Old-time shopping is best found beyond the modern hubbub and high rents of the upscale city center.



IN EVEN the most urbane and affluent of Western cities, old-fashioned shops and street markets give a glimpse of the past.

In London, one of the world’s most expensive and cosmopolitan cities, such old-time shopping is best found beyond the modern hubbub and high rents of the upscale city center. In Brixton — a South London melting-pot neighborhood of hardscrabble public housing and Victorian mansions, of long-established Afro-Caribbean families and young white hipsters — a wig shop is a snapshot in time, with shiny hairpieces stacked high on plain, old-fashioned shelves.

East London gives visitors the easiest look at old-style shopping. Once the Cockney working-class heartland and now the cradle of the London Olympics and Paralympics games, East London’s centuries-old markets have been revitalized.

At Old Spitalfields Market, modern wares and foods are sold in an airy Victorian market hall of graceful cast-iron pillars under a glassed roof.

From Spitalfields it’s a short walk to Petticoat Lane, a street market that dates back about 400 years and is now packed with bargain clothing and shoe stalls, from shimmering saris to Doc Martens boots. Keep walking to Brick Lane, a Sunday flea that’s about 300 years old and still going strong, surrounded by South Asian restaurants and vintage shops.

For a dash of color, finish up at Columbia Road Flower Market, established in the 1860s. Stalls overflow in riotous colors of cut flowers and plants. Stroll and smell the roses.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.