Whatever the reason you’re visiting London and however stylish a trip you envisage for yourself, you must dip your toe into the East End – and the proper, broad, undiluted, down-at-heel East End, at that. And, let’s face it; it doesn’t get much more Cockney or multicultural in these parts that in the market atmosphere – these then are the area’s very best markets…
Brick Lane Market
(Brick Lane E1 5HA/ 10am-7pm Sunday)
The most iconic of all East End markets, Brick Lane is at the heart of the area’s Pakistani community, ensuring the stretch of market stalls here are awash with colour and vibrancy and a truly exotic urban atmos, topped off with delicious spicy aromas wafting over from the curry houses that line the street. The thing itself is a flea market where you can look through and pick up clothes, bric-a-brac, jewellery, music, street food and antiques – and, in actual fact, the market is several in one; the ‘Truman Markets’ being made up of the Sunday UpMarket (the main effort), the Vintage Market, the Backyard Market, the Boiler House Food Hall and the Tea Rooms.
(The Broadway E8 4QJ/ open usually on Saturday)
A one-time mainstay of the Hackney area (one of the very oldest chartered markets in the entire city), it’s now carving out a niche for itself in the district again; generating a buzz each weekend with its various stalls that make up a farmer’s market offering up not just fine fresh food, but also shops and galleries selling unique and very individual clothing and artisan wares.
Urban Food Fest
(Euro Car Parks, 162-167 Shoreditch High Street E1 6HU/ 12pm-12am Saturday)
A hip new addition to the East End market scene, each Saturday in the spring and summer this car park is transformed into a dedicated food-and-drink party – not least because it handily remains open late into the night (and so of all shopping destinations in London, the ideal one to give a go should you be staying at one of the nearby Shoreditch hotels). Pop-up stalls and trucks blend together to produce something of a down-at-heel East End version of Borough Market here, selling delicious dishes from all the corners of the globe – everything from Venezuelan beef arepas to vegan hand-made pasta and Belgian waffles to Brazilian chorizo wraps. Delicious! What’s more, the bar’s on hand for refreshment with all the old favourites; craft beer, cider, wine and – for those really wanting to create that Borough-Market-in-the-East End vibe – champagne.
Colombia Flower Market
(Columbia Road E2 7RG/ 8am-3pm Sunday)
Two words alone describe this market – blooming marvellous. Clichéd perhaps; but true. Another of the legendary East London markets, it sees the Shoreditch-area Columbia Road fill with petals of every conceivable colour and sweet scents of every kind all-day Sunday, while you’ll find the street itself lined with up 60 indie shops vending artworks, vintage clobber, antiques and – yes – cupcakes.
Old Spitalfields Market
(Brushfield Street E1 6EW/ open daily; usually 11am-7pm)
Finally; you can’t beat Spitalfields. Housed in an old-fashioned Victorian market hall – dating all the way back to 1876 – it’s filled to brimming every single day with stalls offering up boho and African-influenced fashion, excellent fresh food and imaginative eatery creations, quirky antiques and charming hand-crafted toys that surely any child would be beguiled by.