Billingsgate Market – What you need to know before visiting

by Best-Japanese Team
Billingsgate Market Floor

Updated: June 26th 2022.

Where is the biggest fish market in the UK? With a market complex spanning 13 acres, Billingsgate in London is the UK’s largest indoor fish market. The market dates back to the 17th century and moved from the heart of the City to its current location in Canary Wharf back in 1982.

Billingsgate is where buyers from the best restaurants and fishmongers in London source their fish and seafood. Although it is a professional fish market, it’s also open to the general public. The main trading floor boasts 98 stalls and 30 shops where you can find all kinds of fish and shellfish. If you want to research before you go, take a look at the official City of London website. On top of more background information, you can find a complete merchant list and the market floorplan.

Billingsgate Market Exterior
Billingsgate Market at 5am

Opening times

The market is open every day from Tuesday to Saturday. It starts at 4am and goes on until 8:30 in the morning. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays, bank holidays, and during the Xmas and New Year period. Good Friday is the exception to the bank holiday rule, however we advise checking the official open days before any visit.

When is the best time to go to Billingsgate?

As the market opens at 4am, most serious buyers are in and out before half five if not before. However, remember you’ll have to queue if you arrive before 5am. We would suggest arriving any time after that and possibly the optimal time is around 5:30am. If you don’t want to miss on the best catch, obviously go a little earlier. Stalls start shutting up at 6:30 which is when prices start going down and bargain hunters arrive. You can easily get deals for prices you don’t often see. For examples 4 rainbow trout for £10, a kilo of mussels for £3, or 6 sea bass for £10.

Sea Bream
Sea Bass, Sea Bream, and a couple of crabs

How to get to Billingsgate?

This is a tricky one if you don’t live in the Canary Wharf area and rely on public transportation. Coming back from the market is not an issue but if you want to arrive before 6am, you’ll need to take a night tube and probably a night bus.

For those of you living close to the Central Line and wanting to arrive by 5:30, we would advise going to Mile End station. From there, you can catch the D6 bus for 10 minutes and walk 7 minutes from Aspen Way. Alternatively, you can take an Uber from Mile End straight to Billingsgate. This only cost us £8 and we were outside the market entrance and the iconic Traffic Light Tree in 7 minutes. If arriving after 6am is not an issue for you, then you have the option to take the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf station. From there, it’s a 13 minute walk to Billingsgate.

Billingsgate Traffic Light Tree
Traffic Light Tree

Does Billingsgate have parking?

There is a pay and display car park where you pay £2 for a 2 hours stay. On the Saturday we went in early January there were plenty of spaces still available in the car park. Possibly this will be different later in the year. To be safe, we would recommend arriving before the bargain hunter crowd gets to the market.

What’s it like on the market floor?

Billingsgate Market Floor
Billingsgate Market Floor

First of all, you’ll find the market floor busy. The stalls are all close together lined-up in four rows but this makes it quite easy to move around and locate stalls. Buyers and bargain hunters were wearing masks but the traders generally were not. You’ll see the floor is wet so it’s better to go in shoes or boots with non-slip soles. Definitely don’t wear anything that you wouldn’t want getting dirty. This is a market with a lot going on. You’ll often hear porters shout out “mind your feet” or “legs” as they pull their trolleys and pallets right past you.

Being at Billingsgate does give you a glimpse into East End trading life but it’s not as rough as some writers may have you believe. The traders we met and spoke to were polite and friendly to all customers. In addition, we don’t believe anyone is out to target unsuspecting shoppers either. If prices are getting lower past six thirty, it obviously means the traders want to sell their stock before closing.

Whole Salmon
Whole Salmon and Lobsters
Tiger Prawns
Tiger Prawns

What about the Sashimi-Grade Fish?

You will need to take particular care when you buy sashimi grade fish. It goes without saying that not buying the correct fish could make you seriously ill. So always take your time and ask the trader if they sell sushi or sashimi grade fish. Be sure to double check if you are not sure. You can even explicitly ask if the fish can be eaten raw as sashimi or used for sushi.

We would recommend that you go early so that you can get the best fish. Also we would advise paying extra for higher quality. You may see cheaper options but surely it’s better to be play it safe. In addition, farmed salmon is the way to go if you are trying to avoid any risks from parasites.

Here is a photo of a box of farmed sashimi-grade salmon from Norway. Each fillet weighed 1.75 kgs and cost £25 – £26. In case it looks small to you, believe us when we say they are huge. We bought one of the fillets under these ones you see on top. While these fillets were not descaled, this took less than 2 minutes work when we got home.

Sushi Grade Salmon Sashimi
Sashimi Grade Salmon

Just to give you an idea of what it looked like, here is the fillet at home on the largest cutting board we have in the kitchen. Moments after taking this photo we sliced up the salmon and had the most delicious sashimi breakfast.

Billingsgate Market Salmon
Sashimi Grade Salmon Fillet

Do you need to bring cash?

Yes, please remember to take cash with you before going to Billingsgate. There used to be an ATM at the market but now the closest one is a ten-minute walk away in Canary Wharf. Some traders may have card readers but all the ones we bought from only accepted cash.

Also keep in mind that Billingsgate is a wholesale market. This means that you won’t be able to buy small quantities. You’ll be buying by the kilo, by boxes, or in our case with the sashimi-grade salmon, you have to buy the whole fillet. Below you can see that there is sliced salmon but it’s sold per kilogram.

