Big traditional markets aren't rare in England but some are better than others. These cities host the best traditional outdoor and covered markets in the country.
Nothing beats the old fashioned give and take of a traditional market with its piles of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, sweets and baked goods; homemade and handmade crafts and artisanal products, clothing, fabrics and household goods.
A top market can give you real sense of what an Old World country Britain remains in many ways. And the opportunity to touch, taste and smell the goods while exchanging banter with the sellers - often the producers themselves - is irresistible.
These are among my favorite cities for open-air and covered markets. Bring a sturdy carrier bag because you won't leave empty handed.
01 of 07
St Nicholas Market, smack in the middle of the wonderful University and Cathedral city of Bristol, is one of the best indoor and outdoor markets I've ever visited outside of London.
It's huge with two glass arcades, a covered market and a gigantic market hall with a gallery level all around it. It's claimed that this is the largest collection of independent traders in Bristol and I don't doubt it.
Market traders sell just about everything you need - weekly groceries, hardware, clothes - and lots of things you never imagined you needed until you saw how cheap they were - sunglasses covered with a pink flower print (I confess, guilty as charged) to glad rags from undiscovered designers.
To Stay - Hotel du Vin in Bristol has showers big enough to hold a... dinner party in. Read my review.
Read other guest's reviews at find best value deals for the Hotel du Vin Bristol on TripAdvisor.
02 of 07
Norwich claims to have the largest outdoor market in the UK with 200 stalls, operating Monday through Saturday in the city center, under the Castle. Extensively - and somewhat controversially - refurbished between 2007 and 2009, the market nevertheless retains its traditional appearance of stalls under carnival striped awnings.
People have been buying and selling goods at Norwich Market for about a thousand years. Though there was an Anglo Saxon marketplace here once, the current market was established by the Normans. During the market refurbishments, the foundations of a large market cross were discovered. Look for its outline, marked in red tile, on the floor of the market.
Imagine the goods for sale in a large modern shopping mall and multiply them a few times and you'll have some sense of what's for sale here. Produce, fresh food to eat here or take home, books, CDs, vinyl records, crafts, pet accessories, fishing tackle, fashions, jewelry. The BBC Voices project has... interviewed and made videos of almost all the market traders. Click around the Voices page for a sense of the atmosphere.
This is probably my favorite market outside of London and well worth a trip to the lovely cathedral city of Norwich. Find out more about Norwich
A Market Snack Several stall holders sell delicious local food that you can eat while you shop. Try Henry's Hog Roast at Stall 81 for roast Norfolk pork with applesauce and stuffing or Reggies for sandwiches, teas and coffees at Stall 100.
For more formal dining
03 of 07
Oxford Covered Market
Before they built the Oxford Covered Market on Market Street in 1774, a market spreading over several streets had existed since the Middle Ages. Perhaps Oxford's elite academics got tired of being assailed by the blood, guts, rotting cabbages and general chaos of an open market right next to several University colleges. The new market - now more than 200 years old - moved the traders' stalls off the main streets.
Today town and gown share retail therapy in this historic market, where independently owned boutiques and shops share space with traditional fruit, veg and cheese stalls, fishmongers and butchers. Here, you can also buy contemporary designer jewelry, dried and fresh flowers, shoes, fashion clothing, cake decorating equipment and amazing handmake chocolates.
A Market Snack - Read a review of Brown's Cafe, the market's original eatery.
A pub classic Read a review of The Turf Tavern.
For more formal... dining Gees
To Stay - We can't say enough about our wonderful stay at the dog-friendly and most unusual Malmaison Oxford Castle. Read my review.
04 of 07
Kirkgate Market in Leeds
Kirkgate Market, near Leeds' Victorian Quarter, is a magnificent example of mid-19th century cast iron engineering. At least 800 stalls, selling fresh produce, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, prepared dishes, gourmet foods and all sorts of everyday household items are arrayed under its glass and ironwork canopy. That makes it one of the largest indoor markets in Europe.
Originating as an open air market in 1822, the covered market was created between 1850 and 1875. Fire in the 1970s nearly destroyed it, so what you see now is extensively reconstructed. After the restoriation Kirkgate Market became a Grade I Listed building.
Read a list of what's on offer and you quickly realize there is almost nothing you cannot buy at Kirkgate, from arts & crafts, baby clothes and comic books to mobile phones, home electronics and party goods. And of course, food and fashion as well.
Kirkgate has one more important claim to fame. In 1884, Michael Marks set up a penny bazaar in the market.... Not long after, he joined forces with a Mr. Spencer and the world famous British institution, Marks & Spencer, was born. While you are in the market, look for the market clock. On the occasion of their 100th anniversary, Marks & Spencer erected the clock on the site of that original market stall.
