A Guide to London’s Street Markets and Where to Find Them
you never know what you’re going to find in London’s modern marketplace.
By Sarah Bennett, Muhlenberg College I love street markets. No matter where they’re located or what they specialize in, you’re guaranteed to find good food, talented street performers, and at least a handful of little gems hidden among the stalls. To me, the best markets are those where you have to do a little digging. There’s something so rewarding about searching through piles of old magazines, sifting through racks of second-hand sweaters, and rummaging through crates of mismatched earrings until you find a true – and preferably, cheap – treasure. If you’re one for markets, you couldn’t pick a better city than London. There seems to be a lively, vibrant market in every major area, and each one emanates its own unique atmosphere. Portobello Market, for example, is perfect for antiquing, with stalls upon stalls of silver cutlery, beautiful china saucers and teacups, and delicately bound, first edition books. Camden Market, on the other hand, has an edgier feel, with stalls selling black lace corsets and robotics-inspired jewelry, next to neon signs advertising tattoo and piercing parlors located just below the stairs. There’s also Brick Lane Market, which caters to a young, trendy (often skinny jean and flannel-clad) crowd, with stalls selling vintage clothes, vinyl records, and one-of-a-kind accessories.
I’m still making my way through London’s myriad of different markets, but the three mentioned above have quickly become my favorites. Spread out around London, each one offers a unique experience: Portobello Market, with its mix of vintage and modern fashions, is the perfect place to find something truly unique and beautiful. As mentioned above, it’s well known for its antiques, but it also offers plenty for those of us without the patience (or money) to appreciate antiquing. For one, there are musicians on every corner, playing everything from swing to jazz to rock. The vintage stands sell beautiful – albeit, pricey – clothes, but they’re still fun to sift through, displaying the different decades represented through style. Then, when you’re ready to spend some money, you can head over to the stands selling fresh produce. If you want to live like a local in London, skip the supermarket and buy your fruits and veggies at a place like this. Usually, the produce sold here is both fresher and cheaper than those sold at supermarkets.
Whereas Portobello Market is famous for its antiques, the Camden Market is known for keeping things trendy and modern. Here, home goods seem more akin to contemporary art pieces, with vendors selling clocks made from melted wine bottles, soaps sculpted to look like edible treats, and jewelry fashioned out of computer circuits. Its multicultural influence means you can also find stylish pieces from all around the world, including colorful, mosaic lamps from Istanbul and satin slippers from Tokyo. If you’re hungry, stop by The Global Kitchen in the Camden Lock Market where, true to its name, there are food stands from all around the world. When I went, my friend and I shared Peruvian-style roast chicken and French crepes. It might not have been the most traditional combination, but mixing and matching meals is just one of the benefits of having every cuisine available in one place. Finally, there’s Brick Lane Market, which might be my favorite one of all. It’s right in my neighborhood, making it an easy choice for a well spent (and well-fed!) Sunday afternoon. While there are plenty of tourists here every week, there’s definitely a local feel, with regulars lining up at their favorite coffee shops or taking a break from shopping at one of the adjacent pubs. At this market, ethnic food dominates, and you can’t walk two feet without smelling some sort of enticing spice or curry. Plus, like Portobello Road, Brick Lane is famous for its vintage clothing. Every decade is represented – although last time I went, I noticed a definite abundance of 80’s sweaters. (Not that I’m complaining.) Brick Lane is also a great spot for its incredible bargains. Twenty pounds can go a long way here – and that can be a rare occurrence in London.
For someone who’s on a tight budget, I spend a lot of time at street markets. But, while the prospect of purchasing something new is a draw, I usually go without any intention of buying anything. (Except for maybe some food, because once you walk by and smell it, how are you supposed to resist?) Really, I go because I love the market environment, where you don’t know what you’re going to find until you arrive. That goes for the people as well as the products. With thousands of people mulling around the same few streets, people watching can be just as entertaining as shopping. I’m not sure how many of London’s markets I’ll be able to visit during my three-month stay, but I’m hoping for the best. Up next on my list are Piccadilly, Columbia Road, and Old Spitalfields Markets – and any others that are recommended to me! Until then, you can find out more about London’s markets through the Official Visitor’s Guide. Or, you can use StreetSensation.co.uk’s printable maps to see which markets are closest and most interesting to you!