On a normal weekend thousands of locals and tourists decend on the many markets in central London. From the daddy of them all, Camden Market, to the antiques market of Portobello Road and the hipsters haven around Brick Lane and Old Spitalfields Market. To visit a market or two while in London is a rite of passage for any visitor.
Taking the trip by tube and Northern Line to Camden was a regular Sunday thing when we lived in London in the mid-90s. It was the most exotic thing we had ever experienced, we had seen nothing like it in Norway, and it was like visiting another galaxy inhabited by punks, goths, noodle stalls and pvc fetish freaks shops. The claustrophobic underground stalls in what used to be old stables for horses underneath the railway lines and the smell of incense and hashish hung like fog in the air. It was gritty, fantastic, muddy and mysterious, and the people who ran the stalls and the shops were very much Londoners with attitude and sass in spades.
Since the start in 1974 Camden Market and Camden Lock have developed from a few stalls around famed music venue Dingwall’s to the fourth most popular tourist attraction in London, and on a normal week around 250 000 (!) people will visit the market. It is estimated that 28 million people visit in 1 year. These days the market is still slightly chaotic, slightly crazy and still the shops are quirky and strange, although the mud is gone, and the maze of shops is a bit more organized. If you are a goth or a cyberpunk, the market is a must. There are stalls that cater for most fetishes come to think about it, from vinyl freaks to second-hand clothes types and pvc fans. You will use at least a day to explore every nook and cranny of the market, the area is huge, and it will seem a bit overwhelming before you get your bearings about the place. If you arrive by tube to Camden Town station you might think that the mayhem of shops on Camden High street is the market, but this is only the beginning of the adventure down the rabbit hole! Continue past shops with giant dragons and shoes attached to their facades, you will see the Camden Lock mural on the railway bridge up the road. Cross the Regent’s Canal (fun fact, there is no Camden Lock, it does not exist) and you will have the site of the original market to your left, the buildings here are filled with vendors and food stalls in the backyard. If you continue straight towards the bridge you will get the Stables market on your left and it will continue back and under the railway line, with the most interesting bits (we think) at the Camden Market on the other side of the railway bridge.
You can also find the Amy Winehouse statue here, she was working in the stalls, and lived in Camden before she found fame and misfortune. Camden is still the daddy of all markets in the world, as a youth in London for the first time it is a must visit, and if you are an adult there is plenty to see and shop of course. The market is open all week, with the busiest and main days being Saturday and Sunday. Like always, we recommend getting there early and avoid the biggest crowds. To get there take the Northern Line (black) to Camden Town, if you feel like starting at the “quiet” end of the market take the tube one more stop to Chalk Farm and walk south on Chalk Farm Road (past legendary Roundhouse concert venue) to Camden Market entrance.
Portobello Road was the closest market to our flat in London when we lived in Bayswater in the mid-90s.
Portobello Road is a street in the Noting Hill district in west London. It is home to Portobello Road Market, one of London’s most notable street markets, known for its second-hand clothes and antiques. In fact, it has developed to become the largest antique market in the UK. The main market day is Saturday, and it draws thousands of tourists and locals all year round. The market began as many other London markets and mainly sold fresh food in the 19th century; antiques and wares dealers arrived in the late 1940s and ’50s, and gradually antiques have become the main attraction of this market, having a substantial number of the dealers trading mainly on Saturday mornings.
Portobello Road itself is “open” all week except Saturdays, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, pubs, bars, and small food trucks. Thanks to the movie Notting Hill the whole area is filled with tourists wanting that Notting Hill moment all week. Different sections of the market open on different days, check out the nifty calendar for when what is opened below.
On Saturdays, all five sections of the market are open: second-hand goods, clothing and fashion, household essentials, fruit, vegetables and other food and antiques. We would recommend getting there early, like any other attraction around the world, it gets very busy from noon and the number of people can be a bit daunting at times during Saturday rush hour. We think that Portobello Road is a cool and still quite genuine market in London, flowers and fruit vendors side by side with fresh juice and falafel joints, throw in lots of antiques and great second hand clothes shopping, and you have a full day of excellent retail therapy in Notting Hill.