A Market Snack Art's Cafe Bar and Restaurant on Call Lane is a five minute walk from the market at 42 Call Lane. It serves up a comforting range of sophisticated bistro style food at moderate prices.
To Stay - We've enjoyed our stay at the quirky 42 the Calls in Leeds.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Birmingham's Bullring Markets
Birmingham is the place to go for total immersion retail therapy - from luxury department stores, to giant, multi-modular, multi-level indoor shopping malls that plonk nearly 1,000 shops of all kinds in the city center.
But for market enthusiasts, nothing can top the Bullring Markets (not to be confused with the glass enclosed mega mall nearby, also called the Bullring). They've been trading in the same spot for almost 850 years - since a charter was granted to Peter de Birmingham, the lord of the manor in 1166. Even earlier, archaeological evidence suggests this area hosted grain markets, bull baiting and slaughter and leather tanning for at least 1,000 years.Today, they are a cosmopolitan brew, reflecting Birmingham's ethnic diversity in a hubbub of good and deals.
There are three separate markets:
- The Indoor Market sells all sorts of household goods and services from key making and shoe repairs to clothing, exotic fruits and vegetables, hardware and drapery fabrics.
- The Bullring... Open Market has 130 purpose built stalls that sell so many different kinds of things the whole place resembles an eastern bazaar - drygoods, clothes, decorative objects, toys, crafts, spices - your head will spin.
- The Rag Market is probably the oldest and most famous of them all. There are 350 stalls and additional perimeter shops in this indoor market, open four days a week, selling fabrics, haberdashery, sewing and craft materials and textile products. In recent years, Birmingham's Rag Market has drawn Asian brides from all over Europe, shopping for their wedding clothes and trousseaus.
A Market Snack The Bullring Markets are more about buying and selling than relaxing and dining. Your best bet, while shopping, is to graze the market stalls, snacking on what's available - fresh and dried fruit, breads and baked goods, cheeses and cold meats, as you see them. And, this being a British market setting, you're bound to run across a man in a van selling teas and coffees, sausages and the like.
For more formal dining Birmingham is not short of good restaurants. Read our reviews of:
06 of 07
Beverley Saturday Market in the East Yorkshire Riding.
Every Saturday, from 8am to 4pm, the little cathedral city of Beverley in East Yorkshire becomes a market for everything imaginable. At least 100 traders set up their stalls in the huge market square arranged around a market cross that dates from the early 18th century. Additional shops around the edges of the market add to the retail buzz.
Market traders sell fresh fruit and vegetables; household goods of the sort you can't really find anywhere else - giant plastic storage bins, beautiful baskets, natural bristle brooms. There's clothing from utilitarian through cheap and cheerful to designer clobber; dried flowers, exotic coffees, handmade chocolates, cakes to die for, flowers, jewelry, furniture, hardware.
I went with Wallace the Westie, determined to take a few pictures and keep my wallet shut. By the time we left, I'd bought Wallace a nice new bed and a kilo of crunchie biscuits and I was carrying home gorgeous tomatoes, strawberries and chocolates, plus a Christmas gift... of a bead necklace for a friend. We'd shared a bun filled with hog roast, I'd had some fresh squeezed orange juice and bought a half dozen new dish towels. So much for keeping my wallet shut.
A Market Snack - If you'd like a quiet place to warm up over a quiet cuppa or a light lunch, away from all the hustle and bustle of the market, try The Tea Cosy (37 Highgate, Beverley HU17 0DN, tel: 01482 868 577). This tiny cafe, in the shadow of Beverley Cathedral (also worth a look), serves a nice selection of cakes and light meals in a friendly atmosphere.
For more formal dining - read a review of Whites
07 of 07
London's Many Markets
London has so many great markets that it's impossible to leave it off a list of UK's greatest market cities. These are some of the best:
- Borough Market - The foodies' choice and a great market to snack your way around.
- Camden Markets - Crowded, youthful and alternative. The best place to get retro clothes, hippy clothes, young new designer clobber
- Brick Lane - A traditional flea market in London's "Banglatown" - antiques, vintage, bric-a-brack, cheap clothes, plus lots of great Indian restaurants.
- Old Spitalfields - This covered market dates back to the 17th century and though recent developments have chopped it back a bit, it is still a seriously cool place to find just about anything. I once came upon a man sitting on the floor beside his stall, knitting with the biggest needles I've ever seen in my life. Lots of nice, cheap jewelry and delicious things to eat.
- Portobello Road - Possibly the most famous street market in the world and also my local so... it's a favorite. There is something open every day but the famous antiques market takes place on Saturdays only. Get there about 8:30 and you can cruise the market before the heaviest crowds arrive, then enjoy a coffee or a full English Breakfast in one of the cafes that line the side streets.