The colourful shop fronts that line Columbia Road © Kyle Taylor
"City dwellers frequently seek ways to flee London during the weekends, but why not spend a fun and restorative day out within the city limits? A slow-paced Sunday drive to Columbia Road Flower Market in East London is just the ticket for newcomers and locals alike who are after a spot of laidback browsing and exploring and to pick up some bright, colourful flowers to light the week ahead." Read on for the lowdown on a day out at Columbia Road.

"Columbia Road is one of the only streets in the UK that has over 60 independent shops – no high street chains here. On Sundays, the neighbourhoody street fills with an oasis of foliage, as dozens of vendors line the pavement all year round to hawk everything from cut lilies to massive, potted tropical plants. Bringing your Zipcar is essential to cram in all those new finds tucked away in the boot, you won’t have to fret about getting that new lemon tree home on public transport.
 
A vendor looks over his colourful flowers at the Columbia Road Flower Market © shootingjaydred
 
After you’ve stowed away a new plant or two in your Zipcar, amble over to Campania Gastronomia (95 Columbia Road, London E2 7RG, 020 7613 0015, www.columbiaroad.info/map/locate/campania_gastronomia) for a hearty brunch. After 12:30, the menu switches over to the café’s excellent selection of rustic Southern Italian specialities, which are best enjoyed at the street-side tables out front on sunny days or at the long window bench during spottier weather. Or, for a quick caffeine blast, swing by their takeaway window for a superbly made, authentic Italian cappuccino. 
 
The spacious dining room at Bistrotheque © Bistrotheque
 
Those after slightly more upscale but no less brunch-friendly environs should head over to Bistrotheque (23 Wadeson Street, London E2 9DR, 020 8983 7900, www.bistrotheque.com), just one mile away in neighbouring Bethnal Green. The lofted restaurant, kitted out with exposed fixtures and white walls, serves sleek interpretations of French cuisine. And for brunch, there are a multitude of options available: whether you fancy oysters on the half-shell, a fresh pear and Stichelton salad, half a roast chicken, or steak tartare, Bistrotheque’s got it on the menu.
 
Nelly Duff gallery displays art from dozens of artists © faheempatel
 
After lunchtime, there’s no rush in taking the plants home just yet. Instead, stick around the Columbia Road Flower Market area for some browsing of its many appealing boutiques. Those looking for artistic inspiration should pop into Nelly Duff (156 Columbia Road, London E2 7RG, 020 7033 9683, www.nellyduff.com), a small gallery that shows pieces by artists working in graphic design, street art, and tattoo work. If you’re lucky, you’ll walk off with a favourite print, straight off the gallery’s walls.
 
The bustling crowds shop at Spitalfields Market © Spitalfields_E1
 
Those with a shop-’till-you-drop mentality can also plan to swing by Old Spitalfields Market (16 Horner Square, Spitalfields, London E1 6EW, 020 7247 8556, www.spitalfields.co.uk) before journeying home. The renowned covered market, which has occupied this plot of land since 1876, hosts innumerable sellers every weekend. Shoppers can scoop up everything from artisan doughnuts to retro hats and everything in between.
 
Don’t assume, then, that it’s only best to rent a car when taking day trips out of the city – with Zipcar, you can motor all over London, and having an extra-spacious boot at hand certainly makes it easier for those special shopping excursions."
 
What are your experiences of Columbia Road and its flower market? Did we miss any top tips?
 
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