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 currently seeing 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.
Bermondsey Antiques market, famous for once being where thieves could sell their goods with impunity (a royal licence meant that stolen goods bought here did not have to be returned) which has suffered somewhat since that privilege was withdrawn. Lots of small stalls. Come here early in the morning (from 04:00) for the best bargains, bring a torch. About to be redesigned, it's felt that this could cause it to lose all its charm. Although it's shrinking it's still good for silver (but not as good as the South Molton Street area - by Bond St Tube).
North of the market, along Bermondsey Street there are huge warehouses full of antiques that keep the same hours, but they are slowly being bought out and converted to lofts. Most of them will ship worldwide. 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 difficult to lay a finger on why everyone loves it. Not really worth a special visit, but if you're after 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....). Under threat from developers allied to railtrack. 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 farmer's market - good quality food, to take away and also produce, though a bit on the expensive side. Quite a few good restaurants on the fringes (eg the overpriced Fish or the good Turkish/Greek Tas). 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
Camden Market Camden Market is one of London's top attractions. It's a young place, but somehow seems to bring out the youngster in everyone. 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. It does tend to get a bit crowded on Sundays, and you could think yourself back in the swinging sixties. Very mixed quality of goods on offer but there are real bargains to be found. We recommend 'Art of Africa' for African art (prices one tenth that of the West End galleries they supply) and the rug and kelim shops are the cheapest we've seen out of the wilds of Arabia. Recently it's become a haven for emerging fashion designers - the 'latest' club wear (yawn) is to be found here. It has, howver peaked, and is sliding towards consumerist tat, but slowly. 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. 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. 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 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 Large, sprawling series of markets selling antiques, arts & crafts, clothing, books. A huge penumbra of flea markets. More of an attraction than a serious market. 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. 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 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/Brick Lane Petticoat lane is a famous but disappointing tat market in the East End. It's day has passed. Not recommended. However Spitalfields/Brick lane is amazing - Sunday only. 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.
Tube: Aldgate/Aldgate East (Metropolitan/Hammersmith & City) Bus: Aldgate
Portobello Road Market We remember this market in the late 1960s when people dressed in Sgt Pepper costumes, and antiques could be picked up 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, the middle is vegetables, and the 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. You can walk south into Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park afterwards and down to the museum district. Saturdays from about 06:00 to about 16:30.
Tube: Notting Hill Gate (Central, Circle) Ladbroke Grove (Hammersmith & City) Bus: Notting Hill
Spitalfields Old fruit and veg market, opposite Liverpool St Station on Bishopsgate, transformed over the past five years into a slightly (it for some time had it's 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). 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. 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 often be seen there in their classic 1950s three piece suits.
However an evil alliance between developers and the Corporation of London will see this historic market demolished to make way for an office block, shopping mall and hotel complex. The duplicity of those who have the trust of Londoners has been again highlighted as dodgy deals between the corporation of London and developers SDG have managed to bypass planning, historical listing, and community desires. Visit this market soon or it will be gone. Please visit the campaign website to save the market and sign their petition. Sunday: 10:00-16:30 See also our city walks section.