Uncovering London’s street art scene with the Alternative London Walking Tour

In London, where you must cough up £25 upfront before riding a very slow Ferris wheel or a very high elevator, a pay-what-you-want walking tour is a rare and unusual thing. Obviously, though, you’ll be in for some dark looks and bad karma if you do turn up and leave without handing over at least a fiver to the jocular young man in charge. It’s not very British, after all, so make sure you bring along some cash.

El Mac’s cowboy on Hewlett Street, designed to look like the street lamp opposite is casting a shadow over his face.

Josh, our guide and a street artist himself, doggedly led our motley crowd of both locals and tourists around Shoreditch, managing to keep the twenty-strong group together in the East End’s narrow lanes like a gangling, bearded mother duck in drainpipes and one of those hats that looks a bit like a saucepan. The tour is fascinating, even for people who aren’t art aficionados. Although the focus is East London’s gritty street art scene, Josh was also a treasure trove of obscure facts with an encyclopedic knowledge of the area’s history. The great thing about the tour is that it is constantly changing; apparently the local street artists are permanently waged in a low-level war with the Council, so nobody can ever tell what will pop up and how long it’ll be allowed to stay there. The upshot is that it’s a great call even for locals, who may be familiar with the enormous weird hedgehog on Chance Street but didn’t know that it was painted by Belgian artist ROA, who is famous for his black and white depictions of wild animals, or walked through Shoreditch every day but never noticed any of Christian Nagal’s brightly coloured mushrooms hidden in plain sight all over the City fringes.

Elephant Graffiti
Alexis Diaz’s ‘octophant’ on Hanbury Street

Josh’s enthusiasm is contagious, but as in any art gallery (!), you will see a few pieces you’re not so keen on. We did look at some works that were, in my humble opinion, a load of old shit, but we also saw some absolutely mental-good pieces too, including Alexis Diaz’s elephant octopus (above) and some of Conor Harrington and DALeast’s work, which was fucking incredible.

Tours depart from the goat statue next to Spitalfields Market. Website.

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.