12 things to spot on a walk through Hackney

Ben Olsen

Shaped by successions of newcomers through the ages, the east London borough of Hackney is renowned for its creativity and multiculturalism, making it the perfect place for a weekend wander.

Gentrification and post-Olympic regeneration may be changing it at a rate of knots, but Hackney's diverse patchwork of streets, canals, parks and industrial areas mark it out as a destination worthy of exploration. From villagey Stoke Newington in the north to lively Shoreditch in the south and eastwards to the rapidly transforming Hackney Wick, we've listed 12 things to look out for on your travels.

Markets

Broadway Market was brought back from the brink in the mid-noughties and is now one of Hackney's most popular weekend spots thanks to a vibrant blend of food, clothing, music and homeware stalls that bring all ages together each Saturday. Further east, the Sunday market on Clapton's Chatsworth Road is quickly catching up, too, while Mare Street – at the heart of the borough – is about to get a Gizzi Erskine-approved market of its own shortly.

Pigs

...Not to mention chickens, goats, ducks and a donkey. Hackney City Farm has been a haven for nature lovers since opening in 1984, housing farmyard animals and giving city-dwellers a glimpse of rural life. The neighbouring Frizzante Cafe uses produce from the farm and makes a great pitstop en route to Columbia Market.

Street art

Hackney's industrial spaces, canal banks and disused buildings make it prime territory for street artists, so expect to see some of the city's most notorious at work here. The likes of Banksy, Thierry Noir, D-Face and Stik Man have work scattered throughout the borough, while Hackney Wick's prescient "Shithouse to Penthouse" daubing on the former Lord Napier pub holds a mirror up to the property development engulfing the area.

Swimmers

The recently reopened London Fields Lido is one of the city's finest spots for alfresco swimming. The heated 50-metre pool may have queues out the door in the peak of summer but if you're heading to Hackney, be sure to bring your bathers for a bracing dip.

Ghost signs

Look up at the buildings throughout the borough and you'll find remnants of hand-painted advertising from decades past. Little wonder, given Hackney's industrial heritage. Signs advertising old piano makers, pensmiths, paper merchants and more linger on some of the areas oldest walls – and particularly in Stoke Newington, Hoxton and Haggerston – and act as a typographical love letter to a bygone era.

Coffee

Climpson & Sons

Expect to find some of London's best brews in Hackney. Climpson & Sons on Broadway Market was one of the first of a new wave of elevated coffee shops in the capital and remains as popular as ever. Elsewhere, 46b on Chatsworth Road, Long White Cloud and Lanark on Hackney Road and Esters in Stoke Newington are all more than worthy alternatives.

Wetlands

To the north of the borough you'll find some of London's most stunning nature reserves. The Woodberry Wetlands near Manor House opened to the public in 2016 and offers a natural oasis within the city. The two reservoirs are home to some of the city's rarest wildlife as well as a sailing club and cafe, giving frazzled Londoners the chance to reconnect with nature, despite being flanked by the inner city.

Parties

Oval Space

Inevitable given Hackney's young, creative crowd, Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston have long been known for destination nightlife – made more accessible recently with the launch of the 24-hour Overground – while Hackney Wick has also emerged as a must-visit after dark, thanks to its innovative mix of bars, breweries and clubs sitting by the canal. Throughout the borough, the likes of Oval Space, Mick's Garage, the Nest and Dalston Superstore put on eclectic club nights while the rough-round-the-edges appeal of the Dolphin on Mare Street means there's always somewhere for one more drink.

Barbecues

London Fields sits in the heart of Hackney, with Broadway Market to its south and surrounded by some of London's best pubs. Popular all year round, it comes into its own in the summer, not least for the fact that it's one of the few London parks where you can hold a barbecue. Cue huge crowds, rising smoke and a small brigade of park rangers wearing nervous looks from June to September.

Canal boats

A network of canals dissect Hackney and these previously gloomy waterways have been patched up, now providing beautiful, life-affirming walkways through the borough. On the east-to-west Regents Canal and north-to-south Lea River, expect to spot joggers, canoeists, wildlife and a good proportion on London's canalboat community manoeuvring the locks, while some boat owners also open their doors as bookshops, cafes and community hubs at the weekend.

Beer

Hackney not only boasts a lengthy list of worthwhile boozers, but also has been a trailblazer in the craft beer renaissance, with several acclaimed brewers setting up shop in the area. Keep an eye out for beers by Crate, Five Points, Howling Hops and Pressure Drop, or make it your mission to visit them all with a beer crawl through the borough.

High-end fashion

In the old days, Hackney's fashion credentials used to centre around an edgy mix of club kids, fashion students and confused overseas tourists heading to the Burberry outlet store on Morning Lane. Fast forward to today and plenty more high-end brands – including Nike, Matches Fashion, Sunspel and Anya Hindmarch – have come to keep Burberry company at the recently opened Hackney Walk shopping strip. Although the beautifully curated Paper Dress Vintage store around the corner is an equally valid stopover for fashionistas.

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