Dalston is bustling with bars, restaurants and cafés, so much so that it would be easy to make this a food and drinks guide alone. But while there are more hip eateries and drinking dens than you can shake a stick at, there are also plenty of other things to do in Dalston.
Here’s our top ten picks, from food and booze to underground art, entertainment and nature.
Get groceries and refreshments at Ridley Road Market
Ridley Road has been home to an outdoor market since the 1880s, so it’s been a Hackney staple for well over 100 years. These days you can take your pick from more than 150 stalls selling goods from around the world. Markets like this have struggled a lot with gentrification, and the popularity of newer more upscale food markets. Unsurprisingly, Ridley Road is no exception. But for those in the know, this market’s dedication to the old school means there are great bargains to be had, especially on fresh produce. You can also rest easy that you’re contributing to the people and businesses that have supported this neighbourhood for years.
There’s a good mix of African-Caribbean, Jewish, Asian, Turkish and European products, including fruit, veg, herbs and spices as well as assorted homeware, second-hand clothes, fabric and books.
It’s open every day but Sunday. Once the stalls have packed down for the day, Dalstonites drink at the Ridley Road Market Bar where drinks are pretty cheap, at £7.00 for frozen cocktails or wine and beer from £4.00.
Find a quiet place at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
Most of the area is pretty urban and concrete. But Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is a colourful, calm corner of nature just across the road from Dalston Junction Overground station. Named after the old Eastern Curve Railway line, the garden opened in 2010. It’s run as a social enterprise, maintained by a team of volunteers who keep the place filled with plants, herbs and vegetables all year round.
It’s a sprawling space, filled with little nooks and crannies. There’s also a wooden pavilion at the end, which hosts performances like open mic nights and the wood burner music nights every Tuesday. The garden is open all year round, and stays open into the evening during Summer. You can bring your own picnic, but if you feel like supporting the garden it’s worth buying drinks from the bar. You can also buy pizza or other snacks from the café if you’re feeling peckish.
Hang out at Servant Jazz Quarters
Despite the name, the music policy at Servant Jazz Quarters isn’t strictly jazz. You can also hear electronic, hip-hop, indie and experimental sounds at this tiny, candlelit bar with a small basement which gives it a venue-cum-speakeasy vibe.
If you’re looking to see bands away from the overpriced, over-branded bigger venues on the London music scene, this is a gem. Bands and acts play to a capacity of 100, and chances are you’ll get to see bands just before they start playing in those bigger, pricier rooms.
It’s a lovely spot even if you’re not coming for the live music. The bar upstairs is open for lounging about and sipping drinks.
Grab Pizza by the slice at Voodoo Ray’s
Pizza by the slice might seem more of New York than London. Indeed, for a long time, the main option for a single slice in capital was grabbing one for a quid on Camden High Street. These days there are plenty of options, including Voodoo Ray’s original branch in Dalston. This spot is truer in spirit to NYC than NW1, with pizza slices being served until 3:00am on weekends for a late-night snack.
Slices cost £3.90 for a House Margherita and £4.30 for all other music-based and pun-tastically named pizzas including Giorgio Moroder (goat’s cheese and sunblush tomatoes are the flavours of Italo Disco, apparently), Queen Vegan and The Meat Is On.
Voodoo Rays is also a licensed bar, so you can sip beer, wine, soft drinks and cocktails while you eat. Beer and wine aren’t especially cheap compared with regular bar prices, but cocktails, including their signature house frozen Margarita for £7.00 and Negronis for a £6.50 are great value.
Get your caffeine fix and some Ethiopian food at Kaffa
Named after the region of Ethiopia (possibly the birthplace of coffee), Kaffa brings caffeine and regional cuisine to Dalston. There are two venues. Kaffa Coffee is a coffee stand right on Gillett Square, and the Kaffa restaurant is round the corner on Bradbury Street.
Loved by locals, and recommended by the New York Times, family-run Kaffa Coffee is best on a sunny day, when you can sip strong Espresso at the tables outside and people watch. Food-wise, Kaffa serves up a set menu of stews like Yater Alicha (spiced split lentils in red pepper sauce). These are all served up with gluten-free Injera–a large, pancake-style piece of bread which you tear off and eat the stews with.
