When most tourists think of shopping in London, what immediately comes to mind is probably Harrods and its distinctive, murky green shopping bags, or maybe a heavy square tin of tea from Fortnum & Mason. For me, the ultimate retail experience there involves standing outdoors, even if it’s raining, haggling over the price of a piece of vintage china or a loaf of freshly-baked bread, and very happily feeling like a local instead of someone who’s flown in a few thousand miles.
London’s many outdoor markets really do offer a wonderful way to shop. For food especially, the selection is compelling and quirky; there’s also usually a story behind what you’re buying that you get to hear first-hand from each stall’s dealer. Prices are also usually excellent too, which for some shoppers might be reason enough to head to a market in a city that, even with the post-Brexit pound, can be pricey.
One of my favorite destinations is Broadway Market, a long street in Hackney that’s closed to traffic on Saturdays; the road (which is actually called Broadway Market, even on not market-days) gets filled with vendors and crowds of people (so coming early is advisable, particularly if the weather is good). Food is a strong point, although you can also find things like sleek handmade leather bags and clever letterpress greeting cards; I can never resist picking up something to eat from Bad Brownie (like its fabulously hazelnut-heavy Ferrero Rocher-flavored option) and truffles from Dark Sugars Chocolates, and I usually stop at Rolla Granola to pick up some cereal for the next morning. There are also good little restaurants on the street to grab food to take out and walk with, like Tiosk, which specializes in extra-healthful options like matcha lattes, and Saray Broadway Café (58 Broadway Market), a Turkish café where fresh gözleme, a savory flatbread, are made by hand near the window all day.
On Sundays, I always wake up early and head to Columbia Road. This slender street in the East End gets filled with flower dealers, and is packed even on mornings that are wet or cold. It’s colorful, loud, and invigorating. I usually head there soon after it opens then walk over to either the Shoreditch branch of Dishoom for a hearty plate of keema par eedu or poached eggs at the Albion, both an easy stroll away.
The city’s markets are also ideal if you’re staying in an Airbnb and need groceries, or just want to grab an easy meal to go that’s delicious and not overly expensive. Brockley Market, for example, is absolutely worth the trip on Saturdays, especially for the massive sandwiches from Bill or Beak, as is the excellent Maltby Street Market. On Sundays, the Marylebone Farmers Market, which is quite centrally located, takes over a large carpark off Marylebone High Street and has beautiful produce and freshly-shucked oysters to eat on the premises.
Borough Market and Portobello Road can get crowded and prices tend to be a bit higher, but if you're going, the trick, truly, is to get there before in the morning they get too packed. At Portobello Road, I usually stick to the vendors near the Ladbroke Grove end of the market, where you can find a wide selection of vintage clothes, and then pop into Lisboa Patisserie (57 Golborne Road) for a pastel de nata afterwards. At Borough Market, I sometimes pick up a loaf of authentic French bread from Olivier’s Bakery, pop around the corner for some cheese at Neal’s Yard Dairy, and then go elsewhere for a picnic.
And before you visit, try my packing strategy: I always bring a couple lightweight totes into my suitcase to carry my market purchases.