London may be one of the world’s major shopping metropolises, but it doesn’t have to be all about department stores or designer threads. There’s a back-to-basics pleasure to be found in strolling and getting lost among the numerous markets this city plays host to, whether you’re hunting for organic vanilla pods or trying to source a vintage Westwood petticoat, looking for a quirky gift for someone back home or just browsing some more unusual shopping alternatives. London has a plethora of markets available: most areas have local fruit and veg or bric-a-brac stalls on most given weekends, and there are of course these larger scale scene-stealers ready to welcome you year-round too.
Comprising up to (and occasionally over) 70 gourmet food stalls and stands, Borough Market brings together producers from all over the country. Offering a range of fresh produce – including fish, meats, vegetables, cheese, bread, coffee, , preserves, cider, cakes and other goods – there are also many merchants specialising in produce imported from abroad. Dating back to the 13th century, it is one of London’s oldest markets as well as one of the busiest, occupying a vast site just down from London Bridge. A new Market hall facing Borough High Street recently opened, serving simultaneously as a plant nursery and greenhouse, workshop space, tasting area and demonstration platform. Pop in to stock up on rarefied treats, grab a different lunchbox filling or just to marvel at the controlled mayhem within.
8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL
Open for lunch: Mon, Tue 10am-5pm
Full Market: Wed, Thur 10am-5pm; Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 8am-5pm
Now dedicated solely to the sale of fresh fish, Billingsgate Market is one-of-a-kind in London and the place the capital’s chefs head to from 3am to source the next day’s produce. The Old Billingsgate Market on Lower Thames Street, a listed building designed by Horace Jones in 1876 is still standing, but this modern version overlooking Canary Wharf is where the action happens today. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 5am to 8.30am plus one trader on Sundays, John Stockwell Ltd, specialising in shellfish and selling from 6am to 8am. The market is mainly aimed at wholesalers but the sight of the working market is worth seeing for itself. Your best bet is to get there early if you want the catch of the day, and please note that children under 12 are not currently allowed. Watch out for the Billingsgate seal, well-fed on market scraps, who lives and lolls in the neighbouring dock.
Trafalgar Way, London E14 5ST
7am-2.30pm Mon-Fri; 6am-10am Sat
Old Spitalfields Market
Old Spitalfields Market definitely lives up to its name, back to 1638 when King Charles gave license for “flesh, fowl, and roots” to be sold in what was then known as Spittle Fields. The market is today surrounded by independent shops selling hand-made arts and crafts, unique fashion pieces and great gift ideas. Though the roof is covered and will shelter you from the rain, the sides remain open to the elements so wrap up warm to make sure you don’t have to leave early and miss out on any hidden gems. To keep your shopping spirits fuelled there is also a tempting supply of fresh bread and cakes, pies and pasties, organic vegetables and meat to take away or eat as you wander, as well as lots of restaurants and cafes dishing up plates from Italy, Mexico, China, Thailand, Indonesia and beyond. Busiest on Sundays, the market is there Monday to Friday too, with the varied restaurants and shops open 7 days a week.
Monday to Wednesdays: General market 10am-5.30pm
Thursdays (Antiques & Retro): 8am-5pm
Fridays (Fashion & Design): 9.30am-5pm
– Record Fair 1st & 3rd Friday of the month
Saturday: General market including themed market days 11am-5pm
Sundays (General Market): 9.30am-5pm
Maltby Street Market
For the past few years the area under the railway arches in Bermondsey, south-east London has become popular on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a wander among the food stalls and gastronomy traders who have set up shop there. the Maltby Street Market runs between Maltby Street and Millstream Road, a lively street market that also hosts numerous pop-up bars and eateries, with choices including seafood and grilled meat, Greek oils, honeys, preserves and cured meats sandwiches and Jewish chicken soup, oysters, cakes and other goods from all corners imaginable. If you’re itching for Iberian, the Tozino tapas bar as well as a Spanish grocers and ham carvery all under the arches should sate your craving. Drinks-wise, there’s a sober selection from the Coffee, Mate? cart or a celebratory choice with wines by the glass from Life’s a Bottle and gin cocktails at the pop-up Sparrow Bar.
There are numerous outlets such as Monmouth Coffee, Neal’s Yard cheese sellers, and a handful of the nearby Borough Market spinoffs in case the original is too crowded for your taste.
Saturdays between 9am-4pm, Sundays between 11am-4pm
Brick Lane Market
Though Brick Lane Market is an area in and of itself, it has grown to encompass a broader array of shops and businesses in and around this East End hotspot. The original, stable Brick Lane Market proper is where to head for furniture, household goods and bargain fruit and veg, before the more ramshackle stalls morph into bric-a-brac traders, clothes and accessories designers until you reach the Sunday UpMarket in the Old Truman Brewery. Therein you’ll find vintage stalls, quirky crafts by up-and-coming designers and stacks of old vinyl. For some respite, artisan food stalls offer everything from cupcakes to coffee, soba noodles, tapas and dim sum; some stalls also have lounging areas to kick back and recharge on.
