If you’re visiting London and you want some time out away from city life, then the East End’s Spitalfields area has the ideal solution for you. In the middle of the urban East End, just ten minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street station, you can visit the rural tranquillity of the Spitalfields City Farm.
This is an especially great place to visit if you have been dragging the kids around London and want to do something that appeals to them! This is not the busiest tourist attraction in the city, as it gets around 18,000 visitors a year, but that in itself makes an ideal place to visit for some peace and quiet and some animal experiences.
The history of Spitalfields City Farm
The farm at Spitalfields was initially set up in 1978 by a group of local residents. At this point in time, they wanted to convert local wasteland that had once been a railway goods depot into allotments to replace traditional green sites that had been sold to developers as the East End expanded and became more developed. This site is now an established community farm spread over 1.3 acres of land and it is now owned by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Railtrack.
Things to do at Spitalfields City Farm
The city farm is home to a variety of traditional and non-traditional farm animals including some rare breeds. The Farmyard is home to most of the animals on the site, including the ever popular goat, Bentley, and Bayleaf the donkey. You can also get up close to the farm’s pigs, its miniature Shetland pony, its sheep and a variety of smaller animals like guinea pigs, ferrets and rabbits.
There is an aviary on site, which is home to a range of exotic birds such as zebra finches, a cockatiel and budgies. There are plenty of other birds on the farm to see as you go around, including ducks, ex-battery hens and geese.
Places to Visit in the East End – Spitalfields City Farm
Volunteers at the farm help run a community garden on the site. This is mainly composed of vegetable and flower beds and you may be able to pick your own veg to buy. There are regular gardening sessions for people to help out on the site most days. Kids can also mess round in a play area on the farm and, at some times, may be able to go for a donkey ride.
The farm has a shop on site, which is open from Tuesdays to Thursdays. You can buy a variety of farm products here, depending on what is in season, including herbs, plants, vegetables and eggs. The shop also sells manure and organic compost. Kids might like to buy badges with pictures of the individual farm animals on them; adults may like to buy products such as handmade soaps made from goats’ milk.
There is a café on site at weekends and, on some Sundays, the farm runs a Summer Market that sells produce, vegetables and hand made craft products.
Special events at Spitalfields City Farm
The most famous event held at the farm is probably its annual Oxford and Cambridge Goat Race. In this race, two of the farm’s goats take on the colours of the two universities that take place in the historic Boat Race and race for glory (and to raise money for the farm!). Depending on the time of your visit, you may also be able to take part in regular events or workshops on the site.
The farm runs regular gardening, cookery and DIY courses, demonstrations and workshops and has, in the past, held events such as Strawberry Fayres and Apple and Chili Festival days. You’ll usually find some family themed events running on holidays throughout the year. For example, at Easter it runs craft activities, gives workshops on rabbit welfare and sells cakes made from eggs from its own chickens.
Visiting Spitalfields City Farm
The farm is closed on Mondays but is open from Tuesday to Sunday. From October to March, its opening hours are 10am to 4pm; it stays open until 4.30pm from April to September. There is no entrance charge but visitors are encouraged to leave a donation to help keep the farm running. You can walk to the farm from Liverpool Street station – this is about a ten minute walk.
The farm is also close to Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Shoreditch High Street and Aldgate East stations. Although the farm is small and hands-on, children can’t feed the animals unless invited to do so as part of an activity that is led by farm staff. No dogs are allowed on the farm site. The farm also recommends that you make sure to wear suitable shoes, as the farm can get muddy and tricky to walk on!