Our Guide to the Columbia Road Flower Market
The Sunday flower market at Columbia Road in East London is world famous, and world class. Each week the market is awash with tourists soaking up the atmosphere and taking photos of this wonderfully photogenic market.
However there is a lot more to the market than just taking photos of flowers and it's not just for tourists, it’s for all of us. It’s by far one of the cheapest ways to buy armfuls of flowers (London florists are insanely expensive) and it’s one of the most wonderful things to do in London on a Sunday morning.
We tend to go a couple of times a month and over time we’ve built up a little routine which makes the most of the market and thought it might be useful to share it.
Columbia Road itself is a vibrant Victorian street lined with a wonderful selection of independent, interesting and high quality shops. At any time it’s a nice place to visit - the Christmas shopping evenings are particularly good fun - but it really comes into itself on a Sunday morning when the flower sellers descend.
The street is situated on the site of an old brickworks and a notorious Victorian slum and the market was part of the regeneration of the area in the late Nineteenth century. The market originally operated on a Saturday but was moved to a Sunday to accommodate the needs of the local Jewish population.
The market opens at 8am each Sunday and by 10am is insufferably busy. Lots of people will tell you go late to avoid the crowds, around 2pm as it’s closing, but we say go early. Not only will you be home filling your vases by 11am with the whole day to look forward to, but that smug feeling of having got up early and done something useful will give you a self-satisfied glow until bedtime.
The market is a bit of a pig to get to unless you happened to live in East London. The nearest stations are Hoxton and Old Street but we tend to drive, which is another reason to go early as there are only around 10 parking spaces in the area and they are all taken by 9.15. They have recently become metered and are ridiculously expensive but as you are only there for an hour or so it’s do-able.
We start at the Hackney Road end of the market, popping into the newsagents to get some cash on the way. Many of the stallholders now accept cards but not all of them, so come prepared. It’s a good idea to start by walking the length of the market, perusing the stalls to see who has the best stock and the best prices. This recce allows you to get your head around what can at first seem a rather daunting experience.
Next, take the left by the Royal Oak pub down Ezra Street and turn right into the courtyard market by Warren Evans. In the back corner is London’s best bacon and sausage bap stand. It’s actually the main reason we go to the market so often. We take our rolls and cups of tea and sit on the stoop slightly further down and enjoy eating our breakfast listening to the busker play Bowie and Marley. It’s very chilled out and supremely life affirming.
After breakfast we have a potter in the shops. Our personal favourites are Nelly Duff, Choosing Keeping and A Portuguese Love Affair but there are plenty to choose from. You really want to do any shopping before you even contemplate buying any flowers as the street is narrow, the shops are busy and the flowers will be a big impediment.
When you’re done shopping, it’s time to start the flower frenzy. It’s helpful if there are two of you as, because the market is such good value, your purchase will probably be quite bulky (especially if you are buying hydrangeas or similar flowers) and you will struggle to see past the bunch you are wrangling, let alone be able to negotiate a transaction to buy any more.
Once you’re done, it’s time to head home with your armfuls of flowers, where you can spend the rest of the morning making your home look beautiful and perhaps post a photo or two on instagram.
Here is a short video to give you a flavour of the market.