Aside from the flea-market, this area is best-known for its enclave of Indian and Bangladeshi eateries, so many and of such varied quality in fact that choosing between them can become the trickiest situation you’ll find yourself in during your time there (hint: head for those with the longest queues).
Brick Lane (north of railway bridge)
Cygnet St, Sclater St, Bacon St, Cheshire St, London E1 6SB
Opening hours: 8am-2pm Sun
Food and Drink
Sourced Market opened in St. Pancras International in August 2009, the UK’s first produce market to be located in a train station. Aiming to bring commuters the best from local and artisan producers, the location means delicious items are available en route to the office or before catching the train home, plus it gives continental Eurostar visitors a pleasantly local surprise on arrival. Open seven days a week, Sourced Market has a fantastic range of pre-packaged, frssh, healthy meals, drinks, loose fruit, organic soft drinks as well as an adjacent tapas-style bar serving wine, beer and nibbles such as Scotch eggs, artisanal cheese puff pastries and a range of organic meat from Laverstock Park Farm, line-caught fish and seafood from UK waters, breads, pastries and brownies from Flour Power and olives from Olive Bar. Pop in for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a drink and watch the station go by.
St. Pancras International, London N1C 4QP
Petticoat Lane Market
Petticoat Lane Market is one of Britain’s oldest surviving markets, operating since the 1750s and taking its name from the petticoats and lace once sold there. A smaller market operates during the week along Wentworth Street selling a smaller selection of clothes, as well as a hot food court offering dishes from around the world to hungry workers and lucky passersby. More than a thousand clothes and homeware outlets are otherwise spread over two streets on Sundays, with goods ranging from running the shopping gamut from shoes to kitchen utensils, toiletries and knock-off designer clothing at bargain prices. One of the market specialities is leatherwear at the Aldgate East end, and you should perhaps also note that Petticoat Lane itself no longer exists due to Victorian sensibilities about the perceived unnecessary raunchiness of its name.
Middlesex Street to Strype Street, London E1 7EX
Mon-Fri 8am-4pm Mon-Fri, Sunday 9am-2pm Sun.
Plants and Flowers
Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Market is London’s foremost flower market dedicated to providing you with rare and regular plants, flowers and all manner of garden accoutrements at reasonable prices. Located in the East End of London, this street market is friendly, informal as ever and open every Sunday from 8am-3pm. The road itself is lines with over 60 independent shops and vintage clothes boutiques, as well as a number of art galleries and Italian delicious delis. If you’d prefer to relax in one place and soak up the sights, smells, flowers and foliage while you watch the world go about their buying business, there are plenty of welcoming pubs, cafes and restaurants in which to sit back and do so. For the day’s best bargains, turn up as things start to wilt around 2pm or as early as reasonably possible for a Sunday to take your pick of the bunch.
Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG
Portobello Road Market
Winding its way for over two miles through the beautifully bohemian Notting Hill streetscape, the Portobello Road Market is a medley of antiques, clothes, food, fashion and curios to sate even the greediest of treasure-hunters. Since the 1800s, wheelers and dealers have been trading all manner of goods on the grounds of what was originally a farm, named after the Caribbean port of Puerto Bello.
Vintage is what you’re really making the trip to Portobello Road for: Saturday is the main trading day for the antiques stalls, though most of the shops are open on weekdays too, and it’s best to get here as close to 9 o’clock as possible in order to secure yourself some breathing space. Don’t forget to nurture your insides too – there are myriad delicious, honest produce stalls selling creations at great prices – from fruit and vegetables to mouthwatering bakery products, fresh fish and country cheeses. Apart from bringing plenty of cash (ATMs are few and far between) our insider tip would be to turn up late on a Saturday afternoon and look out for the must-go-now boxes of veggies. You might even chance upon a cookery workshop or cocktail-mixing demonstration if you’re in luck, but in any case the mainstays are here seven days a week. Go for a wander, some pavement-shopping, hardline haggling or just a taste of the world and London in one.
Portobello Road, London W10 5TA
Mon-Wed 9am-6pm; Thurs 9am-1pm;
Fri, Sat 7am-7pm; Antiques: Fri, Sat 6am-4pm
Cabbages and Frocks Market
Craving for cabbages? Feel like a new frock? The good people behind the London Fashion Designer Sales have just solved your most disparate desires: held in the pretty cobbled yard of St Marylebone Parish Church, the Cabbages and Frocks Market was launched by food-loving fashionista Angela Cash and is suitably full of delicious dishes from British shores and beyond, as well as all manner of stylish and startling designer duds. An eclectic selection of retro and vintage, the new and the up-and-coming, jewellery, lingerie, accessories and kids’ outfits, all make for the ideal shopping experience on a Saturday. As for the sustenance, there are chocolates, cupcakes, coffee, Japanese delicacies, organic crêpes and Moroccan street food – plus most options in between.
St Marylebone Parish Church Grounds, Marylebone High St, London NW1 5LT
Open on Saturdays
All these shoppers’ delights are within easy reach of the Amba Hotel Charing Cross, located at the heart of London. So why not combine a reviving stroll with a restful stay at the newest hotel in the capital?