The situation we find ourselves in right now isn’t great and you’d be quite right to be feeling down at the moment. But when times are tough, I try to have things to look forward to in order to get through these endless days. But what can we have to look forward to that’s fun, interesting, and safe? I’d like to share with you my favourite place to visit in London, and how it will cure your lockdown blues! Portobello Market, only a few stops from Holborn on the Central line, and a 10 minute walk from Notting Hill Gate station, is a multi-sensory delight to be visited for a couple of hours, and I guarantee will lift your spirits.
Nothing can prepare you for what you’ll see at Portobello Market. Colourful buildings? Eccentric clothing? Random shops with interesting wares? It’s all here. Warm your hands on a cup of hot chocolate or tea from one of the stalls and watch people go about their business or walk around shops dedicated to antiques, old fashioned tea pots and tea sets, old maps, retro clothing, classy chic homeware, crystalware, tweed, model soldiers, hand-made jewellery, botanical paintings, vintage clothing, and collectors prints. Here you can find first edition copies of Harry Potter, records from the Beatles to Beethoven, Banksy posters, and even a photo booth.
Get ready for a cacophony of noise and the semblance of normal life. The chatting, singing on the streets, sounds of records being played, the radio tuning in, laughter and chatter between stall owners, the rumbling of a tube, and a guitar being played outside a charity shop. When you get to the food stalls, you’ll hear the sizzle of frying oil, the crinkle of paper being wrapped around freshly cooked food, and the scraping of chairs being pulled up to enjoy a hot and tasty lunch.
As you walk past shops and stalls, you’ll be greeted with wafts of scented candles and incense, dried flowers, roasting coffee beans, baking bread, homemade soaps and bath bombs, perfume mixing, and the striking and burning of matches. This is before you get to where the food is, where you will be confronted with a wide selection of food stalls to choose from. When in doubt, follow your nose and take a sniff of the cooking, sizzling, simmering food.
Come hungry, and save your appetite! Don’t be tempted by the first thing you see and wait until you’ve examined all the tantalising food stalls. Take your time, try some samples, and choose from the large variety of options – aromatic falafel and crunchy churros, frying bratwurst and fresh Greek food, halloumi fries and thick burritos, vegan eats and katsu curry, saucy noodles and seafood paella, tasty pancakes, delicious Venezuelan cachapas, fresh pasta mixed in wheels of cheese, juicy popcorn chicken, street food from the Philippines and Thailand, and freshly cut cubanos sandwiches. Walk around with your food, or pay for a cup of tea and take a table and seat and enjoy your meal.
Whilst a pandemic might not be the best time to touch vintage fur coats and other products, you might be tempted to try some clothes on in the shops. Bring some hand sanitizer to keep you and others safe while perusing the stalls and stores. Whilst it may be difficult to keep your distance at all times, be sure to wear a mask as you walk through the bustle of the streets! In a different and meaningful way, engage with stall-owners and ask them their stories for a genuine human connection. This is best done while waiting for your lunch to cook as you chat to the chef and hear their experiences. We’ve all been deprived of the human connection, and reaching out will always be welcomed.
I hope this glimpse of Portobello Market through 5 senses will give you something to look forward to for a lovely few hours out of your accommodation or a break from studying. You don’t have to spend money here, either, in order to enjoy a trip to Portobello. Go alone or with friends and flatmates, and enjoy this small, vibrant, random part of London.
Normal opening hours:
09:00 – 18:00 Monday – Wednesday
09:00 – 13:00 Thursday
09:00 – 19:00 Friday (Antique Stalls)
09:00 – 19:00 Saturday (main day!)
This post was written in early January 2021. Please consult the UK government website for the latest coronavirus guidance. Currently Portobello Market is operating at reduced capacity for essential goods due to current lockdown restrictions. Please consult the latest Portobello Market COVID-19 guidance before visiting.