The easiest way to get to the market is to take the tube to Notting Hill Gate station on Central Line (red) or Circle Line (Yellow) or District Line (green). When you exit the station walk west down Pembridge Road and you will see Portobello Road on your left after not more than a few hundred metres. If you want to avoid the biggest crowds a clever option is to start at the other end of the road and take the tube to Ladbroke Grove on Circle Line (yellow) or City and Hammersmith Line (pink). Thus, starting at the eastern end of the market and working your way west in the opposite direction of the crowds, this is a good option on Saturdays when the crowd at the western end of the market is at its peak.
Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, with a market site dating back to at least the 12th century. The present buildings date back to the 1850s and today the market sells yummy speciality food to the public like us! You should visit the market on an empty stomach, the amount of delish food and drinks on offer is just spectacular. It is no problem to get filled up with just taste samples from cheese makers, bakers, and honey producers. It is a total attack on the senses walking around the market, the smell and the colours of the produce is absolutely amazing. The market is great to combine with a visit to Tower of London and Tower Bridge that is only a short walk along the Thames to the east. Nearest tube station is London Bridge on the Jubilee Line (grey) and Northern Line (black). It is also a short walk across London Bridge from Monument Station that is on the Circle Line (yellow) and District Line (green).
Brick Lane and Old Spitalfields Market
If you travel to the hipster’s paradise of Shoreditch in east London, you should take the detour to nearby Brick Lane and Old Spitalfields Market. Brick Lane derives its name from the brick and tile manufacturers if the 15th century which used the local brick earth deposits. It is now the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community and is also known as Banglatown. This is THE place to go for a curry in London. More recently the area has also broadened to being a vibrant art and fashion student area, with considerable exhibition space. Each year most of the fine art and fashion courses exhibit their work near Brick Lane. There are also quite the number of graffiti pieces along the road, most famously pieces done by Banksy, Stik, ROA and Omar Hassan, go seek them out! Brick Lane Market (and Sunday Upmarket) is a Sunday market open from 9am to 5pm and is centred around Brick Lane and the old Truman Brewery buildings. A great Sunday outing, and a bit less crowded than Camden it is second-hand heaven and a foodie’s paradise to cure any hangover.
Old Spitalfields Market is west across Commercial Street from the Brick Lane area. It is the original east London market, and prides itself on that “old” market feeling. It is a covered market, so great to visit on those rainy cold London days when the great outdoors does not tempt in any way. There has been a market here for 350 years, and today there are around 60 vendors and 27 food and drinks stalls. It is open 7 days a week, so it makes for a great Sunday combo with Brick Lane or a Saturday in combo with the Shoreditch area.
The stunning covered Leadenhall Market in the City of London dates to the 14th century and is situated in what was the centre of Roman London. Originally a meat, poultry, and game market, it is now home to several boutique retailers, restaurants, cafes, wine bars and an award-winning pub. The décor of the market is simply beautiful, and no wonder that it was used to represent the area of London near the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and it was featured in the film the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The ornate roof structure, painted green, maroon and cream, and cobbled floors of the current structure, designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones, make Leadenhall Market a tourist attraction. We would recommend visiting on a Friday afternoon when the financiers of the City enjoy their pre-weekend drinks at the pubs and bars in the area. The market is open weekdays from 10am to 6pm and you can find butchers, cheesemongers, and florists in addition to regular clothes shops. On weekends the City tends to be very empty, and Leadenhall Market is less vibrant than on weekdays. The nearest tube station is Bank (Central and Northern Line) or Monument Station (Circle and District Line).
Great post and wonderfully evocative photos! I remember that Greenwich Sunday market was a good one too 😉
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Yes, it was a rabbit warren of stalls, stands and houses, but like so much else its now gone. Thanks👍
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Gone? Gahh, I know things change but it is still a shame 😦
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There is still a market, but nowhere as big as it was, but it is still charming to visit.
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I see! Thanks. I remember there was a Victorian-style covered market near the Cutty Sark and a wonderful crazy market on a plot of land quite a distance away.
The Victorian is still there👍
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