You could visit the Cemetery Park as part of your exploration of Mile End Park, using the Ackroyd Drive Greenlink – a green corridor connecting the two attractions. The Greenlink is divided into five sections (from left to right): the Cowslip Meadow, Allotments, Blackberry Meadow, Peach Tree Meadow and Primrose Meadow.
Don't miss the wonderful animal murals painted on the Greenlink's railway arches (one of which is pictured). Contributed by 13 graffiti artists, the murals are part of the Endangered 13 project, to raise awareness about endangered species.
It has about 20,000 students at any time, and offers over 200 degree programmes at five different campuses. It is regularly ranked amongst the top 40 universities in the country.
Queen Mary's main campus is in Mile End. It is here that most academic schools are based (such as the school of physics and astronomy and the school of geography), together with various halls of residence (some now operated by Scape Student Living), lecture theatres and Queen Mary’s main library. The campus even has its own bookshop and Santander bank branch.
The Sunday Times Good University Guide has said that the Mile End campus:
“in the fashionable East End of London is the most extensive in the capital … Students welcome the relatively low prices (for the capital) in east London, and their proximity to the lively youth culture of Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Brick Lane.”
Much of the development took place on land owned by Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar and the Coborn Trustees, following an 1824 Act of Parliament. Their names abound:
If you are in the area, you must take in the gardens in the middle of Tredegar Square and the square’s north side. Grander than the other sides of the square, the north side’s Grade II listed, five-storey stucco-fronted houses now sell for up to £4 million.
The Square's tall buildings were popular with sea captains in the 19th century; with a good pair of binoculars, they could see down to the docks at West India Quay to check whether their ship was ready to sail.
The Blitz affected east London particularly badly. In fact, the very first V1 flying bomb to land in London exploded on a railway bridge adjacent to Mile End Park on 13 June 1944 killing six people. You will notice this when walking around the area, with post-war houses punctuating streets that are otherwise filled with 19th century structures.
The area, much of which became neglected in the years following the war, has now become both fashionable and expensive.
Other good options are Palmers Restaurant (offering modern European food dished up by a father and son team) and the Lord Tredegar (converted from an East End boozer into a gastropub a few years ago, with cheaper prices and better service than the Morgan Arms).
The Pizza Room, run by the same couple as operate the Coffee Room (see below), has recently opened its doors. Located next to the Hungry Cow, and boasting a new green Italian clay oven, this intimate joint offers great value pizzas. We enjoyed the £11.50 'All Seasons', described on the menu as including Elia's secret recipe tomato sauce, mozzarella fiodilatte, spicy ventricina, Rovagnati Gran Piacere Ham and Pancetta Arrotolata.
Another pizza restaurant, Kitchen Pizzeria, has just opened its doors. It is found underneath the Green Bridge, between Costa Coffee and Nandos. Head chef Vincenzo D’Antona has had over 20 years of pizza-making experience in Salerno, Italy.
Fish & Chips
Mile End also has the best fish and chip shop in East London: the Britannia Fish Bar is found on Grove Road, opposite the recently renovated Queen Victoria pub (which is now an up-market joint, offering coffee and cakes during the day and good food in the evenings). Grove Road also offers a number of good kebab shops.
Another good (but slightly more expensive) F&C option is Fish House in Victoria Park Village.
We have already mentioned the Morgan Arms (trendy gastropub), Lord Tredegar (good all-round pub with nice beer garden) and the Queen Victoria (up-market pub on the fairly busy Grove Road). An interesting option on a nice summer's day is the Palm Tree in Mile End Park: grab a pint and drink it by the canal outside.
Another watering hole to have recently opened its doors is the Rusty Bike, on Mile End Road (just down from Mile End tube station). This trendily decorated joint shows sports and offers good value pints. Residents also rave about its fantastic Thai food, with curries starting from £7.
Five years ago, Mile End had no cafes of note. The Coffee Room opened just over a year ago, offering great hot drinks, sandwiches, breads and cakes. This is a one of a kind place with friendly staff, lovely décor and a tiny outside garden.
The chains have also got in on the act: a Costa Coffee opened in 2013 and a Starbucks followed in February 2015. Both are found under the Green Mile End Park bridge.
Hostels & Hotels
Another recent addition is Park Villa, a boutique hostel found in a newly renovated Georgian Regency period villa on Grove Road. It has 8 rooms and a capacity of 42 people. It is widely regarded as one of the best hostels in London, with a rating of 9.5/10 on Hostel World. Prices, which include wifi, toiletries and a continental breakfast, start at £27 pppn.
A high-class alternative is 40 Winks, a bijou establishment described by German Vogue as "the most beautiful small hotel in the world". Be sure to make early reservations: the two bedrooms often book up a year in advance.
Roman Road probably formed part of the London to Colchester road built by the Romans in about the second century (also known as the Great Road and Pye Road), with Roman remains being unearthed nearby in 1845.
These days, however, Roman Road is home to a busy shopping street, and the eponymous market held each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The Roman Road Market, held at the eastern end of Roman Road, sees street traders hawk items such as clothes, shoes, plants, food and household items. Given the gentrification that has taken place over the last decade, there are now stalls selling posh coffees and high-end organic produce.
A recent addition is the Roman Road Yard Market. Found a stone's throw from the main market, the Yard Market is held each Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and offers records, jewellery, street music, hot food and cycle repair.
The shops on Roman Road are an eclectic mix of old and new.
Launderettes, pawn brokers and traditional fishmongers fall into the former category. Don't miss the George's Plaice fishmonger, run by Tom Disson. There has been a fishmonger on this site since 1898, selling east-end treats such as cockles and jellied eel. Another great option is the G. Kelly Noted Eel & Pie Shop, established in 1937.
