As you may have guessed from many of my previous posts, I love markets. It is probably one of my most favorite things about Europe. Farmers markets, vintage markets, flea markets, antique markets, Christmas markets – I love them all. So this weekend we headed down to London and spent most of our time exploring different markets. We’ve already gone to the Borough Market which is filled with incredible produce/meat/cheeses and other culinary delights from all over Europe. We’ve also been to the Camden Market (twice in fact) and loved the wide array of independent designers as well as tasty ethnic food. So this time we hit up Portobello Market, Petticoat Lane Market, Spitalfields Market, and the Sunday Up Market. I’ll discuss each of the markets and tell you my fav.
We also managed to do some London sightseeing including Covent Garden, the National Gallery, the London Eye, and the British Library. One of our friends, Marty (of Malaga fame), met up with us for the weekend since he’s actually working in the UK for a couple months. It was a nice reunion and a fun weekend.
Saturday morning we took the early morning train to London and arrived by 8:30am. We headed straight to the Portobello Market because it just gets more and more crowded as the day goes on. However, I think we were a bit too early and everybody seemed to still be setting up their stalls, so we stopped in a local cafe for a coffee and bacon bap. For those of you unaware, a bacon bap is simply a roll filled with bacon and nothing else. I honestly find it quite dry and not a good ratio of bun to meat; however, the Brits love them. The cafe didn’t have much selection, so we ended up with that for breakfast, but it was an epic fail because pretty soon we were to walk past some amazing looking food at the market. Really wish I could have held out for a goat cheese tart or a jelly and custard doughnut.
As you can tell from the picture above, the Portobello market had a lot to offer. It was like multiple different markets in one, with fresh fruit and veg, cooked food, antiques, discount goods, and even some live music in the form of street performers. We had a very nice morning and the crowds definitely came in. I think I heard more of other languages being spoken than I did of English, so it is either a very diverse market, or it is quite the tourist destination.
Although the display of the sewing machines in All Saints was cool, apparently there was a lot of controversy over the chain store going in on Portobello road. Local traders lost some of their spaces to set up stalls, and the chain store represents big business, which is the opposite of what the Portobello market is all about. I found this article if you are interested in more: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/traders-fear-end-of-portobello-market-after-giant-chain-store-moves-in-6729604.html.
Obviously we spent a great deal of time at the market since we stuck around until lunch time. But there was so much to see and a huge variety of stuff, plus it was a nice day, so I didn’t even realized how much time had passed.
Next we headed over to Covent Garden, which is an area of shops and restaurants that is also known for its street performers. I’ve heard so much about it, so I wanted to check it out. The shops were all mainstream and I didn’t see too many independent stores, but most of the restaurants looked pretty nice. I’m not counting this one as a market because it seemed too permanent and felt to me more like a covered shopping mall. There were definitely a lot of street performers that were drawing huge crowds, but nobody really seemed to stand out to me. One guy was just making people clap and put their hands in the air, so I’m not really sure the point of his performance?
Next we headed to the National Gallery, which is right on Trafalgar square. Although I’ve been to Trafalgar square on numerous occasions, I’ve never actually been in the National Gallery, so I figured it was time. The National Gallery is full of paintings by famous people, such as Michaelangelo, Van Gogh, and Monet. However, without a Rick Steves audio tour guide we were pretty lost and didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Also, given that it was free entry, we didn’t feel bad about not spending too much time in there. Back out in Trafalgar square, we reunited with Marty!
Next on the agenda was the London Eye. I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile, but given the £20 price tag, we hadn’t gotten around to it. Our travel advisor and fellow expat, Steve Frey, informed us about 2-for-1 ticket entrances to many London attractions with a valid train ticket. Since we had taken the train down, it was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of this great deal. Unfortunately, as we were getting in line to buy the tickets, I asked a steward about the 2-for-1 deal, and he said they were no longer doing it! We were really disappointed, but decided to do the London Eye anyway. As we were waiting in the long queue to buy our ticket, this elderly lady offered to sell us her tickets as her friends weren’t going to make it. We ended up getting 3 tickets for £50 (instead of the £60 it would have been) and also didn’t have to wait in the queue. Score! Although we were really nervous that we had been scammed, and I wasn’t quite sure about the whole thing until we were successfully on the London Eye. But in the end, it turned out alright, the tickets were valid.
