Last Updated on 9th July 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
If you’re looking for something to do come Sunday brunch time, or perhaps even earlier in the morning if you enjoy exploring places without crowds, then you need to look no further. Columbia Road Flower market has it all: budget, friendly, chic, hip and pretty.
Located in the ever so trendy East End of the city, not far from Brick Lane and Shoreditch, Columbia Road hosts one of the oldest flower markets in London. The weekly market is not just about fresh cut flowers as dried ones and houseplants are for sale too. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Columbia Road for yourself.
Introducing Columbia Road Flower Market
If you’ve ever visited central London, you’ll know that ‘London’ and budget don’t often appear in the same sentence (though check out our suggestions for the best free things to do in London)! That’s why I was so thrilled to find somewhere where I could actually afford to buy the flowers…
Plus, Columbia Road Flower Market also happens to be where all the local Londoners hang out, making it one of the best spots in the capital to experience London like a local.
From cut-price flowers to quirky little cafés, Columbia Road is the perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday morning. Besides, where else could you pick up two orchids for such a reasonable price in Zone 2?
Columbia road is not only home to a ton of flower stalls but other independent shops. Vintage clothing sits next to delicatessens and bookstores, meaning that you could while away an entire morning here.
In total, Columbia Road is home to around sixty independent shops. So by visiting, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’re supporting local businesses and the local tourism industry!
History of the Flower Market at Columbia Road
So just how did this little street in Northeast London become the place to head to on a Sunday brunch time? Well, the market on Columbia Road was originally held on Saturday.
The first ever market was held in 1869 when Angela Burdett-Coutts established Columbia Market as a covered food market within a neo-Gothic building. This building was eventually demolished in the 1950s.
In time, the market came to be held only on a Sunday. In fact, it suited local traders pretty well as they could sell their wares in Spitalfields and Covent Garden on a Saturday and sell their remaining stock at Columbia Road on a Sunday. This change of day was actually passed by an act of parliament.
As the local Jewish population grew, so, too, did the requirement for a market on Sunday. In Judaism, Saturday is the ‘Shabbat’ or ‘rest day’ and the seventh day of the week. As such, Saturday is a holy day and one of rest.
During WWII, the market suffered as a result of strict food and produce rationing. It went into decline and by the 1960s, it was on the verge of closure. However, during the 1960s, new rules were introduced, forcing traders to attend the market on a regular basis. Columbia Road Flower Market was saved.
The architecture of the road is predominantly mid-Victorian. Most of the two-story houses that line the road were built in the 1860s. Below, the market in 1869 as taken from the Illustrated London News.
How to visit Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market is only held on Sundays (although some of the permanent shops are open on other days of the week). The flower market runs between 8 AM and mid afternoon (depending on how quickly everything sells/ weather etc.) Typically, the market closes around 3 PM.
If you head to the market early, you’ll have your pick of the best flowers and there will (hopefully) be fewer people around. As of 2023, the flower market can get insanely busy, even during the late morning and so I recommend getting there by 9 AM at the latest if you don’t want to be caught up in the crowd!
You’ll have to trust me when I say that it was literally one of the busiest places I’ve ever been to. And yes, that includes all those times I was elbowed by tourists with their selfie sticks around the Mona Lisa!
With this being said, there are benefits to visiting in the late afternoon. After all, by around 1 PM, vendors will be looking to start selling off their remaining wares (houseplants and fresh cut flowers included) and so it’s at this time that you’ll find the best deals.
It’s worth noting that there are a number of quaint cafés in the area, many of which are worth checking out if you enjoy speciality coffee and mouthwatering cakes.
Some of the best coffee shops on Columbia Road include Jack Garcia Coffee (head there for specialty coffees) and Caffe In (the menu has all sorts of savoury treats such as bagels and quesadillas). If you’re looking for a snack on the go, you need to look no further than The Lily Vanilli Bakery.
Frequently asked questions about Columbia Road Flower Market
Do I have to pay with cash?
No. Almost every vendor on the street accepts card payments, as well as in the nearby bakeries and stores. You can therefore get away by not bringing any cash, though some merchants certainly appreciate you paying with cash for smaller transactions. If you want to take out cash for any reason, then you can head to the Sainsbury’s on nearby Hackney Road.
How do I get to the flower market?
The easiest way to get to Columbia Road Flower Market is to walk from the Hoxton Overground station, which is around a five minute walk away (and the area has plenty of signposts which will point you in the right direction).
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She lives in London but travels as much as she can. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.