The Classic Car Boot Sale
Euan Dawtrey 18/07/23
For all London’s independent boutiques and fancy shopping centres, sometimes you’ve an itch that only a flea market can scratch.
Flea markets are a place for haggling, for jostling, for not standing politely in queues (yes, even in Britain). They offer a nostalgia trip and an escapist flight into distant lands replete with gold, silver and, let’s face it, plastic – but nowhere does plastic seem so mystical as it does spread out on a vendor’s table.
Thanks to the accumulated cost of rent and bills and £7.50 pints, where better to spend your pennies on new flat décor? And indeed, most of the fun comes from not buying anything at all.
So peruse our list of London’s best flea markets, spanning a dizzying array of styles and attitudes to suit every taste and wallet, from the heavily gentrified upmarket yuppie flea to the suburban car-boot…
So famous there’s a Disney song about it (Bedknobs and Broomsticks). It’s also where Hugh Grant (in Notting Hill) and Paddington’s bestie Mr Gruber called home. All of which means that you can’t move for tourists, especially on Saturdays, and chances of a real bargain are fairly remote. Still, like the Tower of London and the Zoo, it’s an essential London attraction that’s definitely worth a visit, at least once in a while.
Self-proclaimed as “the world’s largest antique market”, Portobello Market is open all week except Sunday for bric-a-brac, fashion and food, but Saturday is when the bazaar really comes alive, with a huge array of antique and specialist stalls, plus street performers. Our personal favourite is the amazing vintage photography shop, selling some of London’s oldest cameras.
If the bustle and buzz all get too much, you can just kick back and enjoy the infamously beautiful bijou houses, painted in an array of bright colours, covered in wisteria, and resplendent in the summer sun. So go, and against your better judgement, try the ice-cream burger.
Details: Mon-Wed 9am-6pm, Thurs 9am-1pm, Fri-Sat 9am-7pm (including antiques), Sun – closed | Portobello Road, Notting Hill, W10 5TY
The weekend flea market at Vinegar Yard by London Bridge is jammed with internationally-sourced bits and bobs. In fact, it’s inspired by European street markets and has more of an emphasis on curation than your usual London flea. So if you’re averse to digging through endless stalls of bric-a-brac in search of hidden gems, then the more refined experience of Vinegar Yard might be the market for you.
There’s an eclectic and well-chosen mix of stalls selling everything vintage from rare first editions to your next living room lamp, plus new stuff by emerging artists and more recognisable designer names.
Details: Weekends 11am-5pm | Vinegar Yard, 72-82 St Thomas St, London SE1 3QX
This is Hackney, after all, London’s irrefutable home of cool – so you can expect to find bottomless pits of records new and old at Hackney Flea Market. Fan of 90’s German new-wave indie-funk? This is the place for you. Didn’t realise the noughties sex icon Crazy Frog was ever released on vinyl? Fill your boots.
It isn’t just your vinyl collection that’ll get a make-over, but your living room too. With an emphasis on salvage, found objects and personal treasures, there’s a wide array of affordable old furniture, fixtures and fittings on offer, plus new creations by independent makers (allowed in so long as they aren’t mass-produced). The D.I.Y. Art Market & Independent Ceramics Market runs alongside the original second-hand fair.
Beside the market there lies the Auld Shillelagh, an authentic Irish pub (insofar as such a thing actually exists off the island of Ireland) pouring allegedly the best Guinness in London, though we haven’t finished researching that yet.
Hackney Flea and the Hackney Record Fair take place in Abney Hall, but the same team also runs Peckham Salvage Yard (see below), the Big London Flea, Peckham Record Fair and Walthamstow Flea Market, so check their website for dates and locations.
Details: Monthly events – check here for upcoming dates
Old Spitalfields Market is open 7 days a week and is paradoxically the most modern and oldest market on this list, dating back to 1638. Once a general wholesale market for food produce, the covered market has been redeveloped many times over the centuries, most recently with a (somewhat controversial) Norman Foster makeover in 2017.
You can dig through endless rails of vintage clothes, heaps of jewellery, stacks of vinyl, get your horoscope read or your hair coiffed, or just stock up on bonsai trees. Thursdays are best for antique-hunting, while a makers market runs every Wednesday. There’s also so much international food to try that if you ate here every day for a month, you could sample a different cuisine every day.
The market is a great exhibition of London’s contemporary art scene, with work on sale from up-and-coming as well as established artists. There’s also a strong social vibe to Spitalfields – this summer it’s also running a night market on Friday evenings, and there are various walking clubs and cycling tours that start out from here.
