travel guide

Explore the Best Retail Areas in London

London is one of the major shopping destinations for people visiting from all corners of the world.  It’s difficult to top the plethora of retail delights the capital offers, from areas full of flagship stores to cobbled courtyards displaying the creations of local designers there is a huge variety of districts that will meet your every need.  Every retail district has their own speciality and below we give an overview of the most well known.   Harrod’s, John Lewis, Selfridges, Dickens and Jones, Fortnum and Mason’s and Liberty’s are among London’s top department stores. Marvellous tailors can be found along Savile Row, in Westminster or St James’ in Piccadilly. Wonderful shops along Regent and Bond Streets. Boutiques specialising in the unique can also be found in Kensington, Chelsea and Knightsbridge. The old fruit, vegetable and flower market area of Covent Garden has been converted into an attractive tourist area of shops, restaurants and cafes as well as offering good street entertainers. You won’t find any bargains but the atmosphere is great although cafes are pricey. If you are looking for a bargain, however, London has many very good markets where you can pick things up for a good price and also drink in the wonderful authentic atmosphere.

Oxford Street is known by nearly everyone visiting London and is considered by many to be the centre of the shopping world.  Along its 1.9km length it holds over 300 retail outlets and 4 underground stations.  It is home to the flagship stores and beautiful department stores such as Selfridges, John Lewis, Dickens and Jones.  Apart from a cornucopia of products and fashion, Selfridges also boasts its own cinema.  So after shopping you can relax and watch the latest blockbuster.  The largest Primark fashion store is located here as is Disney Store. Sadly, some of the iconic stores have closed down such as Debenhams, Top Shop and HMV but these will no doubt be replaced quickly with other major stores wishing to claim a position in this historic shopping street.   The nearest underground stations to get there are Marble Arch, Bond Street, Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. 

Nearby is the iconic street of 1960s Swinging London, Carnaby Street.  During this era it was the place to shop for fashion if you were a follower of the mod or hippie style.  Independent fashion designers such as Mary Quant and Lord John located here and the street was also well known for its underground music bars in the streets that surround Carnaby Street.  One of the best known is the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, where the Rolling Stones, The Who and the Small Faces all performed.   Today it still maintains its reputation as a place for fashion and lifestyle shops and still includes many independent fashion boutiques.   Here you can find Pharrel Williams Billionaire Boys flagship UK store for men’s fashion or, if shoes are your thing, Irregular Choice will blow your mind.  There are plenty of restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs around the area for refuelling.   The nearest tube stations for Carnaby Street are Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus. 

At the junction of Oxford Circus is Regent Street one of the most elegant shopping streets. Named after George the Prince Regent (later George IV) it was designed by John Nash and is an early example of town planning in London.  It is famous for its flagship retail stores.  These stores include Liberty, housed in a mock-Tudor building and filled with high-end fashion, luxury homeware and its very own line in fabrics.   Here too you will find the treasure trove for children, Hamleys Toy Shop.  It is the oldest and largest toy shop in the world – on seven floors and opened in 1881 (originally in Holborn).  The shop will also host birthday parties with fun and games provided by Hamleys’ own entertainers.  Finally at Christmas time the top floor is transformed into Father Christmas’ Grotto with tickets selling like hot cakes for the Hamley Christmas experience.   Regent Street is also the site where Apple opened its first retail outlet in Europe in 2004.  Today, the Grade II listed historic facade of the building has been restored and preserved and showcases everything that Apple fans love about the products.   After an exhausting time shopping around this West End of London women can relax and unwind at Glow Bar located in Mortimer Street just off of Regent Street.  Offering holistic stress management remedies and state-of-the-art infrared saunas.   Regent Street is around 1.3km long, running from Regents Park through Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus to St James’ Park.  Nearest tube stations to the main shopping area is Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus. 

The home of luxury shopping in London is Bond Street.  Located in the West End of London, it links Oxford Street with Piccadilly.   It has been the heart of prestigious and upmarket fashion retailers since the 18th century.   The street is divided into two sections, Old Bond Street is at the southern end and New Bond Street comprises the longer northern section.  It is one of the most expensive areas of properties in Europe and among its venerated stores you will find Asprey, Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co.  Not many of us can afford the prices required in these shops but one can enjoy some breath-taking window displays.  Go too, to the Burlington Arcade.  It opened in 1819 and is one of London’s earliest covered shopping arcades and, from the very start, was a venue for elegant, exclusive retail selling luxury goods.   This is still the case today and you will find inside its gorgeous interior, exquisite clothing, footwear and accessory shops, jewellers, antique dealers and wonderful patisseries and chocolatiers.    Interestingly, the arcade is policed by its very own beadles, dressed in traditional top hats and frock coats.  They were originally members of the Lord George Cavendish’s regiment of the 10th Royal Hussars during Regency times.  Today the arcade keeps the social mores of Regency London and such ‘vulgar’ behaviour as singing, humming, hurrying and boisterous behaviour generally are banned.  

