Known for its shops and shopping areas, one of the fascinating elements of London are the street markets. Some have existed for hundreds of years, and they have changed little. Several are well known on the tourist route, and some are harder to find unless you are a local. the latter is where Londoners shop and where you will find the essence of London.
North of the River
The most famous is the Portobello Market in Notting Hill, celebrated in the film of the same name, but the Portobello Market existed long before that. Known best for its antique shops and stalls, on almost any day of the year one can find Londoners and tourists alike jostling for bargains. Don't be afraid to deal, canny stall holders know their merchandise, but you might be lucky and get a genuine steal. Specialty shops sell a variety of merchandise like unusual nautical artifacts and priceless antique silver and furniture or try browsing through the vintage clothing and jewellery stalls. The fruit and vegetable markets and restaurants exhibit exotic offerings from around the world, and musicians liven up the eclectic atmosphere with outdoor entertainment.
Covent Garden Market, site of the original flower market of "My Fair Lady" fame, it is located in the historic theatre district close to Waterloo Bridge and it caters to tourists. I love the Chinese clothing stall in the covered section; my traditional jacket (purchased there) is greatly admired at dress-up occasions. Entertainers such as jugglers and unicycle riders keep the audience at many outdoor cafés enthralled by their talent. A high-wire artist kept us all holding our breath.
Not far away from the "smart" markets popular with tourists and Londoners alike, Camden Market exudes local atmosphere. Located around Camden Lock, it is known for arts and crafts and vintage clothing and it attracts the arts crowd, but it is also worth visiting not only for the bargains but for its picturesque surroundings with brightly painted long, narrow boats tied up along the canal. Mostly used as houseboats, once they plied the canal, carrying coal from the heart of England to the Port of London.
South of the River
Is where one finds the lesser known London markets and, of course, where the natives shop.
East Street Market, fondly known as "the Lane," just off the Walworth Road, is one of London's oldest markets, frequented by locals, but it is a bustling place every morning, and you can find just about anything you need at bargain prices. I once bought a length of sheer curtain material from a giant bolt at the fabric stall, and I fashioned curtains which lasted me through several homes.
Borough Market near Southwark Cathedral is one of the oldest wholesale and retail food markets in London, and in recent years it has become the "IN" place for both tourists and Londoners alike with many international restaurants and gourmet food stalls offering food and produce from around the world. Suppliers arrive early every morning bringing fresh produce from all parts of England. It also offers special events, catering to tourists, like Gastrotours and a cookbook club during the high season.
Bermondsey Market also is in Southwark, and it used to be known as where to pick up an antique bargain, as it came under the ancient Law of Marche Ouvert which stated that anyone purchasing an item between sunset and sunrise could not question its Provenence. Traditionally, it became the market where "hot" items were traded. The Law was abolished in 1995, and the market has now become "respectable." It is still the place to find an antique bargain but has now been revamped and expanded into other merchandise. Come early as vendors still pack up shortly after lunch, and if you see that antique clock you’ve been yearning for, don't check the provenence too closely. Come for the experience, and a genuine slice of Eastender life.
For a true Londoners' Market, take a stroll around Brixton Market. Operating on Atlantic Road since the 1870's, it moved into covered arcades the 1930's and which are now protected heritage buildings. It might be a bit scruffy, but you can find merchandise from just about every area of the world, reflecting the multicultural community of Brixton. With a large Caribbean community, fruit and vegetable stalls abound and a shop selling only bolts of colourful original African dress fabric caught my eye. A sizeable Portuguese community is represented by fresh fish stalls containing every imaginable type of whole fish if you have filleting expertise! Stir in some antique and junk shops and ethnic eateries and you have a glimpse of a seamier side of the city, that you won't see "Up West".
Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers
London is a great place to shop for the latest fashions, even if you're on a budget.
London's high streets are packed with fantastic shops where you can get the latest fashions without a designer price tag.
This low-budget brand is massively popular with dedicated followers of fashion. Stock changes constantly and you'll often find designer-inspired pieces appearing on the rails just weeks after their catwalk debut. The two biggest Primark stores in London are both on Oxford Street, one at the Marble Arch end, and the new flagship near to Tottenham Court Road.
A favourite with celebrities and their stylists, Topshop has a huge selection of cheap clothes and accessories. Fashion icon and model Kate Moss is such a big fan that she's even designed several ranges for the store. The flagship store at Oxford Circus is the ultimate shopping experience. Spread over four floors, you'll find a vintage section, designer collections, tall and petite ranges, accessories, shoes, menswear and more.
Blending designer looks with low prices, Zara's clothes are well-cut and stylish. Its understated pieces have become a favourite in the fashion world, with the Duchess of Cambridge, Selena Gomez and Coleen Rooney among its fans. The Spanish chain is at the higher end of the budget market, but it is still a great place to pick up a bargain, particularly smarter clothes and suits.
American retailer Forever 21 arrived in London in 2011 and now has two stores, on Oxford Street and at Westfield Stratford. The brightly-lit shops are packed with clothing, offering everything from basic T-shirts, to dresses, to high fashion looks straight off the catwalk - all at low prices.
For high street trends at low prices, head to New Look. It's great for wardrobe essentials like jeans and tops, and you'll find some of the best-priced shoes and boots on the high street. New Look also stocks its own range of jewellery, offering on-trend pieces at great prices.
A determined hunt through the endless rails at TK Maxx is sure to bag you some bargains. Their philosophy is to offer big labels at small prices on everything from fashion to homeware. The flagship branch at Charing Cross offers four floors of bargains to search through, and an estimated 5,500 pairs of shoes for sale! There are daily deliveries of new stock, so one visit is never enough.
For high fashion on a budget, head to H&M. You'll find good quality essentials at great prices, plus plenty of colourful, on-trend pieces. H&M has also proved its fashion credentials by collaborating with international designers and style icons, including Beyoncé, Isabel Marant and Alexander Wang, who have created capsule collections. Stock varies from branch to branch, but menswear, maternity, childrenswear and plus size collections are available. H&M's Oxford Street flagship store was relaunched in March 2013 with a shoe zone, chill out lounge and 80 changing rooms.
Japanese clothing company Uniqlo is great for chic casuals, like a cheap Gap. Stock up on funky tops, trousers, knitwear and outerwear in the latest colours. Uniqlo has a rapidly changing range of designer T-shirts, most recently working with French fashion designer Ines de la Fressange. If your style is casual but funky, check it out.
To get an edgy look that won't break the bank, head to River Island. The clothes range from studded jackets, to jumpsuits, to tribal prints. You'll also find plenty of funky accessories and shoes. Pop star Rihanna even designed three collections for the chain.
Dorothy Perkins and Burton
If you're looking for stylish wardrobe staples at reasonable prices, try Dorothy Perkins. The store offers basics such as jeans, cardigans and smart workwear. You'll also find a great range of pretty dresses, as well as a tall, petite and maternity range. Accompanying most branches is the menswear arm, Burton, which offers a good range of affordable trousers, shirts, t-shirts and suits.