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the markets of london
No matter where you go in London, it won’t be long before you stumble upon a market – rows of stalls lining street after street, or in specified covered or uncovered areas. Many of these markets have a history dating back hundreds of years, often to the Middle Ages, with some providing a huge variety of goods, and others specialising in specific products. But these are lively, colourful destinations, where you can find everything from food and antiques to flowers and vintage clothing, and often at reasonable prices. So when it comes to your travel money, forego the obvious shops and boutiques, and explore somewhere more closely linked to the city’s heart and soul. Here are our top five favourite markets in London.
Not far from London Bridge tube station is Borough Market, known for the quality and range of its food stalls – there are around 70 of them, all arranged beneath a Victorian wrought-iron roof. This is London’s oldest food market, and has been in its current location since 1870, where vendors from all over the country, and even abroad, gather to sell fish, meat, vegetables, cheese, pastries, condiments and street food. A fantastic venue for lunch or shopping, Borough Market is always buzzing. Hunt down the Brindisa stand to buy a chorizo roll – at £5 ($8) with two chorizo, rocket (arugula) and peppers, it’s a market favourite.
Camden Town Market
The market in Camden Town, just north of central London, is said to attract over 100,000 visitors at weekends. The area is one of the city’s coolest hangouts, with some great nightlife, and this is reflected in the vintage clothing, accessories, furniture and food that can be found there. The reason for the market’s size is that it’s actually made up of several smaller markets, all in and around the main high street. A big ‘Camden Market’ sign can be seen over Buck Street Market, featuring tiny stalls bunched together inside a series of metal grilles, but it is better to carry on walking to Camden Stables Market and Camden Lock Market, which are the real highlights. Feast on a plate of authentic curry for £6 ($10) while you browse the huge variety of trinkets, jewellery and pocket watches on sale for around £3 ($5).
Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in London, with street entertainers, great restaurants, and attractions like the Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum. It was once famous purely for the fruit and vegetable market in the centre of the square, and an element of this street selling remains, although it has changed and evolved slightly. Apple Market takes centre stage, housed within a series of 19th century Piazza buildings; it can feel a little commercial, but there are still a number of quirky independent stores there. Head to Jubilee Market next door to find more arty items, but avoid the antiques day on Monday if you want to save money.
You’ll need a good pair of walking shoes to do justice to Portobello Market, which stretches out along one lengthy strip of interconnecting roads in west London. It has been around since the 1800s, and gained a reputation for antiques during the 1950s, but all kinds of stalls have appeared since then. The majority of the antique vendors are located at the Notting Hill Gate end, but jump off the tube further down at Ladbroke Grove or Westbourne Park if you want street food or unusual fashion items. It can seem a bit pricey if you’re looking for old cameras or collectibles, but there are bargains to be had if you’re willing to root around.
Brick Lane in London’s East End is famous for two things: curry houses and the markets that feature along it. The highlight among these is the Sunday Upmarket, located in the Old Truman Brewery at the north end of Brick Lane, featuring around 140 stalls. As the name suggests, the time to visit is on a Sunday between 10am and 5pm, although it does open on other days of the week in the run-up to Christmas. It’s just the place to find handmade jewellery, one-off designer clothing and antiques, with vintage dresses available for around £12 ($20), or second-hand Ray Bans for around £20 ($32). Its food area is particularly special, and has become famous for its Ethiopian, Moroccan and Turkish delicacies, authentic Thai and Japanese fare, as well as Caribbean sea bass. A plate of good, hearty food will set you back about £5 ($8).