The UK is lucky enough to have some of the best shopping destinations in the world. As well as leading high street shops, Britain is also well-known for its cool and quirky independent shops and marketplaces. From London to Glasgow and everywhere in between, let’s take a look at the most-loved flea markets, antique centres, and studios across the country.
Brighton’s Lanes and North Laine
Once upon a time, the Lanes were part of a sleepy coastal fishing village called Brighthelmstone. Now, the Lanes and North Laine are home to some of the coolest independent stores in the country. You could spend days wandering along the cobbled streets, trawling through the treasures to be found in the vintage clothing stores, finding your new favourite read in the second-hand bookshops, and even sampling homemade chocolates and treats in the area’s many quirky cafes. Snoopers Paradise in the North Laine is a sprawling empire that you could get lost exploring. Packed full to the brim with antiques and bric-a-brac, even if you don’t buy anything, it’s the perfect way to have a cheap, fun day out.
The area is also jam-packed with street art, with a surprise piece of artwork around every corner. Make your own street art walking tour by heading down Trafalgar Street from Brighton train station. Soon you’ll come across Banksy’s famous Kissing Policemen, as well as a mural painted by Reg and SinnaOne in tribute to David Bowie, George Michael, and Tom Petty. Then, simply wander around the streets as you fancy - you’ll come across different pieces by street artists Mr Cen, Anon, Minty, Aroe and Snub 23.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter
Nestled between Piccadilly and Ancoats, the Northern Quarter is a charming part of the city with bags of character, perfect for a cheap day out with the family. In the thriving creative heart of the city, you could spend hours wandering from independent shop to independent shop. The area is full of record shops, cool vintage clothing stores, and of course, the famous Afflecks Palace. It opened in 1982 and ever since has been home to dozens of independent shops and stalls across floor floors, creating a huge indoor marketplace.
Don’t miss the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, where independent makers and artists sell their wares from their working studios. You’ll find endless delights under one roof, from jewellery to illustration, and you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the artists at work as you browse their products.
If you’re looking for cool and quirky places to shop, you really can’t beat London. There are so many markets to browse that you’ll have plenty of cheap fun things to do in London whether you’re visiting for a day, weekend or longer. Camden Market has long been loved by locals and tourists alike for its alternative vibe, with over 1000 independent shops, stalls, cafes and bars to enjoy. Camden Lock was one of the first crafts and antique markets in London, and it’s still one of the best places to go to spend a family day out browsing the stalls for handmade crafts, trinkets, gifts and souvenirs.
Spitalfields Market is another must-visit market in London. Open between 11am and 5pm, it’s packed full of high-fashion and cuisines from all over the world. Every weekend you’ll find the Saturday Style Market, which hosts more than 80 independent designers with something to suit every personal taste.
If rooting through antiques is more your style, you’ll love Portobello Market in Notting Hill. It’s the world’s largest antique market, with everything from antique silver to books and toys. The main antique day is Saturday, the only day the antique arcades (the indoor markets) are open. However, there are many antique shops along Portobello Road that are open daily.
Leeds Corn Exchange
A Grade 1 listed Victorian building in the heart of Leeds, the Corn Exchange is a bustling hub of independent shops, stalls and cafes. If you’re in the Yorkshire area and looking for fun things to do near you, you can’t beat a day out to this venue, featuring everything from hand-made clothing to beautiful ceramics and pottery.
St Nicholas Market in Bristol has been trading since 1743 and today is home to the biggest collection of independent retailers in the city. It’s packed full of quirky clothing stalls, record stores and gift shops sending hand-crafted items. It was named Britain's Best Large Indoor Market in 2016 and as well as the permanent shops, there’s a farmers’ market on Wednesday where you can pick up fresh fruit and veg, as well as Bristol’s Indies’ Markets every Friday and Saturday. The indie market has space for local independent craftspeople selling a range of goods from artwork to vintage clothing.
Norwich Market is one of the oldest and largest open-air markets in the country. It’s been in operation for over 900 years and is still going strong with more than 200 stalls. Market traders offer a wide range of locally-produced goods, making for a fantastic day out browsing everything from clothing and accessories to crafts, and from plants and flowers to homeware. With a host of food stalls and independent eateries, you’ll also get the chance to sample a variety of delicious products made in and around Norwich.
Every corner of Scotland’s biggest city offers something different when it comes to independent shopping. From the Barras market in the east, dating back to 1921, famous for its antiques and collectible items, to the high-end independent shops in the west, there’s something for everyone in Glasgow. De Courcy’s Arcade in the west end has a host of quirky independent boutiques, art galleries and gift shops, and nearby Finnieston is home to the Hidden Lane, which hosts lots of unique designers and creatives, who you can see working away at their crafts as you shop.
Spend a day in Oxford exploring the Covered Market, right in the centre of the city. The market dates back to the 1170s and is a treasure trove of unique shops and cafes. You could easily while away hours here wandering from shop to shop, discovering everything from specialist hat shops to colourful kids’ clothing retailers.
This picturesque town near the Brecon Beacons may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to independent shopping -some even think it’s the best place to browse bohemian shops in Wales. Packed with brightly painted shop fronts, the town has a surprisingly high number of independent boutiques for a town of just 1,795 people, including everything from high-end fashion to age-old antiques.
Getting there by train
So, have you decided where to go for a day out in England, Scotland or Wales? Whatever city’s independent shops you’ve got your heart set on, Avanti West Coast can take you there.You can book any train journey through our Journey Planner, even if the stations and services aren’t run by Avanti West Coast.