Over two centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte famously referred to England as a nation of shopkeepers – 200 years later and its capital city remains one of the best places in the world to go shopping. Indeed today, the retail sector accounts for about 40 per cent of all money spent in London. From big-name emporiums, such as Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Liberty, which not only offer a slice of heaven to shopaholics but have become sightseeing attractions in their own right, to the hidden boutiques and independent start-ups and the dozens of markets where you can bag a bargain, London has it all.
When it comes to shopping in London bustling Oxford Street, which with over 200 million visitors a year, lays claim to being the capital’s busiest street and also Europe’s longest high street, is hard to beat but it is not for the faint hearted. The 1.5-mile stretch running from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road is home to 1.5 million square metres of retail space including more than 300 shops, designer outlets and 67 flagship stores. Crossing from one side of the street to the other can sometimes feel like you’re dicing with death however so plans to fully pedestrianise the street west of Oxford Circus, which are due to be in place by 2019, are sure to make the experience a whole lot less stressful.
Oxford Street’s most famous store is no doubt the legendary Selfridges, which began life in 1909 and in recent years has become the subject of a television costume drama about its early years. In 2018 it was again voted the Best Department Store in the World at the Global Department Store Summit. Spread over nine floors and offering 10 acres of shopping space, the department store famous for its yellow bags, stocks everything from perfume to pillowcases. There’s also a 19,000 square feet Wonder Room, which in 2017 celebrated its 10-year anniversary and is a luxury watch and jewellery brand addict’s paradise, and the world’s biggest-ever denim department, housing more than 11,000 pairs of jeans.
As well as the flagship shops of other British department stores including Debenhams and John Lewis, Oxford Street also offers some of the best choice in terms of high street fashion; Topshop’s flagship store is here, as are not one but two Primark stores and then there’s the four-floor Niketown for that sports luxe attire – you can even design your own trainers there! If the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street is a little too much, then slip down one of its side streets and you’ll soon uncover some hidden gems. For example, Christopher’s Place (look out for the landmark purple clock and you’re in the right place), offers a unique blend of top-notch boutiques and restaurants, as well as some of Britain’s best brands including the Whistles flagship store and Mulberry’s oldest boutique.
Another Oxford Street offshoot, Berwick Street, you may well recognise as it was the location for the cover shoot of the 1995 Oasis album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? It has been a destination for vinyl record collectors since the 1980s when it became known as ‘The Golden Mile of Vinyl’ and is still home to central London’s largest concentration of independent record shops. Popular with fashion designers and film and TV costume makers, Berwick Street is home to a host of fabric shops, such as The Cloth House, Misan Textiles and Silk Society. It also hosts the world-famous Berwick Street Market, which was first established in 1778, and is now a now a bustling foodie destination full of concept traders.
When it comes to shopping in London bustling Oxford Street, which with over 200 million visitors a year, lays claim to being the capital’s busiest street and also Europe’s longest high street, is hard to beat but it is not for the faint hearted
Markets, Hamleys and Savile Row
Talking of markets and London is brimming with them so whether you’re after a bargain or just want to soak up the bustling atmosphere, it’s well worth paying one or more a visit. The world-famous Camden High street market attracts more than 100,000 visitors every weekend and is one of the city’s top attractions. This market is actually a collection of six small markets within the area: the Electric Ballroom Market, selling vintage and funky gear; the Inverness Street Market, selling fruit and veg, bargain clothing and souvenirs; Buck Street Market, specialising in alternative clothing; the Camden Canal Market with its small shops selling fashion accessories and gifts; Camden Lock Market, famous for its crafts and the Camden Stables Market, where shopkeepers sell clothes and accessories. The Portobello Road Market, in Notting Hill, is another of London’s market institutions, while other markets include the historical Old Spitalsfields Market dating back to 1638, Petticoat Lane Market, the food-lovers’ Borough Market and the posh Dover Street Market in Mayfair.
