Columbia Road may be a little off the beaten track from the capital’s other tourist attractions, but for a true taste of London life, it’s certainly worth the trek. Once the pathway to carry sheep to the slaughterhouses at Smithfield, Columbia Road and its surrounding side streets are now home to around 60 independent shops housed in charming Victorian-era buildings offering a detour back in time.
On Sundays, this East London street comes alive with the jolly calls of, “Come get your peonies — three bunches for a pound,” from traders during the famous Columbia Road Flower Market. And the air is filled with the fragrant scent of cut blooms, herbs and potted plants. Come rain or shine, the crowds enthusiastically descend on the market.
During the rest of the week, it’s a more serene scene and an excellent time to casually browse the eclectic array of shops peddling art and antiques, children’s clothes, homewares, vintage goods and more. There are also plenty of places to stop for a drink or bite to eat.
Here are some of the highlights for a memorable trip down this idyllic London street.
Start (or end) your day on Columbia Road at Stretch. With early morning and late-night classes, this small, family-run yoga studio provides everything from mats to towels, so all you need to do is pack your workout gear and pop in for some poses.
A Portuguese Love Affair
Head here for the best custard tarts outside of Lisbon (brought in from nearby Taberna do Mercado) and a super selection of Portuguese home, beauty and edible wares, including olive oils, artfully packaged tinned fish, soaps and gift-worthy home treats.
Other foodie shops that are worth a look include Lily Vanilli for fresh pastries, cookies, brownies, light savory bites and coffee, and Pavilion Bakery, selling locally baked loaves, teas, pickles and preserves with a nod to Sri Lanka.
Set over two floors at 156 Columbia Road, this boutique gallery specializes in limited editions and original pieces from local street, tattoo and graphic artists. The frequently rotating collection features the likes of Ben Eine (whose work was gifted to Barack Obama from former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron) to Banksy. And if you do spy something you like, it ships worldwide.
Be sure to check out some of the other galleries while you’re here, such as Two Columbia Road for collectable furniture, art and photography, or Columbia Road Gallery — just around the corner on Ezra Street — for modern artwork, ceramics and jewelry from select local artisans.
Bob & Blossom
For one-of-a-kind clothing and toys for babies and small children, peruse this Columbia Road shop. Pretty tutus mingle with colorful bedroom wall prints, slogan T-shirts, knitted stuffed animals and wooden games — it’s a great stop for gifts.
Another good spot for kidswear is Dandy Star, where you’ll find apparel, stationery and home accessories adorned with bold prints and patterns.
In this treasure trove of an antiques shop, every surface and shelf is stacked with books, pottery, china, silverware, glassware, ornaments and more. It’s a fun place to browse, and if you build up an appetite, just go to the café at the back for a slice of cake and spot of tea.
Another vintage store to investigate is Play Vinyl, where you will find restored record players, vinyl and retro accessories. Open House carries a large selection of antique and new household and garden goods, which sprawl out invitingly into the street.
The Royal Oak
This pub has a garden out back and a cozy interior fit for tucking into some of the hearty seasonal British dishes on the main menu. We recommend booking ahead for the Sunday roast. For a taste of Spain, the family-run Laxeiro is another good option. It serves everything from filling Flower Market breakfasts to group-friendly paellas.
Getting there: the nearest Tube station is Bethnal Green, less than a 20-minute walk away. Hoxton overground station is a 10-minute walk.