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London: The 4 best weekend markets for bargain shopping (and people watching)

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Buying olives at London's Borough Market. Photo by Kulbowski.
Buying olives at London's Borough Market. Photo by Kulbowski.

If it’s a weekend in London, then it’s market time, no matter what season. Londoners are undeniably proud of their markets and not just because some of them date back to medieval times. The city’s markets are hands down the best places to find bargains, whether you are looking for vintage clothes, artisanal cheeses or bouquets of lilies. They also can’t be beat for people watching, particularly Broadway Market on a Saturday (see below).

So grab an eco-friendly cloth bag (nothing else will do in London), make sure you have lots of cash, and get shopping—here’s my guide for navigating the busy weekend market schedule and making sure you hit the right spots at the right times.

Borough Market

What it’s good for: Food, glorious food.
When to go: Thursdays (11 AM – 5 PM), Fridays (noon – 6 PM), Saturdays (8 AM – 5 PM)
Location: Underneath London Bridge on the Thames at the London Bridge Tube stop.
Website: www.boroughmarket.co.uk

The lowdown: One of the biggest outdoor food markets in the world, Borough Market is a must for any foodie… well, any visitor to London, really. You can find just about anything here: organic meats, gourmet cheeses, fruits and vegetables, unbelievable pork pies, venison burgers, giant cauldrons of Jamaican curries and paellas, and of course lots of sweets. Prices are relatively reasonable, too. Expect to pay about £5-10 for lunch.

Broadway Market

Violet's cupcakes at Broadway Market. Photo: Mermaid 99.

Broadway Market. Photo Mermaid99

What it’s good for: A little bit of everything and the best people watching.
When to go: Saturdays from 11 AM – 6 PM
Location: Broadway Market (it’s a street) in Hackney, East London.
Nearest train stop is London Fields on the National Express overground line (from Liverpool St. Station).
Website: www.broadwaymarket.com

The lowdown: What started off as a small neighborhood market has in recent years started to draw in folks from all over the city to pick up vintage clothes, organic meats and cheeses, artisanal cupcakes, and crafts from local boutiques.

It’s small—just one street—but you can easily while away an afternoon snacking and watching the East End fashionistas strutting up and down the road like it’s a catwalk. Finish off the day with a couple pints at one of the two local pubs—Cat & Mutton or the Dove.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road flower market. Photo: Dinoboy.

Columbia Road flower market. Photo: Dinoboy.

What it’s good for: Flowers, plus shopping at independent boutiques.
When to go: Sundays from 8 AM – 4 PM
Location: Columbia Road in Hackney, East London. Nearest tube is Old Street.
Website: www.columbiaroad.info

The lowdown: Noisy, crowded and unmistakably London, this market gives you the best flavor of what market day was probably like in Victorian times. The flower vendors try to out-shout each other with their cockney accents and their impossibly low prices: “Ten roses for a fiver! Ten roses for a fiver! Get ’em before they’re gone!”

The other reason to go is the line of cute boutiques, cupcake shops, perfumeries, and art galleries lining the road, many of which only open their doors on Sundays. Be sure to check out Ryantown, where London artist Rob Ryan sells his quirky wall hangings made of cut paper.

Brick Lane

What it’s good for: Vintage and indie designer clothing, exotic foods.
When to go: Sundays from 10 AM – 6 PM
Location: Brick Lane, East London. Nearest tube is Liverpool Street.
Website: www.sundayupmarket.com

The lowdown: Heaving on weekends and as chaotic as East London gets, with vintage clothes sellers, student fashion designers, ethnic food hawkers and locals with all sorts of bric-a-brac spread out on blankets all vying for your attention.

Two spots not the miss: the Upmarket in the Old Truman Brewery (where most of the clothing is found), and the food vendors in the courtyard behind it—you’ll find everything from Sri Lankan to Mauritian to Mexican (spelled “Maxican” by the Chinese stall owners). Don’t waste your time at the Spitalfields Market next door—it pales in comparison to this raucous party.

About the author

About the author: Justin Bergman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Monocle magazine. He’s also previously worked for Budget Travel magazine and the Associated Press.

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3 Responses to “London: The 4 best weekend markets for bargain shopping (and people watching)”

Andy Hayes says:

Hot tip: Best grilled cheese you’ll EVER have is at Borough Market. Has to be eaten to be believed.

I believe Old Spitalfields Market, Spitlafields in London has to be one of the best weeekend markets in London.
Its one of London’s finest Victorian market halls set in an historic location in the heart of the City and one of the crown jewels of the East End. It brings together a fusion of Victorian splendour and contemporary architecture, bringing together some of the Capital’s finest restaurants, shops and themed market stalls.

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