That evening we checked into our budget hotel, had a little down time, and then headed out to a great place called the Draft House. It has tons of amazing beer, and actually had some good food as well. My burger was potentially the best one I’ve had in the UK. They have multiple locations throughout London and I would definitely recommend it.
On Sunday morning Marty had to do some work, but Doug and I carried on with our market exploring.
First up was Petticoat Lane market. This market was mainly clothes, and all of it was really cheap. Some of it was poor quality, but they also had a lot of designer samples and overstock. However, if you wanted to find something good, you would have to really spend a lot of time searching. Neither of us were in the mood to push through crowds and dig through clothes, so we just walked through and moved on. Plus, we hadn’t had breakfast and the market didn’t offer any food stalls, so we weren’t too interested.
The next market on the agenda was Spitalfields and it was within walking distance. It was a much more upscale market with stalls for independent designers. We actually saw a few of the same stalls that we had seen at Portobello market the day before. There was a little more food there and luckily some coffee, so we got something to hold us over.
Finally, we went to our last market of the day: the Sunday Up Market. It is located in an old brewery, so it’s all indoors, which would be very useful for bad weather. This market was my favorite of the day. The stalls were mainly vintage and independent designers and they had a whole section of amazing ethnic food. It sort of reminded me of a smaller version of Camden market. We ended up trying some Lithuanian food for lunch, which Doug and I had never had. It was amazing! It was meatballs, chicken, meat dumplings, mashed potatoes, and salad, all covered in sauce and sour cream. Extremely delicious. All the other food looked good as well and they had some authentic looking Mexican food. Definitely my favorite market of the day.
That sums up our markets for the weekend and I’ve ranked them below.
- Portobello Market
- Sunday Up Market
- Spitalfields Market
- Petticoat Lane Market
Portobello market was definitely the winner because of the vast array of goods that they had there. Plus, the colorfully painted houses, live music, and beautiful weather just added to the ambience. Sunday Up Market was like a miniature Camden Market, so it comes in second. Spitalfields had some trendy independent designers, but the selection may have been too artsy for me. Petticoat Lane came in last because it just felt like cheap clothing and the atmosphere wasn’t that pleasant. However, I’m sure you could find some good deals in there if you put in the effort.
Our last stop before catching the train back to Derby was the British Library. The library is located right next to St. Pancras, which makes it really convenient to visit before catching your train. I was pretty impressed with the library; it had all sorts of sacred texts, historic documents, and early literature and music. It even had some of Leonardo da Vinci’s workbooks, where he would write in mirror-writing, which is basically like writing backwards. I thought that was pretty cool to see. They also had some Beatles memorabilia, with original song lyrics and journal entries. Overall, I liked the British Library much more than the National Gallery, but that could have been because Rick Steves does an audio tour of the place…
That sums up our London weekend, but before I sign off, I wanted to mention a nice walk we did in the Peak District during the week. I normally don’t mention our weekday evening activities, although they are typically pretty busy with tennis, basketball, gym, blogging, pubs, and dinner with friends. However, on Tuesday we did something a little less typical. We went on a short hike in the Peak District with our friends and fellow expats, the Henkles. The hike was a 3.7 mile circular loop, starting and ending at a pub called The George Inn in Alstonefield. I’ve heard good reviews about this pub, so we finished with dinner there, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. The days are quickly getting shorter, so we briskly did the walk so that we wouldn’t run out of daylight. We finished at the pub at around 7:30pm as the sun was dropping below the horizon.
We actually did some of the same part of this walk on our Dovedale walk last summer.
And that’s all, folks. Doug’s sister Taylor and her husband Andy are visiting us this weekend, so we are planning a Great British weekend. Let’s hope the weather cooperates!