Nothing says ‘perfect lazy weekend’ like a leisurely mooch around a food market. Grab a late breakfast of anything from buttery pastries to a full-on fry-up, then pick up some fabulous bits for an afternoon grazing session. Come with me on this Borough Market guide to find out what makes this historic market so special.
Borough Market, Then and Now
There are records of a market on the south side of London Bridge going back for over a thousand years, with Borough Market in its current location since 1756. What might suprise you is how this iconic market is still continuously evolving, responding to the changing needs of the community. It’s hard to believe when you see the picturesque cobbled alleyways thronged with tourists and locals alike but just over twenty years ago Borough Market was a wholesale-only fruit and veg market, struggling for survival against the huge supermarket chains.
Now Borough Market is a registered charity, committed to promoting the idea that food can be made – and sold – in ways that are good for both the planet and consumers. The market is designed to provide a mutually supportive community of traders, producers, shoppers, cooks, residents and visitors. Traders are encouraged to share their passion for their produce and expert knowledge with shoppers so, if there isn’t a queue, please take the opportunity to chat to the stallholders.
Sustainability and ethical practice are also key. All traders at the market need to be able to show a short and transparent supply chain for their produce; for example, the fresh fish here is often marked ‘day boat’ which means it has been caught and landed that morning. This practice supports local fisherman, as the supplier will commit to buying their whole catch rather than specifying particular types of fish. It’s also good news for the consumer, because you get a wider range of options as well as the freshest possible fish.
It’s not just local produce though; as long as it meets the market’s criteria of being unique to its producer or exceptional in its quality, you can find items here from all around the world. The market has a particularly strong Italian and Mediterranean offering, with specialist producers of olives and olive oil, cheese, cured meats, flour, fresh pasta, sauces, drunk cheese (yep, that’s a thing) and gelato.
Visiting the Market
Borough Market has three distinct sections:
- Three Crown Square (larger producers and merchants)
- Green Market (small, specialist produce traders)
- Borough Market Kitchen (street food traders)
Each of these areas has accessible toilets with baby changing facilities plus a drinking fountain; these are marked on a handy map that you can pick up for free from the Borough Market Store and information point, which is just on the right hand side inside the gates into Three Crown Square, behind the pasta restaurant Padella. There is a useful guide on our Instagram reels that walks you through from the main road to the store. (PS If you’re in the mood for pasta, check out our guide to the best Italian restaurants in the area.)
Borough Market is open seven days a week:
It is at its busiest on Fridays and Saturdays, so go then for maximum vibe. Alternatively, go early on Sunday or on Monday if you want to avoid the crowds and chat to the stallholders, but be aware that some traders don’t show up until midweek, or may offer a smaller range. The Borough Market website has a section on traders which allows you to search by type and by trading day, so if you’re looking for something or someone in particular you can check before you go.
What to Buy
There are many ways you can get involved and support the market: there are official tours, a cookbook and a podcast and even an online shop if you’re not in the area, but my favourite of all is the personal shopping option. Here’s a rundown of Borough Market highlights that would definitely be on my shopping list:
- Ginger Pig sausage rolls; these are legendary, and the Scotch eggs are pretty good too. Served warm to eat there, or cold to take away.
- Bread Ahead doughnuts: if you buy from the dedicated stall outside the bakery on Cathedral Street, you can watch the team hard at work through the glass-fronted bakery. The doughnuts come in classic flavours including vanilla, chocolate and home-made raspberry jam, with several other seasonal options. They are next-level good. Oh, and grab a loaf of sourdough while you’re there.
- Something small but indulgent from the Furness Fish Market stall: anything from sea urchins and fresh scallops to a dressed crab to stir through linguine or, if you don’t fancy cooking, to simply eat with your Bread Ahead sourdough, butter and a squeeze of lemon. Their potted shrimps are a traditional favourite.
- Olivier’s Bakery organic rye and caramelised walnut bread; studded with sticky walnuts, it is so good with cheese, especially a soft blue or goat’s cheese. Once you’ve got your loaf, head over to Neal’s Yard Dairy for some incredible cheeses plus expert pairing advice. PS: If you’re a fan of almonds, try Olivier’s damply delicious almond croissant; it is covered in icing sugar and hopelessly messy to eat, so be warned if you are wearing a black top!
- Tinned Calabrian anchovies from the Tinned Fish Market, to eat with sourdough toast and thick slices of cold butter as served in Brutto, Russell Norman’s lovely Tuscan Trattoria in Farringdon – a restaurant that featured in both our Solo Dining article and our guide to cheap cocktails.
- Iberico ham and cured meats from Brindisa, if you want to add charcuterie to your grazing board. If you’re feeling peckish, you can try some at the bar with a glass of ice-cold fino sherry.
- Wine from Borough Wines: serious about sustainability, wine here is available on tap straight from the barrel, served in reusable bottles that you can take back and refill at a discounted rate. It’s not only good for the environment, it’s great value.
You can spend as much or as little at Borough Market as you like. If you’re going full Cheapo it’s a lovely place to wander and soak up the atmosphere whilst being plied with free samples of cheese, olives and the like, but it is surprisingly good value – especially given the quality of the produce. One top tip; like many food retailers, if you turn up half an hour before closing you can bag some serious discounts on fresh produce.
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