London is well-known as a popular retail destination, but there’s more to the capital than the high-end department stores and the chain outlets on Oxford Street. If you’re after an authentic, inspiring shopping experience, then look no further than the city’s vast network of traditional markets.
There are a host of covered, outdoor and street markets across Greater London, some of which have been going since the middle ages and others which have established a presence in more recent years. Typically they open for business early in the morning and keep trading until well into the evening. Some are open seven days a week, while others emerge just once a week, transforming their local community for the day.
London’s fantastic public transport network means it’s easy enough to get around and experience these markets for yourself. Each has its own different niche – you just need to know what you are looking for. Alternatively, you can just head out for a browse, and take in all the sights, sounds and smells of the capital’s famous markets.
1. Brick Lane Market
- Address: Brick Lane, Shoreditch, E1 6PU
- Opening Times: Sun 9am-5pm
- Nearest Tube Stop: Aldgate East
The market runs once a week on Sundays at the northern end of Brick Lane and along Cheshire Street, in the heart of East London’s Bangladeshi community. You can find almost anything on the various stalls and street stands, with bargain hunters coming out each weekend to check out the latest second-hand goods on offer. There’s furniture, unusual clothes and bric-a-brac just for starters – it’s a real treasure trove for shoppers.
The streets are lined with people of all cultures and creeds, browsing the market and enjoying the fabulous atmosphere. Musicians and other street performers are ever-present, adding to the feelgood vibe. All the shops and restaurants in the area open up each Sunday, meaning there are plenty of options for dining, from Bangladeshi curry houses to Jewish bagel shops.
The popularity of Brick Lane Market has increased in recent years, as many traditional street traders have moved away from the nearby Spitalfields Market on the weekend. It has grown quickly from a few odd stalls to a major community event – one that is a chaotic, noisy but thrilling shopping experience.
2. Borough Market
- Address: Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL
- Opening Times: Mon-Thurs 10am-5pm, Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 8am-5pm
- Nearest Tube Stop: London Bridge station
The ever-popular Borough Market, which is located underneath the railway arches in Southwark, just south of the Thames, continues to go from strength to strength. It is London’s most renowned food market, where you can enjoy British produce and flavours from around the world. Pretty much every type of food and drink is on offer at Borough Market, from baked goods, to meats and cheeses, to fruit and vegetables, to wine and beer.
Many of the stalls serve fresh, cooked meals for customers to enjoy as they browse the market, with a wide variety of samplers on offer. This means you can try out different types of cuisine before making your meal choice.
Borough Market is home to chefs, restaurateurs and amateur cooks – essentially anybody who is passionate about food and drink. The quality of the produce is invariably high, encouraging visitors to keep returning time after time. There are regular special events at the market, including live cooking demonstrations, talks and debates.
3. Portobello Road Market
- Address: Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, W10 5TA
- Opening Times: Mon-Weds 9am-6pm, Thurs 9am-1pm, Fri-Sat 9am-7pm
- Nearest Tube Stops: Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill Gate
Disney fans will know all about Portobello Road Market from its appearance in the 1971 musical film ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’. “Anything and everything a chap can unload, is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road,” sung actor David Tomlinson, as butchers, policemen, soldiers, entertainers and fishmongers danced away in separate choreographed segments.
Portobello is essentially several markets in one. You’ve got the Antiques & Bric-A-Brac, Fruit & Veg, New Goods, Fashion Market and Second-Hand Goods markets – there is something for everyone. On Saturdays, all of them are in full swing, including the world-famous antiques market. Around 1,000 dealers selling every kind of collectible you can imagine, including many rare, high-value and specialist items.
The market goes right through the heart of the trendy Notting Hill district, just north of the centre of the capital. Stalls stretch for as far of the eye can see on a busy Saturday afternoon, for around two miles in total. This means a trip to the market can easily turn into a full day out.
4. Columbia Road Flower Market
- Address: Columbia Rd, London, E2 7RG
- Opening Times: Sundays 8am-2pm
- Nearest Tube Stop: Bethnal Green
Columbia Road flower market is open every Sunday of the year, even at Easter time. Regardless of the weather, rain or shine, the street is transformed into a wonderful flowery paradise where you can buy pretty much anything that grows. From bulbs, to plants, to seeds and rare species, there’s enormous variety of choice.
Some of the sellers grow their own flowers, while other traders import them from around the world. Many have run their stalls for decades, or taken them over from their ancestors to keep the family business going.
As well as the Sunday market, there are dozens of independent shops on Columbia Road, which lies close to Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Spitalfields. There are quirky cafes, antique shops and galleries, all run by dedicated owners who fully buy in to the local vibe.
5. Old Spitalfields Market
- Address: 16 Horner Square, Spitalfields, London, E1 6EW
- Opening Times: Mon to Weds 10am-5pm, Thurs 9am-5pm, Fri 10am-4pm, Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 9am-5pm
- Nearest Tube Stop: Liverpool Street
There has been a market at Spitalfields in the east of London for over 350 years, since King Charles gave a licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold in 1638. Today, Old Spitalfields Market is a covered trading area, housed in Grade II listed buildings which have been restored in recent years. It features fashion, arts and crafts, food and general market stalls seven days a week. The market gets particularly busy at the weekends, when visitors may also spend time at Brick Lane or Columbia Road to make it a full day out.
General market stalls are open between Sunday and Wednesday, with the Antiques and Vintage Market taking place each Thursday. Friday hosts the Fashion & Art market, with Saturday being the themed market day. There is always something going on at Old Spitalfields, a market which offers something for people of all ages and persuasions.