London is justifiably proud of its markets, most of which date back to mediaeval times. They tell the history of London: Borough Market, the oldest, has lost its mediaeval clamour but retains its Dickensian air - it's seen a revival as an organic produce market and film-lot. Some, like Camden and Portobello are thriving, Camden's turnover makes it Britain's 4th largest retailer. Others have not stood up to the 21st century as well: the same processes which worked on Les Halles in Paris have been at work here: disrepair and displacement, followed by commercial development. Covent Garden market moved out of its central location to the wastes of Vauxhall years ago, to be replaced by a tourist-orientated market; Billingsgate, the fish market famous for the bad language of its traders has moved to the Isle of Dogs, and the original waterside building been taken over by city businessmen. Smithfield alone has remained in the centre: this huge temple of meat has retained its ancient working practices (see our City Walks section) but it too has seen the encroachment of the twentieth century: the advent of Mad Cow disease, and deadly E Coli bacteria strains have seen it much modernised over the past few years - it has in the process lost much of its character.
If you want to see these ancient markets in operation you must get up early in the morning - by 03:00 hours Smithfield is well underway, and the pubs and cafes are doing good business. For the general markets, the earlier you visit a market the better chance you have of a bargain: grubbing around with a torch as a stallholder opens 04:00 is the norm.
Antiques market, famous for once being where thieves
could sell their goods with impunity (a royal
license meant that stolen goods bought here did not
have to be returned, and subsequent legislation -
repealed as late as 2000, restricted that to being
before sunrise, hence the market's early hours. It's suffered a lot since that privilege was
withdrawn and the site developed. Frankly it's
over-rated and not worth the trip - don't believe
the hype. Generally a few small stalls. Come early
in the morning if you must (from 04:00) for the best
bargains, bring a torch. Sometimes good good for
silver (but not as good as the South Molton Street
area - by Bond St Tube, or Portobello's off-road
markets).. Friday 04:00 -12:00
Camden Market Recovered from a serious fire, but the damage by developers continues, Camden Market is one of London's top attractions. Virtually everything is on sale here, clothing, music, antiques (though this sector is shrinking - not a patch on Paris' St Ouen Marche aux Puces) , collectibles, ethnic art, rugs and kelims, food and drink and, increasingly, tat.
However the tasteless redevelopment of the Stables market has put up prices and destroyed the impromptu feel. It does tend to get a bit crowded on Sundays, and has a wide variety of food stalls, pubs and restaurants - far too many, really, and there's much live music and comedy in the evenings. Very mixed quality of goods on offer - few real bargains to be found. Recently it's become a haven for emerging fashion designers - the 'latest' club wear (yawn) is to be found here. It has, however peaked, and is sliding towards self parody, but slowly. However if the nearest conurbation has fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, you don't get out much or are under 13 (or more likely all three)then you might like it...Weekends from about 09:30 to 17:00. Their Website
If you want to make a day of it walk up past Stables market to Chalk Farm tube station and follow the signs for Primrose Hill - a great little park with a view over London, merging into the huge Regent's Park (almost as large as the whole City of London). You can walk down through Regent's Park, past the Mosque to Madame Tussaud's (and vice versa) and beyond to the Wallace Collection Gallery in Manchester Square and finish up with an early meal in St Christopher's Place, just north of Oxford Street. You can also walk along the canal into Regent's park and along as far as Little Venice if the fancy takes you, which on a Saturday connects into Portobello Road Market.
Columbia Road Flower Market Somewhat off the beaten track this is one of the best ways to start a Sunday - there are several places to have brunch. Well signposted from Shoreditch tube station which opens specially on Sundays for the Market (special buses run from London Bridge also), and from the top of Shoreditch High Street by Liverpool St Station. Flowers and plants. Hardly the stuff to take back home but it's a great place to potter. Then on down Brick Lane to Spitalfields Market for a late lunch. Really great way of spending Sunday. Sunday: 09:00 -12:00.
For hardcore enthusiasts a SUNDAY circuit of: Liverpool St station - train to London Fields, walk back south to Broadway Market (good french delicatessan/cafe, good brunchy pubs and restaurants). Then continue south through Hackney City Farm (restaurant there won best family restaurant of the year 2005..) to Colombia road, along Colombia road then South to Brick Lane, Hugenot district, Spitalfields market and back to Liverpool Street station - see an AtoZ map or go HERE for mapping it out - you may need to expand the map both south and north to get the whole route.
Market: every day 1000-1800, atmosphere: all the time.
Gabriel's Wharf Small market on the South Bank next to the OXO building, selling mostly jewelry, ethnic nick-nacks and artsy paraphernalia. It's on our walk along the river (See Itinerary Page) - most people stumble across it rather than head for it. You can hire bicycles here and there are one or two restaurants. Mainly Weekends 10:00-18:00, some stalls keep shop hours.
Greenwich Market Sprawling series of small weekend markets selling antiques, arts & crafts, clothing, books. Not really worth a special trip so visit as part of a trip to Greenwich (Observatory, Maritime museum, Cutty Sark, Naval Academy, Park, Queen's House, Blackheath, Ranger's House.) There's also a covered market in the central square, near the DLR station and the Cutty Sark whic is like a mini Covent Garden. The best way to approach this is to take the Docklands Railway through Canary Wharf and get off at Island Gardens, and walk the foot tunnel to Greenwich. Weekends.
Leadenhall Well preserved small Victorian food market, off Gracechurch St, just north of the Monument. Some of the shops don't look as if they've changed over the past century. More a historic building than a market - it's very busy weekday lunchtimes when it's crammed with city businessmen. Some good, but overpriced eateries, lively pubs. It's right next to the hyper-modern Lloyds building and should be taken in as part of a tour of the City. Features on our City Walk on the itinerary page. Weekdays 08:00 -15:00
It is really only of historical interest, orignally a hangout for Spanish refugees (in Shakespeare's time the embassy was here), then Huguenots, then Jews and latterly Asians. Many an Essex cabbie can trace his history back to a schmutter stall here.
Sadly the stallholders have got wiser, and the
prices steeper, but if you're after something special
you'll find it here - remember to haggle. The South
end of the street is mainly antiques, and make sure
you go off-street as there are bargains to be had late
afternoons ( especially in the smaller markets,
underground) the middle is vegetables, and the north
end bric-a-brac. About half the size of the antiques
sections of Paris' St Ouen - but take this together with
South Moulton Street and Chelsea's Kings Road and the
two are comparable. As it's held in ultra-fashionable
and expensive Notting Hill it's also great for just
hanging out. Beautiful rows of white stucco'd houses
abound. From Notting Hill tube you can walk south into
Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park and down to the museum
One way of doing it involves the Hammersmith and City
line to Ladbroke Grove (turn left out of tube, market
begins 50m on your right) through the railway arch bit
of the market, turn left (ie North) and continue to
Goldborne Rd, walk it towards the huge ugly, but much
loved, tower block (Trellick Tower,
a listed building whose occupants were vociferous in
their opposition to demolition) and start with coffee
and pastry at Cafe Lisboa (on the right side of the
road, as you're looking at Trellick)- a London
institution - 2 large coffees and 4 cakes for
£6, then walk back down Goldborne, turning left
back onto Portobello and continue through the three
markets towards Notting Hill tube. It's a mile at
Search this site: