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BY KERRI MCCONNEL
Borough Market History
This is no ordinary market. In the rough and tumble society of the waterfront and docklands along the Thames, this market in central London was said to have had its origins around the year 1014. Despite the Thames now having many bridges to join both banks, back then, there was only one bridge, the famous London Bridge that allowed for cross-river access.
Although it may seem funny, even unlikely now, the residents of Southwark located on the southern side of the Thames and closest to this market, once fought against the city of London encroaching upon it. Today, it is an important part of London’s South Bank.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, this area came alive with market traders transforming this area into a thriving commercial hub. Pubs sprung up as did theatres and other less than salubrious places of entertainment.
Following years of mayhem in the streets, corruption, difficulties with infrastructure and a growing need for a more secure, harmonious environment, the Borough Market as we see it today was formed. In the 19th century, increased population in London and the arrival of the railways further extended the value of the Borough Markets.
In the 1860s a railway viaduct was built right through the market, improving its accessibility and opening it up for further expansion and trade. Evidence of the railways can be seen with the overhead viaducts, closed in glass roofs and incredible steel beams and girders that keep everything in place.
Change brought about this market in the first instance, and for centuries delivered the ongoing improvement and attention that it needed to survive and adapt. The 1970’s in London brought with it even more change, this time in a way that would negatively impact this market. The population turned towards the convenience and comfort of the supermarkets, which were popping up all over London, enticing those who were once market goers into the bright and shiny stores.
Like any good story, the wheel continuously turns and what was trendy five minutes ago is persona non-grata five minutes later. Fortunately for the Borough Markets, the food, diet and health trends of the world’s population have put the markets firmly back in the popular trends once more. With a substantial number of fresh food and fresh produce providers, artisanal food makers, growers, bakers, cheesemakers and the like, people are continuing to flock to the fresh markets all over again.
As you look around the crowds that come here on a weekend, it’s hard to think that will ever change. One thing is certain, however. History shows that change will continue to occur. The Borough Markets will do what it has done for the last 1,000 years. It will morph and move and blend with the changes of the day, but I’m betting it will still be around in another 1,000 years.
Why you should go to the Borough Markets in London
Quite simply, because it’s good fun. Whether you are a die-hard foodie looking for the latest food trend or inspiring ingredients to cook with, or just hungry and looking for somewhere to eat in the Borough Market, you’ll find your calling.
If you are looking for something easy to take home for your dinner, or a special treat to surprise someone at home, you’ll also find that here. A quick drink, tick. Somewhere to catch up with a friend, yes you can.
It’s noisy, it’s crowded, wonderful smells both compete and mingle with each other, fighting for your attention. The best time to visit these markets is on Saturday. Here no nook and cranny is safe, with people wedged into the most unlikely of places, usually with a plate or hand full of something delicious.
There’s not a lot of seating here, just shops, stalls and restaurants heaving with people as they try to supply them with some of the tastiest food around. As such, people will sit on anything they can find, even the street gutters!
As the day rolls on, the side streets become even livelier with people sharing conversation and a pint and spilling out onto the road.
Where and what to eat in the Borough Markets
The paella here is presented on a grand scale, served piping hot out of one of the largest paella pans you’ll ever see. We just love watching them bring it all together. It takes some serious muscles to move this much rice around. Ask to get some from the bottom where it’s more likely to have the crunchy caramelised base that paella is known for.
So it’s no secret that we admire the handiwork of pastries just as much as we love eating them. At Bread Ahead you can kill two birds with one stone, picking up amazing fresh bread and beautiful doughnuts. Found just inside the market off the Borough High Street entrance, the caramel, chocolate, raspberry jam and our favourite, vanilla custard are a delight to eat.
Wander around a little more and you are sure to find Comptoir Gourmand, owned and operated by Sebastien Wind a chef and patissier. Here you can select from a great range of French-inspired pastries (which also just happen to be my favourite). Buy a treat to eat on the go, or get a takeaway box and take some home to share.
Looking for something to spice up your cooking? Head to Spice Mountain and be presented with a visual feast of herbs and spices. Small bottles and plastic containers of herbs, blended spice rubs, seeds and pods line the walls, representing ingredients sourced from all over the world. It didn’t take us long to pick up a basket and start filling it with things to take home.
A number of bakeries call the Borough Markets their home. Under the glass-covered Three Crown Square, Bread Ahead sells rustic looking loaves of bread, baguettes and sourdoughs all baked fresh at its off-site bakery.
5. Fresh produce
Organic, free-range, homegrown fruits and vegetables of every type are piled high at vendors stalls all around the market. Bringing the market alive are the farmers and producers, spruiking their wares at the top of their voices, willing you to come, try and buy. This luscious punnet of raspberries was too good to pass by.
The Borough Markets are also the place to come for more unusual products that you might find hard to find elsewhere. Like these mushrooms for example. If you are looking for something to make a special meal, you’ll be sure to find it here.
6. Duck confit
The words duck and confit in the same sentence always, always cause us to salivate. We love duck at any time, but confit duck raises the bar. As we found ourselves deeper in the Borough market, a familiar smell put our senses on high alert. There was duck closeby!
It didn’t take long for us to spot the mountains of shredded duck at Le Marché du Quartier being moved around a BBQ hot plate. It was a rather unusual sight to see it being prepared in this way. The hordes of people queuing for this duck, however,r indicated that this was no new kid on the block.
As we waited for our turn at the top of the queue, the line behind us only got longer. It was lunchtime here at the markets and despite there being an enviable number of places we could choose, the duck was always going to win us over.
It didn’t disappoint either. I would have been eternally happy with the incredibly generous helping of duck on my wrap. The inclusions of purple cabbage and baby spinach leaves added some freshness and also turned it into a monster of a thing to hold and eat. The little crunchy bits cooked on the BBQ were the icing on the cake.
A family run business, they sell beautiful French food inside. From fresh duck to rillettes, truffles beans for cassoulet, lentils and even wine, there’s enough to keep you stocked up on all of your favourite French goodies.
From small vendors selling organic juices to the cheeky Pimms and prosecco, what’s not to love about this iconic market space?
Every good English and European market has an equally good oyster bar. You’ll know one when you see it as there will most likely be tables out in front, packed with diners who are busy drinking sparkling wine and sliding the slippery delicacies into their mouth.
Dating back to 1792, oyster farmer Richard Haward’s relatives have been in the oyster game and he continues that tradition with his stand at the Borough Markets.
9. Sausage rolls
Not exactly the healthiest of options, but if you are going to succumb to some hot flaky pastry, then you’d be best doing it at The Ginger Pig. Here, the sausage rolls are so big you’ll need to find a friend to share it with.
There’s no denying that properly made French saucisson is amazing. The French Comte at the Borough Markets have quite a range, all found in beautiful displays, including the saucisse de morteau, a smoky concoction made from a 16th-century recipe.
Only a non-coffee drinking person would put this right down the list, right? So if you are someone that loves coffee, Monmouth comes highly recommended but here’s the rub. You either need to get there super early (before every else wakes up and decides they need a coffee) or go there during a non-typical coffee drinking time if there is actually such a thing. Why? Because the crowds that line up here to get a cup of that liquid gold that everyone seems to be incapable of doing without are epic.
12. Ice cream
Ice cream is always a good idea, even when it’s cold in London. If you’d like to try something different, head to the Greedy Goat for some new-age icy treats which are also good for those who are lactose intolerant apparently, or to Gelateria 3BIS. They’ve even got liquid chocolate running out of a tap that they fill your cone up with first!
There’s cheese galore here. Everything from your standard British staples, to Italian Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh scamorza. There is also buffalo mozzarella and plenty of beautiful French cheese too.
14. Restaurants at Borough Market
Not only are the Borough Markets one of the best places to visit in London and one of the best places to find amazing food in London, there are also some wonderful restaurants, cafes and pubs here too. For simple, no-nonsense Italian fare, and one of the best restaurants in the Borough Markets, try Padella out on the Borough High Street end. Just be aware that this restaurant has also developed quite a reputation with waits of 45 minutes to an hour on busy days.
