Stratford too busy? Visit Leytonstone!
This weekend the Stratford shopping centre, Westfield, has been closed except to visitors with an Olympic ticket, for fear of overcrowding. Yet neighbouring areas Leyton and Leytonstone don’t seem to have any extra visitors – even though they’ve been spruced up for the Olympics. If you’re visiting east London, here’s why you should try shopping just a mile or two from Stratford…
Leyton is almost walking distance from the Olympic Park. I lived there for many years and yet I don’t recognise it nowadays. Shops have been given a facelift and the buildings are coloured and attractive. To be fair, Leyton doesn’t have a huge heap of reasons to recommend it – it is just another suburb of London, with all the shops that you might want along with a trading estate, so you’ll find at least one large supermarket, clothes stores like TK Maxx and Next, and a few cafes. There’s also a pop-up pub in the Town Hall, where you can watch the Olympics on TV. If you’re staying nearby and need to stock up, you could do worse than Leyton. It’s a friendly area with plenty of “blitz spirit” where the older neighbours still chat to each other on the street. There’s also a temporary market which is complaining of being quiet – why not give it a go?
Leytonstone is a little further away, two stops from Stratford on the Central line. It’s where I have lived for a decade and an area about which I am passionate. This is where everyone should be coming! We have high street stores such as Argos, Boots, Superdrug, Primark and Matalan, a big Tesco, and lots of independent traders. My favourite is the Engine Shed, a Hornby and modelling shop. However I understand that Olympic tourists may not want to go home with a toy train! We also have some fantastic cafes – I recommend Horizon on the High Road, with hot chocolate to die for and a wide range of patisserie and main meals, as well as Cafe Montmartre in Church Lane, which sells homemade chocolates. Both of these are within 2 minutes walk of the tube station.
There is also a thriving arts scene in Leytonstone. In Church Lane you can visit Stone Space Gallery (currently showing an inspirational group exhibition called Wandering Rocks, open Thursday to Sunday), and next door is a window display space displaying a series of colourful prints inspired by a hospital stay. Not enough art? By the tube is Stone Space Projects, a temporary gallery, currently exhibiting a Peace Quilt with squares contributed by children, one from each of the countries participating in the Olympics. The North Korean square was snuck out of the country, and there is even one from Iran. The whole thing is inspirational and well worth viewing (until August 10, 11-5 daily).
Need to stop for food in Leytonstone? I recommend The Olive, a wonderful Turkish restaurant near the tube station, which provides affordable and delicious food (my favourite is Mucver, feta and courgette fritters served with tzatziki). Need a drink? Stop at CAMRA’s East London pub of the Year, the Red Lion, which has real ale, a beer garden, and provides highchairs, dog biscuits, and disabled access. Fancy a walk? We can offer green space in the shape of Wanstead Flats and Hollow Ponds, both a part of Epping Forest. If you fancy testing your athletic prowess, you can hire a rowing boat on Hollow Ponds or enjoy a 5km run on Wanstead Flats.
To be honest, you will get much more of a feel for the East End by visiting Leytonstone (and to a lesser extent, Leyton) than sitting in a soulless hotel in Stratford. The council has spent a lot of money revamping our streets and pavements – the least you can do is come to visit!