I have been a big street art fan for a while, but recently I have really started to appreciate the value of taking a street art tour. I learned so much during my Brooklyn Graffiti and Street Art Tour and the tour I took of Philadelphia’s Mural Mile. Thanks to my cousin, Hassan, I had seen some of the street art in Shoreditch before and knew that it was one of the best areas in London for street art. When I learned that you could take a free Shoreditch Street Art Tour with Strawberry Tours, I couldn’t wait to go!
Shoreditch Street Art Tour Logistics
Strawberry Tours offer various tours in London for free! They just ask that you tip your tour guide the amount you feel the tour was worth. If you don’t enjoy the tour (which won’t be the case!), you don’t have to pay anything. Part of this money does go to cover marketing and operational expenses. The guides also donate 10% of the tips to charity.
My friends, Kristin and Pete, who now live in Denver were in London, so we decided to bring them along on the Free Street Art and Graffiti Tour. While the tour is free, you do need to make a reservation online. You will get an email confirmation, but you don’t need to print it. They offer the tour Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3:30 pm and recently added an additional tour at 11 am on Saturdays due to popular demand.
You meet in East London at the Tower Hill Underground Station by the coffee stand called “Tower Hill Tram” and look for the strawberry umbrella. We had no problem finding it as there were a group of people already waiting. I didn’t realize this is also the meeting place for a few other tours that Strawberry Tours runs too.
Once our tour guide Nathan arrived, we checked in with him and a few minutes later the tour took off. It was a pretty large group, but I guess that is what I should have expected on a free tour. Nathan did a great job keeping everyone together and we never had any issues hearing what he was saying. It was sometimes difficult to get pictures of the street art without someone in the way.
Learning the History Of Street Art
We stopped just outside the old London City walls and Nathan talked to us a bit about the history of street art. As Nathan pointed out, street art dates all the way back to the cave paintings. That was something I hadn’t thought of before! I also thought it was interesting that he pointed out that most of the cave art was done by women while the men were out hunting. It was a way to say that they were they there.
Similarly, many prisoners were also artists and did carvings on the walls to show that they existed. I remember how moving the graffiti we saw in the Tower of London and Edinburgh castle was. I didn’t think about it in the same light as street art then but I can see the connection.
He also explained to us that street art is technically illegal in the UK. Some areas, like Shoreditch, choose not to crack down on it but a lot of street art gets done secretly at night. Nathan did mention that on one of his tours he ran into the street artist, This One, painting a mural. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any street artists during our Shoreditch graffiti tour, but you never know.
In a lot of cases, street art has been an anti-establishment response. We saw several pieces on our Shoreditch walking tour that fit that mold. Although, as Nathan pointed out, street art is now becoming more and more commercialized. For examples, some businesses have hired street artists to make announcements. While some street artists have commercialized their work, other street artists are upset with the trend.
Our Shoreditch Walking Tour
The Shoreditch area is definitely well-known for its street art. I loved seeing the different styles of the street artists in Shoreditch. For example, ROA painted beautiful black and white animals with so much detail. Nathan told us that he would do his work all in the dark. You would look at some of the Shoreditch art and wonder how he got up there to paint that.
You Are Enough
I also really liked Dreph’s “You are enough” campaign, a series of portraits across London paying tribute to his friends who are doing amazing things. We saw two of the paintings during our tour. One was a portrait of the mother of Dreph’s children. Both of his portraits that we saw were so colorful yet so realistic and powerful.
Nathan suggested that the best way to tell the quality of the street art is to look at the eyes. The eyes can portray so much emotion. This really struck me and I think this is why I just loved Lexi Bella’s work in Brooklyn. I am really amazed at the how the eyes in artwork can say so much.
Jimmy C is an artist with a different signature style, called drip painting, where he paints entirely using spots of spray paint. If you stand back the dots form impressive paintings. The technique reminds me of Seurat, who painted A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, one of my favorite paintings. We saw two murals by Jimmy C on our Shoreditch Walking tour.
The highlight of the tour for me was Star Yard. If we had been exploring the area on our own, we would have probably totally missed it. There is a small alleyway off of Brick Lane (between Fashion St. and Fournier St.) that leads to the courtyard/parking area. I was so impressed by all the Shoreditch art here. The large murals were so colorful and there was a lot of smaller more political pieces that you need to look at closely to fully appreciate. We actually went back to the Star Yard after our tour because we wanted to spend more time seeing the artwork and also get pictures with less people.
Hidden Street Art
During our street art tour, Nathan also pointed out a few examples of hidden street art like a little painting on a street sign. He showed us one where someone had painted a little figure on it. We also saw some other examples of hidden street art, you would have to do a double take to tell whether it was a real sign or street art.
Strawberry Tours Group Photo
We saw a few more of the Brick Lane art murals and then it was time for our group picture. Nathan told us he would email it to those of us that had provided our email addresses. The picture turned out great. I thought that was a nice touch.
Banksy’s Work in Shoreditch
We ended our tour by the Truman Brewery where we saw a piece by Banksy. It was a car that has been painted pink. Not the most exciting of Banksy’s work, but a Banksy nonetheless! Unfortunately now they had to place plexiglass around it to protect it from graffiti. Note: Depending on the guide, your Shoreditch art tour may end in another location.
Other Shoreditch Street Artists
Some of the other artwork we saw were from famous street artists including Jasper Goodall, Zabou, This One, Ronzo, Ben Eine, Shok-1, Mr Cenz, HNRX and more. HNRX’s work seemed to be everywhere you looked. Some were stickers on lamp posts and I saw lots of his murals. He had a unique style and as Nathan said there was always some sausage like object in his paintings. Not sure I really got his work, but it was visually appealing. Unfortunately, we saw plenty of Shoreditch graffiti too.
There is so much amazing street art to see in Shoreditch, it is not possible to see it all in one tour! Plus, the street art in London is changing all the time. Our East End Street Art tour lasted 2 hours and it was definitely time well spent. A Shoreditch walking tour is the best way to see and learn about the art. You can check out our video to get a better idea of what our experience was like.
Have you seen the street art in Shoreditch? What are some of your favorite artists or murals?
Expert Tips for Your Free Shoreditch Street Art Tour
- Reserve your spot in advance online for your free Strawberry Tour.
- Wear comfortable shoes, it is a walking tour!
- Make sure you also look for the hidden street art and smaller pieces – they are impressive too!
- While you are in the area, be sure to check out some of the best restaurants in Shoreditch.
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