The Columbia Road Flower Market has been a long-time love of Londoners dating back to 1869. You’ll find the finest quality plants and flowers, along with side streets filled with fantastic cafes, delis, vintage stalls, and galleries. This flower lover’s paradise is the best way to spend a slow Sunday in the East End.
The History of the Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road has an interesting history and has really come up in the world. Originally, it was a path used to transport cattle down to Smithfield’s slaughterhouses. Not the best beginnings. And by the mid-19th century the whole area had become slums. Even worse.
Luckily, in 1869, philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts bought the land and redeveloped it into a neo-gothic marketplace, to feed the poor of the East End. Unfortunately it was unpopular with the locals though and the market was demolished in 1960. More unrest.
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Then in the 1970s, there was a rapid decline of markets in London, but the locals in the area fought back for the market to return. When it finally did, it initially ran on Saturdays, but because of the East End’s many Jewish vendors, it later switched to Sundays.
After all that chaos, now Columbia Road is an oasis in the East End. It overflows with bucketfuls of beautiful flowers, as market vendors line the narrow streets with houseplants, bulbs, herbs and shrubs.
About the Market
You can find the Columbia Road Flower Market in London’s East End from 8am-2pm on Sundays, where 2nd and 3rd generation flower vendors start setting up as early as 4am for the rush of Londoners out for their floral delights.
Midday used to be elbow to elbow with locals and tourists alike, searching for the perfect house plant. But nowadays you have to queue to enter the market. The entrance is at the Shoreditch end of Columbia Road, with the queue running through Ravenscroft Park.
You’ll see wait times signposted and you can expect to wait up to 30 minutes. It’s a much different feel than it’s been for the past couple hundred years, but it does mean the shopping experience is a bit more relaxed. You might think that’s a good thing or you might not.
You can also now pay for your flowers and foliage with the tap of your card, but you can be sure that cash is still a preferred form of payment. And cash in hand will more likely land you a better bargain. Make sure and shop around and don’t be afraid of bartering.
The way out of the market is at the top of the road or you can loop back around a signposted route to return to Shoreditch. If you do loop back, make sure and check out the handful of vintage and plant shops behind the market street.
Meet the Market Traders
A. E Harnett & Sons
This family is based in Stock, Essex and has been in business for over 100 years. Being 4th generation growers, they supply the finest quality plants and flowers to retail and wholesale customers at the Columbia Road Flower Market.
JD Succulents & Cacti Ltd
This beautiful mother and daughter duo have specialised in succulents and cactus for many years at the flower market, and provide friendly service with their variety of unusual goods.
Lyndon is a kiwi by birth and started his career in New Zealand, working with various environmental agencies. He moved to the UK over 30 years ago, where he’s become an accomplished nurseryman and landscaper.
Lyndon has built up the eclectic boutique nursery in North London called Leahurst Nurseries, described as a “hidden gem.” It’s existed at its current site for over 65 years. Lyndon’s family run the nursery and stock an eclectic range of plants, while also offering bespoke landscaping services.
Lyndon’s stall at the Columbia Street Flower Market is a must-see for any true plant enthusiast, which reflects the ever-evolving horticulture industry.
Rainforest Relics are original pieces of recovered driftwood sourced from below water. They provide a fantastic range of driftwood sculptures, wooden item and unusual relics. Theses sculptures and relics will enhance your garden and home and are fabulous to gaze upon at the market.
Rathbone Flowers is a family-run florist based in Dagenham, featuring floral displays, funeral tributes, helium balloons, pot plants and house plants.
The Flower Stall Market Square
Retailers of fresh cut flowers on Columbia Road, the Flower Stall Market Square provides the best quality and variety for a reasonable price. They actually buy the bulk of their flowers from the live Dutch auction in Holland as well as directly from the Holland growers. They provide flowers for the general public and for wholesalers.
Eating and Drinking Around the Market
The great thing about the location of the flower market is that the flowers aren’t the only attraction. Columbia Road and the side streets surrounding it have plenty of quirky coffee shops, delicatessens, bakeries and restaurants.
The Birdcage is a place where the locals of the East End actually co-exist with the hipsters, both equally eager to indulge in the true history of London. With wild weekend karaoke and quiet times throughout the week, this hotspot is a great place to pop in for a pint following the Columbia Road Flower Market. The pub also now has a cute outdoor bookable terrace so you can plan ahead.
The Royal Oak
The Royal Oak operates as an ‘early pub,’ serving the traders and customers of the Columbia Road Flower Market. It’s close association with the market has it opening its doors from 9am on Sunday mornings. With its rich history, the Royal Oak has been featured in quite a few wartime and gangster films so if your looking for a placed steeped in history, this is your place.
