Sensory overload on Columbia Road


Down in the East End of Laandan, there’s a place you can get two bunches of these bootiful tulips for five paands.

Ok, I promise to stop it with the crap East End accent now.

But that’s what it sounds like when you turn onto Columbia Road and the narrow street bursts into life, with every bloom and tree fighting for space to show off their colour and smell. It’s a wall to wall sensory overload, and everything you’d expect from an East London market institution.

The day I went I was looking for some nice flowers to stick in the vase on the windowsill; so nothing too specific. The great thing about Columbia Road is the price. Unlike many other famous markets in London – like Borough or Spitalfield markets – Columbia Road is fantastically priced. Especially if you are just looking for something pretty for home. I ended up buying a bunch of beautiful purple stocks for £5; they lasted for a full week and smelt amazing.

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I don’t know much about gardening or flowers, but you don’t have to know anything to enjoy the market. Everything is set out for you to see, although you need good sharp elbows to get through the crowd. If you are just there to enjoy the view, the experience and buy a nice bunch of flowers then don’t worry about going too early. The market is open until around 3pm and we arrived at 2 to see all the stalls still out and dripping with every plant under the sun. It gets pretty crowded later in the day as the serious buyers head home and the locals on a Sunday walk and the tourists come in.

It’s not just the flowers that make up the experience. It’s the traders themselves. They’re mostly men – young and old – and some take all of those East End stereotypes and wear them proudly on their sleeve. The tattoos, the accent, the gold chains; all combined with a market trader’s roar and they are something to watch by themselves. If you need advice, then these guys are encyclopedias of knowledge. Flower knowledge isn’t just something your Grandma has; these guys know their stuff.

Out of all of the famous markets in London, I couldn’t recommend Columbia Road enough. Although naturally not as varied or large as Borough Market or Spitalfields Market, the atmosphere is much nicer (not so many people there to pose and ‘be seen’), you can actually get a bargain, and there is so much to see, touch and smell.

Nearest overground station: Hoxton

Nearest underground station: Old Street

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