Wild Salmon and Pom Fret

We hope that this information about Billingsgate has been helpful. For more information on which stall we bought our salmon from, please feel to comment below or send us a message on our contact us page.

Billingsgate offers the freshest fish which is perfect for sashimi or sushi making. It is an option for those who are early morning risers and who don’t mind the market vibe. If you are not willing to lose out on sleep, please check out our list of alternative Japanese supermarkets and shops selling sashimi grade fish in the London area and across the UK.

Looking for a Japanese knife to slice your sashimi?

To slice sashimi, you’ll need a Yanagiba “willow blade”, which is a long and thin knife used to slice raw fish and other seafood. There are quite a few Japanese sashimi knives you can purchase online but not all are actually made in Japan. If you are looking for a Japanese sashimi knife that has both good reviews in Japan and is respected by Japanese chefs in the UK, we would recommend Kai’s 18 cm Japanese sashimi knife from their Magoroku Ginju collection. The blade is stainless steel so it’s easy-to-clean and rust resistant. Also the knife handle is made from high grade water-resistant wood. To give a quick introduction to Kai, the company was founded in 1908 in Seki City, which is an area of Japan well-known for blade-making and they create kitchen knives according to the traditions of the legendary samurai of old Japan.

Kai Sashimi Knife
Kai Seki Mago Roku

Where to buy Japanese sashimi knives

Kai’s Magoroku Ginju Sashimi knife is available on Amazon Japan where they have a 4.1 rating out of 935 ratings which you can check here. While Amazon don’t have shipping to the UK right now, you can still get this knife at which is a unique online store in the UK for those who love authentic Japanese products. We found that you can buy the Kai Magoroku Ginju Sashimi knife for £36.69, and you can get a 10% discount if you subscribe to their email newsletters. Then you can get it delivered for £7 with 48 hour delivery that comes with tracking. We bought one last month and this is how it looks after unboxing. Apart from being aesthetically pleasing, the knife is light and very sharp. In fact, cutting through sashimi with this knive requires little effort and you can create beautiful sashimi slices.

Kai Sashimi Knive Unboxed
Kai Seki Magoroku Unboxed

One more option worth considering is the Japanese Knife Company which has several stores in London and been running for over 20 years. Their JKC Sushi Yanagiba is also single bevel, stainless steel and made in Niigata prefecture in Japan. Since it costs £69 it will qualify for free UK shipping and in case you’ve not previously come across JKC they have some incredible scores on TrustPilot and you can always head into one of their stores to take a closer look at their products in person.

Finally, if you prefer to buy through Amazon, take a look at the KEEMAKE Yanagiba Single Bevel Knive. While it’s not made in Japan, it is crafted with Japanese stainless steel and while we’ve not tested it out ourselves, the reviews look solid. Also you can get a refund if you’re not satisfied.

Do you need to know how to make sushi?

Yes probably the first thought is why buy a book when I can watch on YouTube? But in our minds, if you are going to go out of your way to get the freshest sashimi to make sushi, surely you would want to have a reference guide with step-by-step instructions and extra background on preparation. Here are 3 books that are worth considering buying before heading to Billingsgate for sashimi grade fish especially if you are planning on making sushi. Even if you don’t buy them, we would suggest at least taking a peak inside each one – you can see how to slice sashimi as well as what ingredients and equipment you will need.

Sushi Made Simple

Sushi Made Simple

Our first choice would be this fantastic guide to making sushi by Atsuko Ikeda, who is a Japanese chef and food consultant who’s been running cooking classes in London since 2008. You’ll find the book a masterclass proving authentic knowledge and skills with innovative ideas to give 60 recipes for rolls, wraps, and moulded sushi. You’ll learn the basic cooking methods and step-by-step techniques with all the recipes put together in a way that is easy-to-understand.

THE SUSHI COOKBOOK: A Variety of Sushi Recipes by Haruto Nakamura

The Sushi Cookbook

Haruto Nakamura’s Sushi Cookbook provides the secrets to sushi preparation even for those who have never made sushi before. Inside the book you can discover a wide collection of 35 sushi recipes selected by Master Nakamura. These includes the traditional sushi recipes as well as vegetarian and modern variants including 9 sushi desserts!

Sushi Cookbook for Beginners: 100 Step-By-Step Recipes to Make Sushi at Home

Sushi for Beginners

There are many variations of sushi, and Japanese author Chika Ravitch goes through a diverse collection in the Sushi Cookbook for Beginners. Here the classic like Tuna Rolls are covered before the non-traditional choices like Spicy Fried Mozzarella Rolls. You can get information on kitchen must-haves like a sushi-rolling mat as well as how to select high-quality ingredients for the perfect sashimi and sushi rolls.

At Best Japanese, we independently select and write about Japanese food and culture we love and think you’ll like too. If you buy a product we have recommended, we may receive a small affiliate commission which in turn supports our work.

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The Best Japanese Team is a community of friends and family living in the UK and Japan. Our main goal is to share accurate knowledge on Japanese food, culture, lifestyle, and travel. We also wish to support Japanese inspired creators and businesses across the world. As we grow we welcome contributions from like-minded invididuals so if this sounds like you please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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