Another of London’s famous shopping districts is Regent Street, which provides an altogether elegant shopping experience thanks to its Grade II-listed buildings designed by famed architect John Nash. It’s also home to some of the city’s oldest stores including Hamleys and the magnificent mock-Tudor building which houses Liberty. Established in 1760, Hamleys is London’s oldest toy shop and is one of the largest toy stores in the world. The legendary store is a fantastic experience for kids of all ages featuring seven floors brimming with the latest crazes, computer games, traditional teddies and specialist collector areas. Liberty meanwhile is one of the last great emporiums for innovative and eclectic design. The story goes that in 1875, Arthur Lasenby Liberty borrowed £2,000 from his future father in law and took over half of 218a Regent Street with three dedicated staff and the vision of creating an eastern bazaar that would change the look of homeware and fashion.
Within just 18 months the loan was repaid, the second half of 218a Regent Street was bought and neighbouring properties were added to cater for the ever-increasing demand for carpets and furniture. Today this quirky store continues to be a ‘tardis’, where rich heritage combines with the cutting edge and avant-garde. Dating back to 1664, when Charles II authorised Henry Jermyn, the Earl of St Albans, to develop an area close to St James’s Palace, Jermyn Street, which sits just off Regent Street, has a world-renowned reputation as the centre for gentlemen’s fashion, especially bespoke shirts. Over the years Jermyn Street’s distinguished residents have included the likes of Sir William Stanley, Sir Isaac Newton, the poet Thomas Gray and W. M. Thackeray. To this day it retains its distinctive 300-year-old character, providing an altogether quintessentially British shopping experience. However, renowned worldwide for its tailoring, Savile Row is the place to go if you require a hand-made suit crafted the old-fashioned way, although you should prepare yourself for a hefty price tag.
You can still visit the first ever Savile Row tailors at No. 15, where Henry Poole & Co – credited with inventing the tuxedo – is still cutting cloth. Other big names, such as Huntsman & Sons and Ozwald Boateng, can also be found here and the street even has its own association – The Savile Row Bespoke Association – and a colourful language of its own. A few streets away, Bond Street, which boasts one of the biggest and best concentrations of designer shops in the world, is the place to be seen if you are any kind of serious fashionista. Names include Donna Karan, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Nicole Farhi, Armani, Versace and Ralph Lauren to name just a few and you’ll also find British designers Mulberry and Burberry.
Another of London’s famous shopping districts is Regent Street, which provides an altogether elegant shopping experience thanks to its Grade II-listed buildings designed by famed architect John Nash. It’s also home to some of the city’s oldest stores including Hamleys and the magnificent mock-Tudor building which houses Liberty
Illustrious interiors and fine foods
New Bond Street is home to Sotheby’s – the world’s oldest auction house – while those with a love of diamonds will also be spoilt for choice here, thanks to branches of Cartier, Tiffany & Co and Asprey, all within a short stroll of each other. Whether you’ve got money to burn or just love luxury window shopping, this is the place to be for some extravagant retail therapy. This area is also home to the famous Fortnum & Mason department store. Founded on the same site on Piccadilly in 1707, this beautiful store is renowned for its fine foods, hampers, teas and wine. It also has five restaurants, from an award-winning wine bar to the wonderful ice cream parlour. Food may be first at Fortnum’s but, lift your eyes to the spectacular atrium and feast your eyes on the delights above. From the serious fun of the cook shop to the tranquil femininity of the second floor and the leathery comfort of men’s accessories, Fortnum’s is a theatrical oasis for shopaholics and those who appreciate the finer things in life.
Another place to head to if you are looking for prestigious brands is Knightsbridge. Visitors from around the globe flock here to marvel at the illustrious stores and window displays, particularly those found at Harrods and Harvey Nichols. A luxury shopping destination for more than 160 years, Harrods is renowned for exclusive collections and excellent service – 15 million people walk through its doors every year. The seven-floor, 4.5 acres store contains a labyrinth of 330 departments dedicated to the finest products in food, fashion, homeware and technology. The luxury womenswear department has 17 boutiques dedicated to top international brands, including Valentino, Prada and Dior, while Salon du Parfums houses the finest fragrances, some exclusive to Harrods. There are also rooms dedicated to expensive watches and fine jewellery, as well 20-plus restaurants including The Georgian for a spot of afternoon tea and The Champagne Bar, where you can sample a glass of exclusive Harrods’ fizz. The Hostomme family – Harrods’ Champagne provider – has been established in the Champagne region for over three centuries and uses only premium quality pinot noir grapes and an age-old saignée production method. Set among the international fashion collections on the first floor, The Champagne Bar lets you enjoy the full selection of Harrods collection, from the Harrods NV and the Rosé, Grande Réserve to the delicious Vintage 2004.
