An Essential Guide to London’s Must-visit Markets

Peruse eight of London's coolest and quirkiest markets for savoury street food and fabulous vintage finds

Credit: Natalie Walters

Peruse eight of London’s coolest and quirkiest markets for savoury street food and fabulous vintage finds

Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road Market is the world’s largest antique market and, as such, demands a full day of discovery. Winding its way through the posh Kensington borough, the market draws crowds of locals and tourists alike, all meandering through the more than 1,000 vendors that line the roads. Spend the afternoon combing through piles of silver cutlery, racks of vintage furs, stacks of porcelain tea cups and so much more.

Although the antiques are what have put this market on the map, that’s not the only thing on offer here. Continue down the winding road and you’ll come across stalls selling art, accessories and knick-knacks of all kinds. And to keep you going throughout the day, there is a selection of sweet and savoury street eats. Vendors are open every day of the week, but the famous antiques are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. Easily accessible by underground, Portobello Road Market is a must for everyone from the casual collector to the antiques expert (aka a tireless treasure hunter).

Credit: Natalie Walters

Columbia Road Flower Market

Spend any Sunday in Shoreditch and you’re sure to see beautiful bouquets in the arms of every passerby. That’s because on Sundays – the otherwise quiet Columbia Road – plays host to the famous flower market. Tables piled high with hundreds of flowers crowd this tiny cobblestoned street from early morning until late afternoon, rain or shine. Join the throng of weekend shoppers choosing between bushels of blushing peonies, stems of fragrant lavender, elegant orchids and other colorful flower varieties.

Although small in size, the market offers plenty of entertainment. Come closing time, vendors begin peddling their foliage in true auctioneer style – exalting the quality of their product in loud, booming voices. Once you’ve picked out some flowers, slip off down a side street to a cafe or pub for lunch. And if you’re looking for more than flowers, a handful of local shops also line Columbia Road, but note that most are only open on Sundays.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Old Spitalfields

Old Spitalfields is an icon among London’s markets with a history that dates back to 1638 when King Charles first authorized the sale of meat and produce on the grounds. Although food can still be found among the vendors, Old Spitalfields now sells everything from fashion and art to antiques and collectables. The restoration of the roof and facade of the original Victorian building add to the old-world charm of this historical landmark, making the market an elegant alternative to the crowded high street shops.

It’s open seven days a week and each day offers something different. Monday through Wednesday feature resident vendors, Thursday is for antique lovers, Friday is all about fashion, Saturday changes each week with themes like handmade or vintage, and Sunday is a showcase for rising talent. Local college graduates display their wares and offer shoppers the chance to score a bargain deal before the students make it big.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Brick Lane Vintage Market

On the outskirts of the hip Shoreditch neighbourhood lies Brick Lane, London’s vintage shopping destination. Boutiques are open every day, but the weekend is when you’ll find the real treasures. From Friday to Sunday, the underground Vintage Market opens its doors to eager thrifters looking for the latest – or oldest rather – fashion finds. A clutter of vintage vendors fill this industrial-sized basement with racks of aged denim and tweed jackets, piles of brooches and belt buckles, hats, handbags and more. A select few retailers also sell upcycled fashions – clothing created from the unsalvageable remains of vintage items. But whether old or updated, everything here is one-of-a-kind and won’t last long.

In true London style, no weekend market would be complete without ample goodies to eat. Above ground, food vendors line the streets and fill large warehouses with the smell of spices and sauces from around the world. Some additional markets are open on the weekends, but it’s the vintage shopping that makes Brick Lane worth the visit.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Borough Market

Borough Market has been feeding hungry Londoners since the 11th century and its bounty of fresh food vendors still draws large crowds today. Over 150 traders fill the sprawling market complex, located on the south side of the river Thames in London’s Southwark neighbourhood.

Meet and mingle with local farmers and taste the best products from around Britain and across the channel.

Visiting Borough Market is a treat for the senses; behold huge wheels of Comté cheese and colorful racks of spices, smell the fragrant perfume of truffle oil or the charcoal smoke from the whole-roasted hog BBQ, hear the crack of fresh oysters being shucked and the pop of champagne bottles, pinch the perfectly ripened tomatoes, and pick out a generous slice of sticky baklava – and don’t forget to taste a little bit of everything. Borough Market specializes in all things edible and can easily occupy the better part of the day, so be prepared to come for lunch and stay for dinner – it really is that good.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Covent Garden Market

Located in the neighbourhood of the same name, Covent Garden Market is a posh shopping complex that houses both big-name brands and lesser-known local talents. Stroll beneath high vaulted ceilings as you browse the elegant brick storefronts. The surrounding side streets are similarly stocked with boutiques, boasting homegrown favourites like Barbour, as well as beloved imports such as COS, Bobbi Brown and Oakley. Vancouver’s own Lululemon is fast becoming a recognizable brand overseas and also has a location near the market. Wrought iron railings and lanterns add to the elegant ambiance and make for a picturesque day of shopping.

Outside the market is a grand plaza that has long been a popular stage for street performers. Musicians and magicians can be seen entertaining crowds on any given day of the week. Conveniently located near a number of London’s famous landmarks and museums, Covent Garden Market makes a great one-stop shop on a busy day of sightseeing.

Credit: Natalie Walters

Camden Market

Camden Road at first glance can seem a bit, well, kitschy. But if you skip the overpriced souvenir shops and make a beeline for the canal, you’ll find the colorful and quirky Camden Lock Market. This two-storey structure houses an impressive assortment of vendors selling everything from local fashion and jewellery, to bath products and crafty collectables. Admittedly, some of the stalls sell generic wares, but with a bit of browsing, the real gems emerge – locally-made leather satchels being one of them.

Once you’ve shopped your fill, follow your nose to the outdoor eating area. Aptly named “the Global Kitchen”, this canal-side courtyard is packed with every cuisine imaginable from Argentinian asado (BBQ) and Peruvian ceviche, to Philly cheesesteaks and classic French crepes. Take the time to sample the worldly foods available here, as each vendor eagerly offers passersby a taste off their menu. Then sit down with your lunch at one of the many communal picnic tables and enjoy!

Credit: Natalie Walters

Broadway Market

Every Saturday in London’s Hackney neighbourhood, Broadway Market lights up East End Street with a colourful display of food and fashion – organic produce, locally-made lingerie, handbags, jewellery, freshly baked breads, bowls of artisan chocolate, and the list goes on. With so much on offer, it should come as no surprise that Broadway Market is a favourite among locals, many of whom come here regularly to do their weekend shopping.

The market has become just as famous for its street eats as for its artisan vendors, so arriving on an empty stomach comes highly recommended. Grab yourself a refreshingly tart Aperol spritz – or a Pims cup if you’d prefer – and let the eating begin. Try a traditional scotch egg as an appetizer, a tuna steak sandwich or haggis cheese toast for lunch and finish your feast with something sweet like a thick slab of salted caramel fudge. Located just south of the sprawling London Fields park, Broadway Market provides all the fixings for the perfect picnic.