I’m a big fan of markets, and none more so than ones in London. There is just a real sense of history and old world trade when you spend some time at one. Yes, some like Camden have been overrun in places with cheap tourist tat, but others like Portobello have thrived, and found an interesting and eclectic mix.
The market is located in the Notting Hill area of West London, and as noted covers a wide array of items from high end antiques, to what can be best described as rubbish with a price tag.
During the course of this article we shall cover the markets:
- What to expect
- Shopping, food, & more
- Some of my favorite locations
- How to get there, and when to go
So sit back, enjoy, and please comment below with your market insights, recommendations and stories!
History Of Portobello Market
The market has recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. Back when the market first started it comprised mainly of fruit and veg stalls, that still open daily. However, the world famous tourist attraction we know today really came about around the 1940’s and 50’s when the antique dealers started to take a footing on the famed road.
Many of the council (government run) street stalls have been passed down the generations. Talking to several of the small stall operations, they told me that it’s become a family legacy and waiting lists for pitches are in excess of 20 years! If however, you can’t wait that long, there are many privately operated arcades that branch off from the street that are an Aladdin’s Caves of wonders to stroll around.
It’s a safe bet to assume the market is in good hands and if the foot traffic is anything to go by, it shall remain so for many decades to come.
What to Expect When You Arrive At The Market
Size / Length Of The Market
The market itself is one of the biggest street markets in the world. From end to end it’s almost a mile long, with seven sections identified (that to be honest roll into each other, but are a fair guide to work from). Starting from the Notting Hill Gate end (South to North):
- New Goods
- Fruit & Veg
- Flea Market
- Golborne Mkt
- New Goods
If walking from Notting Hill Gate tube as I recommend below, you will approach the “Antiques” area of the market first. This is by far the most time consuming area with all the side antiques arcades / markets every few doors, and an overall feast for the eyes. As you continue to walk north down the hill you’ll run into food vendors, larger name brand retail shops, and can keep on going for vintage clothes.
Depending on what you’re looking for I would allow a good 3-5 hours to fully explore the market, haggle with some vendors, and enjoy some of the great street food. If you like it quiet, get there around 8am. However, if you enjoy the hustle & bustle then an 11am start will have you right in the thick of the crowds.
Varied Mix Of Vendors
As discussed come from Notting Hill Gate, you shall first hit the antiques end. There must be over 500 stalls at a wild guess when you add up all the street pitches, and ones located in the dozen or so side arcades. Many of these arcades have two floors, and include high end: furniture, watches, smalls, paintings, etc… If you can imagine it, I’m sure it’s hiding on one of these stalls!
One of the best parts about many of the London markets is the street food. Although I would rank Brick Lane, Borough, and Camden above Portobello in this respect, it’s still got a stellar array of places to eat. My personal favorite is the fresh pastry / cake stall located in front of the American Apparel shop (see pictures below).
But there is much more than just cakes and donuts. Stalls range from fruit and veg stalls, to delicious hot food such as paella.
Flea Market / Underpasses
This is the best area to get vintage clothes, such as old Barbour jackets, and mod clothes.
Tourist Items & Other Non-Antiques
Some people dislike the cheap tat found on these stall in some cases. On the one hand, I would have to agree and would love to see an entire market of cool antiques and vintage clothes. But with a market of over a mile long, and being such a tourist destination, why not have them there so people can buy a token of their day on Portobello, even if it only cost a pound!
Beyond fridge magnets and key-chains, there are some nice new items that can be found. These include tweed hats, ladies dresses, backpacks, etc…
Some Of My Portobello Top 5 Highlights
Well, to be honest, my greatest highlight is just being on the market itself. But if I had to pick a few they would be:
- Antiques sections and side arcades
- Shops including:
- Stumper & Fielding – which does great clothing from Harris Tweed jackets to Christys hats (Address – 107 Portobello)
- Antique Clock Center – housing an amazing array of wrist, pocket, and grandfather clocks (Address – 87 Portobello)
- And many more…
- The food stalls
- Live street entertainment, such as dancers and musicians
- The length of the market in one straight line! I know that’s a little strange, but others such as Camden are a big blob, and can at times be hard to navigate
How To Get There
I would personally use this address for any map / GPS searches, as it’s right at the start of the antiques (south) end that will be best for most coming from central London.
Address: 71 Portobello Road, London, W11 2QD
By London Tube
There are many ways to get to the market, but if you’re staying in central London your best bet is the tube. I personally prefer the Notting Hill Gate station on the: Central (red), Circle (yellow), and District (green) lines (see a London Tube Map here). This stop is closest to the “best” part of the market, where all the antiques are starting from the south end.
From the tube stop it’s over one mile to the end (where the only public toilets are that I know of, as a side note). See map below (click to open in Google Maps)
Alternative Transportation Methods
There are of course other methods to get to the market, which include:
- Black London Cabs
- Walking – it’s four miles from Trafalgar for example, which is a lovely walk as takes you through Hyde Park (see screenshot below). If you have the time this would be my favored way to get back to the city after you’re done, and don’t have too many bags to carry!
- Uber / Lyft
- London Buses: as far as I know these routes shall take you there 52, 7, 70, 23 or 295 buses (note this is to the Ladbroke Grove end)
- Borris Bikes
Whichever way you get there, just don’t get frustrated if you get lost. London is a mess of roads all over the place, so it’s easy to get turned around. But when that happens, you sometimes find the most unexpected and best places, as London hides some true gems in its historic streets!
When Is The Market Open
The market is open each Saturday from 8am to 5pm, which includes all the array of stalls mentioned above. But during the week several of the fruit and veg stalls are still open towards the middle of shown route.
But it’s well worth a trip down Portobello on any day of the week. One can stroll down from Notting Hill Gate tube station, as there are plenty of unique shops, large high street brands (such as Jack Wills), and great traditional London feel to experience each and every day of the week without the masses.
Portobello Market is over 150 years old, and is one of London’s great attractions. Held on every Saturday from 8am to 5pm, it’s a step back into the old world of trade, barter, and a feast for the eyes. From end to end it’s over one mile, so allow a good 3-5 hours or more to fully explore. We here at Bespoke Unit highly recommend Portobello as one of the best markets in London and possibly the world! It’s a must see on any visit to London.