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Smithfields Market

The largest meat market in the UK today, Smithfields has been in use since Medieval times.

TravelCurious Tip

If you are looking to buy meat, be sure to get there early – the market usually starts around 3am, and by midday most places have packed up.

Just to the northwest of the City of London sits Smithfields Market, the UK’s largest wholesale meat market and one with a rollercoaster past, to say the least. Originally known as “Smooth Field”, the area established itself as a livestock market over a thousand years ago, due to its excellent access to water and grazing. If you wander around the area today, you’ll see this history reflected in many of the street names: Cow Cross Street, Duck Lane, Pheasant Court and Goose Alley are all nearby.


Smithfields on the Silver Screen

As a large, open space close to the city, Smithfield became a popular location for large gatherings and events during the medieval period. One of the more famous of these was the 1390 jousting tournament put on by Richard II, in which 60 knights from across Europe came to London to tilt for two days, accompanied by sixty noble ladies. Organising the tournament was a 47-year-old Geoffrey Chaucer, and this episode served as inspiration for Paul Bettany’s role as the great English poet in the film A Knight’s Tale. Most famously, and continuing the cinematic theme, the Scottish revolutionary William Wallace was executed at Smithfields in 1305, though whether he really did shout “Freedom!” with his dying breath is subject to some speculation.

These days, most visitors come to Smithfields for the colourful history, though you can of course still buy meat here at surprisingly affordable prices. There’s also a certain charm in experiencing the cheerful hawking and clatter that has been going on continuously for over a thousand years.


Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in London
Museum of London
A great museum dedicated to the history and evolution of London.
St Bartholomew's Hospital
St Bartholomew's, often known simply as Bart's, is the oldest hospital in all of Europe.
Hatton Gardens
World Famous street in London for buying and trading Diamonds and Bespoke Jewellery
London Diamond Bourse
The only internationally recognised diamond bourse in the UK, making it an epicentre for the diamond trade around the British Isles and beyond.
St John Bread and Wine
Now a bustling bakery, dining room and offering a number of delicious wines St John Bread and Wine provides a menu that changes daily.
Grays Inn
For over a year, Charles Dickens clerked at Grays Inn in the heart of Holborn.

Related Tours

Private Historical Pubs and Rebels Tour
Explore the dark and chequered history of Smithfield, home to London’s central meat market.

  • Learn about the area’s gruesome history and enjoy a pint of local brew at the oldest drinking holes around.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes with a wander around the grounds of the historic St Barts, the oldest hospital in Europe.
  • Uncover the most unlikely stories of one of London’s most influential areas with your expert guide.
  • Learn about the role of traditional watering holes in the area’s history and take the chance to cultivate your palate: from stout, to cider, to traditional British ales.

Exploring London’s Bloody Past

Looking to quench your thirst whilst taking in London’s bloody past? In this fantastic pub tour you will have the pleasure of visiting some of the most historic drinking spots in the City of London. Enjoy some excellent locally-brewed craft beer whilst exploring the dark and chequered history of the Smithfield area. The central meat market for London, Smithfields has been in continuous operation for more than 800 years. Undoubtedly the most gruesome location in the capital, this ancient marketplace has long been a site of gory traditions: from the cattle that were slaughtered in its streets to the presence of countless heretic  witches, public executions (of the likes of William "Braveheart" Wallace) and the slaying of  Wat Tyler during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Murder and mystery define the district, which is often referenced by London’s literary legends – the nearby St Bartholomew, more commonly known as St. Barts, is where Sherlock Holmes first meets Dr. Watson. Once described by Dickens in Oliver Twist as “the armpit of London, where animal excrement and entrails created a sea of filth”,  today Smithfield thankfully operates in beautiful ornate Victorian halls - no entrails in sight!

Hidden Smithfield

As you venture through these labyrinthine streets with your expert local guide, you will be going off the beaten track, journeying back in time as you explore some of Smithfield’s’ most interesting pubs and breweries. One establishment you might venture into, The Hand and Shears, dates as far back as the Middle Ages – the Lord Mayor used to open the famed St.Bartholomew's fair from outside it doors. Another, the Viaduct Tavern, lies opposite the notorious old Newgate Prison. Its cellars are rumoured to have once been cells, though you’d never guess as you sit comfortably inside this former ‘Gin Palace’, which boasts a beautiful Victorian interior of ornate wooden screens and engraved glass panels.   As you make yourself at home in these traditional watering holes, your guide will regale you with tales of the city, whilst you sample a variety of authentic British ales, stouts and ciders.
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