London is the city of markets. There seems to be one around every corner and in every second alleyway. Two of the most popular London Markets are Camden Market and Portobello Road in Notting Hill. Each is very unique in its own way, but when you have limited time visiting somewhere, it’s sometimes hard to decide which to visit. The Loud Library has done the research and this review is here to help you decide whether visiting edgy Camden Market or vintage lover Portobello Road.
A Little History
Camden Market is located in Camden Town in the Northern part of London. The market itself started in 1974 with only 16 stalls. Today the market is made up of six different areas of which of which the Camden Lock Market and the Stables are probably the most popular. Before the site transformed into one of the most exciting trading areas in London, Camden was mainly an industrial area consisting of distilleries and factories focussed on producing gin. Although having shaken off its industrial jacket, Camden Market is still in the business of gin distilling.
Set in the elegant suburb of Notting Hill (yes like the movie), Portobello road is a true street market bursting out of its seams. The market started like most others in London selling food, however in the 1940’s more and more people started selling items other than food, including antiques. Till this day Portobello Road is best known for its antiques and unique little gems such as books, furniture and even sports apparel and the song from the classic Dinsey musical, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, is really still very relevant.
Must See / Experience at the Markets
Camden Market is huge and is the perfect place to visit on a rainy day as much of it is under roof. If you’re looking for eclectic fashion and jewellery pieces there are stall upon stall of these. A word of warning though, they are all very similar so check prices first and also check the legitimacy of the brands. Personally, I’m not a fan of knock-offs as I feel they are robbing the companies who worked hard to create the brands, so don’t buy counterfeit (unfortunately there is a lot of this at Camden).
Camden also boasts cute eccentric little shops with beautifully colourful lights and all the leather products you could ever wish for. From jackets to bags, these are beautiful and of a high quality. Definitely, the place to go for leather.
My personal favourite is the Camden Tea Shop. They mix their own tea and have the most interesting combinations. On a cold day, it’s wonderfully toasty inside their shop and you can do some complimentary tea tasting. Buy a packet of tea or a small tea accessory like a tea infuser from the friendly shop assistants and take a bit of Camden home with you.
Portobello Road is still very much a street market and it can feel never ending as you walk up and down the rows and rows of stalls. The market itself is divided into a few areas:
Second Hand: Golborne Road to Westway
Clothing & Fashion: Westway area
Household: Westway to Talbot Road
Food: Talbot Road to Elgin Crescent
Antiques: Elgin Crescent to Chepstow Villas
It’s the place to go for antiques. From silver cutlery and tea sets to old leather sports gear to antique plates and cups. It’s an antique lover’s dream and I wanted to look at every little beautiful item at every stall!
Most importantly though, Portobello Read is a booklover’s dream. Other than the small bookshops lining the streets (we couldn’t find the one from Notting Hill the movie, unfortunately) with their collections of first edition Penguin paperbacks, there are pop-up stalls everywhere. These require a little bit of digging but you can find so many little treasures, from first edition Beatrix Potter and Winnie-the-Pooh to collectable Shakespeares and other classics.
Camden Market has retained a lot of its Industrial past and still boasts exposed brick buildings. The Stables is the most popular area of the market and even if you don’t go to the shops, the building itself is beautiful. Big wooden carved doors and statues make it almost seem like a market in the Far East.
The market is also set on the Regent’s Canal which gives it a very pretty setting in the summer especially. Take a walk down Camden High Street and you’ll see how the market has expanded into the surrounding neighbourhood. The shops are literally bursting out of the front walls with huge extensions of their themes or products on the outside of the storefronts. It’s very exciting to see.
Portobello Road is best explored on a bright sunny day as its outside and what better way to spend a sunny Saturday than spending it at a market!
Notting Hill itself is well known for its beautiful colourful terraces and Portobello Road has taken a leaf out of the surrounding’s books with huge murals on the sides of buildings and beautiful front shop entrance paintings reflecting each shop. Two of the most impressive is that of London Dry Gin and Ukai restaurant.
The street is vibrant with music playing, people hackling and smells reaching up from every corner.
Like all markets, Camden has a number of really delicious stalls selling all kinds of street food from pajela to Cuiros. My personal favourite is the Cereal Killer Café in The Stables.
At the Cereal Killer Café you are actually allowed to have cereal for lunch and dinner, and the choices are endless! Choose between a plain bowl of cereal, a combination of a couple, or make up your own combination. Chocolate milk with your cereal is also encouraged! They have cereals from all over the world and the décor of the café will take you back to your 90s childhood. Spice Girl wallpaper, videotape boxes as order numbers and 90s toys and music. Feel like a kid again for an afternoon.
Portobello Road started as a food market and this is still very much part of its culture. Street food vendors are all over the place and on a sunny day you can even buy a yummy coconut drink, in an actual coconut and watch them chop it open for you.
If you’d like to eat, listen to some music and sit down after your long walk, the Acklam Village, right at the end of Portobello Road is just the place to go. We love street food with a vibe and live music so it was perfect for us. Grab a gourmet burger or cheese toasty and a craft beer or cocktail and sit down in the breakout area filled with all kinds of seating and even fake grass, almost giving it a beach feel. The music is good and the graffiti on the walls are fun enough to be seen as art and not graffiti. The perfect way to end off a day at the markets.
Which to Choose?
If you are looking for fashion items and eccentric, quirky finds, this is the place for you. Camden Market is weird and wonderful and filled to the brim with stalls and great food. If you are into commercial fashion items at slightly cheaper prices and especially leather products, this is the place to go. Be warned though it can get extremely full! We were there on a cold day and it was almost overwhelmingly packed so can only imagine what it looks (and smells) like on a sunny day. The fact that all stalls have card facilities is a plus though. Easy to get there via the bus or the tube is also good.
Overall score 7/10 (just because it’s way too full and the walkways are so narrow).
Portobello Road is definitely the favourite for us out of the two. Not sure what it would be like in the winter, but on a nice spring or summers day it’s the perfect outing. The market is huge and it can sometimes feel like it’s never going to end, but there’s something new at every stall. The items on sale here are more unique than at Camden Market and less commercialised. So, if unique and antiques are your thing, definitely opt for Portobello Road. The streets are full but you never feel overwhelmed by the number of people because the road is so wide allowing for a lot of space. One let down is that not all of the stalls have credit card facilities because they aren’t permanent so go prepared (especially in the food sections). Also very easy to get to via tube and bus.
Overall score 9/10 (unique, beautiful and great food and vibe!)