London Markets

the frost fair, held on the frozen Thames

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.



 

The London Tourist
                      Guide, a free visitors guide to London


The shortlist:

1) Spitalfields / Columbia Road (SUNDAY ONLY)

2)Portobello

3) Camden

4) Covent Garden

5) Greenwich

 





Bermondsey 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impunity (a royal license meant that stolen goods bought here did not have to be returned, and subsequent legislation - repealed as late as 2000, restricted that to being before sunrise, hence the market's early hours. It's suffered a lot since that privilege was withdrawn and the site developed.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 

Tube: London Bridge (Northern/Jubilee) Train: London Bridge Bus: Tower Bridge Road

 





Berwick Street Tiny, cheap, fruit and vegetable market in the heart of Soho. Comsumables need to be eaten on the same day. Haunted by the ghosts of the 1960s. It's featured on the cover of an Oasis album. It's difficult to lay a finger on why everyone loves it. Not really worth a special visit, but if you're after fabric, and music on vinyl or CD the shops on Berwick Street are the best places to start. Mon-Sat 09:00-17:00 

Tube: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly, Bakerloo) Leicester Square (Northern) Bus: Shaftsbury Avenue/Wardour St.





Borough One of London's trendiest markets, mainly for its unspoilt Victorian architecture and its location in 'Booming Borough' under the railway as it leaves London Bridge Station. A film location manager's dream, there's rarely a month when a film isn't being shot here it seems (eg. Bridget Jones, Richard III, Lock, Stock and....). building work on an unwarranted but profitable development.  Not really worth a special visit (though you're likely to be close to it at some time during your London stay) except on Saturdays when there's a food market - this used to be a farmers' and independent producers' market but a greedy council and even greedier landlords have forced out most of the more interesting producers - it's turning into a luxury fast-food outlet.  The farmers have turned to Bermondsey Market (see above) on a Saturday.  Borough Market gets very crowded - it's turning into a tourist trap, so early visits best. Quite a few good restaurants on the fringes including our favourite Brindisi. Excellent for breakfasts all week (esp The Monmouth Coffee Shop) Getting more expensive and more yuppified by the month though. Good for buying for picnics (eg in Greenwich Park) Excellent Cheese shop (Neal's Yard Dairy) a loaf and a piece of Montgomery Cheddar from here are sublime for eating outdoors. Fruit wholesale 04:00-08:00 Mon - Fri. Farmers' Market 1200-1700 Friday, 1000-1600 Saturday. Visit it as part of our itinerary. 


Tube: London Bridge (Northern/Jubilee) Train: London Bridge Bus: London Bridge Station



Brick Lane Part of a long stretch of markets that come alive on Sundays. it's the slightly disorganised and happening nature of the stalls that make it special.  If you are looking for cool Britannia you're more likely to find her here than any other place.  The Sunday UpMarket has displaced Spitalfields for trendy design.

Try 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.

Sunday 10:00-16:00


Tube: Aldgate/Aldgate East (Metropolitan/Hammersmith & City) Bus: Aldgate



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.
Tube: Camden or Chalk Farm (Northern Line) Bus: Camden Town




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.


Tube: Old Street (Northern Line) Shoreditch (East London) Bus: Shoreditch Church




Covent Garden at Christmas, Wikipedia Commons
Covent Garden Touristy place to hang out. You don't go for the market (overpriced tat) but for the atmosphere and the buskers. The old fruit 'n' veg market that appeared in old Hitchcock films has been converted to a piazza. If you're a Hitch fan you'll want to go and see his house/museum in Leytonstone, and the new murals at the tube station there - our favourite piece of public art (but ONLY if you're a fan) Don't eat or drink in Covent Garden, the quality is bad and the prices sky high (but if you do we recommend the 'All Bar One' chain or the Garden branch of Wagamama). Somerset House is nearby for a hit of culture. The London Transport Museum Shop in the corner of the Piazza is good for gifts. There is a nice cluster of shops around the market which makes it a major, if somewhat expensive, shopping area - see our shopping page for details.  

Market: every day 1000-1800, atmosphere: all the time.

Tube: Covent Garden (Piccadilly) Leicester Square (Northern) Charing Cross (Bakerloo) Bus: Shaftsbury Avenue/St Giles High Street





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.


Tube: Southwark (Jubilee) Bus: Blackfriars bridge





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.
Tube: Cutty Sark/Island Gardens (Docklands) Train: Greenwich Bus: Greenwich Town Hall





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 
Tube:Bank (Central, Circle) Bus: Moorgate

 





Petticoat Lane Petticoat lane is a famous but disappointing tat market in the East End. It's day was wonderful but has passed. Not recommended. You can buy cheap Chinese-made shoes anywhere nowadays.

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.

 

 

 




/brizzlebornandbred's photo of Portobello Road in the 1960s, from FlikrPortabello
Portobello Road Market We remember this market in the late 1960s when people dressed in Sgt Pepper costumes, and it was, at least for a 7 year old, the nearest thing to the real life manifestation of an acid trip. We failed miserably to pursuade our parents to buy a large stuffed bear, twice our size, going for a song.

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 district.

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 least.
Our favourite way is to take the Bakerloo line to Warwick Avenue station and walk along the canal through Little Venice to where the canal meets Goldborne Rd - about 100m from Cafe Lisboa. Take cash as there are always huge queues for the ATMs. Saturdays from about 06:00 to about 16:30.



Tube: Notting Hill Gate (Central, Circle) Ladbroke Grove (Hammersmith & City) Bus: Notting Hill





Mark Jackson & Huw Davies photo of Old Spitalfields Market, Bishopsgate InstituteSpitalfields Old fruit and veg market, opposite Liverpool St Station on Bishopsgate, transformed during the 90s into a slightly (it for some time had its own opera house) boho weekend market - it's at its best on Sunday and a good starting point for exploring the Hugenot architecture and history of Brick lane and the surrounding area. Best to go to nearby Columbia Road Flower Market first (for Brunch). Encroachments by developers and an uncaring council with its eyes firmly pinned on attracting City lucre have dimmed its appeal slightly.
Photographer:Jeremy Freedman


Organic vegetables, art, books, ethnic impedimentia, vintage cars - a whole rag tag of merchants. Many leading contemporary artists and sculptors have their studios there. This is what Covent Garden was like before it became a tourist trap, though developers allied to the local council want to turn it that way. A good place for Sunday lunch, especially recommended is 'Meson Los Barilles' a spanish restaurant/tapas house - it's quadrupled in size over the past five years and it's still always packed - artists. Gilbert & George can sometimes be seen there in their classic 1950s three piece suits.
Please visit the campaign website to save the market from over-development and sign their petition. Sunday: 10:00-16:30 See also our city walks section. 

Tube: Liverpool St (Central) Bus: Bishopsgate

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