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Think of a sublime way to spend a Sunday in London and you should (hopefully) think of a traditional Sunday Roast, beer gardens and a stroll in a park. However, let us ‘plant a seed’ in your mind – how about adding to that list a trip to Columbia Road Flower Market?
Located in East London and open every Sunday morning until early afternoon (usually between 8am and 3pm), this is your one stop shop for plants, petals and perennials – get there early if you want to bag the best flowers and beat the crowds.
Once a slum area of London that became a food market in the 1860s, the market went to decline during the 1940s during wartime rationing and became popular for its flower stalls back in the 1960s (talk about ‘flower power’!).
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You’ll know you are getting close to Columbia Road Flower Market as you’ll likely see dozens of Londoners walking to the tube station or bus-stops with heavy bags laden with all manner of plants, flowers and garden accessories. There are around 50 different stalls all vying for your trade, making prices much cheaper than traditional garden centres and supermarket stalls – this also makes for a colourful display, with beautiful blooms all over. For flower fans this is one of the best Instagram worthy places in London.
The banter between the stall-holders is something to behold, with lots of your traditional cheeky, Cockney ‘geezers’ bellowing various one-liners and other enticements to get you to shop at their stall. They are also all incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, always offering advice on how best to look after any plants you’ve bought them. Even as we write this now, we are looking out to the balcony in our London flat that is blooming with vegetable plants and flowers we’ve bought previously from Columbia Road, following the advice given to use by stallholders.
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The only downside to all this is that as you’d expect, Columbia Road Flower Market can get incredibly busy, especially by mid-morning, so if you feel easily claustrophobic, it is best to avoid the area on a Sunday or go at the crack of dawn. Columbia Road crime can also sometimes be an issue as the densely packed crowd sometimes sadly attracts London’s pickpockets – signs in the windows of the nearby Royal Oak pub also warn of bag thieves at work. However, don’t let this deter you but do keep your wits about you and consider moving your backpack around to your front.
And even if you don’t want any flowers or plants (as a tourist, there is only so much spare room in your suitcase), Columbia Road Flower Market is still worth a visit, as it very much a slice of traditional London life, with various music performers, food stalls and other little kiosks dotted along the various nearby alleyways. The Victorian street also has several cafes offering hearty fare like bacon butties, smoked salmon bagels plus a veritable feast of veggie offerings.
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At the end of your visit, why not sink a cold pint in the either the historic Royal Oak pub (over 100 years old and very much a traditional London ‘boozer’) or at the Birdcage, now managed by the Draft House chain and with a nice line in drinks promotions (plus a pub quiz during the week).
If your visit to Columbia Road doesn’t coincide with the Sunday Flower Market, you can still visit the area during the week but there isn’t so much to see and you’d be forgiven for thinking what all the fuss was about. There are still several arts and crafts stalls open during the week along with a couple of bakeries and cafes – it is also worth checking out nearby Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane, one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in London.
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How to get to Columbia Road Flower Market
The nearest stations to Columbia Road Flower Market are Hoxton, Cambridge Heath and Shoreditch High Street (all London Overground trains). Bethnal Green underground tube station is also nearby, or you can walk 20 minutes from London Liverpool Street train/tube Station.
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