Canary Wharf’s fish market

Canary Wharf’s billingsgate fish market in front of HSBC tower and One Canada Square

Billingsgate fish market — sometimes known as Canary Wharf fish market — is not only London’s largest fish market, it’s the largest inland fish market in the UK!

Located on the northern edge of the Canary Wharf financial centre, this fish market opened in 1982. It was relocated from the original Billingsgate fish market, located significantly further inland along the Thames, where traders had been selling fish since the 16th century!

The current Canary Wharf iteration of the fish market spans over 50,000 square metres of purpose-built warehouses.

With interrupted trading throughout Covid-19, and news of the fish market closing, tourist footfall has reduced considerably. It turns out it’s the perfect time for a visit before the market moves permanently!

Canary Wharf’s fish-market is still currently open, so here’s our up-to-date experience of visiting Billingsgate market in 2022.


A guide to visiting Canary Wharf’s fish market

Visiting Billingsgate Market as a general member of the public is an interesting morning out, and well worth getting up early for. And by early, we mean early!

  • This fish market is a great place to visit, but it has to be remembered that it is a working market.
  • Unlike the modern iteration of historic markets like Spitalfields, or Notting Hill, it’s not a sanitised tourist-orientated experience.
  • Primarily, the market serves trade customers from London’s restaurant, and fishmongers, shifting over 25 thousand tonnes of fish a year.
the original location of old billingsgate fish market
Pre-Canary Wharf, Old Billingsgate Fish Market was located in the heart of the City

The market itself is a giant trading hall with nearly 100 stands and 30 shops. It is busy and loud, so expect hustle and bustle, slippery floors, and large crowds. Children under 12 aren’t allowed — but there are plenty of child-friendly days out nearby.

There are 2 cafés inside, to grab a cup of tea, or a 4:30am fish sandwich!

Unlike some fish markets — like Japan’s famous Tsukiji fish marketthis is not an auction house where fishermen’s catches of the day are sold to merchants for the highest bid. Don’t worry about bidding etiquette! The traders at Canary Wharf’s market are all registered fish merchants, and sell directly to anyone who visits the market at fixed prices.

Here’s an up-to-date VLOG of Canary Wharf’s fish market, taken in 2021. For info, in this video, the market looks a little quieter than when we visited in 2022.

The market is open Tuesday to Saturday mornings, between 4am and 8.30am. It is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and most bank holidays.

  • Higher restaurant weekend trade and more casual buyers mean Saturdays are the busiest times.
  • For the quietest times, arrive midweek around 5am. Most professional buyers are in and out of the market between 4:00–4:45am, and casual buyers often don’t arrive until after 6am.

The fish market is very accessible via public transport, with Canary Wharf a short walk away. It is ten minutes walk from both the DLR and Jubilee line stations, and will be 5-minutes walk from the upcoming Crossrail station.

The only issue for arriving via train is the ability to arrive in time for the market’s 4am opening. However, TFL night tubes run on the Jubilee line on Fridays and Saturdays, making the Saturday market accessible via public transport.

If you are driving, there’s plenty of parking — nearly 400 spaces — and the carpark is open 24/7 if you intend to arrive before the market opens.

Address: Billingsgate Market, Trafalgar Way, Poplar, London E14 5ST

  • Be prepared to queue. I wished I had brought a book for the queue, like some regulars! At peak times (4-4:30am weekdays, 6:00am Saturdays) it can be upwards of 2 hours queuing to get inside the market.
  • Dress appropriately. The market contains plenty of fresh and frozen fish, an 800-tonne freezer, and commercial ice making machines! It’s not absolutely freezing inside, but it can get cold, and the floors are slippery. Wear something semi-warm, and make sure you have appropriate non-slip footwear — anything open-toed isn’t allowed.
  • Toilets are only accessible once you’ve queued up and got inside the market. However, if you are desperate and facing a giant queue to get inside, or arrive before the market is open, there are public toilets in Canary Wharf’s shopping malls around 10-minutes walk away.
overhead view of fish merchants at canary wharf market
The freshest fish gets snapped up before 5am!
  • If you really know your fish, arrive promptly when the market opens. Commercial buyers from high-end restaurants, 5-star hotels across London, and Canary Wharf’s own food markets, will arrive before the market opens at 4:00am. While all the fish here is likely to be fresher than anything you can find in a supermarket, if you want the ultra-premium stock you’ll need to compete with the early morning professionals!
  • Bring some coins for pay and display parking (£2 for 2 hours), and something to take your fish home in! Stick with a cool-bag, as wheeled trolleys aren’t allowed inside.
  • Not all traders accept card, so it’s best to bring some cash too.

If you’re unsure exactly what fish to buy — what’s in season, how to cook it, the best deal of the day? — there is expert help available within the market.

fish for sale at canary wharfs fish market
The freshest fish gets snapped up before 5am!

For beginners wanting to learn more about making fish dinners, to professionals looking to enhance their skills with recognised certificates, there is the Seafood School at Billingsgate.

There are a range of in-depth and evening courses available, and for £30 they also offer a guided morning tour of the market lasting 2 hours. The tours are exceptionally highly rated, and sell out rapidly!

When is Billingsgate Market closing?

The estimated date for the Canary Wharf fish markets closure is around 2025.

Three of London’s working markets — the Billingsgate fish market near Canary Wharf, New Spitalfields flower market, and Farringdon’s historic Smithfield meat market — will all eventually be combined at Dagenham docks.

This ambitious project was approved in 2021, and once open, will be the largest wholesale market in Britain. Set to be complete is 2027, it will once again involve Billingsgate fish market moving further away from the centre of London.

Summary

While Canary Wharf’s fish-market is not a designated tourist attraction — it’s a proper, working market — it’s a great way to spend a morning and definitely worth doing.

The market offers a behind the scenes look into the UK’s fish trade. If, like me, you’re guilty of buying most of your produce from the supermarket, you will be well-rewarded for your effort of getting up early sourcing something exceptionally fresh for dinner!

Around 10-minutes walk from the centre of Canary Wharf, Billingsgate is also easy to get to. If you don’t fancy a fish sandwich, there are plenty of places for breakfast in Canary Wharf afterwards!

With plans for a combined market in 2025 now-approved, the fish market’s Canary Wharf location will be soon consigned to the history books. The new location will undoubtedly offer a modern, purpose-built space. But, like the closure of Japans Tsukiji fish market — now moved to a new out-of-town centre — a bit of the original magic will no-doubt be lost in the transition.

Visit before it dissapears!