Top Markets of London

Check out my quick guide to the top 5 Markets in London

Portobello Road

This famous market in classy Notting Hill  boasts of the world’s largest antiques market, as well as numerous bric-a-brac stalls and yummy organic, and international food stalls.  It started life as small country lane with a few traders serving the local farming community.  In the late 1800s there was a housing boom in the area, and with it the market expanded to the vibrant bustling market we see today.  Its fame has even spread as far as Hollywood, and it’s featured in numerous films, most famously Nottting Hill.   It is a favourite of tourists and celebrities who visit to shop at its many stalls and watch its talented live musicians on every corner.

Quirky fact: George Orwell live at 22 Portobello Road in the 1920s, whilst researching his book Down and Out in Paris and London. His house is today marked by a Blue Plaque
Nearest station: Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove Station

Borough Market
If its food you’re after a visit to the culinary heaven that is Borough Market is a must!  There has been a food market here since the 1300s.  Today it is a great place to visit and sample every kind of food you can imagine, and you are guaranteed to get fresh quality food.  Its not just a tourist attraction but this market serves many award winning London restaurants and chefs including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey

Quirky fact: The rounded Victorian Globe pub in Borough Market was the  setting of  Bridget Jones home, in the famous movie.
Nearest station:  London Bridge or Borough

Covent Garden
Probably the most famous market in London, Covent Garden is a beautiful covered market.  You will mainly find arts and crafts, and artistic souvenir items here but at any time of the day its well worth a visit for its vibrant atmosphere. There is plenty to see and do there.  There is always a street performer to entertain you, there is also the impressive London transport museum or of a evening you can attend a performance at the Royal Opera House.  Or you can just sit back and soak up the atmosphere in one of the many piazza cafes.

Quirky fact: London’s frist female public toilet was situated on near by Bedford Street in the 1850s. The guys toilet was located a few miles down the road at Fleet Street.
Nearest Station: Covent Garden or Charring Cross

Camden Market
For culture, check out the very alternative Camden Market.  A short walk from Camden Station, Camden Lock Markets nestled on the side of the Regents Canals is well worth a visit.  Once inside be sure to venture deep into the market and loose yourself in the old Stables. The twisty turny lanes of The Stables are reminiscent of a Moroccan souk.  Look out (or rather you can’t miss) the incredible, incredibly large, horse sculptures dotted around.  Be sure also to get something to eat here or across the road (opposite Camden Lock Market entrance), where you can grab a bite and sit at your leisure on an old moped, over looking the canals.

Quirky Fact:  Be sure to check out he Hawley Arms pub just the other side of the railway bridge. This pub was the famous hang out  Amy Winehouse, as well as playing impromptu gigs, she was known to occasionally get behind the bar and pull pints for punters.
Nearest Station: Camden Town or Chalk Farm

Greenwich Market
For all things quirky combined with a great day out, head over the beautiful Greenwich and Greenwich Market.  This quaint market sells bespoke items among other things hand crafted jewellery, gifts beauty products, and even stylish gift foods.  Aside from the market it is worth exploring historic Greenwich  check out  the restored Cutty Sark, or wander around the stunning historic Royal Naval College, or head up the hill to the Greenwich Observatory to enjoy stunning views of the city.  A day out to Greenwich is an absolute must for any visitor or resident of London.

Quirky fact: check out the Thames Foot  Tunnel. Is the last remaining Victorian pedestrian  tunnel left under the Thames.  This eerie damp tunnel was opened in 1902.  Entrance just next to the Cutty Sark.
Nearest Station: Greenwich Cutty Sark or Greenwich

Gems of Portobello Road

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.

Portobello Road Market

 

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.

Portobello Gold

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

 

If you liked that read this:

Top 5 Markets of London

The Other Mr Selfridge

A Very Christmassy London

I’ve said it before, but I love the film Love Actually! What I love about it (actually) is because it celebrates, and magnifies London at it’s finest; a very Christmassy London. There aren’t many times in Winter when you can fall in love with this cold, grey and misty city, but at Christmas it comes alive, with sparkle, and colour and excitement. I think Queen Victoria was thinking ahead to her beloved London in future years when she brought home the German traditions of Christmas. And now, I for one, am like a kid at Christmas (excuse the pun) when I hear that first Christmas carol, see that first crane putting up the tinsel on the high street, there is nothing like it. And if you’re not a Londoner, or have never been I would recommend the Christmas season, is a good time, to fall in love with this enchanting city.

So out of all the festivities; the Southbank German Markets, the Carols in Trafalgar square alongside the traditional Norwegian giant Christmas tree, to the crazy surreal winter wonderland in Hyde park, I have scanned the many events and complied a list of the top 5, some classic, some topsecret London hidden gems and even some fictional ones for the wish list (?!)

