One London attraction that pleases almost everyone are its lively markets. Covered, uncovered, on streets or converted Victorian buildings, London’s markets are a long-standing tradition in the British capital, and a great way to rub shoulders with the locals. As the holidays approach, these are great places to get some Christmas shopping done, while enjoying a bit of festive cheer. Below are some of our favourites:
Borough Market is not only our favourite market in London, but one of our favourite places in the city, period. It’s been operating on London’s South Bank, near London Bridge, for almost 300 years, making it the city’s oldest fruit and vegetable market. The abundance and quality of food on display at Borough Market is simply astounding, so make sure you show up hungry! Everything from charcuterie to bakery stalls, prepared food (think flaky meat pies and jerk chicken, paella and Gujurati street food) and the finest farm produce is on towering displays among the market stalls.
Come December, expect towering displays of Christmas baking! The full market is open Wednesday through Saturday.
If you want the latest street fashion at the cheapest prices, Camden Town in North London is the place to go. Camden Market is actually a series of markets, very close together: Camden Lock Market (for handicraft and gifts), Camden Stables Market (vintage and alternative fashion), Buck St. Market (t-shirts, trendy fashion), Camden Lock Village (clothing and accessories) and Inverness Market (bargain clothing, footwear, and souvenirs at much cheaper prices than Piccadilly!)
The Stables are particularly worth a look – not just for the shops, but the evocative stone architecture of its catacombs and arches. The walk along the canal towards Regent's Park is a lovely way to leave the area; and if you’re not into nightlife, you’ll definitely want to leave Camden Town before it gets dark: the surrounding area overflows with rowdy bars, pubs, jazz clubs, and restaurants.
Portobello Road Market
The famed Portobello Road Market has over a thousand vendors selling antiques and collectibles, making it the largest antiques market in the world. Located in lovely West London, the market runs for over a mile along Portobello Road, through the heart of the charming Notting Hill neighbourhood. In the shops and stalls near Portobello Road tube station, you can expect to find a wonderful array of antiques dating from Roman times to the 1960′s, including items such as glass and crystal, silver, books and many other collectibles.
While its focus is on antiques, you’ll find sections of the road dedicated to fruit and vegetable stalls, clothing, and tasty delicacies like homemade marshmallows and lavender-flavoured cupcakes. You can’t miss the musical street performers weaving through the crowds - expect Carolers in December.
Portobello Road is a popular place for tourists and locals alike. Come on Saturday for the market to be in full swing – and arrive in the morning to avoid the worst of the crush.
Columbia Road Flower Market
On the opposite side of town, the Columbia Road Flower Market is a popular Sunday destination for East Enders. Every Sunday without fail the road grows lush with foliage, and shoppers can buy everything from cut flowers, to bedding plants and banana trees. The local merchants are another draw, eschewing chain stores for one-of-a-kind retail outfits. Small art galleries sit next to cupcake shops, vintage clothing stores, English and Italian delis, garden and antique shops. The perfect place to find one-of-a-kind gifts.
The Flower market began as a Saturday trading market in Victorian times, but as the Jewish population in the area grew, today’s Sunday market was established. Grab some daffodils (or sunflowers, dahlias, daisies, lillies...) and enjoy a hot drink at a local tea shop.
Another Eastside favourite is Spitalfields Market. With roots dating back to the 13th century, Spitalfields identifies itself as the oldest market in London. Today, it’s certainly one of the most successful, representing some of the city’s hippest, artsiest and most talented folk all under one roof. Spitalfields has become synonymous with forward-thinking fashion, art and design, and is a huge draw in East London.
For that truly unique London souvenir – the one people back home will ask about, Spitalfields Market is the place to go. Here you will find one of a kind items designed and made locally. And there’s another huge draw to heading to this part of town, especially around lunch time: Spitalfields is just a stone’s throw from Brick Lane, London’s legendary Bangladeshi and East Indian restaurant area.
Hopefully these five markets will give you a starting point for your adventures around London. And if you’re looking for more direction, our London guides are experts at helping you find your own unique path in this world class city.