This post is part of my London Neighbourhood Guides series. Fancy visiting another area of London? Check out my other guides here, which all include information regarding the sights, history, charm, food and drinks of the area you’re curious about.
Ah, my beloved Hackney. It’s funny looking back on my first few years in London when I didn’t even know this borough really existed. I lived in Putney (southwest London), I went to Uni in Clerkenwell (in the Borough of Islington, a quite central borough) and Victor worked in Paddington (west London). I was truly unaware of the wonders of the east, but I’m so glad I now call Hackney home. It’s the kind of place that sucks you in and you can never imagine living anywhere else. The word that comes to mind when I think of Hackney is vibrant. Hackney is full of creatives and as a result, the borough is cool, eclectic and incredibly diverse. Back in 2014, Vogue named Hackney one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world.
The London Borough of Hackney is actually quite massive and includes a lot more than just the area of Hackney. Because of its sheer size, I’ve decided to cover the areas in different parts and also carve out certain neighbourhoods in posts of their own (like Dalston, Haggerston, Stoke Newington, Clapton and Shoreditch).
The map below shows the boundaries of the Borough of Hackney, and the areas highlighted in pink are those that I cover in this post, including Hackney Downs, Hackney Central and London Fields.
This neighbourhood is named after the park central to the area, Hackney Downs. It’s a simple park with just a few amenities, but the large meadows make for the perfect spot for a Sunday picnic. It’s an ideal place to go if you want to get away from the crowds at the larger parks (like Victoria Park or London Fields). And while the park used to be the only thing worth talking about in this area, the neighbourhood has really flourished and attracted a lot of that great Hackney/East London hipster charm.
For example, Hackney Downs Studios opened up in 2019 with some shops and restaurants surrounding a large outdoor dining area. We’re so lucky that a wonderful bakery opened up here, the Brunswick East Bakehouse. From the team behind Brunswick East in Dalston, the Bakehouse makes its own house sourdough, pastries, breakfast buns and daily-changing sandwiches and delicious juices.
Also in Hackney Downs Studios is Re:Store where can bring your own containers or buy some in the shop, and fill up on whole foods, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, tea, coffee, oils, vinegar and household cleaning products. We make a trip here every couple of months or so! There’s also The Well Garden, a holistic yoga studio.
Another great stop in Hackney Downs is the Five Points Brewing Company. Their brewery is located right by the Hackney Downs station, but their taproom is a bit further south on Mare Street. However, they also have their beer served across the street at the Pembury Tavern. This is a fun, local-feeling pub that serves not only great beer but also a great time. I love the kind of people that hang out here. Everyone is so friendly and community-focused — really brings a smile to my face.
The area of Hackney really revolves around the main through street, Mare Street. It starts at Hackney Central and goes all the way south to Regent’s Canal (before the street turns into Cambridge Heath Road).
Mare Street is actually a pedestrianised street between Dalston Lane and Mare Street (when it turns into a major road). Hackney Central is a bit of a chaotic hub, but along Mare Street, there are some great places amongst it all. For a very aesthetically pleasing cafe, head to Palm Vaults. It’s pink and full of plants and their coffee is actually quite good.
Or, head next door to Behind This Wall, a basement cocktail bar. It’s aesthetically pleasing but also packs a punch in terms of its cocktail game. Across the intersection at the end of Mare Street is Oslo, a restaurant and live music venue. I went here for a friend’s birthday party and I really enjoyed the vibe and music.
Just west of Hackney Central is a lovely street (Wilton Way) full of pubs, restaurants and cafes. One of my favourite bakeries lies here, Violet Cakes. In terms of restaurants, we’ve tried Pidgin which is a fantastic Asian-inspired modern European restaurant.
Making your way down Mare Street, if you’re looking for a pub, look no further than The Cock Tavern. As Time Out put it, “[It’s] the sort of place you walk into and think: This is a bloody good pub.” It really is! It was here that I had my first pickled egg, and I loved it. They offer tons of flavours, but okay okay they also have 24 taps of indie beer and cider serving the likes of Howling Hops (from Hackney Wick), Gan Yam (from Finsbury Park) and Brick Brewery (from Peckham). They rotate their beer offerings quite often, so it’s always a surprise.
Further along, you’ll run into the Hackney Empire, the best-known theatre in the East End. It was originally built in 1901 and has since had several famous performers including Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Stanley Holloway, Stan Laurel, Marie Lloyd, and Julie Andrews. For more entertainment, the Hackney Picturehouse is a great, modern cinema guaranteed to show all the big blockbusters.
Before heading down the high street, you can check out Bohemia Place Market. Sure, it’s a street market, but it also has some permanent spots worth checking out. The Brew Club is where you can brew your own beer! You choose a time and date, have six hours to spare, and then just show up. Once you’ve brewed your beer, you can come back in two weeks to pick up your fermented and bottled beer. The beer is then ready to drink 10 days later. How fun is that?
If you’d rather just drink ready-made beer, then you can head to Hackney Church Brew Co. They have a great selection of craft beers. Even more exciting is that they are home to a very good restaurant, Lagom. Jay Rayner from The Guardian said, “I went in a tourist. I came out ready to be a regular.”
Like Hackney Downs, London Fields is both a park and a neighbourhood. London Fields is one of Hackney’s most popular parks. For me, it’ll always be the epitome of summer memories.
Right around the corner is the Netil House campus, which is home to several great attractions. Netil Market is an outdoor stalls market featuring some delicious lunch options. The team behind BAO opened up the BAO Bar here, serving their classic bao and fried chicken. Other options at the market include Sonora Taquería (serving north Mexican food) and The Bagel Guys.
Right next door is the Netil House, which is home to two great bars. NT’s is a cafe and cocktail bar on the second floor and is a lot of fun. I’ve been here a couple of times with friends, and there’s always good music and drinks. Up on the rooftop is Netil 360, a bar, garden, cafe and workspace venue.
The latter has incredible loaves of bread.
As you leave the south end of London Fields, you’ll be in Haggerston which means another blog post! Hackney is a massive borough, but the above bits and pieces are really the heart of the area. It’s my favourite place to be, so I hope you enjoyed this guide to central Hackney.
Look out for more blog posts on other neighbourhoods in Hackney!