London is famous for its iconic sights, topnotch museums, lovely parks and West End theatres, not to mention its marvellous markets. Nowhere else in Europe will you find such an eclectic collection of stallholders and stores.
On Sunday mornings this usually tranquil boutique-lined East End street transforms into a sense-jolting melee. Bucketloads of flowers and foliage, flaunting everything from roses to banana trees, cast a colourful, aromatic spell while stallholders and customers exchange pound sterling and earthy Cockney banter.
Foodies are in their element at the capital’s oldest fresh produce market, which operates from Monday to Saturday under the railway lines near London Bridge. Many of the 100-plus stallholders grow, rear or bake their goods. Tempting free samples abound so go feeling peckish. If Borough Market is too busy, check out nearby Maltby Street Market (maltby.st) – another gourmet haven.
There’s been a market in Spitalfields since the 17th century, but it now plays out in a jazzed-up Victorian warehouse near Liverpool Street Station. All sorts of stuff goes on sale here throughout the week, but fashion-lovers should come on Fridays when independent young designers showcase their trendy wares.
If you’re partial to fossicking for vintage curios (and you don’t mind crowds), Notting Hill’s Portobello Road is the place to be on a Saturday. Groaning with antiques and bric-and-bric, stalls stretch for a mile along this photogenic street lined with colourfully painted houses.
Also chock-a-block is the cluster of markets that sprawl across Camden, a north London enclave that blends goth and punk vibes with gentrified polish. Operating seven days a week, it’s something of a one-stop shop, with food, drink, clothes, vinyl, paintings and a raft of quirky items luring Londoners and tourists.
Hackney’s hippest eatery-lined thoroughfare is doubly enticing on Saturdays, when the street is jammed with stalls selling artisan pastries, whiffy French cheeses, meaty British pies and Ghanaian stews. If the weather’s good, buy takeaway for a picnic in neighbouring leafy London Fields.
Prints, sculptures and graffiti images are among the arts and crafts sold at Greenwich Market, which is sporting a shiny new light-filled renovation. Crammed with stalls, galleries and cafés, the market is a five-minute stroll from the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage site and several charming pubs.
While most markets pack up fairly early, the covered market arcades of Brixton Village and Market Row in south London make for a delectable evening destination. Colombian cafés, Chinese dumpling joints and Pakistani curry restaurants are among the cosmopolitan dining options, while Market Row Wines is a chilled-out place to sip quality drops.
Pungent and atmospheric, Billingsgate Fish Market seems a bit out of place perched in the shadow of Canary Wharf’s gleaming financial towers. Its merchants sell more than 150 varieties of fish and shellfish sourced from British and foreign waters. You’ll need to set your alarm to visit the market, which is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 4am to 8am.
You’re unlikely to find many other tourists milling about a Dalston icon that’s believed to have inspired Walford Market in the long-running British TV soap, EastEnders. Every day except Sunday, locals trawl Ridley Road Market for fruit and veg, herbs and spices and other bare necessities… such as Afro-Caribbean dresses and hairpieces.
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Image: Garry Knight