Antiquing in London: Portobello Road

Portobello Road

Portobello Road is the most famous street in London for antiquing and it deserves its reputation.  When I started going on buying trips to London a few years ago I expected that, because of its fame, prices would be outrageous and geared to the tourist trade but I was wrong.  While it’s true that there are high-end shops along the road, and some schlocky merchandise in some of the stalls, there are also wonderful vintage and antique items to be had at reasonable prices.  And for someone like myself who loves Georgian and Victorian jewelry, there’s quite a lot to be found.

“Portobello Road” is a term used to refer to an aglomeration of shops, street markets, and arcades that run along and near Portobello Road in the Notting Hill Gate neighborhood of London.  While some of the shops and arcades are open during the week, Saturday is when all of the shops, stalls, and markets are open for business.

Getting to Portobello Road

Depending on your interests there are two ways to approach the market:  from the upper end near the Westway (Ladbroke Grove tube station) or from the bottom (Notting Hill Gate tube station).  Many people I know prefer starting at the top, with the Golborne Road Market.  Here you can find vintage goods at generally lower prices than in the stalls and markets farther down along Portabello Road.  However, you’re also less likely to find antiques (defined as items 100 years and older) and since that’s what I’m searching for on my trips to London I start at the bottom of the road and work my way up.

My preferred route is to take the tube to Notting Hill Gate, walk a block up Pembridge Road, and then onto Portobello Road.  There is good signage and you will probably see where the crowds are heading.  The action begins a couple of blocks up Portobello Road.  While there are some dealers set up curbside, most of the action takes place in a series of arcades; if you are heading from Notting Hill Gate these arcades will be on the left-hand side of the street (this matters as there are produce stands, food vendors, and crowds along much of the street, so keep to the left).

Shopping

Within the arcades there are numerous small shops with all types of antiques although they tend to specialize in “smalls” rather than furniture:  jewelry, decorative objects, prints, vintage clothes, etc.  I tend to focus on the jewelry, but there are lots of other wonderful items to be found.   Some of the arcades appear small from the outside but are a maze of corridors to explore inside.

Go early to avoid the crowds.  Some people recommend arriving at around 6:00 am, but I’m not a morning person and have found that showing up at around 8:30/9:00 am is sufficiently early.  But by 11:00 am it will be very crowded along the street:

However, while it may get unpleasantly crowded along the street, within the arcades it can be pleasantly un-crowded.

Where to Eat

Once you’ve finished shopping there are a couple of good places to eat, close enough to walk to, but away from the hordes.  There is a small branch of Ottolenghi at 63 Ledbury Road, about 3 blocks from Portobello Road off Westbourne Grove.  If you are a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks – Jerusalem, Plenty, and Ottolenghi – you won’t want to miss eating at one of his restaurants (another one, in Islington, is walking distance from the market and shops there).  Another good option is The Cow, a gastropub that serves delicious versions of traditional pub fare.  On a rainy day I enjoyed sitting there having a bowl of soup, whelks and winkles, and a pint.  The Cow is Located at 89 Westbourne Park Road, about a 15-20 minute walk from Portobello Road.

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