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Hipster culture has overtaken London so significantly in recent years that barely a week goes by where there isn’t a new boutique that you just have to spend an afternoon trawling through for a vintage bargain, or a new restaurant serving the latest quirky artisan cuisine – deconstructed pulled pork burger, anyone?
London’s a big place, so these shops and eateries can be spread over a pretty wide area, making it almost impossible for you to get to all the latest must-visits during a short stay in the capital.
But what if you could find the best one-off bargains and delicious food innovations all in one location? Well, at the Columbia Road Flower Market, you can.
Located just short distance from the M by Montcalm hotel via the number 55 bus route, this vibrant market has a fascinating social history, and is home to the capital’s best flowers and rows of quirky boutiques and trendy cuisine.
A rich history
There has been a market at Columbia Road since the 1860s, with the flower market originally part of the main Saturday trading market, but after this collapsed, it came into its own and took over the other stalls. Amid huge social change in the Islington and Hackney boroughs – where most of the market’s trade came from – during the 1960s and 1970s, Columbia Road endured a period of decline. Since the 1980s onwards, however, the Flower Market and surrounding independent shops have continued to thrive, creating the eclectic venue that can be found at the site today.
Renowned flower sellers
Frequented by locals, celebrities and tourists from all over the world, Columbia Road Flower Market is home to some of London’s best-established flower sellers and market traders, selling everything from traditional daffodils and English roses to fragrant herbs and spices and even exotic banana trees.
The distinctive traders’ calls add to the hustle and bustle of the market to create a lively atmosphere that will transport you right back to London’s early market days.
If you’re a budding gardener yourself, many of the stallholders sell bulbs you can plant at home, allowing you to take a piece of the Flower Market back to your own garden to remind you of your visit.
Unique shopping opportunities
Flowers aren’t the only wares available to purchase at Columbia Road Flower Market, as the surrounding independent shops on Columbia Road itself are home to a whole trove of treasures, from vintage fashion to bespoke children’s clothes and one-off pieces for your home. Antiques, handmade jewellery, homemade beauty products and local art are all on offer at the shops that have surrounded the market since the Victorian era. If you want to send a souvenir from your trip to London that’s a bit different from the bog-standard postcard or red bus-shaped biscuit tin, then Columbia Road is definitely the place to come.
Independent eateries galore
Columbia Road is also lined with a wide variety of unique eateries and food outlets, from Suck and Chew – where you can buy a whole range of retro sweets to Treacle – a Lyons-style tearoom given a 21st century makeover. Wine connoisseurs should check out Brawn, while seafood fans should make the pilgrimage to Lee’s Seafoods, which has been serving up some of the best fish in the capital since World War Two. Just down the road, The Marksman serves up traditional pub fare, with Stingray offers a sumptuous selection of traditional Italian-style pizzas fused with the latest trendy flavours.
Top market tips
Sunday is the main market day, when you’ll find the most flowers being sold and all of the shops tend to trade. Although the market begins trading early in the morning, if you’re after a real bargain, it’s best to head to Columbia Road at around 2pm, when there’s just an hour of the market day left and you’re more likely to find traders reducing their prices before they shut up shop at 3pm.
After you’re done at the market, head to one of Columbia Road’s bars for a glass of your favourite tipple or grab a plate of tasty food at one of the area’s many eateries and watch the world go by.
What else is nearby?
Alternatively, head to nearby Brick Lane, where you’ll find a mesmerising mish-mash of beigel stalls, pie and mash shops and curry houses. The iconic street is also home to its own market, selling wares that reflect the culture of both the UK and the Bengali community that settled in the area in the 20th century. Combining a trip to the Columbia Road Flower Market with one to Brick Lane allows you to see a traditional English market similar to how many of London’s trading hotspots used to be, alongside a more modern-style market that provides a vibrant fusion of cultures, sights, sounds, tastes and smells.