Shopping in London is renowned for being an absolutely incredible experience, with the city boasting plenty of big-name brands on top of fantastic little boutiques. From fashion (it’s a Prada paradise, darling) to gift ideas (Italian chocolate anyone?), pretty much everything is for sale in the capital, with people from all over the world purveying all manner of objects.
But any shopaholic will tell you that some parts of London are better than others for certain things. If you’re going to be staying in the city, you need to familiarise yourself with its diverse and extraordinary shopping scene. Take a look at our guide below for a crash course.
Covent Garden is, of course, renowned for its big-name brands, which range from the Disney Store to Apple. Stray off the main piazza, however, and it’s an altogether different story. The area is surrounded by dozens of interesting little side streets that provide plenty of interest and intrigue on their own. Monmouth Street is just one of the available avenues worthy of exploration. Vintage boutiques dominate boasting all manner of styles you thought you’d never see again, with plenty of clothing, shoes and accessories from the 60s, ’70s and ’80s to be snapped up. And compared to the stuff being flogged at the main piazza, it’s a bargain. If you need a break from the action, there are plenty of boho-chic coffee houses as well, flanked by racy lingerie stores if you want to explore your saucy side. We’ll say no more.
Marylebone High Street
Another hidden gem. While the crowds flood Oxford Street and Regent Street on a Saturday, the clever shopaholic will seek solstice in Marylebone High Street. It’s smaller than the other two, but still has plenty of luxurious names. Margaret Howell is excellent for vintage basics that are back in fashion today, while Gallery 1930 specialises in unique gift ideas that are certain to please that special someone. Links of London, Matches, OSKA, Ash, La Belle of London and Deploy also call this wonderful street their home.
You can’t argue with the best. Harrods is, of course, London’s premiere shopping destination and the name carries an air of classiness and luxury that other brands just can’t compete with. Featured brands include the almighty Alexander McQueen, Armani, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Valentino, Lanvin – the list goes on and on. Quite simply, this is where you need to be if you love high-end fashion and brands. Fancy a break? You must have heard about the legendary Harrods afternoon tea. Eating scones and perfect triangular sandwiches at London’s most prestigious department store is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
Got kids? Take them on a very different shopping experience and treat them to Hamleys. The oldest toy shop in the world is renowned for its seven-floor venue, each one packed with more playthings than you can possibly imagine. It is estimated that there are more than 50,000 items on display – even the most hyperactive kiddies will struggle to work their way through that in a single shopping trip. Hamleys’ flagship store is located on Regents Street and has such an incredible reputation that it has become something of a tourist attraction in itself, recording some five million visits a year.
Let’s take a break from the conventional shopping, shall we? If your have an alternative outlook on shopping, Portobello Market is where you need to be. A two-mile stretch of road is reserved for this legendary selling space, which purveys anything and everything that you can possibly imagine. Where fashion is concerned, you’ll find plenty in the way of vintage stalls, with fashions from the years gone by proving particularly popular. New designers also use the West London market to showcase their innovative designs, hoping someone will snap something up. This is such a trend that newcomers to the fashion scene now have their very own dedicated stretch of road.
If you can’t buy it at Portobello Market, it’s not worth owning. Food, drink, old electronics, cheap knick-knacks, clothes both new and second-hand – you’ll spend all day stalking the stalls. But if there’s one thing the Market is renowned for, it’s definitely the antiques. Once a week on a Saturday, the road is flooded with dealers from across the country. Collectors lurk between the stalls, haggling incessantly over some piece of Royal Crown Derby or an interesting vase. Portobello Market is undoubtedly an incredible place. Check the website for a full schedule of what you can expect and when.
An absolute gem of a shopping street nestled between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street, Carnaby Street is a particular haven during the Christmas period when it doesn’t feel quite as crazily busy as the aforementioned spots. Plus, the lights are always pretty special – illuminated robins the last two years. Not only do you have big-name brands tempting you from all sides with shops for men, women and kids, but the premiere London shopping destination is often used as a launchpad for fashion events and the like. Keep an eye on the calendar on their website and get the lowdown of when you can expect the fun to be. Food and drink is naturally on hand for those feeling the retail fatigue – particularly worth visiting is sushi restaurant Oka, located in Kingly Court.
Once upon a time, Westfield in West London was the best place to enjoy a blow-out shopping trip. A whole day can pass so quickly here, at one of the city’s largest indoor retail spaces. Things haven’t really changed apart from one crucial aspect – Westfield now has a venue in East London as well, meaning you can indulge in a similar experience no matter which side of the capital you’re on. Both the Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford centres boast incredible shopping experiences with more shops than you can shake a stick at. Up-market restaurants and cafes provide a handy snack while exciting activity programmes of events for both ensure that the kids will have something to do if you want to enjoy a shopping splurge with the family.
Few shopping centres in London can talk more about tradition than Whiteleys of Bayswater. Situated a stone’s throw from Kensington Gardens, the centre has a long and illustrious history of catering to the rich and famous. At one point, hundreds of people lived on site, ready to deliver service around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was quite an impressive operation. While the building was unfortunately gutted during a fire, its resurrection comes with original architectural touches. There is entertainment aplenty with a bowling lane, plenty of shops and a fantastic cinema. Perfect for a grand day out with all the family.