For an unforgettable experience, don’t forget to make a pit stop at the famous Harrods Food Halls – almost an entire floor dedicated to high-end foodstuffs from across the globe. The experience is more like visiting a museum than shopping and there are also free hands-on master classes in some of the halls, such as the Meat and Fish Food Hall, where you can learn the correct way to cut steak or skin a fish, make a burger or clean and butterfly prawns. Walk further north up the Brompton Road and, on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street, you’ll find another famous high-end department store – Harvey Nichols. This flagship store opened in its present form in the 1880s and has eight floors of fashion, beauty and lifestyle collections with its fifth floor dedicated to food and restaurants. Offering a slightly more refined shopping experience than its larger cousin down the road, Harvey ‘Nics’, as it is often referred to, is far more minimalist in its design but still offers all your favourite designer labels, such as ultra-hip Alexander McQueen and Versace. There’s also a selection of fearfully stylish bars and restaurants, in particular the Fifth Floor Café and Terrace, which has spectacular views across west London and is a good place for a bit of celebrity spotting.
To continue the luxury shopping experience, wander down Sloane Street towards Sloane Square, where you’ll find over 50 luxury boutiques. It’s another of London’s famous designer shopping districts and home to the Duke of York pedestrian precinct and Saatchi art gallery. The curved facade of Peter Jones department store (owned by John Lewis) marks the start of the King’s Road, where you will find an eclectic mix of trendy boutiques, unique labels, designer shops and high-street staples, alongside a vast array of cafes and restaurants. The further along King’s Road you walk away from Sloane Square, the greater the number of smaller, independent clothes and shoe shops there are, plus a good selection of contemporary furnishing stores. The street takes its name from the 17th century when it was King Charles II’s private thoroughfare between Whitehall and Hampton Court Palace and became famous during the 60s and 70s. Although the area doesn’t have the character of that time, it is still full of famous faces and one of the most varied places to shop and eat in London.
Another place to head to if you are looking for prestigious brands is Knightsbridge. Visitors from around the globe flock here to marvel at the illustrious stores and window displays, particularly those found at Harrods and Harvey Nichols
Hidden gems and cultural icons
You can visit Vivienne Westwood’s first shop – World’s End – where “punk was born” in the 70s and see collections by royal milliner and Duchess of Cambridge favourite, Jane Taylor, (she designed the hats Kate wore for all three of her children’s christenings), but you’ll also find high street regulars, such as Jigsaw, French Connection and Benetton. The King’s Road is also a great place for inspirational interior design, with stores sych as Juliettes Interiors and Kings of Chelsea, the exclusive UK dealer of Roberto Cavalli Home Interiors, all vying for attention. If you happen to be in town in March then there is also the famous Chelsea Antiques Fair, held annually in the town hall on King’s Road (the fair took a sabbatical in 2018 while the hall underwent refurbishments but will be back for 2019). Established in 1950, the event sees fine quality, specialist dealers in traditional art and antiques gather together with some added 20th-century sparkle, offering a great variety of exquisite objects for sale with prices from £100 going up to about £10,000.
If antiques are your thing then, as well as the various markets, such as Portobello and Alfie’s Antiques Market in Marylebone, head to Grays Antique Centre, in Mayfair. Better known as Grays Antique Market, the centre close to Bond Street station is home to 200 of London’s finest antique and vintage dealers spread across two buildings and is very much seen as the epicentre of the art and antique dealing world. Another good place for antiques, and shopping in general, is Covent Garden. On Mondays the Jubilee Market Hall plays host to an antiques market where you’ll be sure to find a treasure or two. While the markets at Covent Garden are very much its focal point (there are now three) and have dominated the square since the Middle Ages, the area has grown exponentially since then and its parades and the streets surrounding it, including Floral Street, Monmouth Street and St Martin’s Courtyard, are now filled with high street outlets. And then, of course, there is plenty of outside street entertainment, such as magicians and mime artists, to keep you entertained in-between shops.
