Visiting Columbia Road Flower Market in east London is always a colourful experience. The market is only open on Sundays, and it's best to get there early in order to avoid the crowds. The market does get so busy later in the day that it's a struggle to walk down the narrow street. However, I recommend an early Sunday morning visit, followed by breakfast or brunch in one of east London's trendy cafes or restaurants. A visit to Brick Lane's Up-Market (Sundays only) or Spitalfields Market/Sclater Street Market can also be enjoyed as they are a short walk away. You can also combine this with checking out the lastest street art in the area. On this occassion, I stopped off at Bill's in Hoxton Square for brunch. Read on to see and learn more.
I last visited Columbia Road Market a few weeks ago now. The spring flowers were starting to bloom, and I love daffodils and tulips. Daffodils are my favourite spring flower. I used to love tulips as we had some that would always grow in our yard each year, and we also had more daffodils, and they have remained a firm favourite of mine.
Columbia Road is lined with narrow terraced Victorian-style houses and some hidden alleyways, and it's at the top of Brick Lane. I'd often walk here during my lunch breaks when I worked on Brick Lane, and it's a fun place to watch people. I have seen and heard all sorts of conversations in thick east-end London accents take place here. It made me feel like I was in an episode of Eastenders with the accents. I'm certain that these generations of families who grew up here are still living here, but I'm sure that they will soon be chased out as prices of property increase and the average person is pushed out because it's too expensive to rent/buy here.
The shop fronts are very colourful, but this cannot be fully appreciated when the market is going on as it's such a tight squeeze down this already-narrow street. Bring on the flower vendors on both sides, and it's a little congested.
During the week, it's fairly empty, and most of the shops are shut. It's quiet, except for the few local people seen wandering around and catching up with each other.
However, the place literally comes to life and attracts so many people every Sunday. The flower sellers arrive very early to start selling their plants and cut flowers. Real bargains can be had, but the best of the deals may happen later in the day when the sellers do not want to take their left-over or picked-over flowers home.
A favourite of mine is always the blooming cacti. I wish my cactus would blossom. I think they need certain conditions to bloosom, though.
Every type of plant or flower that you could think of is sold here or sold at certain times of the year.
I saw some beautiful blue roses when I visited. Along with this collection of roses, I saw a mixture of red, white and blue roses that would have looked perfect for (1) a celebration of Britain or (2) American Independence Day.
I also saw some cream-coloured roses with a pink marbled effect.
And these flowers were pretty.
The flowers were so beautiful, and I wished that I could have taken some home with me, but I'm not so sure that they would have lasted the journey home. Hopefully I will be in London soon, so the possibility of buying some will not be so impossible.
After I was finished admiring the flowers, I walked down Ravenscourt Road to Hackney Road. My goal was to look at street art and then visit Hoxton Square to go to Bill's Restaurant for brunch. Bill's is a restaurant chain. It started out as a grocer's, but they were hit by the flood of 2000 (I remember those floods!), and after they had to rebuild, they added the cafe. The cafe has grown and expanded, and they serve good food as well as their own products in their shop. Their restaurants can be found all over the UK now (well, they are in Cardiff and Glasgow but not Northern Ireland yet), and they are in approximately a dozen locations across London.
The Shoreditch (Hoxton) branch is a large building on Hoxton Square and is bright with a European-style atmosphere. Groups of chillis were hanging to try, and the tables/chairs were vintage-looking.
I was shown my seat, which wasn't the one above but located toward the entrance and by the nice large windows. I had walked around quite a bit and had had an early start, so my first purchase was a smoothie. I cannot locate it on the menu now, but it had strawberry in it, and it gave me a boost of energy.
I also ordered the pink lemonade. This was my breakfast, and I didn't have anything before leaving the house earlier that morning, and bear in mind that it takes just over two hours to get to Columbia Road from where I currently live. The drink was much-needed.
My food did arrive, and I had ordered the blueberry pancakes. These came with slices of banana and strawberry and maple syrup. I also asked for a side of bacon (to be put onto the pancakes, of course). Maple syrup, American-style pancakes, and bacon go evry well together. The pancakes were good, and I did really struggle to eat them all.
After my fill, I walked through Shoreditch and Brick Lane to check out the latest on the street art scene. Also, combine a visit to the Columbia Road Flower Market with a visit to Brick Lane Sunday Up-Market (and Spitalfields Market or Sclater Street) and brunch or lunch. This is a perfect way to spend a Sunday in London if you're looking for something to do.
Note that Brick Lane's Market is Sundays only. Yes, there is a smaller market on Saturdays now, but the big day is Sundays, and part of the road is closed off to prevent cars from passing. Sclater Street (off Brick Lane) also has a little market, and Spitalfields Market is open every day. I've been stopped by tourists many times when I was working on Brick Lane, asking where the market was, so make sure that you do visit on Sundays and not during the week. Also, Columbia Road Flower Market is only open on Sundays. Most of the shops on the road are also shut every day except the Sundays. Both Brick Lane and Columbia Road markets can be easily done in half a day at a slow pace, so go ahead and spend some time looking down roads immediately off Brick Lane for street art, and combine with a trip to Poppie's Fish & Chips (write-up to come), Rosa's Thai (write-up to come), coffee and sweet treats at The Antishop or Spitalfield's Market.