I visited the New Covent Garden Market in London, and it was a breathtaking sight.
The market has been around for hundreds of years and still supplies flowers and produce to local businesses.
As the flower market opens at 4 a.m., I arrived and left before sunrise.
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If you’ve ever seen “My Fair Lady”, you are probably familiar with the famous London market of New Covent Garden, where Audrey Hepburn’s character buys the “flahers” she sells on the streets every morning.
The market looks like a dream, with flowers springing up from every corner, vendors bargaining loudly, and roses making everything smell beautiful. But unlike many magical places in the movies, this flower merchant is quite real.
Formally established in 1670, the market’s presence has been felt at British weddings, birthdays and funerals for hundreds of years. The market moved from Covent Garden to Battersea in 1974 due to lack of space, but its flowers, fruits and vegetables are still shipped nationwide.
Best of all, it’s open to the public and filled with Instagrammable flower walls and stunning floral accessories.
Read on to see what the market looks like as soon as it opens.
The flower market is open from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday to Saturday so I knew I was going to start early
I wanted to have the most authentic experience possible, so I set my alarm clock well before sunrise.
The flowers are shipped to the UK overnight, so the early bird catches the worm. The earlier you arrive, the more options you will have.
The market is easy to find if you watch delivery trucks
Located on a main road next to Battersea Power Station and close to the River Thames, the market was marked by a never-ending stream of delivery trucks coming in and out.
It was still dark when I arrived so the neon sign was a welcome indicator that I was in the right place. I chose to visit on a Monday as this is when British flowers are sold.
The exterior of New Covent Garden is unsurprisingly industrial in appearance
It’s not a commercial florist who needs to attract customers by looking pretty – it’s a job market that’s already famous around the world and a popular site for traders.
It’s also the place where many London restaurants source their flowers and produce, and where local florists buy their stems and greens to turn them into thoughtful arrangements.
However, the piles of Christmas trees and flowers outside the pedestrian entrance made it clear where I was
After admiring the displays, I walked through the door and entered the market proper.
The first thing that struck me was the temperature
The entire market building is kept at temperatures comparable to those of a refrigerator to keep the flowers fresh and fresh. This means that sellers can put up endless rows of beautiful flowers without worrying about their wilting.
I had never seen so many flowers in one place before
There were rows of roses, huge bouquets of hydrangeas, and armfuls of lilies, tulips and baby’s breath. Forget the flower walls – it sounded like an influencer dream.
It was a beautiful sight, and it smelled as good, although it might not be the best for those with certain allergies.
Although the market is designed for wholesalers and professionals, everyone was very welcoming
It’s important to note that this is a place of work, not a farmers market, so be prepared to quickly step aside when a cart full of miniature cacti comes quickly behind you.
Luckily the sellers and other buyers were welcoming and didn’t mind rummaging and browsing the wares.
The market is divided into sections, and each division is occupied by a different trader
In a large rectangular hall, traders run through the middle and to the edges of the market, which have a communication gateway.
Each trader has a specialization – those in the middle rows tend to work with a variety of cut flowers, and those on the edge mostly deal with greenery, dried flowers, florist supplies, and potted plants.
The market seemed to have everything a craftsman or florist could possibly need
You can collect ribbon, baskets, vases, and moss to make wreaths and other arrangements while you are here to get flowers.
One of my favorite sellers was the one that stocked the kind of decorations I loved at the garden center as a kid.
Because I visited in mid-November, the market was filled with Christmas decorations. It would be a great place to shop for unique adornments and, of course, seasonal flowers and wreaths.
I was very ready for a coffee at this point, so I headed to the cafe on the spot.
The temperature here was gloriously warmer. While I was ordering, the vendors were chatting at the table and enjoying an early breakfast.
The menu had delicious greasy spoonfuls, as well as a strong cup of tea that you could hold a teaspoon in.
Compared to the rest of London, the fairly low prices for coffee make it seem like it hasn’t been updated much since the early days of the market.
Market offers change with the season
There were some fascinating items on display that I had never considered before, such as crates full of fresh moss, carts with freshly cut logs, and fake flowers for customers who prefer a low-maintenance option.
Of course I couldn’t leave without bringing home some flowers
Unlike if I was at a normal florist, I was alone to pick up my order. I also knew I wasn’t going to find a handmade, pre-arranged bouquet. That said, there was almost too much to choose from.
Flowers are sold by bundle or crate, usually in one variety and color
Hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers and the market had so many colors that I usually can’t find anywhere else. I picked up a huge pile of blue-violet.
The quality was also higher than what I usually buy. This was not too surprising since the flowers here are provided in some of the fanciest places in London and are super fresh.
While the prices are lower than Main Street, they don’t come cheap – flowers are a luxury item, after all. Bring cash if you visit the market, as the old-fashioned payment methods are king.
As I left with my armful of flowers, the sun had not yet risen, but the market was only coming alive
It’s amazing that this one market is the source of so many beautiful flowers across London, and has been for centuries.
Whether you want to buy a fresh holiday bouquet or organize a quick and colorful photoshoot, the New Covent Garden Market is the place to be for all your floral wishes – and well worth a visit.
Note: At the time of publication, the Marketplace is open to visitors and follows a series of social distancing guidelines and protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.