For those with a passion for shoes, Neal Street, which runs out of the piazza, is home to a huge number of trendy shoe shops including Office, Offspring and The Natural Shoe Store, as well as a number of fashion stores and is not to be missed. Neal’s Yard, just off here, is a quaint and colourful courtyard that’s worth a stroll through while you’re in the area, especially if you’re a fan of cheese or cosmetics! Neal’s Yard Dairy has a range of delicious British farm cheeses and the flagship Neal’s Yard Remedies, for organic skincare products and treatments, is also here. A few streets away from Covent Garden and you’ll come across Carnaby Street – the birthplace of the fashion and cultural revolution during the swinging 60s. Step under the iconic arch and you’ll find an intriguing mix of cutting-edge designer stores as well as independent boutiques and heritage brands. Shoppers will find an abundance of trendy urban streetwear stores, such as Replay, Diesel, Scotch & Soda and Puma and there are also a number of cosmetics shops as well as a few boutiques selling vintage mod clothing. All in all, this dynamic area, including the surrounding streets of Newburgh Street, Foubert’s Place, and Kingly Court, which has three floors of one-off ‘concept’ shops, cafes and restaurants set around an open courtyard, has over 140 shops, bars and restaurants to choose from and is a fantastic place to enjoy a London shopping experience.
London has many more little-known shopping areas, hidden away from the masses and not necessarily known for their retail offering. For example, Hay’s Galleria, near London Bridge, has a raft of traditional craft and market stalls selling a variety of products from jewellery to paintings, and ceramics to designer children’s wear, decorating its walkways. They share the space – built in the 1850s as a wharf to take in deliveries from ships from all over the world and which became known as the ‘Larder of London’ – with more permanent shops, restaurants and bars. A focal point in the galleria is David Kemp’s magnificent 60ft kinetic sculpture, The Navigators, providing a hypnotic combination of moving parts, water jets and fountains. Another wharf, which in recent years has become a haven for shoppers looking for that unique keepsake, is Gabriel’s Wharf. Tucked between the Oxo Tower and the former London Television Centre on the South Bank, it houses a good mix of independent shops, restaurants and bars, while the Oxo Tower itself also has an eclectic collection of small shops and galleries letting commercial spaces and workshops below.
If antiques are your thing then, as well as the various markets, such as Portobello and Alfie’s Antiques Market in Marylebone, head to Grays Antique Centre, in Mayfair. Better known as Grays Antique Market, the centre close to Bond Street station is home to 200 of London’s finest antique and vintage dealers
Department stores and independents
Chiswick High Road and its surrounding streets are often referred to as west London’s antidote to shopping sameness and have a whole host of independent stores from The Old Cinema, where you can buy antique and retro furniture, to Macken Brothers Butchers, which provides meat for a number of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants. There’s also Mary Portas’ Save the Children charity shop (Mary’s Living & Giving Shop), which opened following the success of her TV programme, ‘Mary Queen of Charity Shops’, as well as a host of favourite high-street names. And then there’s the Northcote Road, in Clapham. Popular with the ‘yummy mummy’ set, this road cuts through the heart of Clapham and is lined with an overwhelming array of high-quality restaurants, cafes, boutique shops and DIY stores. There’s also an incredible weekend market with top-notch snacks, meals, cakes, flowers, art and more.
Of course, some people prefer to do their entire shopping under one roof and, just like its fantastic collection of department stores, London also has its fair share of shopping centres. Its most famous is probably the landmark Westfield London, which was built on a 45-acre brownfield site in White City in 2008 as a pioneering shopping and leisure destination within which to shop, eat, and socialise. In its first three weeks of opening, the centre welcomed over two million visitors and is now established as a celebrated architectural and commercial success for London. A decade later and it appears the attraction is no less popular as it has just undergone a massive expansion project, which has added another 740,000 square feet to this already mind-bogglingly big retail space. You’ll find Debenhams, Next, Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser, Waitrose and around 300 premium and high street retailers from more than 15 different countries, alongside luxury designer boutiques.
