It seems apt to begin with the market that specialises in that most symbolic of Springtime off-shoots: flowers. The Columbia Road Market is held every Sunday throughout the year in the East End and is London’s foremost location for finding great deals as well as rare and often entirely unheard of species. From banana trees to blue orchids, gardenias to gardening tools, from the early hours to around 3pm any given Sunday, you’ll find it here. Columbia Road itself is lined with independent shops, vintage boutiques, art galleries, cafes and delis. You could spend the entire day peering into one or the other, or select the most inviting, pull up a chair and soak up the sights and smells of flowers and foliage. For the best bargains, turn up as things start to wilt around 2pm or as early as reasonable for a Sunday to take your pick of the bunch.
You won’t escape the crowds of locals or tourists at Portobello Road Market, but it remains of the quintessential ways to spend a London Saturday. An absolute treasure trove of antiques, fashion, food and curios have kept shoppers and traders returning here since the 1800s, and for good reason. Winding over two miles through the beautiful, bohemian Notting Hill, the Market truly specialises in vintage of all stripes and colours. Saturday is the main trading day for the antiques stalls, though most of the shops are open on weekdays too, and it’s best to get here as close to 9 o’clock as possible in order to ensure some breathing and elbow space. When in need of some extra shopping sustenance, there are endless delicious, local, organic produce stalls selling temptations at great prices – from fruits and vegetables to mouthwatering bakery bites, fresh fish and farm-fresh cheese. Bring enough cash to cover you as ATMs are few and far between, and look out for the occasional ad-hoc cookery workshop or cocktail-mixing demonstration – it’s a taste of the world and London wrapped up in one enchanting enclave.
From Mondays to Saturdays, 8am to around 5pm, the place to go for eco-friendly street-food and all manner of organic goodness, plus some of the capital’s best people-watching, is undoubtedly Borough Market. With up to and over 70 gourmet food stalls and stands, the Market brings together producers from all over the country and abroad, offering fresh fish, meats, vegetables, cheese, bread, coffee, cakes, preserves, cider and pretty much every other consumable good you can think of. Dating back to the 13th century, this is one of London’s oldest and best markets as well as one of the busiest, occupying a vast site just down from London Bridge.
You have of course heard of it, but nothing quite prepares you for the atmosphere and controlled chaos of Camden Market until you’ve been there. There are in fact several markets in one here, from the waterside foodie haven Lock Village to the Stables Market Stalls and the central jeans, t-shirts and incense hub of the main drag, you will in all probability manage to get completely lost in this warren of wares. If you ever wanted to get anything pierced, tattooed or shaved into a mohawk, Camden is a memorable and famous place to do so. Similarly, whatever outrageous outfit or rocker’s accoutrements you’ve been searching for in vain all these years? Find it in Camden, or give up finding it anywhere.
A calmer, more restrained affair – but no less eclectic or tasty – is offered by the popular Exmouth Market. Long beloved by the newly installed design, architect and advertising creatives who have made the area home, this street in Clerkenwell sees foodies flock there from both the City and leafy Islington, in search of their sustainable burger, green juice or vegan fix. It serves as a successful showcase for both local restaurants and shops as well as small-scale traders and farmers, and has truly established a street food resurgence in the area.
Old Spitalfields Market dates way back to 1638 and remains one of the capital’s most frequented, both by locals and visitors. Surrounded by independent shops selling hand-made arts and crafts, unique fashion pieces and great gift ideas, the market has a unique mix depending on the day you go. The busiest day is definitely Sunday with young graduate designers trying to catch their next break, but every day you’ll find quaint and quirky stalls as well as a tempting supply of fresh bread and cakes, pies and pasties, organic vegetables and meat to take away or eat as you wander. There are also some fantastic sit-down restaurants, bars and cafes dishing up delicacies from Italy, Mexico, China, Thailand, Indonesia and beyond to keep your browsing abilities up.
The Maltby Street Market is a gently expanding, quietly successful stretch of local food producers street stalls and gastronomes-in-the-know that sets up shop on weekend mornings under the railway arches in Bermondsey, south-east London. Here you will find outlets from well-known names such as Monmouth Coffee, Neal’s Yard cheesemongers, Borough Market spinoffs all beside a number of pop-up bars and eateries. From seafood and BBQs, honeys, preserves, cured meats sandwiches and Jewish specialty chicken soup, oysters, cakes and other goods from all global corners imaginable, you won’t go hungry no matter what you’re craving. For the thirsty there is a Coffee, Mate? cart or put some sparkle in your Sunday with a glass of wines from Life’s a Bottle or why not push the boat out and indulge in a gin cocktail at the pop-up Sparrow Bar?
So there you have it, everything you could have been searching for and more in this small slice of London’s market life, and where better to explore them from that than every hotel Piccadilly right in the heart of the city.