Exploring East London: Columbia Road Flower Market

I woke up to a beautifully bright blue sky, jumped out of bed, put some fresh coffee on and got ready for the day ahead. It was one of those impeccably crisp mornings found only in spring or autumn. I’ve always loved the transitional seasons: it’s when you really stop and notice the world changing around you. Buds pushing their way tentatively out from their wintry hiding place; leaves slowly changing their colour, dehydrated and weary, falling languidly to the ground to be crunched over and waded through before disappearing altogether.

The visceral feeling I have towards these seasons is certainly down to their connection to all things flora. It felt perfect, then, on a day that felt so very autumnal, that I would be visiting the famous Columbia Road Flower Market in East London.

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We knew we were close when people with faces obscured by bunches of sunflowers and various bobbing bouquets cropped up here and there on their way home from the market. With every step toward the market the stream of people became denser and denser until it finally morphed into a veritable crowd.

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Columbia Road is a relatively small street but, as the old maxim goes, good things come in small (slightly squashed!) packages. Lined by very sweet home ware, vintage, and coffee shops, it would be a lovely place to stroll through even when the market isn’t there. Unfortunately, it’s hard to enjoy these shops when the flower market is on simply because of the sheer amount of people; it’s difficult to spend more than half a minute in front of a shop window before you are gently nudged forward by the oncoming flow of flower-laden shoppers.

Instead, it’s better to focus on the flower market that transforms the street every Sunday. Typical East End voices cry out over the crowd in an attempt to stand out from their competitors: “Stolen from Marks & Spencer’s last night!”. “Don’t take too long, darling. In half an hour these will all be gone – I had 3000 of these this morning and this is all that’s left”.

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It’s a hectic, busy place, as all markets should be. The vibrant colours and floral scents enhance the scene and can make someone who is as unknowledgeable about plants as I am want some green fingers!

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Once we had exhausted the market and bought some rather lovely flowers whose name I could not tell you, it was time for something to eat. Luckily we were in ‘trendy’ East London where there is so much choice available. Cool cafés line the streets; brunch places are packed full with everyone from young families to arty hipsters trying to eggs benedict away their hangovers. We opted for Vietnamese in the end, as we weren’t far from Kingsland Road, a street famous for its plethora of Vietnamese restaurants. A quick stroll to Shoreditch and a wander around its shops and bars, and the afternoon was already coming to an end.

Exploring London’s East End is a lovely way to spend an afternoon and something you might not get a chance to do if you don’t live in London and if you don’t have much time in the city. If you’ve been to London before, or even if you haven’t and just want to see something other than the usual tourist spots, then the East End is a really fun alternative and shows you one of the many different sides of London town.

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