I consider myself a Londoner by now. Last week, I met with a French girl who came to London 2 years ago and we set out to see London markets from her perspective. This is an account of all the things she told me that I managed to note down.
Claire: The London that I saw during the last two years is awesomely better than what I had dreamed of when I was living in France. One of the reasons for it is those wonderful places that are hidden in the alleys of London. Plus, I can re-live the feeling of shopping for things that I love.
Ravi: Let’s go on a journey and find out how to make the best of the local markets in a weekend.
Day 1 – Part 1: Enjoy a Saturday morning in Camden Market.
Opening times: Daily 9 am-6 pm – Individual market opening times vary – Saturday is the most vibrant day
Closest Tube station: Camden Town, Chalk Farm (Northern line)
It would not come to you as a surprise if I said to you that markets in Camden is one of a kind in London (I am tempted to say – in the world, but we’ll come to that later), this amazing place is vibrant, memorable and full of character. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most crowded places that you can find in London after Oxford Circus maybe. For someone like me who likes to relax leisurely in nice places, it is a real pain and it can totally spoil my mood. So, if you are like me, you will really enjoy Camden on a weekend in the morning.
It is a common misconception that Camden Market is one big, happy market. Camden markets have not only one market but five markets.
Ravi: These are the five markets in Camden Town.
1) Camden Lock Market
2) Camden Stables Market
3) Camden Lock Village
4) Buck Street Market and the
5) Inverness Street
Claire: To begin your day, there is nothing better than beginning your walk with a hot and delicious cappuccino from the heart of Camden Lock Village. You will find in the middle of the place a coffee stall that makes yummy hot beverages. My advice: enjoy drinking it along Canal Market!
Depending on what you want to do next, you can then go to do some casual shopping, chill or bargain-hunt in the different markets. Here you will find stalls selling everything, even things you did not think you would see or like. These include retro-styled clothing, London souvenirs, books, vintage clothes, bric-a-brac, cut flowers, underground music CDs and jewelry.
Food stalls are a dominant presence in Camden but please take care; don’t trust all of them. Some of the food on display is only fresh in the morning but becomes rather unappealing by the evening.
If you are a tourist, you may want to buy and carry everything you like but you’re most likely to be laden with bags full of new purchases. So take note of all the products you liked and get them off my Mzone later! (Her wink suggested that she was buttering me up a little. Yes, I did buy her a cup of hot chocolate from the village.)
Portobello Road Market
Day 1 – Part 2: Portobello on a sunny Saturday afternoon
Opening times: Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Saturday 8 am-6.30 pm, Thursday 8 am-1 pm
Closest Tube station: Notting Hill Gate (Central, Circle or District), Ladbroke Grove (Hammersmith & City)
Ravi: We (collectively) decided to continue the weekend with a “Portobello afternoon” (If you have seen Hugh Grant+Julia Robert’s ‘Notting Hill’ – you are probably already familiar with Portobello Road). This beautiful West-Central London market used to be a farm and has then been turned into a vintage clothing marketplace during the mid ’60s, where you could found second-hand clothes and military uniforms. It is now considered to be one of the largest antique markets in the world and at the risk of not sounding ‘too macho‘, I must admit, it is indeed very beautiful.
Claire: The special atmosphere you can find here makes Portobello Road such a great place that you will never forget it. With more than 800 antique dealers showing up here on Saturday. Portobello is home to several communities that bring their own flavor to the mix.
Depending on where you are on the market, you will find different kinds of stalls and atmosphere. The southern end of the market features genuine antique products whereas the more you get into the north end the products become modern and a bit less classy.
They have awesome gaiters (Ladies, snatch them up – they are mostly handmade and feels awesome on your feet) and handmade bags that will amaze you. There are so many new designers every week. Every time I am there, I feel like I am in a new place. Portobello is definitely one of London’s most interesting markets.
Day 2: East London on Sunday – Brick Lane / Spitalfields / Sunday Up
Opening times: Brick Lane – Open: Saturday 10 am-5 pm (The Backyard Market), Sunday 6 am-1 am (Street Market), Sunday 10 am-5 pm (The Backyard Market and Upmarket)
Closest Tube: Liverpool Street (Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan), Aldgate East (District, Hammersmith & City), Old Street (Northern)
East London is the place to be on Sunday. The first place I would advise you to go to is definitively Brick Lane. This area is one of the most amazing places you can find yourself in London. Don’t pay attention to the apparent mess and foot traffic. Embrace it. Brick Lane is one of the last bastions of disorder and lawlessness and that is why I love it.
Ravi: Brick lane market and surrounding areas have the most graffiti displays in London. The place is now mainly composed of a few markets located in large industrial and parking areas: Backyard Market, Sunday Upmarket, Pop-Up Vintage market and not too far away is the legendary Spitalfields market.
Cheshire Street market
Claire: If you take Brick Lane street toward Shoreditch you will find another charming “street market” in the Cheshire Street market. I would be strongly tempted to affirm that Brick Lane is my favorite market in London because of its authenticity and its soul, one of the only places in London where you can find such unusual junk shops.
Ravi: The indoor Sunday Upmarket is the heart of Brick Lane, with young designers and craftspeople showcasing their homemade or handmade wares. It simply is a temple for vintage and retro lovers. With more than 150 stalls you can find lots of things including handmade toys, retro clothing, jewelry, accessories, and even alternative homeware.
Claire: Backyard Markets is a place you can’t miss, with several food stalls and a funky, arty and fashionable atmosphere, the 80 stores set up there provide independent designers clothes and gifts that you won’t find anywhere else.
The last place you need to visit before leaving the East London area is Spitalfields Market. Located a few minutes by foot from Brick Lane, Spitalfields covered market has been renovated but still has kept its industrial atmosphere with an astonishing stone effect flooring or huge industrial-sized lamps.
After an amazing day in East London, we left with our tummy full of food from Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan without having to spend a lot of pounds. It was a refreshing weekend for me and one I would not have been able to enjoy without seeing it through a French perspective. I am going to make it a point to revisit other parts of London with friends from other parts of the world to get an understanding of how they perceive London because after all, it is a city for everyone.