Everything in the universe is signalling for you to stay in. A cursory glance outside the window reveals a curtain of grey bleakness, there’s leftover pizza in the fridge downstairs, e4 is showing re-runs of Peep Show and the bed is just so big, so warm, so… there. But if you really want to know the perfect way to idle a Sunday away in London, head East to Colombia Road – home to the famous Flower Market.
Nestled between council estates off Hackney Road, don’t be alarmed at the lack of signage to the market. All you need to do is follow the trail of smug couples, who arrived early to avoid the crowds and get first dibs, striding past carrying bundles of flowers and potted trees. And maybe, like last weekend, you’ll hear the distant strains of a haunting bluegrass melody singing on a guitar that’ll draw you in like a siren – towards the dangerous possibility of whacking down an extortionate deposit on a nearby studio flat, just so you can walk round the corner and call Colombia Road your local. Because you will want to call Colombia Road your local once you’ve been. Despite its urban setting, the market has a village-like charm, with its unique quirky mix of shops and absence of ubiquitous chains.
Arrive just before midday and you can soak up the the market at its cacophonous best. Wide eyed tourists with their Canon MKII necklaces, sweet old dears on their bikes, red-lipsticked girls with sharp dark bobs, hipsters with their handlebar taches, trendy middle class couples with their kids and adorable terrier dogs in tow all surge down the middle adorned on either side by swathes of colourful delphiniums, anemones and lisianthus. The sheer assortment and beauty of these flowers is mind-boggling, especially in January, and with their ridiculously bargain prices – you’re smiling. Add on the banter of the stall holders and you’re laughing – like the gruff cockney hollering at passer-bys “Quick, quick, quick! £5 an orchid. I need to wire the deposit for the Bentley tomorrow!”
But like poker you don’t want to reveal your best hand too soon, resist the urge to buy everything in sight. Instead grab the Sunday papers and ensconse yourself firmly into one of the numerous cafes tucked into the corners of Colombia Road. Pour over the supplements, whilst someone else pours you a nice hot brew. You are spoiled for choice when it comes to eating destinations but some notable mentions would be Brawn for insanely delicious rustic dishes (check out Kang’s brilliant review here), if you have a sweet tooth head to Lily Vanilli’s for AMAZING cakes or get a Spanish breakfast at the family run tapas bar Laxeiro. Be warned though, all of these places are tiny (in comparison to the huge demand of consumers) so queuing is inevitable but definitely worth the wait!
If you spot this girl, perched on her windowsill (opposite Nelly Duff), buy her home-made cupcakes. Buy the whole goddamn tray load because they are perfect and at 40p a pop bloody great value for money.
After fortifying yourself with caffeine and good grub, wander past the busking musicians with fedoras tilted at a rakish angle and delve into the beautifully edited vintage shops such as Future Vintage ( with it’s plethora of Chanel accessories), the funky art galleries and the cool homeware stores that will have you drooling with lust. And a little tip between you and me. At around 2:30pm, head back to the flower market and haggle, though to be honest not much haggling is needed as the stall holders getting ready to pack up at 3pm will be only too keen to reduce their prices even more to rid themselves of remaining stock and you can go home weighed down in flora and foilage. It’s a win-win situation! And ot think you would have missed all of that if you’d stayed in bed!
My hidden gem: Tucked behind Colombia Road, on Ezra Street is a fantastic wine bar called Printers & Stationers. What is not to love about a place that enforces child labour? Stood outside is a little girl with a chalkboard hanging around her neck, listing the selection of French wines (mostly natural or organic) available to imbibe. But I’m not worried about her, as she warmed herself by the fire inside she looked up knowingly and said “I demand payment for doing this.” I tell you, this girl is gonna be president – no little thing like non-US citizenship is gonna stand in her way ( you may be able to spot her in the bottom left hand corner in the last black and white photo). The space is cramped, the food menu is limited and they don’t do teas or coffees but what they do do is superb and honest. Everything is crafted with love from the carefully sourced products to the ad-hoc decor and eccentric curiosities dotted around the space. Paint splattered tables, chandeliers draped with berries, Queen-Anne style sofa and the head of a wolf/boar creature with a Union Jack draped around it’s neck. The details are so mis-matched and yet together so beautiful. But the best aspect of the place is the cozy ambiance. The staff consists mainly of family members and friends, lending an atmosphere that feels like you’re popping over to your friend’s place for an impromptu lunch and unlike most establishments in the East End, staff here are ( shock horror ) actually attentive and willing to serve you. Printers & Stationers has plenty of charisma, so much so that you’ll want to stay and start a commune.
How to get there:
Overground to Hoxton/Northern Line to Old Street/Central Line to Bethnal Green
Click here for map