shopping London’s many markets!

While most shopaholics visiting London for the first time will undoubtedly hit up Bond Street (for high-end goods), or Oxford Street for popular brand names like Topshop, Uniqlo and Zara, those-in-the-know make frequent visits instead to any number of multi-vendor markets that offer bargain-hunters just about anything under the sun… or cloud-cover as the case may be.  Some of the long-standing best bets also just happen to be our favorites:

Portobello Market:  Perhaps the best place in London to find great deals on antiques, Portobello Market has been impressing relic-fiends and kitsch-hounds for years.  But aside from all of that, what we feel makes Portobello so special, is its “peel-back-the-curtain” neighborhood feel that puts to shame so many of Hollywood’s overblown depictions of Nothing Hill.  (Um, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts don’t really shop here, but  perhaps they should?)

Yes, this is the real deal, my friends – real locals who add to Portobello by selling their wares stoopside as favored music blasts through their window.  Closer to Notting Hill Station, you’ll find the best in antiques, while further on down toward Ladbrook Grove, expect to find scads of record vendors, groovy vintage clothing and retro items from the 60s and 70s.  Set of Drifter Doug always scoured Portobello’s stalls during the 90s to pick out his best “Gentle People” duds.  (You can bet 100% of them were polyester.)

Though we have not been back in some years, we think you’re still bound to discover some greatness.  Portobello Market features best on a Saturday when antique arcades burst at the seams from about 7:00 AM until 4:00 PM!  (Be forewarned, it’ll be busy.)  Other days, expect to find fruit and vegetable vendors, and some clothing and bric-a-brac dealers setting up shop between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM.

Portobello Market - Portobello Road, London  W11 2DY, (011) 44 20 7727 7684, http://www.portobellomarket.org/

Spitalfields Traders Market:  While Portobello excels in treasured objects of yore, if you’re looking for more modern threads, funky objects d’art and other eclectic finds to impress your friends back home, we recommend Spitalfields Market, arguably the hippest of the lot.  But it didn’t start out that way.  Originally a 17th century outpost for farmers and seamstresses eager to cash-in on London’s continuing growth, this East End market’s reputation as a haven for emerging artists and clothing designers came about only within the last 20 years.  Back in the 90s, Set of Drifters Doug used Spitalfields as his bi-weekly Sunday meeting spot for friends.  And while purchasing something new (or used) was not always a necessity, checking out the artisans’ innovative ideas was!

The vibe continues to this day.  And lucky for you, it’s accompanied by a wide variety of award-winning foodstuffs that make Spitalfields the perfect Sunday Brunch on-the-go.  Almost akin to the food truck phenomenon, the varied vendors here sell everything from Indian Vegan to traditional meat pies – and usually on the cheap.  Don’t miss it.  Spitalfields packs ‘em in under that Fosters & Partners-designed glass canopy Monday through Friday from 10:00 Am until 5:00 PM and on the weekends from 9:00 Am until 5:00 PM.  Some shops and most restaurants will remain open longer.

Spitalfields Traders Market - Old Spitalfields Market, 16 Horner Square, London  E1 6EW, (011) 44 20 7375 2963, http://www.spitalfields.co.uk/markets.php#.T5GTz9mAbw0

Camden Market:  Camden Town has long been a hotspot for young tourists hoping to taste a bit of the edgy punk music scene that once flourished here.  (In fact, Set of Drifters Doug made a point to visit Camden in the 80s for a pair of good old-fashioned Doc Marten boots!  Nowadays, you’ll still find a plethora of Gothy goods, usually in the form of striped leggings for the lasses, and studded/ zippered just-about-everything-else for the lads.

A fire engulfing Camden’s horse stalls in 2008 has transformed the market just a bit.  While you’ll still find insane amounts of vintage clothes, relics and records in the neighborhood’s many second-hand stores, a number of newer high-end boutiques have also moved in.  But don’t worry if you, yourself, favor anything in black.  For the most part, Camden’s audience has remained the same.  Expect to see fellow younglings checking out the flood of funky threads, or perhaps, taking in a gig at the legendary Camden Palace.

On our most recent visit, we picked up some cool “artisan” Star Wars T-shirts as well as a two-tone rocker wig that has come in handy more times than we care to remember!  Hey, now that Doc Marten’s are back in vogue, perhaps another visit to Camden Market is in order!  (Though many boutiques, stalls and shops are open seven days a week, keep in mind that the choice indoor fashion market at the Electric Ballroom is only opens on Sundays, while alternating Saturdays play host to film/ CD record fairs.)