There are cafes inside the market and plenty on the periphery, especially along Winchester Walk.
Haven’t seen enough of the London food scene? Why not try a twilight Soho Food & Cocktail Tour
Where are the Borough Markets?
The Borough Markets are located on the southern side of London Bridge, right next door to Southwark Cathedral. Entrances are on Southwark St or Borough High Street.
Borough Market opening hours
Perhaps oddly, the Borough Market does not open on Sunday. The Borough Market hours are generally Monday – Saturday but may open longer during particular seasonal periods, especially Christmas. To always ensure accurate opening times, check the market’s website.
How to get to the Borough Markets
The closest train station is London Bridge. Trains from all over London and the south of England stop here. The nearest tube stations to the Borough Markets is also London Bridge, with connections on the Jubilee or Northern London Underground lines.
Buses stop at London Bridge (routes 43,141,149,521) and also along Borough High Street (routes 43,141,149,521)
Borough market parking – There are also various car parks located nearby, although remember, this is London, so catching public transport is definitely the easiest option.
Tips for making the most of the Borough Markets
- If crowds are not your thing, you are best to head to the markets during the week. If you must go on Saturday, aim to be there as soon as the market opens. By lunchtime, the market will be swarming with people.
- Go with an empty stomach as you will find plenty of food to satisfy even the greatest of hunger.
- Sounds boring but if you plan on being here for a while, wear comfortable shoes. The area around the Borough Markets is also brimming with heaps of great places to visit so you will more than likely find yourself walking a lot.
- If you are planning on buying things to take home, consider taking a shopping bag with you.
- Go with a friend so you can get to taste more of the great food by selecting different things to eat.
- Be prepared to wait. If you really do want to go to Monmouth for that famous coffee or any of the other really popular cafes and stalls, you’ll need to get in a queue.
- If you can, plan to spend some time just taking in the ambience of the markets. Pull up a seat, get yourself a drink and listen to the great music that is often played in the streets.
Why not try an East End food tour?
Things to do near Borough Market
The Shard – Go to the top of one of London’s newest attractions and get an amazing 360-degree view of the city.
Shakespeare’s Globe – Take a sneaky peak inside or see a show at this reincarnation of the original theatre used by Shakespeare.
Southwark Cathedral – located right next door to the Borough Market, the sounds of the bells can be heard throughout the market.
Clink Museum – learn about the history of the rough and tumble world of southern London in this kitsch but interesting jail museum.
The London Bridge Experience – learn all about this landmark bridge and its place in history.
Tate Modern – an impressive art gallery full of exhibitions, bookstore, cafe and a wonderful viewing platform to get some unusual city views.
HMAS Belfast – Operated by the Royal Navy, this warship is now part of the Imperial War Museum.
Golden Hinde Museum – Climb aboard the galleon ship used by Sir Francis Drake to circumnavigate the world.
Where to stay near the Borough Markets
There are so many great hotels and places to stay near the Borough Markets that cater for many budgets.
At the top end, the luxurious Shangri-La The Shard is only a 350-metre walk to the entrance of the markets. Here, you’ve obviously got very easy access to The Shard itself.
Check out the reviews on Trip Advisor.
The Cheval Three Quays offers luxury apartments with a view of the Thames and access to all public transport and attractions nearby. Or, if walking, it is a 1.2 km walk across to the Borough Markets.
The reviews on Trip Advisor for these apartments are excellent.
The Hilton London Tower Bridge is a solid hotel from a reputable global chain and is a 700-metre walk from the Borough Markets.
Read the reviews and book on Trip Advisor.
the Premier Inn London Southwark is a good hotel if you are wanting to be close to all the south-side attractions without the huge price tag.
Read the reviews on
For serviced apartments, the Urban Stay Shard View apartments on the other side of the Thames offer not only a great view of the Shard but are only a 900-metre walk across London Bridge.
You can book these apartments on your website of choice through Hotels Combined.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.