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Columbia Road Flower Market
Photograph: Ed Marshall

16 lovely things to do on Columbia Road

By Alice French
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The Victorian philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts founded a market on Columbia Road in 1869 to bring cheap food to the poorest people of east London, concerned they were being ripped off by local traders. By the time her massive Victorian trading hall was demolished after WWII, it had already been supplanted by the flower market/Instagram hotspot that Columbia Road is world-famous for today.

Running down from Bethnal Green Road to Shoreditch, Columbia Road has transformed over the last 150 years from a working-class area into one of the city’s most desirable and Richard Curtis-esque addresses. However, one thing that’s stayed the same is that it’s still flogging things to Londoners. Every Sunday, Columbia Road gets packed to the brim with locals (and the odd tourist or 200) ransacking the gorgeous, chaotic market for flowers and photos.

As well as flowers for the windowsill you can stock up on old-school sweets for those cute and handy little jars you bought but never actually filled, or some ‘interesting’ art from the street’s scattering of galleries and gift shops. If you’re tired of drinking craft beer in the grottoes of Shoreditch, make your way over here for a cup of tea, a slab of cake and a chance to let your inner Laura Ashley mum run wild.

Drink this

A bottle of natural wine at Brawn to wash down its seasonal, carnivore-friendly dishes.

A locally brewed pint at Fanny Nelsons, a pub formerly named after Lord Horatio Nelson and now dedicated to his wife.

Eat this

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A Sunday roast at the lovely Royal Oak – because you can’t argue with stuffed pork belly.

Delicious, healthy Indian street food at plant-based SpiceBox. The creamy coconut korma might just change your life.

A head-sized calzone at converted pub StringRay Globe Café.

Pastries from Jones Dairy on neighbouring Ezra Street, made with locally sourced ingredients, always.

Stonking paella from a local favourite, the long-serving Galician restaurant Laxeiro.

Do this

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Take a look round the Colbert Studio to open your eyes to the potential of ceramics as an art form.

Wind down (after tussling over that last baby cactus at the flower market) at a super relaxing yoga class at Stretch.

Test your trivia skills at the friendly pub quiz at the Birdcage. Their legendary karaoke nights are now a thing of the past, sadly.

Buy this

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A paper bag of rhubarb-and-custards at Suck and Chew to satisfy that old-school sugar craving.

Fresh, handmade bagels from Sunday-only bakers Café Columbia. Nothing says ‘good morning’ like a freshly baked bagel.

Premium olive oil, tinned fish and those bowls that look like lettuce at A Portuguese Love Affair.

A top-dollar loaf at the second branch of Pavilion, which is just as popular as the Broadway Market original.

Beautiful vintage teacups in all shapes and sizes from Vintage Heaven. Yet another excuse for a cuppa!

And if you only do one thing…

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Go to Columbia Road Flower Market, of course, to see big, burly market traders flogging dainty flowers. Time it right as the market closes and you can grab a bargain and miss the floral mob.

Now discover more of London’s best streets.

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