London on a Budget: Sunday at Columbia Road Flower Market
Summer may have drawn to a close (sob!), but despite the return of early nightfall and grey skies in London, there’s a sure fire way of injecting a bit of color into your weekend—a visit to the Columbia Road Flower Market!
In what has to be the city’s most vibrant market, every Sunday East London’s Columbia Road comes alight with exotic and locally grown flowers, plants, bulbs and planters. The ideal place for anyone who likes a spot of bartering, there is always a fantastic atmosphere among traders and shoppers alike.
Even if you’re not looking to buy, the different types of flowers are a truly magnificent sight and really good fun to photograph. But I would be left openmouthed by anyone who manages to walk away completely empty-handed—even the most frugal of Cheapos is bound to be seduced by the vast array of blooms on offer—on a recent visit a German friend of mine was even seen heading home on Easyjet with a bunch of hardy semi-dried flowers that last forever!
A vendor with his flower displays at the Columbia Road Market. Photo: Jerome Yewdalll
Get there as early as you can if you want to avoid the crowds (the market opens at 8 AM and closes at 3 PM every single Sunday of the year) or, if you’re on the hunt for a real bargain, arrive around 2 PM when you’ll get the best prices.
Related: 4 weekend markets in London for bargain hunting (and people watching)
While London’s East End continues to become more and more trendy, sometimes it’s a real treat to stumble upon a traditional “caff” or a proper local pub that have stood the test of time. Columbia Road’s increasing popularity means that there are plenty of cool bars and beautiful but pricey vintage shops lining the street, but you’ll get the best value for money if you stick to the more traditional no-frills options.
After some flowering shopping, stop in for a freshly brewed cup of tea at Cafe Columbia. Photo: buttongrrrl
Head to Cafe Columbia (138 Columbia Road) for some breakfast or lunch and you’ll be biting into a bit of an institution. This family-run cafe has long been serving up tasty bagels, sweets and warming cups of English tea to market traders and busy shoppers and it’s cheap as chips! There is even a miniature garden out the back – ideal for when the sun is shining.
If you’re after something a bit more hearty then a Sunday roast at the Royal Oak (73 Columbia Road) is sure to hit the spot. A beautiful, wood paneled old “boozer”, this is the kind of pub Londoner’s miss when they go on holiday.
Related: Affordable Sunday roast meals around London for under £15
These days there’s a lot more to do around Columbia Road than buy flowers. Once you’ve been fed and watered, why not explore some of the free independent galleries and art shops, many of which only open their doors to the public on Sundays. The Columbia Road Gallery, located in The Courtyard on adjoining Ezra Street, mainly showcases the work of Cornish artists and boasts an ever changing portfolio of new and emerging talent. Meander round the corner to The Yard and you’ll find yourself surrounded by vintage clothes and furniture, as well as plenty of tasty food and drink stalls (many of which offer free tastings).
Nelly Duff is a good shop for artsy fun along Columbia Road. Photo: Julian Walker
In stark comparison, wander into Nelly Duff (156 Colombia Road) and be treated to street, tattoo and graphic artworks. This eclectic mix and constantly evolving mish mash of old and new, traditional and quirky, is really what makes this little corner of London so enticing and always worth a peek, even if you’ve been a hundred times before.
Every Sunday 8 AM-3 PMNeighborhood: Tower HamletsTube: Bethnal Green or Old Street Stationwww.columbiaroad.info