For a change of scenery, close to Bond Street in Piccadilly is The Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House, also the famous London auction house, Sotheby’s has its London base at 35 New Bond Street.  So, depending on your mood, you could watch the drama of an auction taking place (free entry), but be careful not to inadvertently bid for something worth thousands! or, if you chose the art gallery, enjoy the free art exhibitions.    At the Mayfair end of Bond Street visit the Mercato Mayfair, a 200 year old converted church which is now a boho market in an old stained-glass sanctuary with wonderful eateries, food stands and a vaulted wine cellar.   The nearest tube station to Bond Street is Bond Street, Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. 

Piccadilly and St James’ are districts renowned for some of London’s oldest shops, specialising in meeting the needs of the aristocracy – both in the past and still today.  The area was and still is where you will find the bachelor pads of the aristocracy and their ‘gentlemen’s clubs’.  Some of the most impressive houses are Clarence House, one of the last remaining aristocratic townhouses in London and the official residence of The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.  Here too is Marlborough House and Spencer House.  The latter was built in 1756 and is the ancestral home of the late Princess Diana.  Beside the Royal Academy of Arts is the Albany a mansion built in 1776 and now converted into very expensive studio flats for aristocratic bachelors. In the 18th and 19th centuries St James and Piccadilly were the places where the aristocratic gentlemen gathered in the newly established coffee houses.  They mingled in the taverns and visited their tailors to be dressed in the latest fashions after Beau Brummel.  Afterwards they would retire to their Gentlemen’s Clubs.  These prestigious private members clubs still exist today.  White’s is the oldest founded in 1693 and Brooks and Boodles followed in the 1770s. The Carlton Club  and the Royal Automobile Club became established later.  All these clubs continue to operate today. 

Both St James and Piccadilly are renowned for specialist bookshops.  At the northern edge of St James you will find Henry Sotheran’s antiquarian bookshop.  Established in 1815 the shop displays both ancient maps and first edition books.   An even older established bookshop however is Hatchards at 187 Piccadilly. Trading since 1797 the shop is a favoured bookshop amongst authors. Its annual party is attended by all the literary luminaries.  The portrait of Mr Hatchard himself can be seen proudly displayed inside the store.   For a more conventional bookshop, Waterstones at Piccadilly has the biggest bookshop in London and here you will find all the latest best sellers. 

The connection that the district has with gentlemen’s outfitters is still relevant today. Saville Row in Mayfair is just a couple of blocks away. In the attractive Piccadilly Arcade you will find bespoke tailors and gentlemen’s outfitters as well as shops selling luxury leather goods, luggage and hats.  One of the oldest hat shops can be found in St James’ Street, Lock & Co. Hatters.  This company opened in 17676  and is still run by family descendants of the original owners Robert Davis and James Lock.  Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington were both former customers. It is argued that the first bowler hat, the traditional dress of the English businessman, was sold at Locks. 

As well as dressing the gentlemen, the district ensures that they are well groomed as well.  In Jermyn Street is the fabulous barber shop Floris.  Established by the Spaniard Juan Famenias Floris in 1730, the business continues to flourish.  The fabulous display cases that line the walls of the shop date back to the Great Exhibition of 1851.   The area also is the location of the store, Turnbull & Asser, established in 1885.  Gentlemen’s outfitters for the discerning, they provided the outfits for Sean Connery in his James Bond role. 

Britain’s oldest cheese shop, Paxton & Whitfield, established in 1797 is still there and next door is the wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, which has been run by the same family for eight generations and has replenished the cellars of many of the world’s aristocratic families since that day.  They hold two Royal Warrants for HM The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.   Possibly the most stylish department store in London is Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly.  Stop here for afternoon tea as a special treat and marvel at the Fortnum clock with bells made from the same foundry as Big Ben.  A selection of tunes is played on 18 bells every quarter of an hour and the figures of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason appear hourly to ensure that the standards of the store are being maintained.   The nearest tube station is either Piccadilly Circus or Green Park

Covent Garden  is a shopping and entertainment district on the edge of the West End, located between St. Martin’s Lane and Drury Street.  Basically, it is bisected by the main thoroughfare of Long Acre, the northern end comprising the independent retailers of Neal Street, Neal’s Yard and Seven Dials whilst the southern end used to be the famous fruit and vegetable market but now its market and central square, complete with its elegant buildings, theatres and entertainment venues, which include Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the London Transport Museum have been redeveloped into a popular shopping and tourist site. Like most touristic areas the prices are rather high and the goods on offer at the market are mostly arts and craftwork.  Here in the pedestrianized Piazza of the market are the usual talented street entertainers to be found in many European cities.   There are many restaurants, cafes and bars but be careful as they too can often be overpriced.  For a real taste of this distinctive shopping area ensure you don’t miss visiting Floral Street and St. Martin’s Courtyard.  

