All the anticipation accumulated during these last few months before the Games began has given way to a thriving, festive atmosphere in London. Tourists from every corner of the world fill the streets, bars and hotels, and the stores are as full as if it were Christmas. Knightsbridge, Covent Garden and Oxford Street are arguably the top spots in London for high-end shopping, but there’s a whole other world beyond the fashionable boutiques and name-brand clothing. Flea and street markets have been around for decades now and are a popular weekend activity for the young and hip -- but since there are so many in London, it can be difficult to find the cool ones. Whether you’re looking for a unique piece of jewelry, a funky T-shirt, or a vintage dress, you’re sure to find it in one of them -- check out our favorite markets in London and get ready to spend some pounds!
Shop: The Camden Markets
The Camden Markets are a cluster of adjoining retail markets in Camden Town, northwest of central London. Fixed stores and pop-up stalls offer everything from vintage clothes, to shoes, to music and books. It opens seven days a week, but Saturday and Sunday are the most popular and fun days. The Camden Stables Market is a historic market bursting with vintage clothing, antiques, collectables, and food stalls. The Camden Lock features arts and crafts, jewelry and a wide variety of books. For great fashion items, as well as crafts and food, head to Camden Lock Village. And if what you want to take back home is an assortment of souvenirs, the Iverness Street is the place to go.
Sleep: Ambassadors Bloomsbury
The 100-room Ambassadors Bloomsbury is located in the historic literary heart of London, a 20-minute walk from the Camden Markets, and near the London Euston tube station, which is two stops from Camden Town. Beyond the convenient location, this hotel also offers bright rooms with crisp white linens and flat-screen TVs. Bathrooms are sleek and modern, and the stylish lobby offers free apples and filtered water. Number Twelve is the popular on-site bar and restaurant, serving three delicious meals a day along with traditional afternoon tea. This hotel offers good value for the location, especially with free Wi-Fi and a small fitness center.
Shop: Portobello Road Market
We’ve all seen this historic market on movies; sung traditional songs that praise it, and seen photos of friends posing next to the hidden gems they found among piles of other unique objects. But it’s still one our favorite spots for browsing through narrow paths lined by gorgeous antiques. Portobello is the world’s largest antiques market and a major attraction in London, so it can get crowded -- but it’s totally worth having to sometimes push your way through the hordes for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. If you need a break, just wander off to a quieter side street in Notting Hill, one of the most charming areas in London. For a somewhat more relaxed shopping experience, the stores open Monday through Saturday too.
Sleep: The Hempel Hotel
Created by acclaimed British designer Anouska Hempel more than a decade ago, this boutique hotel features a unique, Zen-inspired vibe that incorporates minimalist decor and a neutral color scheme. Despite the innovative design, rooms are showing some wear and tear -- but rates are fairly reasonable considering the hotel's exclusivity (Michael Jackson once stayed, and stars such as Keanu Reeves have reportedly been spotted). Also, don’t miss its relaxing Zen Garden, which was part of the film set for “Notting Hill”.
Shop: Greenwich Market
The Greenwich Market is located 20 minutes from central London, but it’s absolutely worth the trip. It’s not only steeped in history, but it’s also one of the most fascinating markets in the capital city. Hundreds of Londoners and tourists flock to this covered market for its original artworks, handmade jewelry, toys, clothes and antiques. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday, and there’s a designated day for each type of merchandise, so check the market’s website before heading there. The oldest enclosed Royal Park, Greenwich Park, is just outside the market, which can make the trip to Greenwich a relaxed full-day getaway. Just note that the Park is hosting a couple of Olympic events and large parts of it will be closed to the public until August 4.
Sleep: Crowne Plaza London – The City
The Crowne Plaza has a somewhat awkward placement in London's financial district, but it is near a train station, which makes it getting to the market a fairly easy task. Its chic, modern rooms, proximity to popular sights, and unique perks -- such as a special "sleep packet" curated by a New York doctor to aid in a good-night's sleep -- make for a good value stay for leisure and business travelers alike.
Shop: Brick Lane Market
Even though restaurant and shops are open seven days a week, the best day is arguably Sunday, when the streets fill with outdoor stalls (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and people. There’s always a festive atmosphere here, with impromptu music shows and performances, colorful ethnic food spots, and lots of deal-hawkers roaming around. Second-hand wares, bric-a-brac and kitsch items are the highlight here, and though bargains are hard to find, there’s always a few out there somewhere. You just need to be patient (and fast!) enough.
Sleep: Apex City of London Hotel
The Apex City of London Hotel is a contemporary, mid-size chain property located a 15-minute walk or a short tube ride from Brick Lane. All 179 rooms have warm lighting, big flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, and bathrooms with separate soaking tubs and walk-in showers. The sleek interior design continues in the lobby and in Addendum Restaurant, which serves seasonal fare and has outdoor seating. Small touches (such as a rubber ducky for the tub) make this property feel like more than a typical chain hotel.
Shop: Petticoat Lane Market
The Petticoat Lane Market has been operating since the mid-1800’s, and has now hundreds of stalls open Monday through Sunday (closed on Saturday). During the week the market is much smaller, but come Sunday and the party begins. You can find everything from clothes to household ware to leather goods, but women’s fashion is the star here. This is not the place to go if you’re looking for original vintage or unique items, but it’s a great place for buying cheap everyday objects and clothes. There are several other very interesting bazaars within walking distance -- including Columbia Street Flower Market and historic Old Spitalfields Market -- so save a long morning for your shopping spree, and make sure to pack your most comfortable walking shoes.
Sleep: The Montague on the Gardens
The 100-room Montague on the Gardens is a bit larger than some of London's other boutique hotels, but its unique character, abundance of thoughtful extras, and variety of lounge and dining spaces create a distinct appeal. Being a member of the Red Carnation Group means well-trained staff and luxury standards, making the Montague an unsurprisingly solid boutique establishment. There's no pool or spa, and the fitness room in painfully small, but its location 4 tube stops from Petticoat Lane and its neighboring markets makes it a great pick for those who want to shop till they drop.