When all that shopping has built up enough of an appetite to stop for a spot of lunch or dinner, head to the Southern Terrace, where a bustling cluster of restaurants creates a pedestrianised street of dining, or The Balcony, where open cooking brings drama to the collection of counters preparing fresh food fast and to order. Westfield London is as much a meeting hub as a place to shop and eat. A central Atrium hosts a full calendar of arts and educational events beneath a spectacular glass roof. There is also a 14-screen state-of-the-art cinema, gym and spa, and a library. It’s also the best-connected shopping destination in the UK thanks to four underground stations providing – on average – a tube train every five minutes, an overland station which will get you from Clapham Junction to Westfield London in under 10 minutes, and two bus stations. Cycle bays, secure pedestrian routes and 4,500 car parking spaces directly beneath Westfield London complete the transport picture.
Westfield London’s younger – yet much larger – sister was built in 2011 as part of the regeneration of Stratford, one of the largest urban regeneration projects ever undertaken in the UK. Offering almost two million square feet of retail space, Westfield Stratford City is one of the largest shopping malls in Europe. With over 250 shops plus 70 places to eat, it has become a new lifestyle destination for east London and offers spectacular views of the Olympic Park. As well as the shops and restaurants, it also has world-class leisure facilities including one of the largest, most innovative, all-digital cinemas in Europe boasting 17 all-digital screens and an All Star Lanes luxury bowling alley. There is also the 65,000ft Aspers Casino, with two bars and an 80-seat restaurant, which has set a benchmark in the UK as the first to be granted a large casino license.
Chiswick High Road and its surrounding streets are often referred to as west London’s antidote to shopping sameness and have a whole host of independent stores from The Old Cinema, where you can buy antique and retro furniture, to Macken Brothers Butchers, which provides meat for a number of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants
Big brands and Boxpark
While Canary Wharf, also in the east of the city, is known for its financial and business credentials, the area is also a key shopping destination. There are over 200 shops, bars, cafes and restaurants found across its four shopping malls – Cabot Place, Jubilee Place, Churchill Place and Canada Place – with luxurious brands such as Tiffany & Co., Jo Malone, Jaeger and Montblanc sitting side-by-side with high street names such as Topshop, Reiss, Whistles and Zara. There is also a selection of quintessentially-British brands, such as Aspinal of London and Hackett, as well as smaller independent shops and designer boutiques. Of the four malls, Canada Place alone houses the flagship Waitrose Food Home store, Plateau, which offers fine dining and incredible views, and Third Space – the largest health club in Europe with 100,000 square feet of luxury training space, an indoor climbing wall, 23-metre swimming pool and a full-sized basketball court.
Of course, shopping in London isn’t all about spending big bucks. Bargains can be found, not only at the city’s various markets but also in its shopping malls! London Designer Outlet is situated directly opposite Wembley Stadium and is home to over 70 brands selling at discounts of up to 70 per cent, plus restaurants, bars and a multi-screen cinema. To keep up with demand, new shopping districts are popping up in London all the time. One of the latest is Coal Drops Yard, which is set to open late 2018/early 2019, behind King’s Cross Station. The project is in the final stage of a long-term plan to transform the King’s Cross are – will include 65 new shops, cafes, bars and restaurants spread over 100,000 square feet. As the site of Central St Martin’s fashion school and home of the London Design Festival’s annual trade show (DesignJunction) this new shopping location promises to be a haven for fashion and design. In recent years pop-up shops have also become a popular sight on the streets of London, giving start-up businesses a chance to trial-run their products in various different spots before committing to a permanent base.
In Shoreditch you will find the world’s first pop-up mall – Boxpark. Built from shipping containers and now home to more than 60 carefully-chosen fashion brands and food and drink retailers, Boxpark is packed with talent, innovation and attitude with not a high street retailer in site. It also hosts around 200 music and art events each year with free entry to encourage people to visit and shop in the non-permanent stores. The second Boxpark opened in Croydon – London’s largest borough – in September 2016 with 80 shipping containers, while a third opened in Wembley in December 2018. A number of similar temporary concepts have opened up across the city including Pop Brixton, which was commissioned by Lambeth Council and designed by Carl Turner Architects and The Collective. So, as you can see, from the world’s best-known fashion labels and covetable designer collaborations to cheap-as-chips, thrift-shop buys and authentic antiques, there’s a bit of something for everyone when it comes to shopping in London.
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