This was such an awesome day…exploring another side of this famous city…for a while now I’ve wanted to explore some of the old markets around London and also wanted to find out more about the buzz around Shoreditch and Brick Lane, what is it all about? It made for such a fun day, a day that in the most part felt as though we were at a festival somewhere, not in the middle of London, this was something totally different and I absolutely loved it!
I always travel to London by train (did you know Expedia sell train tickets now too?) it is by far the most convenient way to travel there and with the tube and busses it is so easy to get around. When we arrived we headed for Liverpool Street underground and then wandered towards Old Spitalfields Market in Shoreditch.
Old Spitalfields Market
There has been a market here since 1887, the moment I stepped inside, that was when I got that feeling as if I was at a festival. The market is a melting pot of creativity, it is just brilliant! I am not the biggest fan of shopping it has to be said…but this is my kind of shopping! Stalls selling vintage clothing, cool ornaments, hand made jewellery, works of art, records! It is such a fun place to wander and there is so much which catches the eye, the setting is so impressive as well, a real Aladdin’s cave.
The atmosphere is vibrant, there seems to be something different going on everywhere you look, people walking around chatting pointing things out to each other, music, food cooking, the smells, in a city which can seem pretty impersonal at times, this is a friendly place which brought a smile to our faces, and most of the people here. I was excited I couldn’t believe I had never been here before. With the famous landmarks out of site and out of mind it made me think “This is London” this is the feeling people should get when visiting this city.
We were spoilt for choice with places to eat, stalls, street food, restaurants, pubs, there seemed to be pretty much every imaginable food type here and in the surrounding street. We chose to go into Blixen, an all day brasserie, cocktail bar and garden on the perimeter of the market. From the brunch menu I had poached eggs with salt beef on a frittata with Hollandaise sauce, delicious! Blixen had a really cool chilled out vibe but was very popular, we were sat at the bar which was OK but we pretty much had the last seats in the place! Book ahead if you’re set on eating here! You can actually book a table and check out some of the reviews on TripAdvisor here.
When we left the market we explored the surrounding streets for a while and had a pint in The Ten Bells Pub, a pub which has been in Spitalfields since the middle of the 18th century. Tales of the Jack the Ripper murders say that two of his victims are linked to this pub, one is said to have been drinking inside just before she was killed and another was said to be plying her trade as a prostitute outside before she met her fate. In this part of London you don’t have to have the most vivid of imaginations to think how it would of been during these times. The traditional and the modern are so well fused here.
As we wandered along Brick Lane the festival feeling began to intensify there is a real bohemian feel to this whole area of London the atmosphere is really great. We passed tour groups being shown the street art (including a Banksy!) and again there were so many cool little shops and stalls which caught our attention. Then we stumbled across The Old Truman Brewery. This site has been converted from the brewery to an area which now is home to bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, markets, food vendors. It was a wow moment, something I hadn’t known about, another really cool place to explore. There is also the Rough Trade East music store here, a treasure trove for fans of alternative/indie and a great live music venue for up and coming artists. This area is another magnet for creativity.
From here we made our way trough the back streets to Leadenhall Market, as we did we passed by the front of the Gherkin building, I had only seen this from a distance as part of the London skyline and it was a strange experience seeing it so close up, it’s definitely a fantastic piece of architecture. There is a clash of old and new all over London, a city which has to move with the times and it certainly collides here!
When we reached Leadenhall Market the businesses inside were all closed, I had never imagined that they wouldn’t be open on a weekend, but it was by no means a wasted trip, we were still able to walk through the amazing building which was totally deserted!
Leadenhall Market dates back all the way to the 14th century! It started life off as a manor until it was given to the city in 1411 by Dick Whittington, lord Mayor at the time. It had already become a popular meeting place for traders and this continued and the market expanded. It is located in what was the centre of Roman London…steeped in history! The market even survived the great fire of London, which started near by, only being partially damaged.
The current structure is dated from 1881 and when you step inside it’s magical! The colours are so brilliant and the roof so impressive, it’s a beautiful place. Parts of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone were filmed here, it was used as the magical shopping street Diagon Alley, it is so easy to understand why the producers chose this place, especially if they had the same feeling as me when entering!
Now there are a mixture of High Street and boutique shops, a massive range of both independent and chain restaurants and cafes as well as bars. Some of the places also offer outdoor seating areas, although you are still under the market roof, what a lovely experience!
We continued our tour by walking along Pudding Lane, where in 1666 the Great Fire of London started at Thomas Farriner’s bakery. It is unbelievable to think that 70000 of of the 80000 people who lived in the city at that time lost their homes as a result of that fire which is thought to have burnt up to 1250 °c.
I had seen that for a small fee you can climb the 311 step spiral staircase inside the Monument to a viewing platform at the top, well it would be rude not to wouldn’t it? It’s a pretty claustrophobic climb to the top which gets more narrow as you reach the top, the steps are pretty shallow though, and all though it did get the heart pumping it is very much do able. The view from the top is nice, you can see the shard, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and the Walky Talky Building! It is worth doing if you have half an hour spare.
We wandered across London Bridge crossing the River Thames onto the south bank and followed the crowds and the amazing smell of food cooking! This lead us straight to Borough Market…this is foodie heaven! It was pretty packed when we arrived at the weekend but it is no surprise, this is an institution!
Where we entered, next to London Bridge, there were Tapas dishes being cooked outdoors, people sipping glasses of wine and pints of beer, I was being swept up by that friendly festival atmosphere again! Borough Market is London’s oldest market and has running for a thousand years, incredible! In 1754 an act of parliament stated that the market would remain an estate for the use of the local people for ever! Wow!
Street food stalls, drinks, fine foods, restaurants surround the area, I can’t put it any other way…foodie heaven! People here are really here to enjoy themselves and soak up the atmosphere, like Old Spitalfields, it is vibrant, buzzing, colour everywhere, a really exciting place to explore.
It was another place where I couldn’t stop pointing places and things out to my fiancee, when I saw a mozzarella and Parma Ham stall, that was it, I was far too excited! There really is a whole range of food available here and many of the sellers are the producers themselves, or chefs selling their own creations, people who are really passionate about their goods and what they are doing. The market is overseen by a charitable trust run by a board of volunteer trustees, and something else which is really cool about this place is the approach they have taken to waste. None of the rubbish from the market goes to landfill, the packaging is all recycled. Much of the surplus food goes to local charities and the remaining products are sent to an anaerobic digestion plant where microorganisms break down the organic material and turn it into power, fertiliser and water.
These are the places which breed creativity, they are lively, happening places where there is always something going on and no visit is ever the same as the last. We had a fantastic day exploring these places and will be returning to explore more later in the year for sure!
If you have a day free when visiting London or want to explore a different side of this awesome city then really, head to some of these places, you will not be disappointed!
Thanks for reading! Happy Travels!