“Everythin’ a fiver!” “Three for a tenner!”
The voices of stallholders hawking their wares echo their way down London’s Columbia Road. Bouncing off the brickwork on this narrow street, made to feel narrower still by the amount of bargain-hunting bodies that snake their way among potted plants and bunches of blooms.
This is Columbia Road Flower Market, which takes place every Sunday, come rain or shine – because a little bit of weather never put a true East Ender off. For over 150 years, traders and Londoners have come together at this iconic East London market to sell and buy plants and flowers. And after five years in London, I actually finally got around to visiting for the first time over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Columbia Road Market was originally established in 1869, and the flower market itself began its life as a Saturday market. As the Jewish population grew, demand resulted in a Sunday market – which kept going even when the Saturday market folded. And in its current form, it’s as popular as ever with locals, visitors, and anyone looking to brighten up their Instagram feed.
Usually, I’m not much of a flower buyer. I like them, but I’m not one of the kind of people who’ll buy ’em fresh every week. I’m more a ‘find some cheap ones, feed them when I remember and hope they don’t drop dead petals all over my sink’ kinda girl.
But it was almost impossible to resist buying ALL the flowers at Columbia Road Flower Market – and even if you’re not buying, it’s still a street you need to take a stroll down, if not just for its history and the real East End market vibe first hand. It’s a true authentic London experience.
A Guide To Columbia Road Flower Market: Useful Things To Know
If you are thinking of buying, you’re definitely in for a bargain. The market runs from 8am til 3-ish – even on Easter Sunday. We headed down at around 2.30pm, at the very end of the market day, when lots of sellers were putting down their prices and shouting about their end-of-day offers.
It was still busy, and the narrow walkways can get a little claustrophobic, but everyone was polite and calm, with no frenzied pushing and shoving. If you do want to beat the crowds, I’d recommend heading down super early. You might miss out on some bargains later on, but you’ll get the literal pick of the bunch.
As it was such an ‘old fashioned’ style of market, I was expecting a cash only kinda situation – but lots of the stalls actually take card payments (most seemed to have a minimum spend of £10).
Although the flowers are the focus, they’re not the only things you can pick up here – we took a turn down Ezra Street and found a second hand flea market stall, as well as a tiny door advertising British Rock Oysters and Bloody Marys. Which did look a bit odd next to a Dreams beds store, granted, but it’s further testament to how well London merges the old with the new, and the corporate with the independent.
As well as the market stalls themselves, you’ll also find plenty of regular independent stores in the area that are open all week long – including art, clothing, gifts, food and drink. If you want to get a real taste of the area and one of London’s most famous markets, though, Sundays here are bloomin’ awesome.
Columbia Road Flower Market