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London’s Street Markets: Open Sesame

Mukul and Shilpa Gupta

Some are historic but exude a fresh vibe, a few are new but ooze an old-world charm. Some are eclectic; a few have earned fame for exclusivity. Some are atmospheric, a few are plain utilitarian. But if there’s one thing that can be unanimously said for them all, it is the undisputed fact that each of them is worth a visit, rather, repeated visits! Like the city of London− teeming with history, beauty, nostalgia and swank− its street markets too have a uniquely British quality about them. Come, join us on a hedonistic virtual tour of some of these sinfully tempting hubs of food, clothing, memorabilia, and more.

Photo Credits: Borough Market: Mukul Gupta
Photo Credits: Maltby Street Market: Indie Guides

The first name that comes to mind when you whisper market and London in the same breath is undoubtedly the Borough Market. Believed to be at least 1,000 years old, Borough is perhaps the oldest street market in London. And among the largest too. On any given day (Monday to Saturday, usually 10 am to 5 pm), it is a hive of activity with farmers, hawkers, retailers and whole sellers plying raw meats, fresh seafood, delicacies from around the world and British staples like fish-and-chips. Yes, you must have noted that it’s all about food, and that remains Borough’s USP: Lip-smacking fare − piping hot ready-to-eat meals as well as raw food − from the Bahamas to the Balkans, everything in-between and beyond. And, before we forget, a lot of the stalls here offer their goodies at unbelievable discounts around the time of closing (this is the point where you thank us!). Located smack-bang in the heart of Central London, it is easy to access and the London Underground will take you right up to Borough Market.

If Borough is the Big Daddy, Maltby Street Market is the New Kid on the Block. But even though it’s a relative newbie having started just eight years ago, Maltby in south-east London’s Bermondsey area has rustled up quite a fan-following for itself, thanks in some measure to its romantic location under railway arches and in large part to its global offerings. Again dedicated to food (and drinks of all manner—from freshly squeezed fruit juices to smoothies to Pimms and cocktails), it is a weekend market, open 10 am to 5 pm on Saturdays and 11 am to 4 pm on Sundays. If it’s gourmet street food you crave, head for Maltby. The stations of London Bridge and Bermondsey are equidistant.

Photo Credits: Brick Lane Market: Qbic Hotels
Photo Credits: Spitafields Market

To farther whet your appetite for food, there’s the Brick Lane Market that offers, apart from fruits and vegetables, delectable international cuisine with a particular slant on Asian fare (read: Indian and Bangladeshi), especially at the main Sunday street market (open 10 am to 5 pm). On other days of the week, the absence of street food will be made up by the area’s restaurants and shops. Here’s something you must know: Brick Lane is not just one market but a network of roads with covered markets, each with its own specialty like the Backyard Market for jewelry and accessories open during the weekend, and vintage clothing at the eponymous Vintage Market that is open Thursdays through Sundays. Care for an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel? Take the tube to the Aldgate East station and walk up to this veritable paradise for foodies and bargain-hunters.

While at Brick Lane, you might want to hop into the next-door (well, almost!) Spitalfields Market. Another old player existing since the 13th century, this one even works very hard, being open on all seven days of the week. And what does this buzzing, roofed bazaar offer? There’s everyone’s favorite pastime − food, what else − of course, but there’s the added lure of fashion and inimitable artworks by established and up-and-coming artists. By the way, there is also a weekly antiques market where you could get your fix of dated memorabilia from old books to maps and collectibles. Fancy the idea? Liverpool Street is the nearest station.

Photo Credits: Camden Market: Expedia
Photo Credits: portobello: A Passport Affair

Now, 40-something-year-old Camden Market is a lot of things rolled into one giant mass and deserves to be addressed as a plural, really. However, for the sake of clarity, it is divided into six sections, each with its own raison d’etre. For instance, there’s the Camden Lock that is an indoor market focused on the crafts. And food (did we need to spell that out? This is London and no tourist hub can do without a bite and a glug!). Stables Market specializes in one-of-a-kind clothes, and Inverness Street Market is all about fruits and vegetables. Starting out rather modestly with just 16 stalls as a Saturday market, Camden has grown into a tourism hub and resembles a miniaturized form of Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. Open all days, 10 am to 6 pm, with Camden Town being the closest Tube station. Eat, drink, make merry!

Portobello is by no means your Average Joe; it is hailed as the world’s largest antiques market. Spread across half a mile or more, hundreds of stalls, shops and arcades come alive every Saturday with every imaginable—and unimaginable—vintage beauty up for a bargain. Located near Notting Hill, the area immortalized in the Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant movie of the same name, Portobello’s attraction is not limited to antiques. There’s fashion, new goods (mostly accessories) and second-hand goods too. Of course, there cannot not be food and Portobello is great for sampling Caribbean and South African grub! Saturday is the busiest day of the week when all attractions are open but no matter which day of the week you go, you’re sure to find something of immense fascination. Usual timings are 9 am to 6 pm. From the station of Notting Hill Gate, it’s a small walk to Portobello.

This journey of London’s fascinating markets is abbreviated. For there’s only so much one can do in a day. Greenwich, Covent Garden, Broadway and many others we leave for another time when you’ll probably find us tucking into some smoking hot meal. Catch you there.

Photo credits - Banner Left: Vogue; Banner Center: Hand Luggage Only; Banner Right: Vogue

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