Camden Market - Chalk Farm Road, London  NW1 8AH, (011) 44 20 7485 5511, http://www.camdenlock.net/, http://camdenlockmarket.com/stalls.php, and http://www.electricballroom.co.uk/markets/markets.html

Berwick Street Market:  While the other venues mentioned above seem to draw more vendors hocking clothes, artwork and housewares, Central London’s Berwick Street Market is the place for fresh foodstuffs, primarily fruits and veggies.  Serving residents and local restaurants alike, Berwick had its starts in the 18th century fabric trade.  But as times changed in Soho, so did Berwick.  These days, it’s a busy, energetic thoroughfare of freshness!  (It was here during the 90s that Set of Drifter Doug visited almost on a daily basis to stock up for his night’s dinner.)

Nearby media types flock to Berwick on their lunch breaks for organic breads, cheese, fresh fish and sausage.  Since many of the products are direct from area farms, they are not irradiated, and therefore are perfect for farm-to-table style cooking!  What tasty treat will you discover?  Let us know on your next visit, but hurry.  We hear a newly-announced development project threatens the historical market.

Set of Drifters tip:  A number of great record stores also find their home here.  Some of our favorites include Reckless Records and Sister Ray.  (See “Soho” below for even more.)  Berwick Street Market is open daily from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM.

Berwick Street Market - 1 Berwick Street, Westminster, London  W1F 0PH, (011) 44 20 7641 2675

Reckless Records - 30 Berwick Street, London  W1F 8RH, (011) 44 20 7437 4271, http://www.reckless.co.uk/

Sister Ray - 34 Berwick Street, London  W1F 8RP, (011) 44 20 7734 3297, http://www.sisterray.co.uk




Soho stand-outs

Having lived in London for over a decade, Set of Drifter Doug has compiled more than a simple list of local haunts he deems “MUST-worthy.”  It just so happens that many of these are found in Soho, the eclectic centralized enclave that served as Doug’s stomping grounds for the majority of his “Big Smoke” epoch.  What follows is just a short list of some of Doug’s Soho favorites.  And since London is not necessarily the cheapest place to visit, many of the options chosen below are also good for those of you trying to stay within a budget!

On The Beat:  Need to quench that weird, old dusty record fix while in the center of the West End?  Tucked away on a cute little hidden street leading from Tottenham Court Road (just behind Oxford), On The Beat has been around since the late 90s. 

Back in those days, Set of Drifter Doug would pass by at least once a day, popping in to see if there were any new vinyl gems in stock.  Honestly, you just never know what you’re going to find here, and that’s exactly the beauty of this place.  Easy Listening, Punk, New Wave, Disco or Funk.  You name it, they sell it!  Feeling friendly?  Tell them Dougee Dimensional sent you!

On The Beat - 22 Hanway Street, Marylebone, London  W1T 1UQ, (011) 44 20 7637 8934 ‎

Gosh!:  The name pretty much says it all, or does it?  Perhaps paying homage to its former life as a sexy lingerie shop, Gosh! is actually a comic and book store, famous in the neighborhood for proffering pulpy graphic novels, edgy art tomes and pop culture coffee table reading du jour.  While within spitting distance to the former “Raymond's Review Bar” on Walker’s Court, have no fear.  The area is all cleaned up nowadays.  If you’ve hit the corner of Peter Street off Wardour, you’re in the right place.

Gosh! - 1 Berwick Street, London  W1F 0DR, (011) 44 20 7636 1011, http://www.goshlondon.com/


We also recommend:

Beyond Retro (for more information, see "goodies" in Brighton) - 58-59 Great Marlborough Street, London  W1F 7JY, (011) 44 20 7434 1406, http://www.beyondretro.com/en/

Muji - 187 Oxford Street, London  W1D 2JY, (011) 44 20 7437 7503, http://www.muji.eu/

Uniqlo - 170 Oxford Street, London  W1D 1NQ, (011) 44 20 7307 9671, http://www.uniqlo.com/uk/shop/170_oxford_street.html

Phonica Records - 51 Poland Street, London W1F 7LZ, (011)  44 20 7025 6070, http://www.phonicarecords.com/