The world famous Portobello Road Market, or Notting Hill Markets makes a great morning out, but what is there to do there? You’ll find so much at the markets and I’ve put together my top things to look out for on Portobello Road.
Normally I’m keen to avoid tourist hotspots and find the hidden and secret, so I surprised even myself with a trip to Portobello Road Market recently and am surprising myself even more by posting a blog on it.
But truth be told, it’s a hit with the tourists because it’s a hit! There is something very quaint about the whole area, the colourful houses, the history the movie fame, as well as the quirky pubs, and street corner musicians sharing their live talent. And Portobello Road contains many hidden gems.
So here are my top hidden gems of Portobello road market.
My first top secret London tip is how to get there; most people visit via Notting Hill Gate (On the Central Line). But it is also easily accessed by Ladbroke Grove station (Hammersmith & City Line) and it’s just a short 5 minute walk away (and happily crowdless).
Music Arts & Antiques
Not so much a gem you can take a picture of, but interesting facts to know. The market has been going over 100 years. It originally started life as a few stalls on Portobello lane. In the 1860s many of the houses were built and the market grew in size, even then marketers started to sell bric-a-brac, fashion and the food stalls popped up. It was also around this time that street performers were first seen on the markets. Today the market is world famous, not only for its stalls but for its music and arts, with quality up and coming musicians on every corner, and its 100 year old Electric cinema (a great place to catch a movie complete with armchair viewing). The Electric even hosts its own film festival every August.
A bite to eat:
The Ladbroke Grove end is mainly for food; fruit, veg etc. And it’s here you will find a number of great artisan cafes and food stalls; check out the German food van for a traditional currywurst (my personal favourite). For a stylish coffee check out Talkhouse Coffee at No 275 a great stop off for quality coffee and breakfast. Or how about lunch at the quirky (real) Sicilian Cafe Arancina – at the Notting Hill end. This family owned place makes a great real pizza and the cafe comes complete with a very cool, bright orange Italiano car in the window.
That blue door
The famous blue door of Portobello found its fame in the movie Notting Hill – you know the one where Rhys Ifans answers the door in his undies to the awaiting paparazzi. Today is no different; spend a moment or two by 280 Westbourne Park Road (corner of Portobello Road) and you’ll see the tourist paparazzi snapping away within minutes. It’s the treasure of many a tourist’s visit. Interestingly enough the blue door house was home to Notting Hill’s writer/director Richard Curtis who lived here at the time. He is also the writer of many many great British comedies including Blackadder, Mr Bean, Bridget Jones.. the list is endless.
The other blue door
At the other end of Portobello Road (the Notting Hill end) is another more unassuming blue door, and former home to another great British writer, one Eric Arthur Blair, better known to the world as Mr George Orwell. The famous former policeman spent a year in here whilst exploring London life. It was during this time that he would dress as a tramp and wander in the east London slums, researching life what life was like for the London underclasses. After a year here, he moved to Paris and there completed his famous account of this London experience in Down & Out in Paris and London.
Orwell may have been surprised to learn that his plush London home itself became a slum after his death. In the 50s Portobello Road and the Notting Hill area fell so far as to be considered one of the most deprived areas in London. It was also the scene of serious race riots in both the 50s & 70s . Today the area is very much transformed, and is one of the most expensive and exclusive areas of London. Orwell’s former home itself recently went on the market for a mere £2750,000.
They say you find gold at the end of the rainbow, well there is gold at the end of Portobello Road (well more in the middle). This little pub is very easy (very easy) to miss in the hustle and bustle of the market, so much that even the door is hard to find behind the crowd of market stalls. But once inside you find an oasis of calm. The upper level at the back looks like a plush tropical conservatory surrounded by huge summery palms (some over 20 years old!). If this isn’t quaint enough for you, check out their rooftop terrace, with stunning views over Kensington. You will also find cosy little tables on set on different levels. It’s very quaint, and a perfect little gem to escape shopping madness. I highly recommend you find this secret hidden gem.
Portabello Road Market is open Monday to Saturday 9am – 6pm (until 1pm on Wednesday)
It can be reached by Ladbroke Grove Station or Notting Hill Gate