Billingsgate Market is the biggest fish market in London and is only open from about 4 am till about 8:30 am, Tuesdays to Saturdays. You can find practically any type of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans that exists there.
Fishmongers, restaurant chefs, and ordinary people go there to get the freshest seafood available and at much cheaper prices than at supermarkets or fish shops.
Get there early for the freshest seafood
We usually arrive at around 7:00 am, with the crowd, and the choice of seafood, having thinned from the peak. I really do recommend going much earlier if you can, as the stuff leftover are the ones the pros who come at 5 am have passed up. However, if you are not too fussy (and there’s still plenty of fresh produce available), you can get discounts if you come after 7:30.
You can actually enter the market already at 4 am (when the traders start setting up their produce), but you can’t buy anything till 5 am, at which point out of nowhere, there is a massive tide of shoppers appearing out of nowhere.
Armed with shopping trolleys and a wallet-full of cash (only cash is accepted at most stores), they are there to get the best and freshest seafood available, first come, first serve style.
Queues and opening hours at Billingsgate
Because of COVID and strict social distancing rules, access at Billingsgate was restricted for a long period. This had a big impact with an almost endless queue with people waiting for more than 2 hours to get in. As things are getting back to normal, the restrictions are gradually lifted with higher numbers allowed in by the wardens.
The market is open from 4:00 AM to 8:30 AM Tuesday to Saturday. Note that the market is usually closed on bank holidays.
Queuing at the market
4:00 AM – 5:00 AM A peak of professional buyers for businesses like fishmongers and wholesalers in London. Expect from 15 minutes to 1 hour of queuing.
6:00 AM – 7:30 AM A peak of “all the rest” from family restaurant owners to private persons looking to fill up their freezer with fresh seafood. Again, expect around 15 minutes to 1 hour of queuing.
Professional buyers should be there when the market opens to get their hands on the best catch. For private persons, a good time to go is around 5:45 AM. After that, there’s plenty of fresh fish left, and you avoid the biggest peak around 6:30-7:00.
Do you need to buy big quantities at Billingsgate?
Billingsgate is definitely a place that every seafood lover in London should visit at least once. But be aware that most of the fare is sold in big quantities, with fish usually sold in 1-2kg fillets or five to a box (e.g. seabass), and prawns are sold in 2kg boxes.
Try to go early on, and read up a bit about seafood, so you know what to buy, and be suspicious if you are quoted a very good offer; chances are the stallholder knows there’s something wrong with that particular batch and wants to shift it quickly.
Examples of Fish Prices at Billingsgate Market
Pricewise, the fish and seafood at Billingsgate are cheaper than you can find at fishmongers in London, and a lot fresher too. What are the average fish prices at Billingsgate Market? Here are some examples from 2021:
- Mussels, £3 per kilo
- Tiger prawns (farmed), £6 per kilo
- Tiger prawns (wild), £34 per kilo
- Squid rings, £10 per kilo
- Live Crabs, 3 for £10 each
- Whole salmon, £15 each
- Fresh squid, £10 per kilo
- Mackerel, 6 for £10
Professional buyers who know exactly what to buy usually go as early as possible when the market is well-stocked and they can get the best quality and quantity relative to the price. A more opportunistic approach is to arrive during the last hour of trading to see if you can get any great deals from traders desperate to shift their stock before the end of the day.
If you take the latter approach and arrive late, make sure to check how fresh the fish is.
Great for teenagers but not for toddlers
Billingsgate’s official rule is that children under 12 are not permitted on the market floor due to health and safety constraints, including babies in buggies and harnesses. For older kids, it could be a really cool experience though. Just make sure your teenagers wear boots, as they will be stepping on fishy floors.
Parking and nearest tube station
It is normally a logistical nightmare to get to Billingsgate Market without a car. Although it is next to Canary Wharf, it is still a good ten minutes from the centre by walking (which seems more like 20 in the early morning), and the Jubilee Line and DLR are barely functioning so early on. The best option is the D8 bus, which stops right outside the market, and goes either in the Crossharbour DLR direction of Stratford Station.
Bus D8 (either direction, bus stop is right in front of the market, 24 hours a day and night bus service). Poplar DLR (15 minutes walk across the bridge), Canary Wharf Tube Station (Jubilee Line or DLR, 15 minutes walk). To find out how to get to Billingsgate Market by bus, tube, or train, please use the TfL Journey Planner.
Parking at the market
There’s a pay and display car park at £2 for 2 hour’s stay. However, you can also pay online or use the Parkonomy app. There are add on charges to using the online payment of around £0.40p, whereas a pay and display is a £2 flat charge. So you have the choice of what option you want to use.
Take a class at the Billingsgate Seafood Training School
The Billingsgate seafood school is a good mix of self-preparation, and the course leader cooking small dishes to taste during the session. You learn how to prepare several shellfish dishes, you get to taste, of course, and take prepared dishes home with you.