Sunday breakfasts and brunches are popular at Laxeiro, with a long menu of authentic Spanish staples. Featuring paella, morcilla, pisto, fabada and meat-free snacks, this place proves to be popular amongst the Columbia Road crowd.
Cafe Columbia in London’s East End is a tiny family-run cafe, selling simple breakfast bagels to go for under £10. The shop has been in business for 3 generations and is only open one day a week, on Sundays! This means everything is always freshly prepared and the bagels are warm and soft.
Each bagel is stuffed with yummy ingredients such as mozzarella, tomato, bacon, sausage, egg, lettuce and sprouts. This is sure to keep you full as you wander through the flower market.
The Pavilion Bakery was opened in 2016 and is a cosy space for a delicious cinnamon bun and chai tea. With original Victorian tiles and flooring, which is heated by an industrious log burner, you’ll feel right at home. The Bakery is open 7 days a week and offers sourdough bread, pastries and take away lunches. And of course a selection of coffees, chais and teas to your taste.
Stringray Globe Pizzeria
If the weather happens to be a bit dodgy on the Sunday you visit the market, head over to the Stringray Globe Pizzeria, where they have a heated, covered terrace to help you out. This independent, family-run Italian restaurant and bar has been in business for over 20 years now and are always ready to serve the Columbia Road Flower Market patrons.
Other Things to Do Around the Columbia Street Flower Market
Go Vintage Shopping
B Southgate is located in the heart of the Columbia Road Flower Market. Ben has been trading since 2003, with a stock ranging from 1900-1950. Find large-scale storage pieces to armchairs and small desk lamps, as well quirky useful things for the home.
Wander Through Brick Lane
Brick Lane is one of East London’s best-known spots for buzzing markets, eclectic vintage shops, and funky street art. There really is something for everyone on Brick Lane, as you walk through the tantalizing smells of food and soak up the vibrant energy.
And although this area was once associated with the likes of Jack the Ripper and his infamous murder locations, Brick Lane is known considered an ethnic, artistic hub that millions of people explore all year long.
Visit the Museum of Home
The Museum of the Home was previously known as the Geffrye Museum and is an interesting museum to visit in London, where you’ll explore the concept of the home from 1600 to the present day.
With premium installations and home galleries, you’ll experience room and gardens through time, that have all been recently renovated for your pleasure. The Museum of Home is free to visit and is open Tuesday through Sunday for a glimpse into the past.
Stop by the Nomadic Community Gardens
Continue your flower and plant expedition by stopping by the Brick Lane Nomadic Community Gardens. This private area is open to the public daily and you’ll even find street art, a cafe, and a library amid the vegetable plots.
Directions can be tricky. From Columbia Road go to Brick Lane. From Brick Lane, go through to Allen Gardens, take a left through the underpass and you’ll see the gardens. Or alternatively, cross the footbridge from Cheshire Street and you’ll see a door opposite the bottom steps to the gardens.
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and UnNatural History
This museum was described in The Fortean Times as,
“the most wonderful collection of strange objects ever assembled under one roof, the modern equivalent of some 17th century kunstkammer, a collection of objects assembled at a whim on the basis of their aesthetic or historical appeal with little to link one wonder to another and no attempt at explanation.”
The curious presentation is the lifelong project of the artist and writer Viktor Wynd and the subject of a monograph published by Prestel, called Viktor Wynd’s Cabinet of Wonders. Amongst the shrunken heads, skeletons, dodo bones, erotica and adult paintings, I must say they have a fabulous cocktail bar.
Walk Around Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields is a food and art market, as well as a trader’s market. It began operating in 1666 after the Great Fire of London, where the market stands today. Situated in the Tower Hamlets and surrounded by Lamb Street, Old Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street and Bishops Square.
Being one of London’s oldest markets, Spitalfields Market is open 7 days a week, where you’ll find an array of independent stall holders with hand-crafted and hard-to-find pieces that are sure to make your visit memorable.
Explore Bethnal Green
Just up the street from Columbia Road Flower Market is Bethnal Green, one of the city’s numerous districts to undergo a dramatic transformation in recent years. Once a gritty, rough, run-down area, the past couple of decades have brought with it quite a few hipster bars, trendy restaurants, art galleries, and even a boutique hotel.
But despite the spread of gentrification, Bethnal Green has remained authentically East End, with family-run restaurants and pubs not too far off.
The Columbia Road Flower Market can be found in Bethnal Green near Brick Lane and Spitalfields. The nearest Overground stops are Hoxton or Shoreditch High Street, and are 5-10 minute walks. The nearest Tube station is Old Street.
The Columbia Road Flower Market is a destination for any traveler to London or local alike. Being one of the top London attractions, you don’t want to miss this fragrant, flowering market, steeped in rich history. And with so much more to do in the area, the End End has never had more appeal than it does today. Don’t forget your trolley or oversized bags!
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.