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A Guide To London's Markets 
 
by Sharon Jacobsen June 03, 2005

Visitors flock to London from all over the world, many of them to enjoy a shopping extravaganza that'll see them returning home laden with everything from antiques to the latest designer fashions.

If you're a shopper who wants to enjoy shopping the way Londoners do, head for the markets.

Covent Garden Market

Having started its life as a convent garden tended by nuns and made famous by Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl of screen and stage, Covent Garden Market boasts 350 years of tradition as a fruit, vegetable and flower market.

When the market fist opened it was a place where locals drank too much and brothels were rife. Trading continued without much change until, in 1921, the government condemned the buildings as inadequate for the necessities of trade. Being their usual unhurried selves, the market wasn't actually closed until 53 years later, in 1974, when the original traders moved to a more modern location in Battersea.

A year later, the Jubilee Hall, built in 1904, was offered to general traders as a temporary home for their stalls. However, a successful campaign saved the buildings from demolition and in 1980, Covent Garden was granted a Grade II listing for being of architectural and historic interest.

Today, much of the market revolves around the elegant Piazza. Long gone are the dingy dives and brothels of the past, now replaced by an eclectic mix of upmarket cafes, restaurants, bars, and trendy boutiques.

The 17th century Italian inspired piazza was once home to the very first Punch and Judy show and the tradition for street entertainment has survived with Covent Garden now being known as the street theater center of London.

The market stalls are split into three main groups: antiques, arts and crafts, and general goods.

Antiques

Professional buyers, collectors, and casual browsers descend upon the market on Mondays when the antiques and bric-a-brac stalls take over the entire area.

Dealers from the big auction houses as well as antique shop owners arrive in the early hours and soon snatch up the best deals of the day so if you're looking for a bargain, be there just as early and beat them at their own game!

Arts and Crafts

If you're after arts and crafts, head to Covent Garden at the weekend.

More than 120 craftsmen demonstrate and sell their original goods. These are real crafts so expect to pay well for what's on offer.

Overseas visitors will be happy to know that a good few traders offer postal services so don't worry if you can't get everything home with you.

General Market

On Tuesday through to Friday the whole place is packed to the rafters with clothes and jewelry. No matter what your taste in clothing, there's bound to be something at Covent Garden that'll keep you happy.

Music, souvenirs, glass and kitchenware all available too, and at much lower prices than you could expect to pay for similar items in shops.

Location

Covent Garden Market - 1 Tavistock Street - Covent Garden - WC2

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (Piccadilly Line)

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