London has no shortage of markets; not with Broadway Market, Portobello Road Market, even the 1000-year old (yep, that’s three zeros) Borough Market, which are all institutions in their own right. Columbia Road Flower Market, however, is rather special.
Situated on a quiet Victorian street — although one would rightfully argue that this market is anything but quiet — in London’s trendy yet diverse East End, this Sunday fair is indeed peculiar in the sense that I haven’t seen anything like it elsewhere in the world. It truly is a capsule of what authentic, genuine London is like.
Every Sunday from about 4am to 3pm, rain or shine, a host of vibrant flower traders set up shop alongside a row of 60 or so 19th-century independent shops with, quite fittingly if I do say so myself, rainbow-coloured facades. Perhaps an oblivious attempt to match the equally colourful blooms? These tranquil and compact boutiques — with anything from pottery to stationary and cupcakes to curated vintage goods — become silent sanctuaries whenever the street market gets too overwhelming, which will inevitably happen if you foolishly don’t get there before midday.
Connoisseurs know better than to indulge in a lazy Sunday, though, as the early birds will not only get to peacefully enjoy their morning coffee on one of the many outdoor terraces but also get the pick of the crop amongst bucketfuls of flowers, shrubs and herbs. Leafy banana trees, bedding plants, trendy succulents, cotton buds, blue roses and bountiful hydrangeas are all at home here.
Furthermore, it’s the ideal time to socialise with the characterful sellers, famous across Middlesex of their loud, mouthy banter marked by their sometimes undecipherable Cockney accent. Don’t let their cheery shouting and haggling keep you from striking up a conversation, as they are some of the nicest Londoners you can possibly meet; they truly are passionate about their trade and have more anecdotes to share than any tour guide. The majority actually follow in their family’s footsteps, some of which might even have been around since the very beginning of Columbia Road Flower Market in 1869.
Things to do at Columbia Road flower market
Columbia Road flower market – helpful tips
- The flower market is held every Sunday. I still recommend visiting the area any other day of the week as there are lovely shops all along Columbia Road, but the main flower event is on Sundays.
- Get there early to beat the crowds; as you can see in the last photo above, it gets quite packed after 10AMish. Alternatively, you could also get there at around 2PM when things start to wind down and where you can get sweet bargains. Whenever you go, though, bring cash!
- Even if you don’t plan on buying flowers (if you’re staying at a hotel, for example, and can’t get your hands on a vase) you should pop in nonetheless, as this is a quintessential London experience in my opinion.
- Fore more info, visit columbiaroad.info.