London is bursting at its seams with landmarks and traditionally dressed regimental guards trying not to smile in your selfies—but that’s not all it has to offer. Beyond Big Ben, and past Piccadilly, lies an outdoor market scene that can’t be beat. Who knew that some of the world’s most fascinating markets were just across the pond!

Not sure where to start? Never fear—we’ve rounded up three of the world’s most fascinating markets, all easily accessible by the London “tube.” (Pronounced “choob,” if you want to sound like a local.)

1. Covent Garden

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Present day Covent Garden is a magnet for tourists with its array of quirky shops, seemingly round-the-clock street theater performances, and countless outdoor cafes and restaurants. Its North Hall is home to the arcade-covered Apple Market, but you won’t find apples for sale here. The name is a reference to the site’s fruit and vegetable origins, with its fascinating collection of British crafts, jewelry, and leather goods. To the South is the ever changing Jubilee Market where you’ll find antiques on Mondays, clothes through the week, and more crafts on the weekend.

Allow some time to pause in the cobblestoned West piazza to marvel at jugglers, musicians, and dancers as they entertain the crowds in front of St. Paul’s church (not St. Paul’s Cathedral), or take in the view from the balcony of the Punch & Judy pub over a pint of “bitter.”

Suitably refreshed and energized, it’s time to practice your market banter or, alternatively, meander through the shady South Hall Courtyard as you’re soothed by its continuous soundtrack of classical music by request.

The East Colonnade has a delightful variety of stalls offering up sweets, unique soaps, children’s clothing, and even a magician! This whole area is alive with distractions and delights.

On its outskirts, Covent Garden borders onto several fascinating independent shopping and dining venues such as Neal’s Yard–a hidden gem with a healthy bakery, delicious ice-cream parlor and tearoom–and Neal Street, a must visit for all shoe junkies. You know who you are!

From bric-a-brac to Beethoven, from pints to Pinot–Covent Garden has something for every traveler. When night falls, don’t miss skipping through neighboring Trafalgar and Leicester Squares like so many UK-version Monopoly pieces before you!

2. Old Spitalfield’s Market

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East in the London skyline, across the River Thames (the ‘h’ is silent as in gherkin) stands a big shiny gherkin (the ‘h’ is silent as in Thames). Not much farther beyond London’s most famous vegetable-like skyscraper, lies the world-famous Old Spitalfields Market. Hop off at the Liverpool Street tube stop and take the five minute walk to this fully-restored, award winning, covered marketplace. The name derives from the word “hospital”–rather than any saliva-related slang term–and dates back to before the 1666 Great Fire of London when thousands of displaced Londoners camped out on the “Spital Fields.”

Today, the site is an historic and vibrant reminder of Victorian era architecture encapsulated in a modern day market square. Old Spitalfields is open for business seven days a week, but it’s busiest Thursdays through Sunday. The content of the stalls varies depending on the day of the week, with Thursdays dedicated to antiques, Saturdays dedicated to a theme, and Sundays dedicated to General Market stalls. Music buffs should time their visits for the first and third Fridays of the month, when Old Spitalfields turns into a haven of collectible vinyl.  The second and fourth Fridays of each month are dedicated to fashion and art.  Fabulous!

Throughout the year, Old Spit also plays host to a series of pop-up events that have included Vintage Fairs, African Market Day, and Designers/Makers Day. The latter has been such a favorite that it now pops up every third Saturday and Sunday of the month. Designer’s Market promotes fresh new talents and their innovative creations, encouraging local arts students to participate and contribute. This is stuff you won’t find anywhere else–assuming, of course, that the students can crawl out of their beds to market on a Sunday morning!

3. Camden Lock Market

 Will Rodrigues/Shutterstock

Will Rodrigues/Shutterstock

Heading North to Camden Town, prepare for another amazing London scene!

Set on top of the Regent’s Canal at one of the city’s last active twin-lock systems, Camden Lock is an expansive collection of markets offering arts and crafts, bric-a-brac, antiques, fashion, fun, and food.

To ensure all the vendors are open, weekends are the prime time to visit but if you’re willing to risk a few closed stalls, weekdays are much quieter and still worthwhile. Be aware–on Sundays, the Camden Town subway has an exit-only policy in deference to the area’s popularity, so when it’s time to head home, just pop along to nearby Mornington Crescent or Chalk Farm tube stations instead.

The Camden Lock Market area is comprised of six main sections.To the East is Camden Lock Village, the quintessential market offering a myriad of goods and plenty of places to plop down, snack, and people watch. Inverness Street, formerly a local produce market, has now re-invented itself to cater more to visitors, and Camden High Street’s Electric Ballroom, nightclub by night (obviously), and indoor market by day is a must-see. Channel your inner rocker as you follow in the footsteps of Electric Ballroom alumni like punk rock’s Sid Vicious, funk rock’s Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Vegas rockers, The Killers, as you pour over the venue’s great collection of vintage music and clothing.

Next up, chat with artists in The Lock, browse second-hand goods and antiques amidst the arches of the old horse hospital known as The Stables, or try on vintage clothing on Buck Street. Wherever you roam, you’re sure to build up an appetite for the dizzying array of food served up in the Global Kitchen in the West Yard.This may well be the best selection of street food in London!

Are you “in the market” to tell us about your favorite markets?

Tell us in the comments about your favorite fairs, most bizarre bazaars, or secret street-side stalls from around the globe, and let us know where we should boldly blog next!


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About The Author

Brian Lees is a Content Writer and Editor with 21 years of experience in the travel industry and a lifetime of personal traveling memories. Originally from Scotland, Brian is a big fan of soccer, family, friends, and food. He's now happily settled on South Shore Long Island with a wife, 2 kids, and a dog to keep him busy! Between trips to Jones Beach, he's happy to keep the CheapOair blog filled with travel insights for you all.