Voyage into the unknown, as some would call it, a stroll in any of London’s markets makes a good excuse to go hunting for the perfectly framed snapshot. Well, at least for some of us. Because after all, our cravings to be immortal can be satisfied by photography only, as far as I know. Poor R.Barthes, he must be spinning in his grave. But we’re not talking photography (yet) here. For all I know – and I don’t know much – taking a Saturday or a Sunday off to visit a market is what londoners do. And they do it well.
Let me explain these micro-universes and how they work; I’ll start on the East side of the City.
Not far from a “twopenny” tube station, following the canal to the East End, Saturdays and Sundays are only a 10 minutes walk from each other. Both in the surroundings of Vicky Park (also called People’s Park), with a strong tradition of socialist and revolutionary agitation within the great Hackney area, heir to a centuries-old legacy of non-conformism, Broadway Market and Columbia Road flower Market are two of a kind. But first thing’s first.
The Sugar Free Community
Ah, so tempting and yet so scary. But for les connaisseurs, Broadway Market is the place to be/eat/drink on a Saturday (and during the week, of course). Now, I used to work in a charming tea shop there and for almost a year, more than 80% of the clientelle was aggressively rejecting sugar and even asking for unsweetened (almond) milk. Phew, when I started to discover the shops on the Market, I wasn’t surprised at all. I mean, the Costcutter here has a whole range of organic products and there’s not one place that doesn’t pamper vegans, vegetarians and all organic eaters. Trust me, it’s like heaven on a street. But enough of that. Come Sunday, few blocks away there’s this mass of (at least) a thousand people crawling and shouting
Three for a tenner!
Proud to be one of the few streets in the country home to a good sixty independent shops, this flower market is more than eyes can see at a first glimpse. Small art galleries, vintage clothing shops, Italian delis, a local bakery and beautifully painted, out of a fairy tale, little houses. More than a flower market, Columbia road takes every Sunday, no matter the weather, and transforms it into a lively theater show where your’re no longer a spectator once you step on the street, but a main character.
And talking about theatre and little houses, up West and a bit more famous is London’s largest antiques market, with a fine selection of catchy fashion items for all. Now that’s a must see hidden gem in the heart of the trendy Notting Hill.
Porto Bello and the “rag and bone” traders
If you’re looking for bric-a-brac, antiques or just a ’40s atmosphere, and definitely if you’re new in London, there’s no way you could skip this antique and second hand multicultural market. It’s one of those classic novels you have to read at school. Charming, yet predictable. Nonetheless, travelling there is a whole experience, especially coming from the East, as you get to see the elegant terraces and crescents built for the numbers of wealthy people attracted to the district. As I was talking to a friend of mine after visiting the V&A museum and its surroundings, “you need some bad music to wash off all the luxury and all the neat streets of West London before going back to reality”. And so we did.
Descending under the London Bridge
South of the river, we found a 1000 years old market, Borough- by its name. A 19th century fruit and vegetable wholesale market, it slowly grew and changed, adding a beautiful art deco entrance in the 1930’s and an office building. To be honest, it’s a wonderful place for food lovers, full packed with goodies ready to eat, although personally – the smell of pork and other meats is a bit too strong for my stomach. It’s worth a visit though, especially if you’re after organic veggies and stuff.
But if you’re going to discover the wonders of the North, dont’t miss Camden!
A landmark for music and joy, Camden market is home to so many artists (Amy Winehouse was born here). So, so different from the other markets, Camden has a particular atmosphere, a force that works like a magnet to attract good vibes and energy with its specific street food stalls and all you can possibly find in terms of original, conceptual, hand crafted clothing and accessories. The unique mix of stores and stalls will make you come back sooner rather than later. A tip to make your visit one of the best, grab a craft beer (must try Camden Town Brewery) and sit by the canal, at sunset.
And if you’re an adventurous fellow, take a bus from Camden market and travel up the hill until you reach Hampstead Heath. But that’s another story for another blog post.