I’m not sure why I’ve never written a proper post on the East London street made famous by it's old flower market. Sure, I’ve mentioned it in passing but I've never gotten around to a whole post dedicated to what is undoubtedly one of my favourite places in London. I lived just off Columbia Road for two and a half years and absolutely adored it. A busy, bustling house filled with beautiful and hilarious housemates. Where we always had flowers, the biggest tree we could find at Christmas, and a glass of wine was never far away. Where too many mid-week drinks at the Royal Oak was a frequent occurrence and too much karaoke at the weekend would keep us awake. The 'Columbia Road girls' who appeared on a cooking show (the less said about that the better)...
My love affair with Columbia Road started on my first weekend in London. My old friend Emma said to me, "I think you’ll really like it" as we walked down Bethnal Green Road. I couldn’t believe such a glorious place existed. As a girl who grew up with a big rose-filled garden in New Zealand and home was always filled with flowers, it was a dream come true to find a flower market in the East End. I grew up learning all the names of the flowers and plants in the garden with my very green-thumbed grandparents. I even won the Flower Show Cup at primary school. (Yes, we had such a thing. It was the highlight of sports’ day – which I did my best to get out of.) It's fair to say, like my sister, I have inherited the gene for all things green and flowery. I was lucky enough, after a couple of years in different London flats, to find my dream (well, almost) house share just off Columbia Road.
A few happy years later, I now only live a 15-minute walk away and if Sunday is looking quiet, a stroll to Columbia Road is always top of my to-do list. Now we have a little garden I buy as many plants as I can carry back home, usually a bouquet or two and a coffee. The ever-changing seasons are so visible at the markets. Spring = bulbs galore and cherry blossom. Summer brings roses, glorious dahlias and perfect peonies. Autumn = orange blooms for Halloween, and winter brings Christmas trees, bunches of cotton and vibrant red berries.
I will always love rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning for a coffee, a bunch of flowers and a stroll around the vintage stalls and shops before the heaving crowds descend. The wonderful little shops where I will always find the perfect present. The hilarious long-time stall holders. The cakes at Lily Vanilli. The teacups at Vintage Heaven. The gorgeous mosaics outside the school. If I'm feeling glum, the Mr always knows a trip to Columbia Road will make it better.
It pays to get there super early to avoid the crowds or, if you'd like a bargain bunch of blooms go about 2pm in winter or 3pm in spring/summer when the stallholders are selling everything they have left cheap. For a look around the shops, get there early, or better yet, go on a Saturday when most of the shops are open and there are no crowds. The late night evenings in the lead up to Christmas are equally crowd but loads of fun with chestnuts being roasted, carol singers and mulled wine for sale. Perfect for gift shopping. It's so pretty all lit up at night! And if it snows...magical.
Columbia Road, you hold a very special place in my heart.
Columbia Road Flower Market is on every Sunday, rain or shine, 8am til 3'ish. You can find out more about Columbia Road and how to get there over here.
Photos by Luke and me