London Shopping: 8 Can’t-Miss Markets

No matter how long you plan on staying in London, heading to a market absolutely needs to be on your to-do list. Markets are scattered throughout London, and history permeates every inch of them. Whether it was a favorite haunt of Dickens, or owes a compelling antecedent to the efforts of the local community, markets are a thriving part of London life. Find out what 8 of London’s iconic markets sell, and how to get there.

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1. Alfies Antique Market

  • Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Sells: Antiques
  • Tube stations: Marylebone, Edgeware Road

Opened in 1976 by Bennie Gray, Alfies took over a space previously occupied by Jordan’s Department Store. Being located on the site of a former big box store gives Alfies a bonus most other London markets miss out on: It is inside — not just covered — so weather cannot affect your shopping trip. Not that long ago, you would not have wanted to make a trip to Alfies. ”The place was semi-derelict,” Gray said on the market’s website, “half the shops were boarded up and there was a terrible problem with vandalism.” Regeneration of the building and its environment is a source of price for Gray.

A self-styled antique market, you’ll find more that old furniture here. Playbills, posters, clothing, perfume bottles, books, and a bevy of other goods fall under the antique umbrella.

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2. Portobello Road Market

  • Open: Monday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Sells: Antiques, fruit and vegetables, new goods, clothing, secondhand goods
  • Tube: Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill Gate

This behemoth thoroughfare will be packed with shoppers and sightseers, especially on Saturdays, when the full market is in swing. The different sections are marked off based on intersecting streets. Open several days a week, Saturday is the most popular because that is when antiques and bric-a-brac traders open their stalls. (Some before the market “officially” opens.)

Along the road between Chepstow Villas and Elgin Crescent, you’ll find the antiques section. Here, you’ll come across everything from vintage trunks and doorknobs to jewelry and books. Fruit and veggies take over from Elgin Crescent to Talbot Road, but there is more on offer than tomatoes. Fresh-baked goods and flowers are available, as well.

If you need something a little more substantial, restaurants and cafes line the street behind the stalls. The catchall of “new goods” is applied to the section from Talbot Road to Westway, and there you can find just about anything. You might discover a poster, hat, or a pair of socks. The fashion market is scattered around the Westway area in general, and secondhand goods can be found from Westway to Golbourne Road.

As with any other market, you may need to dig a bit to find what you are looking for. If you’re really trying to find something specific — say, an original album on vinyl by the Clash or a vintage ring — having a game plan is definitely needed. Otherwise, it is very easy to be distracted by every other enticing sight and sound the market has to offer.

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3. Covent Garden

  • Open: Varies by seller or shop; generally, all week. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Sells: Clothing, antiques, jewelry, bric-a-brac, food
  • Tube: Covent Garden, Charing Cross

Covent Garden brings together markets, spas, churches, high street fashions, restaurants, theaters, live street performers, and special events in one sprawling, central London location. The markets are housed in the Market Building and the piazzas of Covent Garden. The shops feature an eclectic array of wares; vintage finds are nestled next to handmade crafts, around the corner from iconic eateries like Balthazar and Ladurée.

The market is open every day of the week, but when you go determines what you will find. If you are antiques shopping in central London, you’ll want to visit on Mondays, when traders set up shop in the Apple and Jubilee markets. On other days of the week, individual sellers determine when they will be open. On Thursdays, the Real Food Market is open, selling fresh produce, bread, and other food items.

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4. Broadway Market

  • Open: Saturday
  • Sells: Food, clothing
  • Tube: Bethnal Green

What was once a “a bawdy, drunken, vibrant street” in the heart of the East End has been revitalized by the local community. The organizers see the shops and stalls of Broadway Market as a reflection of the community — while they envisioned a chance to breathe new life into their region, they did not want to impose strict limitations. The result is a boundless farmer’s market. On Saturdays, the street comes alive as stalls open for business, selling food and clothing to patrons. You may decide to head to the market for organic meat but come away with bags filled with vintage clothing.

Locals love the market for its reasonable food prices and the role the market plays in the community. Kickstarted by those who live there, it is estimated that the market brings in more than 2 million pounds for its home neighborhood, Hackney, each year. Over 100 stalls will be open when you visit, and the owners stay true to its original intent: revitalization.

