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From the bargain hunters to those wishing to spend an entire week’s wages on one outfit, whatever your version of shopping nirvana is, you can find it in London.
First stop – Oxford Circus. The intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street is one of London’s most famous areas, but not for any historical reasons – just for the pure shopping bliss. Although Oxford Street is busting at the seams with chain stores like H&M, Marks and Spencer , Selfridges , and Jigsaw, don’t count it out of your shopping expeditions. Even here you’re likely to find something you can’t get anywhere else because the chains are constantly changing their stock. Marks and Spencer (also called Marks and Sparks) is rumoured to carry the most comfortable underwear on the planet. You can be sure that some M&S underwear will make an interesting souvenir, in any case! There are also the random small boutiques hidden away on side streets that make pushing through the massive crowds worthwhile. And plus, no shopping trip to London is complete without a stop into the flagship store of TopShop , the “the world’s largest fashion store”, at least according to their PR people. This is a store so big that it actually has its own resident DJ. Generally speaking, the crowds here fall in the “under-25” category, as much of the clothing could be categorized as disposable fashion aimed for the teen market. Plus, students get 10% off with their NUS cards.
The top department stores are the famous Harrods which is just outside the Knightsbridge tube stop, Harrods has long been a bastion of style and taste in London. It's a destination for fashonistas and the wealthy, as well as tourists who stop in to gawk. While browsing through the Prada bags and Pucci shoes, don't miss the giant food hall. Skip the main restaurant - it's not so good. You don't have to spend eight pounds on a mini box of wild strawberries to enjoy the experience, although it might be hard to leave without buying a selection of chocolates or a souvenir tin of tea. The Harrods food hall is a reflection of the general opulence of the store, and as strange as it might seem, visitors can easily let an hour slip by while admiring the selection.
Another luxury department store is the pricey Selfridges - on Oxford Street - which carries everything trendy, including a vast array of top and more quirky designer labels and has several fashionable eateries, as well as a high quality food department; Harvey Nichols also located at Knightsbridge with its vast dedication to designer labels for men, women and children, as well as home-wares , accessories, a food hall, and famous 5th floor restaurant, for 'ladies who lunch' and the ever-stylish Liberty , located in a chic faux-Tudor building, with beautiful wooden atriums, an extremely tasteful selection of top designer clothes and accessories and a world acclaimed vintage and Arts and Crafts furniture department; probably one of the most beautiful, intimate and expensive stores in town, which sells a lot more than just the big labels which everyone's heard of.
For some serious designer shopping (and people spotting), head to Bond Street home to all big designers, jewellers and auction houses, from Prada to Sotherby's, Cartier to Louis Vuitton, Aspery to Hermes... just see how many Rolls Royces there are parked along the street, and come suitable attired if you want to get past the black-clad store security guards. If you begin on Bond Street at the Oxford Street end, it will take you down to Piccadilly, a busy thoroughfare with a curious mix of upmarket food stores, like Fortnum & Mason , the luxurious food department store, with sumptuous and very expensive products, which make lovely gifts, as well as traditional gentlemen's outfitters, jewellers and embassies and offices.
For an equally, if not more, exclusive designer shopping experience head to Sloane Street (at the Knightsbridge end - where it begins, near Harrods), home to the creme de la creme of the designer world, with Giorgio Armani, Prada, Valentino, Chanel, Fendi, Pucci stores etc. again perfect for some celeb spotting and people watching.
The King's Road is not quite as influential as it was in the 60s, but it still has some notable shops like Vivienne Westwood.
Or shopping pursuits of the literary kind, Charing Cross Road should satisfy the academia itch. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other street in the world so chock full of bookstores ranging from the major chains to small, hole-in-the-wall used bookstores.
Covent Garden used to be the stomping grounds for the tragically hip with big budgets looking for new fashions, but in recent years more and more chains have begun slowly creeping in. Granted, these chains are more likely to be along the lines of Diesel or Miss Sixty than Marks and Spencer, so the place hasn’t totally lost its hipsters image. The Jubilee Market on the south side of the Piazza, open daily, also offers interesting shopping for random knickknacks and souvenirs.
Excellent music is a mainstay in London culture. You’ll find small niche stores all over the city where you can pick up pristine vinyls of your favourite jazz musician, or a rare recording of some obscure band. The Rough Trade shop is a great stop off for fans of Independent music. Unfortunately, the Virgin Megastore previously recommended by this article has closed down. Berwick Street in Soho is a good place for a handful of small independent record shops and is within very close walking distance of Oxford Street (where you will find a very well stocked and enormous HMV). You visiting Camden (see below) you will find more independent record stalls.
Fashionistas on a budget must stop at Camden Market and Portobello Road (the world's largest antiques market, although the market is not limited to antiques, selling everything from vintage designer clothes to records and books) to pick up the latest trends before they even become trends. Camden Market is open daily, but the best time to see all the craziness in action is on the weekends when crowds of people descend upon the stalls to buy things they need, along with things they don’t. Portobello Market , in Notting Hill , also provides the opportunity to buy a wide variety of clothing styles, from the latest Parisian fashions to vintage clothing. Bonus for film buffs – you can also visit the Travel Bookshop made famous by the film “Notting Hill.”Just don’t expect to find Hugh Grant behind the counter.
Marylebone High Street has a neat selection of upmarket shops and eateries, including the Conran Shop and restaurant, perfect for fans of designer furniture, homewares and gifts, Cath Kidson's floral mecca, Skandium, another design shop and must-see for fans of modern Scandinavian design, Brora Scottish cashmere, Calmia, the holistic lifestyle store, Agnes B, French designer clothing, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Aveda, hair, skincare and organic food products and Daunt Books, the stunning travel book shop, located in an attractive galleried old store, which sells more than just travel guides, but uniquely arranges books by country.
For small, chic and independent shops, be sure to check out some smaller areas, if you have time, like St. John's Wood , Primrose Hill (perfect for celeb spotting too!), Notting Hill and Westbourne Grove , Parsons Green and Hampstead .
Two other famous markets are the ones in Whitechapel, the first one is open almost every day except for Saturdays and is the Old Spitalfields Market where you can find whatever you want especially fashion clothes. Same thing you can apply to the Up Market right next to the Spitalfields, opened just on Sunday you can find a great deal of clothes and is near all the places to eat in Brick Lane...
Get the inside-track on this lively neighbourhood - London's East End - with a unique private walking tour and the East End Hip Tour . Led by a team of in-the-know local creative's they'll introduce you to the areas unique (but often hidden) shops and galleries. There's also the option to have your tour customized: a must for those with special interests such as vintage fashion or design.
Another way to visit Spitalfields is to take a tour with a small team of guides (well it is a team of 2 - one is an architect and the other a Green/Clean Tech Consultant) - they do a guided tour of Spitalfields and Brick Lane - their knowledge of the history, culture, architecture, trends in development of these neighbourhoods and general buzz is amazing- great to get a peep into London's fashion scene - quirky goods - hand crafted notebooks, jewel encrusted vintage boots and what not!.
For those of you who like or prefer shopping in a mall, there is this new mall Westfield Shopping Centre , accessible very easily by the tube/underground stations: Shepherd's Bush and White City on the Central line, Wood Lane and Shepherd's Bush Market on the Hammersmith & City line and busses, you can find directions on their site . They have 265 shops according to their publications, lots of coffee shops and restaurants.
Locations and other details of hundreds of London shops can be found at London Shop Finder.