Updated July 2018
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 market under the Westway. 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
Expert tip: 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).
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.
Expert tip: 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 8:00 am is sufficiently early. But, be warned, 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.
On my most recent trip I found two more great restaurants:
The Chipping Forecast
is a terrific fish and chips joint. While I am a very adventurous eater, bottled mayo makes me ill, and it is rare to find tartar sauce that isn’t just bottled mayo with some crap mixed in. The Chipping Forecast makes their tartar sauce and mayonnaise from scratch and their tartar sauce was so delicious I wanted to lick the ramekin clean. The restaurant is located 29 All Saints Road, a couple of blocks east of the market.
A couple of blocks north of the Westway, at 93 Golborne Road is a wonderful modern Danish restaurant Snaps and Rye
. At lunch they have Smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) with house cured salmon and herring, along with salads and a few hot dishes. Dinner is a more elaborate affair with a three-course menu.