Living London Life
While long-established department stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols are stalwarts of London’s shopping scene, the city’s lifeblood is in its markets. The historic Portobello Road and Camden markets, where Londoners have been picking up everything from fish to fruit for generations, hark back to the bustling markets of the Middle Ages – as well as setting up a delightful market experience for today.
London’s current vitality owes a great deal to the new markets popping up around the city, bringing organic produce, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, vintage dresses and one-of-a-kind designer clothes to many of the city’s neighborhoods. Climb off the London Eye, descend from ‘Big Ben’, and get to know London the old-fashioned way – on the ground.
Start in north London at Netil Market, a project from EAT WORK ART, which specializes in turning empty spaces into creative communities. There are permanent traders every day at Netil including designers, coffee brewers, flower sellers and cake-makers (some have set up shop in a repurposed shipping container), but on Saturdays it expands significantly with added sellers offering everything from locally designed clothes and jewelry to bespoke terrariums and ceramics.
At around 30 stalls, Netil is a smaller and more manageable cousin to the nearby Broadway Market, which on Saturdays is jam-packed with London’s boho chic set, who browse the second-hand books, flowers and spices in between sips of Vietnamese iced coffee and bites of smoked salmon sandwiches.
Sundays are made for slowing down, and the Slow Food & Living Market in the courtyard at Rosewood London is a new addition to the Holborn hotel’s buzzy scene. It’s a modern homage to traditional marketplace shopping, with stalls selling all kinds of locally and ethically sourced produce, plus treats that range from honey, tea and chocolate to charcuterie, homewares and candles. This is the only hotel in London to host a weekly farmers market and it’s also home to a series of regular events centered around the Slow Food movement. The fabulous Sunday “Slow Brunch” in the Mirror Room, which incorporates products from the market, is a must-do.
Find out what’s in bloom, and on trend
On Sundays the Columbia Road Flower Market transforms the street into a riot of blooms and branches, with vendors hawking freshly cut calla lilies, professionally arranged bouquets, and potted rosemary and basil, along with all the gardening supplies you could want. This is a market for early risers: the stalls open at 8 a.m. and, along with the surrounding shops and restaurants, like Jones’ Dairy cafe and the Angela Flanders perfumery, close down around 2 or 3 p.m.
Another top weekend market is the Sunday Upmarket, one of the best places in London to discover new designers. Its Brick Lane location is a popular setting for other markets, too, but the Upmarket stands out for its troop of “designer-makers,” many of whom are selling their own creations: edgy menswear, women’s fashion and kids’ clothes are all found here. Alongside these stalls you’ll find jewelry, vinyl, crafts and a good selection of international food from yakisoba to fried plantain. This market is housed in the Old Truman Brewery, and the upper level houses the newest segment of the market, “Homegrown,” which focuses specifically on handmade products made by indie designers at affordable prices. A few streets south is Spitalfields E1, London’s oldest market, which is open every day with up to 110 stalls. Arts markets are held here, too, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, as well as the Kerb Street Food Market on Wednesday afternoons (it’s worth making the special trip for the soft shell crab burgers alone). The highlight though is the Saturday Style Market, which hosts upwards of 80 designers each week. This is mecca for fashion-forward travelers looking to pick up items from homegrown talent: clothes from Amaya London, housewares from Edwyn UK, and ethical surfer gear from Brighton’s own BamBooBay. The surrounding streets are home to plenty of restaurants and cafes for fortification before doing some serious shopping.