Brands, boutiques, bargains and books: the London shopping experience

Fair dos; London is heralded in all four corners of the Earth for its attractions of historical pomp and circumstance, its theatres of musical spectaculars and quality dramas and its Royal Parks of spellbinding greenery and beauty. Yet there’s something else that the UK capital is absolutely abundant in for visitors on a short-break – its simply sublime retail options. So here’s the lowdown on where to go if you’re up for some serious shopping in the Smoke…

Oxford Street

Hit the high street

Sure it can get crowded – correction: it does get crowded! – but Oxford Street is an absolute must on your London-shopping-experience tick-off-list. Surely one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world, this 1.5-metere-long stretch of retail real-estate isn’t just jam-packed with well-known UK high-street names (everyone from HMV to WHSmith, Clark’s to Waterstones and Top Shop to Next), it’s also great for happening upon ‘nick nack’ shops hawking irresistible touristware – the likes of t-shirts, model red double-deckers and masks of the Royals and so on.

Yet perhaps most important of all is that, beyond Oxford Circus Tube station to the west, you’ll find three of the capital’s most popular and iconic department stores, House of Fraser, John Lewis and – of course – Selfridges; the latter being famed up and down the land (and beyond) for its aesthetically fantastic window displays come the Christmas time. And talking of Oxford Circus, turn to the south here and you’ll step into Regent Street, one of London’s original Georgian shopping destinations (hence its mock-Georgian architecture). It’s a broad, winding delight whose highlights include brand outlets like Burberry, Mulberry, Aquascutum, Hackett and Calvin Klein, as well as the capital’s Apple Store and, of course, the truly wonderful wonderland of toys that’s the centuries-old Hamleys.

And yet, all that said, surely the ultimate in London high-street shopping (or, at least, high-street window shopping) has to be a visit to the one and only Harrods. Perhaps the most legendary department store on the planet, this Knightsbridge institution is worth making a trek to wherever you’re staying in the city – and if that’s somewhere central near a major transport hub (such as the Shaftesbury Premier London Paddington hotel or one of the other hotels near Paddington Station), all the better; as it’ll be very easy to reach. Quite simply, no visit to Harrods is underwhelming. To step through its doors is to enter into a world of sheer luxury and elegance. Sure, so many of the wares – whether they be fashion, furniture, jewellery or wines – are out of the price range of many mere mortals, but that’s not really the point; the opportunity to say you’ve visited Harrods and had a mooch about the place is really what it’s all about!

Covent Garden

Boutiques, Bookshops and Cool Curios

Away from the high street shops and department stores, London’s West End is also chock-a-block with smaller, more specialised retail outlets; the vast majority of them, yes, just as worthy a visit. Indeed, many entice people out of curiosity given they stock, well, genuine curios – for instance, in Holborn you’ll come across a place that principally sells umbrellas, while in colourful old Soho for many decades there was one that sold objects suitable only for left-handed people. Yes, really (it now retails online).

More generally, the terrific tourist trap that’s Covent Garden is a fine source for atmospheric little shops, selling as they do everything from cool arts and crafts to organic cosmetics to old-fashioned toys, while Charing Cross is famed across the globe for its legendary booksellers – both of bestsellers just off the printers’ presses and hard-to-find second-hand efforts. Plus, of course, who could forget all the cutting-edge fashion boutiques that line those two bastions of the Swinging Sixties and modern day London chic, Carnaby Street and Chelsea’s King’s Road?

Stroll Through the Market Stalls

Finally, no article on London’s retail options would be complete without mention of its ever burgeoning and importantly historical market scene. You’ll come across all sorts at Notting Hill’s and Camden’s world-famous markets that are open every day – yes, everything from fashion to alternative clothing; fresh, high quality food produce to delicious cooked cuisine and collectible antiques to rare objets d’art. And that’s not to forget the colourful exoticism of the East End’s Brick Lane Market, the foodie’s paradise that’s Borough Market (just down the road from London Bridge) and the fish-enthusiasts’ heaven that’s Billingsgate Market. When it comes to markets (or, indeed, any kind of shopping), you simply can’t go wrong in old London Town!

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