In the 'new' category fall a number of great independent shops, including Vinarius on the Roman (a rustic wine shop, wine bar and cafe at number 536), Impulse Shoes (a ladies and children's shoe shop at number 579) and Zee & Co (offering high fashion such as McQueen, Kors and Westwood and friendly service).
Eating and drinking
A number of great eateries have also sprung up on Roman Road. We recommend three new coffee shops: Zealand Road Coffee, Chesterfield and La Table Des Saveurs. And have a look at Fika, at number 414 Roman Road—a tastefully decorated Swedish cafe. We also recommend Bacaro, a trendy Italian kitchen and bar.
Ever wondered what it was like to go to school in Victorian times? If so, the Ragged Staff Museum is for you.
The Ragged Schools were established by social reformer Doctor Barnardo in late Victorian times to provide free food and education to London's poor and orphaned children.
With a reconstructed Victorian classroom, and actors or actresses posing as Victorian schoolteachers, the Ragged School Museum is a great attraction for kids.
It hosts about 16,000 schoolchildren each year, on pre-arranged school trips. It is also open on the first Sunday of each month to the general public (2 pm to 5 pm, with 'lessons' starting at 2.15 pm and 3.30 pm). Other attractions include a recreated domestic kitchen from the year 1900.
The Ragged School Museum is housed in a large converted warehouse originally built for housing goods transported along the Regent's Canal. The warehouse was saved from demolition in 1983, with the Museum opening seven years later. The space is also often used for fashion shoots.
OK. So this probably isn't quite Mile End. But as the Limehouse Basin is close to the southern end of Mile End Park and reached by continuing along the Regent's Canal, we thought that we'd include it nonetheless.
The Limehouse Basin collects water from the Regent's Canal and the Limehouse Cut, discharging it into the Thames. The Basin is about 4 acres in size, surrounded by high-class apartments. Small ships and barges are found moored in the Basin, which is also home to wildlife including moorhens, herons, swans, coots, carp, pike, eels and roaches.
If you are in the area, you should walk down to the Thames and follow the Thames Park to Canary Wharf. Limehouse Basin is also adjacent Ropemaker's Fields, a pretty park, and is home to a number of eateries, including Gordon Ramsay's gastroub The Narrow.
Bow Heritage Trail
For those really wanting to get to grips with the area, we recommend the 3-hour Bow Heritage Trail. Taking in Mile End Road, Roman Road, Victoria Park and the River Lea, the trail is (for the most part) well-marked by blue signposts.
What is clear is that Mile End tube station—on the Central, District and Hammersmith & City lines—offers excellent transport links.
Five minutes walk to the east of Mile End tube is found Bow Church DLR station. Mile End is also well-served by the London Bus network and, from 2013, Boris Bikes.
City Airport can be accessed by the DLR or by a 15-minute drive.
Other amenities in Mile End include three supermarkets: Budgens (underneath Mile End Park's Green Bridge), a Tesco Metro (83-89 Mile End Road), and a Sainsbury's Local (at 420 Mile End Road).
Mile End Park Stadium has a sports centre equipped with 400-metre running track, full-size and 5-a-side football pitches, an astroturf hockey pitch, gym and swimming pool. In addition, Soho Gyms have their Bow Wharf branch to the north of Mile End Park.
Queen Mary's campus, on the Mile End Road, has the John Smith's Book Store, whilst Mile End's Post Office is found at 13 Burdett Road. Close to the campus are found the large Wetherspoon's pub called The Half Moon and Mile End American Pool & Snooker.
Romans and the Doomsday Bok
The Roman road from Londinium to Colchester passed by Mile End, with remains having been found nearby. There is also a reference to the 'Manor of Stepney' in the 1086 Doomsday Book, explaining that the Norman conquerers owned much of the land in the area.
The Peasants' Revolt
The Peasants Revolt was a major uprising that took place in 1381, as a result of resentment caused by high taxes imposed by Richard II to pay for his Hundred Years’ War with France.
The revolt was ultimately unsuccessful. But Mile End played an important role in the story, being the place where Richard II met the rebel leader Wat Tyler (and purported to grant him a number of concessions which gave the King time to raise an army of his own).
Things ended badly for Tyler: he and his key allies were rounded up and hanged.
The Industrial Revolution and the Regent's Canal
The East End, and its large workforce, played an important part in the industrial revolution. Of particular note is the construction of the Regent's Canal, running from the Limehouse Basin to the Grand Central Canal in Paddington.
The brainchild of businessman Thomas Homer, the 8.5 mile canal was authorised by the Regent's Canal Act 1812, designed by John Nash (famous for setting out Regent's Park), and opened in 1820.
The blitz is the name given to the heavy bombing of London during world war two. It lasted between September 1940 and May 1941, and started with 57 successive nights of bombardment. East London was a particular target, being a key centre for imports and storage of raw materials. Tower Hamlets, of which Mile End forms a part, was the London borough that suffered most.
Towards the end of the second world war, Hitler launched another bombing campaign using V1 and then V2 rockets. A bridge adjacent to Mile End Park was the site of the first V2 rocket strike on London, on 13 June 1944, which killed six people. Today the site is marked by a blue plaque.
Popular culture and today ...
Mile End has come some way from the area described in Pulp’s eponymous 1996 top-ten hit. The song featured on the soundtrack for the film Trainspotting.
Its lyrics include the following lines: ‘Oooh/it’s a mess alright/ yes it’s Mile End’ and (describing a council estate) ‘The lift is always full of piss / the fifth floor landing smells of fish.”
These days Mile End is a fashionable place to live, being home to celebrities such as Danny Boyle, Graham Norton and Danny Wallace.