The Geffrye Museum is not found in most guide books and is not close to any other museum or attraction. Yet, it’s a fascinating space, a slightly secluded and beautifully landscaped 17th century building, surrounded by various drab, immense apartment complexes. The museum shows the transition of how the middle-class merchants and small business owners lived from the 17th-20th century. It focuses on how home construction changed, how floorplans were updated to adapt to the changing social climate, and how basic things like plumbing and electricity (or lack of) affected the home. Each room is a perfect recreation, showcasing all of the period features and furnishings. The museum is compact and can be explored easily in under an hour, which is my type of museum. It is also free (thank you London!) which also makes it my type of museum.
One of the best parts about visiting the Geffrye is its location. The space sits on what is known as Pho Mile which is basically a few blocks (definitely not a mile, so it’s a little misleading) entirely dominated by Vietnamese restaurants. At least a dozen restaurants dot the street surrounding the museum. After an education in London homes, what is better than a beautiful bowl of pho from Song Que Cafe, one of the legends of the Pho Mile?
The pho, with its complex beef broth, rice noddles and layers of flavors from fresh herbs, fish sauce and chili, is always comforting and Song Que’s is no different. The service is rushed, the tables crowded, but restaurants like this are not meant to have ambiance. Pho is meant to be cheap and fast.
Being able to go to a museum like the Geffrye and then have lunch at a place like Song Que right next door is what makes London great. While there is a lot to do, see and eat in Central London, the less tourist filled areas, like this area of Hackney, are less polished than the inner core of London and tend to offer a more interesting mix of people and cultures. Hackney especially has changed drastically in recent years, as neighborhoods like this are now home to some of the most trendy restaurants, bars and shops in London, but have yet to become completely gentrified. The Pho Mile is certainly not eye-catching architecturally, but turn a corner and you find yourself in the oasis of the Geffrye Museum and its gardens. And while Hackney may not have Big Ben or Madam Tussaud’s, it does still have interesting places to visit that do not make it into the guide books, places that locals truly enjoy and which continue to be the hidden gems that make London such a fascinating city.
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