London’s streets are as lively as ever, but often it seems like major chains have taken over the shopping scene, muscling aside the small businesses that have long given the city its unique character. Fortunately, those quirky little shops and boutiques are still out there–if you know where to look. When you’re ready to take a step out of the mainstream and onto the cutting edge, grab your best friends and embark on a shopping spree at Old Spitalfields Market, where almost everything you’ll find is one-of-a-kind.
You’ll feel the history as you approach the 19th Century gabled brick building in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. There’s been a market on this site since 1638, when farmers and traders first gathered with their bounties of “flesh, fowl, and roots.” These days, however, the cattle, poultry, and produce has given way to modern fashions, home decor, fine art, and assorted colorful bric-a-brac, making it a perfect place to fill out your wardrobe and spice up your home.
Pass under the arched entryway and take in the expanse of one of the finest covered markets in Europe. Take a moment to look around, as row after row of stalls call out to you with dainty vintage goodies, quirky items from new generations of craftspeople, and more clothes and accessories than you could ever hope to wear.
Not only are the vendors in Spitalfields Market unique, but the market itself has a different focus every day, so you’ll never see the same place twice. Thursdays, for example, bring antique dealers from across the country with spectacular furnishings, prints, and everyday items. Fridays are for fashionistas who also like art, with a spotlight on vendors of art and apparel. (The first and third Fridays of the month also bring music fans for a massive record fair.) Budget-friendly vintage and retro take over on the first and third Saturdays, a good opportunity to get your London rocker look together. On the fourth Saturday, you’ll find organic cosmetics and ethnic apparel from the African market. If you can’t pick just one, head out on Sundays, when it’s a little of everything.
After hours of trying on vintage hats for each other’s entertainment and picking up knickknacks that will look just perfect in your living room, the scents and sizzles from the market’s food vendors might prove too much for you. You each scatter to a different food stand — your pick is the spicy jerk chicken at former pro boxer Warren Richards’ Cafe Caribbean — and rendezvous at a table to chow down and rest your feet.
When you return to the stalls, you kneel down and paw through crates stuffed with random trinkets. Your friends hear you let out a delighted squeal and turn to see you holding up a new treasure. Should you buy it? Well, you can’t risk waiting on anything here — unique pieces go faster than copies of the Evening Standard at the Liverpool Station news stand. Buy boldly and regret nothing.
Photo by Teodora Gaydarova