Just beyond the financial center of London lies the East End. Once home to all sorts of criminal shenanigans, these days the area is full of artists, cafes, galleries and very interesting little streets and markets. One of these is Columbia Road.
What is most unusual about the street is that every one of the sixty or so shops along the street is independently run – in a country dominated by chain stores lining every high street this is quite a gem. But don’t go heading down there for a shopping spree on just any day of the week. Most of the businesses (except some of the cafes) are closed Monday to Thursday, opening for the weekend trade from Friday to Sunday. Sunday is the really popular (and crowded) day to visit because this is when the Flower Market is on.
The street is lined with stalls of plants and cut flowers, the air is heavy with their scent and loud with the yells of the flower sellers, especially towards 3pm when they close and the bargain buys are available. The place you’ll find the longest queue is Treacle where the cup cakes are simply gorgeous, and also delicious. If you’re looking to find traditional English baking, this is the place to go.
One of the best things about Columbia Road is the authentic, homemade feel of so much of what is for sale. Artists have their studios here and on weekends they open little shops selling their art, or cards, or clothing, or jewelry. It’s a proper community. Not far away are other famous icons of the East End: Brick Lane and Spitalfields. Brick Lane also has markets and art and many, many curry restaurants. Spitalfields Market was recently renovated and lost much of its old market charm but it’s still worth a visit.