Pick up baked treats at Dusty Knuckle bakery
Head over to the Dusty Knuckle to bag yourself a fistful of flour-based goods. It’s a cafe as well as a bakery, serving up fresh bread, pastries, coffee, salads and ‘knockout’ (they’re really running with the pun) sandwiches. They’re not kidding though, fillings aren’t your run-of-the mill cheese and pickle. We’re talking roasted spiced cauliflower here.
Daily breads include the house Sourdough, White Potato Sourdough and Seed and Grain, and there’s always the option of a coffee and a pastry to go too.
Catch a matinée at Rio Cinema
The Rio is one of London’s first cinemas. It opened in 1909 as the excellently-named Kingsland Palace of Animated Picture, and several names later it became The Rio in the 70s. The large, two-floor Art Deco cinema is both a local institution and a film-lovers’ favourite in London.
Programming is a mix of arthouse and mainstream cinema, with some classics and foreign language cinema too. It also hosts community screenings, classic matinées and parent & baby clubs. A matinee ticket costs £8.50 (before 5:00pm on Tuesdays-Fridays).
See fringe Theatre at the Arcola Theatre
The Arcola’s relatively small size doesn’t stop it from putting on bold, ambitious productions. These have included co-productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, operas and musicals featuring emerging fringe theatre talent as well as established names.
The theatre has a strong community focus, and a long-running Pay What You Can ticket scheme, where it sells a limited number of PWYC tickets for performances on Tuesday evenings on a first come, first serve basis. The average contribution is £5.00, but as the name suggests, just pay what you can. It’s worth getting down early to nab a cheaper ticket, from 6pm on the night of the performance.
If you don’t get lucky, pop around the corner to Cafe OTO for some experimental music instead—plenty of the best things to do in Dalston are concentrated around Ashwin Street.
Enjoy city views from Dalston Roof Park
As well as being home to The Arcola and Cafe OTO, Ashwin Street hosts Bootstrap Charity, a workspace for startups, social enterprises, charities and small businesses. Bootsrap also owns the neighbourhood’s only rooftop bar, Dalston Roof Park.
On Mondays, happy hour is 5:00pm–7:00pm, with food, drinks and tabletop games. Tuesdays are for quiz nights, supper clubs and cocktail classes and Wednesdays are all about local community-focused events. From Thursday–Sunday, live music reigns supreme.
Following a refurbishment, the rooftop is currently only open for ticketed events on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. There is a small entry fee, but you can book a table online for free.
EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney)
The relatively new multi-arts space opened in 2019, and if the name seems strange, it hints at the evolution the building has gone through over the years. It opened as an Art Deco cinema called The Savoy in the 1930s which closed in the 80s and later became a snooker hall and Turkish community centre.
These days EartH has two main performance spaces and a large bar and restaurant upstairs. It’s a beautiful space that’s preserved a lot of the original features. Downstairs is a 1200 capacity live standing venue, while upstairs is a 750 tiered seated venue. Most of which are bench style seating, so roll up your coat or take a travel pillow if it’s going to be a long show.The programme is a mix of alternative, leftfield and electronic music and up comedy where you acts including Gruff Rhys, Aldous Huxley, Julia Holter and US comedian Maria Bamford have performed.
Draughts Board Game Café
One of two venues, the flagship Hackney Droughts moved from down the road in Haggerston. The former pie and mash shop is now a colourful café and bar filled with over 1,000 board games, where you can play games in the old pie shop booths These days the menu is a bit different, with Jackfruit Wings and Baja Fish tacos on offer.
If the sheer number of games on offer is daunting, you can browse the menu online in advance, although if your friends are ultra-competitive gamers, that could be a divisive activity before you get there. But whether you’re into all-afternoon strategy sessions, quick-fire word games, or games of your favourite TV shows – it’s a good excuse to put phones away and play.
Bonus – affordable afternoon tea in Haggerston
And perhaps to finish off your Dalston excursion, you might like to take afternoon tea. A short walk down Kingsland road or one stop South on the Overground to Haggerston takes you to Map Maison, one of our picks for affordable afternoon tea in London picks. Their afternoon tea has a Spanish twist – more of a tapas-style tea, complete with Iberico ham and other mediterranean favourites, prices from £27.50 / person.
This article was first published in August 2019. Last updated June 2022.