But before I bring you the top 5, I just have to bring you my most miserable (sadly) Christmassy bit of London (interestingly Love Actually also omitted this one actually). Disappointingly my Christmassy London low is Regent Street. Every year, someone (usually Disney) decide to trash this beautiful royal promenade by sticking up the latest Hollywood animation tacky light show. I’m sure it’s lovely for the kids, but a little disappointing if you ask me. Let us move on quickly.

So top 5 Christmassy London!!!

NUMBER 5…

 Covent Garden…Actually this almost made a low, I remember in previous years it’s been impressively decorated, larger than life; remember the gigantic Christmas tree that contained a Santa’s grotto, the edible ‘Ferrero Tree’ or last year’s Kissmas Tree . So this year, it felt a little lost and a empty I was just about to walk away when I noticed something out the corner of my eye… the LARGEST baubles in the universe. Yes, it clawed its way back into the top 5 with these novelty gigantic Xmas tree decos hanging in the market place. So big they wouldn’t have even made it on to Trafalgar’s Norwegian tree. I love it, worth a visit for those alone.

NUMBER 4…

Number 4 is a classic! Oxford Street! If you accept there will be crowds and chaos, Oxford street after dark (i.e. after 4pm) is simply magical (and much more classic than it’s Regents Street neighbour). Head down to the Bond Street end, and you have the major department stores battling out for X factor of Sparkle (this year a close battle between Selfridge’s (no surprises) and M&S (who also battled it out on the opening night with fireworks and sparkles from both). Then just around the corner, you have arty, classy St Christopher’s place (you know it’s my favourite). All of these were worthy enough for their place in Love Actually!

…And a big shout out for Westminster Council for the quick tidy up of Crossrail clutter (fellow Londoners, you know what I’m talking about!)

NUMBER 3… is the fictional entry (I know you were wondering weren’t you?) Fictional because every time I see it I think “You would make such a lovely Christmas Tree”. As I gaze out my window after dark I see it’s twinkling red and green lights, all it needs is some giant tinsel and and massive star on top (maybe Covent Garden could help). So I’ve already written to Santa asking for it to come true, I’m hoping to wake up Christmas morning….

Yes Number 3 is THE SHARD, and as one tweeter put it perfectly ‘The Shard is like a giant Christmas Tree for all of London’ ..Beat that for size Trafalgar Square.

NUMBER 2…

Top end of my list at No 2 is a secret gem, tucked away a short walk from the Christmas chaos of Oxford street is Store Street, and the delightful South Crescent. There is something about this building that is completely enchanting and mysterious, it looks modern yet old. And at this time of year it comes alive as they dress it up like a Christmas gift, like the secret it is. Known as ‘The Imagination Galley’ this is a gorgeous building inside and out, fashioned into an exclusive gallery/conference venue. But if you’re not privileged enough to get inside, but still hungry for for a bit of culture/architecture check out The Building Centre next door. No this is not the place to buy Uncle Ted his DIY pressies, but rather, it’s a great venue/gallery celebrating architecture (and not so exclusive as it’s imaginative neighbour) they host regular events and seminars for those interested in all things building. And if you peer through the window, by the entrance they have a Fab scale model of London City – and just for the Christmas season they’ve sprinkled it with icing sugar (ok so I made that up, but it’s a another great idea?!)

If all that sounds a bit too cultural and you just want to escape the Christmas crowds, then do stop off anyway. Because right opposite South Crescent is the yummy Busaba Thai (best Thai chain in London Guaranteed!!); you can sit and gaze at the pretty lights from the comfort of your dinner plate!

NUMBER 1….

Top of my list, straight from Love Actually, I am totally in love with …. drum roll…. Somerset House Tiffany Ice Skating. …Well all Christmassy ice skating in London, actually. Somehow they just know how to pick the most beautiful locations, Somerset house being one of them. In the beautiful square court yard with the Tiffany (..hear all the girls sigh) Christmas Tree, I’m sure this historic building on the Thames was made for this moment. It’s like walking, gliding into a romantic Jane Austen picture book… But if Tiffany’s doesn’t do it for you, how about historical Tower of London rink? Or the beautiful Victorian Natural History Museum, or for something more modern there’s the Canary Wharf rink – keep an eye on your shares, on the ice . Or if you want to escape the London madness altogether head over to the stunning Hampton Court.

Just be warned though, ice-skating is the top of most people’s lists, and you will most likely need to book ahead. But the good news is most rinks run through beyond the Christmas period until January.

So there you have it my Christmassy London top 5. It only happens once a year, enjoy every moment, every sparkle. But if that’s really not enough Christmassy London for you, I recommend you buy a copy of Love Actually, it will last a lot longer (that’s what I do, actually, and I love it … actually!)