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5. Old Spitalfields

  • Open: Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Sells: Food, clothing, antiques, records, art, etc.
  • Tube: Liverpool Street

This East London institution is open seven days a week, but which day you go dictates what you will find. From Sunday to Wednesday the general market stalls are open, Thursdays are for antiques and vintage wares, Fridays see fashion and art takeover, and Saturdays are themed days. Each week brings a different theme, so be sure to check ahead of your visit. On the first and third Friday of every month, a record fair is held at the market, as well.

A market in this general vicinity can be traced back to the 1600s, and the Horner Buildings — which recently underwent renovation — were completed in 1887. The buildings’ name come from Robert Horner, a former market porter who purchased the market’s lease at a public auction in 1875. However, the market as it stands today didn’t take shape until 1991, when the fruit and vegetable section began occupying a purpose-built 31-acre site.

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6. Camden Markets

  • Open: Generally all week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Sells: Clothing, household goods, crafts, antiques, etc.
  • Tube: Camden Town, Chalk Farm Road

Not content with one market? Head to Camden, where you can check out Camden Lock, the Stables, the market in Buck Street, another on Inverness Street, and Camden Lock Village. Development of the areas around Camden High Street began in 1791. Before Earl Camden and others began investing in the area, it consisted of a couple of inns, several buildings, and the open countryside. When the canal was created, warehouses and industrial buildings also came into being, though they were largely empty by the 1970s. By 1972, buildings were being sublet to craft shops, and soon, the market was born.

Camden Lock was started in 1975 and sees about 150,000 people per week. Here, you can purchase household decorations, homemade crafts, designer clothes, and accessories. By its own count, there are about 700 stalls in the Stables Market. Many are focused on alternative fashion options, but there is also a wide range of international food, accessories, and crafts. Buck Street Market is really situated on Camden High Street. Mainly dealing in clothes, several of the stalls sell fashions designed and created by the stall owner.

Opposite Buck Street is the market in Inverness Street. This market has branched out into clothing but remains true to its roots in fruit and veg. The street is also home to several restaurants and bars.  Camden Lock Village has recently undergone a renovation, and in the 500 or so stalls, you’ll find the usual market offerings and unique finds, like a drum specialist.

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7. Columbia Road Flower Market

  • Open: Sunday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Sells: Flowers
  • Tube: Old Street

Care to do your shopping in a garden oasis? Head to Columbia Road when the flower market is open on Sundays. The market itself is concerned with all things garden related, but even those without a green thumb can appreciate the floral beauty while ducking in and out of other shops along the road.

Avoiding the crush of crowds at this market can be difficult, since it is only open one day of the week. Many recommend heading out early if you want to score a discounted floral find. If your thumbs are less than green and you simply want to take in the sights and smells, this is less of a concern.

The market itself only sells flowers, but the shops that line the street behind the stalls deal in a variety of other goods. Small art galleries, bakeries, delis, and vintage shops call the street home every day of the week. Just like Broadway Market, locals stepped in to save the area from decline. Originally, the flower market was frequented by neighborhood home owners who kept small gardens, but as degeneration set in during the 1970s, the market was brought down, as well. Now, due to community spirit, the flower market is recognized at a must-see for visitors and locals.

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8. Borough Market

  • Open: Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Sells: Food, flowers
  • Tube: London Bridge

Food markets in the Borough neighborhood date back to 1014. Closed by Parliament in 1755, local residents raised the requisite money — 6,000 pounds at the time — to purchase a patch of land called “The Triangle.” Today, the site is home to Northfield Farm and Furness Fish and Game.

With such a long, historical association with food, it is no wonder that tourists and Londoners alike flock to the market for fresh ingredients. Whether you need to tick produce off your grocery list or are looking for a unique sweet treat, Borough has you covered. While you’re at the market, you can select from a variety of beers, wines, and fresh juices, as well. Cafes and restaurants surround the area, including Monmouth Coffee’s second location.

Depending on the time of year you’re in London, you may be able to take advantage of special events being held at the market. Cooking demonstrations are common occurrences, and holiday-themed festivities — like a Bastille Day celebration — may also be happening.

It is open throughout the week, but not all traders choose to sell each day. On Monday and Tuesday, the market is considered open for lunch, and the full market is operational Wednesday through Saturday. If you are looking for a taste of London but want to avoid the crowds, visiting early in the week can help you avoid a tourist trap, but you won’t be guaranteed the full experiences. On the outskirts of the market, you’ll find stalls selling items beyond food, drink, and flowers.

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