Details: Daily 10am – 6pm, Sun 11am – 5pm | Old Spitalfields Market, 16 Horner Square, London, E1 6EW
Located within Copeland Park, Peckham Salvage Yard is South London’s largest indoor vintage market, hosting over 40 handpicked traders from veteran vintage sellers to London’s locals clearing out their treasure-trove lofts.
You’ll find 20th Century furniture, records, twee glass & ceramics, salvaged French homeware, antique luggage, curiosities & collectables, textiles, kitschenalia, reclaimed industrial fixtures, atomic-era electricals, and much more.
In typical Peckham style, there’s a sound system too.
Details: Monthly, check upcoming dates here
Along the narrow, intersecting cobbled streets of Camden Passage straggles Islington’s best-kept secret, an old-skool souk of raggedy stalls offering a Dickensian image of antiquity. Camden Passage Flea Market is heavy on jewellery, with vendors flogging their glistening wares on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while in Pierrepoint Arcade you’ll find wavy vintage garms on Thursdays and second-hand books on Sundays.
There are brilliant independent shops and venues lining the passage streets, from The Camden Head with its nightly live comedy to the unmissably pink Badiani Gelato, powering you through the market with ice cream.
Details: Every Wednesday and Saturday, 9am – 6pm | Camden Passage, Islington N1 8EA
Brick Lane Market is really five markets in one, so if you can’t find what you want here, you just aren’t trying hard enough.
The main street market takes place on Sundays, with an endless array of bric-a-brac of every description for bargain hunters. Meanwhile, in the converted Old Truman Brewery there’s also the weekend Upmarket for fashion and arts; a daily vintage clothes market; and at weekends the Tea Rooms for furniture and antiques, Backyard Market for jewellery, prints and accessories, and Boiler House Food Hall for, well, stuff to eat.
But if you’re hungry, you don’t need to stay in the market, because Brick Lane itself, of course, is a mecca for lovers of Indian food.
Details: Sunday 10am – 5pm | Brick Lane, Shoreditch, E1 6QL
Is Camden Market a flea market, or just a market? Or, indeed, a site of intense gentrification rapidly losing its subcultural roots in favour of a more polished, homogenised experience? No bother about the semantics, this iconic North London bazaar remains — for now, at least — a decidedly oddball experience. The canal-side site revolves around an old horse stable converted into a vintage clothes market which has a certain cavernous, hallucinogenic, even dungeon-like quality.
The buildings lining the street outside seem to be alive, with vast shoes sticking out of walls at random angles. The usual array of global food is on offer in a small side market next to the canal, once used to transport the raw material for distilling gin. It’s now home to the Half Hitch distillery, where you can bring any ingredient to distil into your own spirit (although they don’t recommend using the canal water).
Details: Daily, 10am – 6pm | Camden Market, Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AF
This isn’t just any old car boot sale, this is a car boot where the cars are impressively vintage as the bric-a-brac itself.
Popping up a few times a year in King’s Cross, The Classic Car Boot Sale boasts a carefully selected smorgasbord of vintage fashion, accessories, homewares and collectables, all sold from the boots of rare vintage vehicles which all date to a time before 1990.
If you’re unnerved by the fact that pre-1990 constitutes retro these days, you can eat away your age-related angst at some of the best food vendors in London, order cocktails from a Routemaster bus, or join the nattily dressed crowds dancing to swing, soul and more.
You can also go and get your haircut – but don’t ask for a short back and sides, because the style here is decisively retro.
The cars themselves aren’t for sale, but who are we to dissuade you from a haggle?
Details: Check upcoming dates here | Granary Square, King’s Cross, N1C
A joint operation between the Flea team (who also run Vinegar Yard above) and Broadway Market, a Sunday afternoon at Hackney Bridge is pretty much the textbook definition of East London living: thrifting through funky antiques, vintage threads, records and handmade jewellery. There’s pop-up bars on the side too, plus an indoor street food court and the River Lea’s waterside setting to soak it all up from. And as it’s a Flea market (as in, a market organised by Flea…), the loot has all been carefully curated so there’s no rummaging through musty rubbish in the faint hope of finding a gem.
Details: Sundays 11am-5pm | Hackney Bridge, Units 1-28, Echo Building, E Bay Ln, E15 2SJ
Love a bargain? Take a peek at these amazing free things to do in London…
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