I need to start with a confession – I lived in London for 10 years and I never visited Columbia Rd Markets. So on this short stopover, I finally find out what I’ve been missing. And I am impressed.
I find the Columbia Road markets, perhaps not so surprisingly, on a blocked off part of Columbia Rd on a sunny autumn Sunday morning in the East End of London (every Sunday from 8am to 3pmish is the official line). For a few blocks it is a crowded lane of wall to wall flower stalls, ringing with the calls of the charismatic stall holders – plenty of cockney, and maybe a little bit of mockney, but who cares, it’s all atmosphere! And on this unusually sunny day, the flowers seemed to glow with a brightness and depth of colour that seemed more tropical than english, a beautiful way to calm a hangover. But it is popular, and therefore quite crowded, so it’s best to just go with the flow of the crowd.
Also lining the street, behind the stalls, are rows of wonderful old terrace houses with brightly colourful shops lining the street level, just like another row of flowers. There is plenty enough to keep me browsing the art, craft, fashion, jewellery and homewares for hours, and most are boutique and unique, not high street chain stores. My favourite part is Ezra St, branching off from Colombia Rd, with more pubs and cafes to enjoy. And clearly many people come here for a sunday brunch, a catch up with friends, a coffee in the sun; it all helps create a very friendly relaxed vibe. I settle into a communal table outside Lili Vanilli bakery, a cafe with lovely coffee and food, and a charmingly disorganised and chaotic atmosphere – is this the Fawlty’s of Columbia Road markets? I think I’ll get another coffee and have a think about that.