Standing (s)tall: London’s unmissable old-school open-air markets

One of the finest things about spending some time for yourself – or you and yours – in London is that, quickly, you discover it’s a city where the past collides with the present in an entirely acceptable manner; indeed, one simply enhances the other. A good example is the capital’s old-fashioned open-air market culture – the best of such decades-old markets have been brought into the 21st Century with marketing and retail savvy, for sure, but without losing any of their old-school charm. So, which of them should you make a beeline for…?

Portobello Road Market

(Portobello Road W11 1LU)

Portobello Road Market

The famous Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill takes place every Saturday although there are also antiques shops and temporary stalls selling a mix of second-hand goods, food and bric-a-brac from Monday to Friday. Running from Chepstow Villas to just under the Westway, it is a colourful, dynamic stretch of London that oozes trendiness and fun. On Saturday, it’s huge, with over 2,000 stalls, selling everything from books to bric-a-brac and lace to Limoges – even fashion and exotic cooking ingredients are on sale. Thousands of people mill around browsing second-hand clothing stalls or choosing outlandish material. For those who have the patience to search, there are some fantastic bargains. This really is the place to shop-and-eat and then shop some more. It is best to go in the morning, by the afternoon you will find yourself getting a little flustered winding your way through the crowds.

Columbia Road Flower Market

(Columbia Road E2 7RG)

Columbia Road Flower Market

Lined with chic boutiques, every Sunday this historic street fills with a bright patchwork of hundreds of flower stalls. Columbia Road is the capital’s most colourful and sweet-smelling market. Flowers, shrubs, bedding plants and other horticultural delights are all for sale. As well as cut flowers, there are topiary trees, pot plants, hanging baskets, bulbs and bouquets turning the street to blossom. The 52 stalls and surrounding shops sell everything to cater for that English obsession – gardening. With most of the traders being based in Essex, many of the plants and flowers are grown and produced locally. The market is open from 8am to 2pm and there are plenty of attractive cafes, pubs and authentic sea-food stalls where you can make a pit-stop. If getting there by Tube (and you’re travelling from the not-far-away-at-all The Montcalm London City at The Brewery hotel), you’ll find Old Street is the nearest station, turn left on exit, walk along Old Street into Hackney Road and after 200 metres turn right into Columbia Road. You’ll smell it before you see it.

Borough Market

(Southwark Street SE1 1TJ)

Borough Market

Nestled in-between Borough High Street, Bedale Street, Stoney Street and Winchester Walk lives “London’s Larder”, more formally known as Borough Market. This gourmand’s delight is London’s oldest food market and boasts a mouth-watering range of fresh food stalls under its Dickensian wrought-iron roof. Italian cheeses, Morecambe Bay shrimps, Spanish foods and much more. Atmospheric, lively and mouth-watering this foodie’s paradise is a definite must on a Saturday morning. Savvy shoppers take care to browse around for the best deals – just because it’s a market doesn’t mean it’s cheap and some of the delicious goods can leave you feeling out of pocket. Do a little window shopping before you buy and you’ll find there are plenty of goods to be had at reasonable prices.

Camden Lock Market

(Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AH)

Camden Lock Market

The area now occupied by Camden Lock Market was once T.E. Dingwalls timber yard and there’s still an industrial warehouse feel to the place. These days, however, instead of timber being floated down the canal, the lock is surrounded by restaurants, outdoor seating, shops and market stalls. Established way back in 1972 and open 364 days a year, this most popular of (admittedly, semi-)outdoor markets in (admittedly) London’s centre of art-culture have seen improvements in recent years, including the glass roofing of its Market Hall arcade and a first floor walkway overlooking the West Yard wharf, all sympathetic with the surrounding Victorian architecture. Together with Camden Stables Market, it has plenty to offer the casual browser, from handmade handbags to slogan T-shirts. The highly concentrated cluster of market stalls are the biggest draw and the place gets absolutely heaving on weekends.

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