Make sure your exploring takes you to the northern part of Long Acre where you can meander through the seven streets of Seven Dials.  Here you will find plenty of independent food outlets and lots of concept stores with a different lifestyle theme.  The very pretty Neal’s Yard has more independent shops, restaurants and cafes.   The variety of shops in this whole area is vast and too numerous to list here.  However some interesting stores include ones selling handmade jewellery or the The Vintage Showroom which probably has the best men’s vintage collection emphasising Americana and classic military and British pieces.  There is a boutique for dogs selling designer accessories, grooming products, toys and ethical edible treats.  Talking of ethics, Neal’s Yard is the original home of Neal’s Yard Remedies, ethically made cosmetic and skincare products.   Connecting Covent Garden and Soho, Seven Dials is one of the coolest shopping areas in town.   Nearest tube station is either Covent Garden or Leicester Square. 

For a wide-ranging  mixture of designer shops, high street names and chic boutiques then venture west to Chelsea’s Kings Road.   Like the West End’s Carnaby Street, during the 1960s Kings Road became symbolic of the mod culture of that time and was famous for its parade of mini-skirted ‘dolly birds’ and long haired young men. During the 1970s it became the centre for the counterculture of the punks and hippies. Vivienne Westwood’s store Worlds End is where punk was born. Since those days, however, the area has become gentrified and is now one of London’s most fashionable shopping streets.   Here you will find the famous department store Peter Jones and get inspiration from the Designers Guild’s flagship store.  The nearest tube station is Sloane Square. 

Close to Chelsea is Knightsbridge and Belgravia and where you will find the world famous and iconic departments stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols.  Sloane Street has plenty of shops selling designer labels as well as well known high street brands.  Along the way you will find Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes and Valentino.  On nearby Motcomb Street is Rococo, a British chocolatier renowned for their award winning handmade chocolates. Finally, when you are in need of refreshment visit The Grenadier Pub with its ceiling and walls stacked with banknotes.  There is a legend that the pub is haunted by an old customer, Cedric, whose debt is still unpaid despite all the donations which line the interior.   The nearest tube station for Knightsbridge is Sloane Square, Knightsbridge or Victoria. 

For something a bit different go north of Regents Park to Camden Town.  If you desire alternative fashion and something a bit quirky then you will find plenty of shops to satisfy your desires.  Gothic and punk  are the main focus but you will also discover many ethnic stores selling interesting designs as well as piercing and tattoo parlours, hand-crafted jewellery and vintage leather goods.  At Camden Lock you will find more interesting treasures and plenty of places where you can find refreshment along the banks of the Regents Canal.   The nearest tube station is Camden Town. 

Not too far away and a little more north is Coal Drops Yard at Kings Cross.  This yard was used to store coal during Victorian times.  The traffic-free arches have now been reutilised to house concept stores from well-known and newly emerging indie brands.  The nearest tube station is King’s Cross St. Pancras.  

East of King’s Cross will take you into the City of London.  Mostly the commercial area of the capital but also the home of many high quality shopping centres.  One New Change is the newest kid on the block.  Completed in 2010 it is a major office and retail development in the heart of the City.   Located on New Change, a road which connects Cannon Street with Cheapside, it is an area that has historical associations with retail for hundreds of years.  

The jewel in the crown of City retail outlets however has to be The Royal Exchange.  Originally built as a trading centre in the 16th century The Royal Exchange has seen many different uses.  The building has twice been destroyed by fire and rebuilt with the current building dating from the 1840s.  For 150 years the building housed Lloyds Insurance Market.  Today The Royal Exchange contains luxury shops and offices as well as Fortnum & Mason’s Bar & Restaurant in the central courtyard.    The nearest tube stations are Bank and St. Paul’s. 

Finally, east of the City of London is Westfield Stratford City a major shopping mall located at Stratford, east London. It is one of the largest urban retail centres in Europe and the 4th largest in the United Kingdom.  Opening in 2011 it was part of a development project to modernise and revitalise some of the older east London areas.  It stands right next to the London Olympic Park and has over 250 shops and more than 80 places to eat.   All the high-street stores have a presence there as well as some of the more exclusive shops such as Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Ted Baker.  The nearest tube station is Stratford.