It’s almost impossible to explore a city like London to its full extent, even if you live there for a year (or more!). One of the questions we are often asked is how visitors can get the most out of their time in big world cities without spending too much, and we normally tell them that visiting a market or two is a good way to go. Our tours depart in every season and on every day of the week, so it’s a great way to experience London living and sample local cuisine without breaking the bank.
Market culture in London is alive and kicking – no matter where you are, chances are you’re close to at least one local fair. This includes everything from trendy get-togethers with specialised offerings, to classic, no-nonsense markets with fruit and veg, knicknacks and affordable souvenirs. Here are a few of our favourite London markets that are close to the city centre and open most of the week, throughout the year. Take a look and try to include at least one of these crowd pleasers on your next trip to The Big Smoke.
Location: 8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL
Opening times: Wednesday to Thursday 10:00 – 17:00, Friday 10:00 – 18:00, Saturday 08:00 – 17:00
Borough Market is not only London’s best-known food market, it’s also one of the city’s oldest markets. In fact, record of its existence can be found as far back as 1014! Located just beside London Bridge, across the way from the Tower of London, it’s a great place to break for lunch while you see the sights. Here, visiting foodies can delight in everything from pork pies with chopped apple, and freshly baked sweet olive biscuits with a touch of aniseed, to fried scallops served with bacon and the perfect toasted cheese. Spring and summer are great times to shop for fresh produce, and around Christmas visitors can expect beautiful decorations, mulled wine and gingerbread – wonderfully delicious year round!
Tip! Don’t take pictures without checking with the vendors – some take offence. Also feel free to haggle a little, but don’t expect every vendor to play ball.
Brick Lane Market
Location: 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QR
Opening times: Market: Sunday 09:00 – 17:00; Shops, galleries & restaurants: Monday – Sunday (varying times)
Brick Lane Market is the place to be if you like spotting contemporary street art (think Banksy!) and shopping for all sorts of wonderful bits and pieces without too much of a plan. Visiting this iconic London fair is a bit like being in the middle of a birthday party at a kindergarten – it’s a little ramshackle, very noisy, full of surprises and there are lots of strange, but fascinating smells and sights. Here you can shop for everything from trendy T-shirts and cut-price costume jewellery, to vintage clothing and retro bric-a-brac.
Tip! Don’t forget to peruse the quirky shops around the market. There are some great music stores, some of which host regular in-store gigs! Colombia Flower Market is also nearby, so swing by to get an eyeful of London’s floral side.
Portobello Road Market
Location: Portobello Road, London, W10 5TA
Opening times: Monday to Wednesday 09:00 – 18:00, Thursday 09:00 – 13:00, Friday to Saturday 09:00 – 19:00
Portobello Road Market is a treat for antique lovers. In fact, Portobello is the world’s largest antique market with 1000+ vendors, and also happens to be home to Britain’s oldest working cinema! Featured in the famous time-lapse scene in the romantic comedy Notting Hill, this picture-perfect market is a wonderful place to shop for antiques, collectables and gifts (just remember to keep your on-board luggage limit in mind!).
Tip! There’s an additional food fair on Fridays, which is great if you want to try some European cuisine. The market has more vendors on Saturdays and Sundays, but then you can also expect it to be more crowded.
Camden Lock Market
Location: Camden Market, 56-56 Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AF
Opening times: Monday to Sunday, 10:00 – 18:00
Camden Market as a whole refers to a cluster of markets along the northern Camden Town area. One of these is Camden Lock Village, a market known for its crafts, trinkets and curiosities. The market attracts upward of 28 million visitors every year, which makes it London’s 4th most popular attraction. Here you can expect to find everything from once-off, hand-made jewellery pieces, music and vintage clothing, to eclectic food stalls and more. Due to its immense popularity, the market gets crowded pretty early, so if you have the option it is best to arrive no later than 10:00 so you can shop with some elbow room.
Tip! There are plenty of other attractions in the area. See if you can combine your visit to Camden Lock with an excursion to London Zoo or the Camden Roundhouse, both of which can be reached on foot along Regent’s Canal
Location: Greenwich High Road, London SE10 9HZ
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 – 17:30
Greenwich Market is one of the most buzzing fairs in London. What originally started a livestock market in the 14th century, has since developed into an eclectic mix of vendors that offer everything from tasty street food and hand-made crafts, to affordable souvenirs and unexpected finds like Tim Burton-esque toys and angora knits with saucy slogans. It’s especially lovely on sunny days, so bonus points if you can visit in summer.
Tip! Get together a group and buy an artisanal picnic basket for lunch. Rhodes Bakery does a basket for two that can easily feed four – score!
Covent Garden Market
Location: Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RF
Opening times: Monday to Friday 10:00 – 21:00, Saturday 09:00 – 20:00, Sunday 11:30 – 18:00
If it’s chic shopping and London’s most trendy brands you’re after, Covent Garden’s the place to be. With more than 44 million visitors a year, it’s one of the most popular markets in the world and also a good place to spend free time on a rainy day since the central market is covered. Bonus point if you combine your market outing with a foray to the Royal Opera House and the National Gallery that are both less than 10 minutes away on foot.
Tip! If glitzy fashion mongers are not your thing, head over to the Apple Market in the Piazza building for some nice crafts and cute chain stores with authentic British products.
These are just a few of the many wonderful London markets you can explore in your free time on Expat Explore tours. There are many more, so remember to ask your tour leader to suggest a few that will suit your taste and budget. It really is a great way to immerse yourself in London culture!