Markets are very much a part of London life. Whether a small stall or two on the neighbourhood high street or a weekly bazaar attracting the masses, there is no doubting that Londoners have lovingly retained the market culture of their past and transformed it into a modern-day display of a vibrant, diverse city. There are just too many wonderful London markets to detail in one iddy-biddy article, so below is a short list of markets that offer visitors an exciting insight to London character.
Berwick Street Markets
Compact, zippy and slightly confused, Soho’s Berwick Street Markets are a great example of an old-school setup that has morphed with the times. Although unlike the shiny must-see markets in other parts of London, this little market is worth a mention for its truly local feel and great location in the heart of London. It’s wedged amongst adult shops, textile stores, chic Soho restaurants and nearby theatres. It is also complemented by the quirky cafes and boutiques that line Berwick Street. You’ll mostly find lunch eats and groceries there, with some vinyl records and fish on the side, but if you’re in the Soho area it’s worth a peek.
Berwick Street, Soho – Monday to Saturday, 9am-6pm
London Market Guide: Borough Market
There is no preparing you for the delectable experience of London’s favourite food market, the Borough Market. Your eyes will bulge, your nose will lead you and, after hours of wandering through foody nirvana, you’ll leave with far more food than you needed to buy.
The Borough Market site dates back to the 13th century, when it was a hub of grocery trade stemming from nearby London Bridge. Today it is independently operated by a charitable trust with some admirable values – sustainability, public health, animal welfare, not to mention a dedication to deliciousness. As you wander through the 100 or so stalls you’ll find cheese wheels as big as tyres, stacks of baguettes, roasted wild boar, steaming paella, mulled wine and cider, oh and brownies, brownies, brownies.
Aim to visit on a Thursday or Friday, when the crowd is smaller, turn up hungry, and if the sun is out, try for a spot in the courtyard of the neighbouring church.
Southwark Street, London – Thursday 11am-5pm, Friday 12pm-6pm, Saturday 8am-5pm
Brick Lane Markets
This east side market has become a Sunday afternoon institution in London. Flanking the creative urban hub of Shoreditch, the Brick Lane Markets espescially attract those looking for a bit of gritty-glamour in the shape of a vintage bargain or daggy brick-a-brac. The vendors have spunk, the tourists are charmed and the locals can navigate a crowd with admirable ease.
The lane itself is covered with some pretty impressive street art and is lined with shops selling quirky and creative second-hand wares. There are also lots of markets spurring from the Brick Lane hub, meaning you’ll find plenty of goodies but may also end up a little disorientated in the market-maze. Brick Lane highlights include trying the well-loved hot salt beef, finding an off-beat piece from a local artist and drinking a pint on the kerb as the crowds thin and the sun sets.
Brick Lane, Shoreditch – Sunday, 9am-5pm
London Brixton Markets
Arcing along the red-brick buildings of Electric Avenue you’ll find the multicultural-meets-practical hive of Brixton Street Market. This is where you see life in action, with drummers in Rasta hats, cell-phone selling butchers and laundry supply vendors capturing more attention than their wares. That said, there is plenty of shopping to be done here: think 3-4-1 deals on dangly earings, bright string singlets and thick patterned stocking, all at bargain prices.
From there, wander over to Station Road for the Friday food market or the week-themed Saturday markets, where the first Saturday of the month is a carboot / flea market, the second is for crafts and the third is for retro and vintage lovers.
Street trading hours are 8am through to 6pm, Mondays to Saturdays and 8am-3pm on Wednesdays.
London Camden Market
Another market that has earned a following for its quirky stalls and colourful characters, Camden Market is comprised of multiple markets – namely the Camden Lock Market, Camden Stables Market, Camden Canal Market, Inverness Street Market, and Camden Market (on Buck Street). Together these markets form a pulsing mass between Camden Town and Chalk Farm tube stations, where visitors can happily wander for hours. The hundreds of stalls sell of sorts of things, including discount fashion, street-style artworks, Casio watches, fruity soaps, vintage/vintage-inspired accessories and home wares with flair. The weekends are the busiest days, and also the most animated, but be prepared for crowds thickening to a shuffle at times.
Camden High Street and Chalk Farm Road Camden Lock Market & Stables Market: 10am-6pm 7 days, Camden Market: Thursday-Sunday 10am-5.30pm, Camden Canal Market: Saturday-Sunday 10am-6pm
Columbia Road Flower Market
This market is a welcome rainbow in a city that is so often grey. Here you’ll find rows of happy blossoms, cheeky hawkers, old men in hats, a drunkard waving peacock feathers, jazzy buskers, cute boutiques and cupcake-filled cafes. Wafting over the vivid streets is a floral perfume mixed with the scent of freshly baked bread, a street sizzle and weekend delight.
For about £5 you can grab your very own bunch of freshly cut happiness; it’s even less for potted flowers. While you’re there, check out some of the great eateries along the road and pop your head in to the Sunday Shoots to see free public portrait photography in action.
Columbia Road, Tower Hamlets – Sundays 8am-3pm-ish
Sunday Up Market London
Also branching off Brick Lane, the Sunday Up Markets offers all the things you’d expect of a modern market – fashion, jewellery, arts, crafts, kitschy homey things and food-yummy-food. This concrete market world is a bit of a labyrinth and you’ll find that time can pass more quickly than perceived, but when you emerge laden with goodies, you’ll find there is still plenty going on into the Brick Lane evening.
Old Truman Brewery – Sunday 10am-5pm