Wherever I travel, I love to visit local street markets – the spice markets of Istanbul, the silver souk of Muttrah, the foodie heaven of the Boqueria in Barcelona, the gourmet delights of the Rue Mouffetard, or the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels. But London has the most extensive range of markets of just about any town I know – and some of the best, too.
I’ve already blogged about some of the best food markets and antiques markets, but the more down-to-earth street markets are also worth visiting.
There are still a few of the traditional London street markets, with a mix of stalls from ironmongery and furnishing fabrics to cheap confectionery, butchers, and cut-price clothes. Roman Road, starting at Bethnal Green tube station, is one of the most authentic, while Walthamstow, which certainly seems a mile long even if in fact, it’s a few yards short of full measure, is the biggest.
Some markets mix old and new; Columbia Road flower market, for instance, still has the old cockney traders with cut flowers and garden plants, but it also has a liberal scattering of patisseries, cupcake shops, and art galleries. It’s one of the best ways of passing Sunday in London that I know, and it’s close enough to Brick Lane to pack that huge jumble-sale in as well. Besides, Brick Lane has added a new street-cred load of vintage stalls – it’s a particularly good place to find home furnishings, and the market inside the old Truman Brewery (‘Sunday UpMarket‘) is seriously hip, a far cry from the ironmongery stall I used to frequent where the trader’s cry was “Lady, get your husband a new tool!”.
Brick Lane is one of those markets where you really need to get to know it to make the best of it; there are a couple of stalls in old warehouses that regularly turn up surprising and relatively cheap finds, while there are others that really are just full of old junk. A warning, though; don’t be tempted to buy a bike from the guys who sell near the railway bridge – they’re almost all nicked, or so I’ve been told.
Although Petticoat Lane is open on weekdays (though not Saturdays), it’s Sunday when this market really comes alive. A complete contrast to the second hand rummage sale that is Brick Lane, it specialises in cut-price new goods; from kitchen equipment to Nike trainers, though clothes and accessories are a strong point. There’s a whole area devoted to leather goods, including leather jackets, near Aldgate East station.
Whitechapel market sprawls along the pavement beside the busy Whitechapel Road; it’s mainly a provisions market, but you’ll also find goods from marquetry Koran stands and clothing to horror DVDs and bright plastic colanders. It’s a bright, buzzy market with bargain fruit and veg – a bowl of mangoes for a pound, huge bunches of coriander – and a definite Bangla/Pakistani twist. Then of course you can pop round to Tayyab’s for one of London’s best mixed grills afterwards.
Broadway market is another of the great East End markets, between London Fields and the canal. Though the market is open during the week, there’s a special food market on Saturdays, with everything from the traditional barrow boy’s fruit and veg, to organic meat and fresh oysters. Jewellery, vintage clothes, furniture, and disgustingly huge, wickedly more-ish chocolate eclairs – what more could you need? However, it’s fair to say Broadway Market has lost much of its old East End flavour as the art students have taken over; there’s just one old style trader left.
Tucked away behind the Barbican, Whitecross Street Market goes back to the seventeenth century. Though it’s not the most atmospheric of markets, it has some good food stalls, including a burritos van, tapas stand, and Italian and Portuguese grub. Also in the City of London, Leather Lane is a good market for weekday lunchtimes – mobile phone covers, silver earrings, massive cauliflowers or bargain strawberries, it’s all here, just one street away from the gold and diamond traders of Hatton Garden.
The East End is home to some of the best known markets, but it’s not the only place you’ll find them; there are good local markets at Chapel Market, Islington and Shepherd’s Bush, for instance. For an Afro-Caribbean flavour, Brixton market is unmissable; its covered arcades, built in the 1930s, make it the best of all London’s street markets to visit on a rainy day. Gungo pea soup, cheap plaintains, goat curry, and the Franco Manca pizza place, make it a place to go for great soul food – huge portions and good no-nonsense cooking. Go on Saturday morning and you’ll get a great reggae and dub soundtrack, too.
The above markets are scattered all over London so it would make sense for visitors to choose from a selection of central London hotels to ensure that they can visit all of them.
Image credit: Broadway Market, London by Bex.Walton