This post was originally written in May 2017, and updated in July 2023 after a return visit.
Nestled in the heart of London's East End, the Columbia Road Flower Market has been a beloved Sunday tradition for both Londoners and flower enthusiasts from around the world. Every Sunday, this quaint street transforms into a botanical paradise, overflowing with an abundance of flowers, plants, and everything related to horticulture. It is a quintessentially British affair that you need to add it to your next UK itinerary!
Admittedly I am little bit obsessed with flowers and plants. I have over 60 houseplants in my home, and I buy a bouquet nearly every week of the summer at the Logan Square farmer’s market in Chicago. So I guess it should came as no surprise that I wanted to visit a flower market in London during our recent trip. And I'm so glad that I did because it was a fantastic experience! Simply the best way to start a Sunday morning.
Stepping into the Columbia Road Flower Market feels like entering a different world altogether. With its vibrant colors, aromatic scents, and lively ambiance, the Columbia Road Flower Market is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a unique and memorable experience in the capital city. Even if you’re not a flower lover like me, I can promise that you will have a fun experience at London’s Columbia Road Flower Market.
Why You Need to Visit London’s Columbia Road Flower Market
What is the Columbia Road Flower Market?
Located in the Bethnal Green neighborhood of London's East End, the Columbia Road Flower Market is a weekly flower and plant market that happens every Sunday rain or shine. It has been going on since the late 19th century, and has regained popularity over the last few decades. Plant and flower sellers will line a normally quiet Victorian street that turns into a bustling scene of activity on Sunday mornings.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Columbia Road Flower Market is the sheer variety of flora on display. As you navigate through the bustling stalls, you'll encounter a kaleidoscope of colors and scents, with every imaginable flower species vying for your attention. There were some hybrids and colors of floral species that I have never seen before. I had no idea there was such a thing as miniature pink pineapples, black roses or tri-tone hydrangeas!
The lively atmosphere is enhanced by the sounds of street musicians, adding a delightful musical backdrop to your visit. It's a place where locals and visitors come together, forging connections and celebrating the simple joys of life amidst nature's most exquisite creations
What Makes It Unique From Other Markets?
Although the name seems self-explanatory, the market experience is so much more than just flowers. The market's charm lies not only in its botanical treasures but also in the lively interactions between vendors and visitors, creating a bustling atmosphere filled with excitement and joy. Columbia Road captures a genuine snapshot of the casual side of Londoners. When I pictured a British flower market, I had this tranquil and polite affair in mind. I envisioned maybe sipping a tea and quietly walking around admiring fresh cut peonies and lilacs.
This couldn’t be further from the reality of the Columbia Road experience.
You will be heckled and shouted out by deep-voiced flower sellers — “10 pounds today, just a tenner, give me 10 pounds” and “Come on people, this is a good price” were common refrains — along the whole half mile stretch of stalls. It feels more like a meat market than flower market! The standard queuing norms that characterize the British are all but forgotten at Columbia Road Flower Market, replaced instead by assertive flower connoisseurs shoving their way to their bouquet of choice.
It seemed as though I was seeing a totally different side of Londoners! You will hear them arguing with the vendors about the flower quality. My favorite complaint that I heard during my visit was that the hydrangeas were “too open” that day.
Is it only flowers?
No, not at all! As you stroll along the cobblestone streets, you'll encounter not only flower vendors but also an eclectic mix of independent shops, art galleries, cafes, and charming boutiques. Columbia Road is home to 60 or so colorfully painted shops and cafes that serve as the backdrop for the market.
Grab a delicious Colombian coffee at Hermanos or pick up a tasty baked treat at Pavilion Bakery. You can also enjoy the outdoor terrace at Birdcage pub. Speaking of pubs, sip down a locally brewed pint in a cozy booth at the Royal Oak. For a very nice lunch, wander over to Rochelle Canteen. I featured this delightful restaurant on my Best of London restaurants list as well.
Looking to do some shopping? Treat yourself to some jazz records at Idle Moments or marvel at the bespoke Moroccan mosaic tiles at Mosaic Del Sur. Of course the flowers are the highlight, but there are plenty of other things to buy at the surrounding shops including pottery, greeting cards, clothing and antiques. It makes for a nice day of meandering and dropping a few GBPs.
Practical Details about Columbia Road Flower Market
How to get there?
Bethnal Green isn't far from Shoreditch in East London, so you could walk there if you're staying in the area. Otherwise, the nearest tube stop is probably the Hoxton stop on the Overground line (orange). Old Street station on the Northern Line (black) and Bethnal Green station on the Central Line (red) aren’t far from the market either. There are also numerous buses that stop nearby.
When is the Flower Market?
As a reminder, the market only happens on Sundays. It will happen regardless of weather, rain or shine. The market vendors will start setting up as early as 5am, but it doesn’t technically open to the public until 8:00am. It is busiest from 10:30am - 1pm so if you get there around 8 or 9, you’ll have a calmer experience. To avoid the largest crowds, get there as early as you can. It’s a popular weekend activity, so you’ll experience crowds regardless of time, but earlier is better. Plus you might catch a patio seat to sip a coffee and take in the people watching after you’re done shopping.
How much does it cost?
It is free to enter the market, and then you can decide how much you'd like to spend on flowers and plants. Post-covid, most vendors now accept contactless card payment, so cash isn't essential. However, you might snag a discount or a friendly interaction if you use cash. You can get flower bundles for as cheap as 5 pounds. If you're looking for a real bargain, your best bet it to buy when the market is winding down (around 2pm), because that’s when the traders reduce their prices to sell any remaining stock.
Go Behind the Scenes of the Flower Market
I had such a fun experience wandering through Columbia Road Flower Market. It inspired me to make a BTS video about the experience, showcasing all the noise, vendors, crowds, and of course, flowers. Have a look!
When Should You Go to Columbia Road Flower Market?
Regardless of what time of the year you visit, you will see a vibrant array plant and flower selections at Columbia Road Flower Market. Seasonality will inevitably play a factor in what flowers are available, but the assortment will be stunning nonetheless. I went in late May, so we saw a lot of peonies, roses and hydrangeas, but also lilies, lilacs and succulents. It feels like a stereotypically English affair, but in the setting of a historic and picturesque corner of London.
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Have questions about the Columbia Road Flower Market? Tell me in the comments!
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