London Shopping Tips by toonsarah
London Shopping: 1,037 reviews and 1,372 photos
Selfridge & Co
While Harrods is often mentioned by tourists as the department store they most want to visit, I personally would recommend a trip to Selfridges above that any day. It is equally huge, almost as grand-looking, but far more practical in my view, as despite its apparent grandness it actually caters for most budgets. And while you won’t come away with the distinctive green bag of its Knightsbridge-based rival, to Londoners the bright yellow of Selfridges is just as recognisable and may just make you look more like a local!
Although the store is now a London / UK institution, it was actually founded by an American, Harry Gordon Selfridge from Wisconsin. He had already worked in retail for 25 years when he first came to London in 1906. He was unimpressed at the quality of many of London’s stores and decided to take action, investing a then huge sum of money, £400,000, into his own department store. He is widely credited with coining the phrase “the customer is always right”, and it was this ethos and Selfridges’ novel approach of having produce on display, rather than behind counters, that made the store such a great success, even transforming the way we shop. Today we take it for granted that we can browse in this way, but it made a huge impact on those early 20th century shoppers and they flocked to Selfridges, with the result that the concept was soon adopted by many other stores.
What to buy: It’s more a question of what can’t you buy! A great food hall, fashion from designer stuff to more affordable brands (although not low-end), beauty products, everything for the home etc etc. It’s great for gifts, especially at Christmas when there are all sorts of tempting special displays and interesting selections. I loved the single-shot bottles of exotic flavoured vodkas that Chris bought for me here.
Selfridges also hosts many events, including art exhibitions (we saw a fascinating installation here last year which recreated a 70s style magazine publishing house in the shop’s basement). There are also food and drink festivals, make-up and beauty demonstrations, book launches and more – check the website at http://www.selfridges.com/en/Whats-On/Events/London/ for details of what’s coming up.
What to pay: The focus is on mid- to top-range brands so don’t expect too many bargains, but prices are in line with what you’d pay elsewhere in London and the variety under one roof means you save on travel time and costs. And if you’re on a budget, there are sales from time to time (the biggest is immediately after Christmas – still called the January sale even though these days it usually starts in late December). Or if you love window-shopping, just come to browse.
Oh, and talking of windows, Selfridges’ are considered among the best window displays you’ll see anywhere in town, so definitely worth checking out if you’re on Oxford Street.
Address: Oxford Street.
Directions: Nearest Underground is Bond Street station.
Theme: Department Store
Apple, Covent Garden
For all you techie types out there, this is a great place to shop or simply while away an hour or two eyeing up and playing with all the goodies. Of course it only sells Apple products and accessories for them, but as someone addicted to my iPhone I don’t have a problem with that. Even if you don’t share my addiction it’s worth popping in if you’re in Covent Garden as the shop itself is rather stylish – especially the glass stairs and landing that lead to the upper floors.
What to buy: Apple Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPods and accessories, naturally.
What to pay: This sort of gear isn’t cheap, although you can pick up a case for you iPod or iPhone for a few pounds. But if you don’t want to splash the cash, feel free to play with the machines on display anyway – no one will mind. And if you already have one of your own, learn how to get the most out of it with one of the free lessons.
Address: 1 The Piazza, WC2E 8HA
Directions: From Covent Garden tube station (Piccadilly line) turn right, and on reaching the Piazza the shop is just on your right
Phone: 020 7447 1400
Theme: Computers and Electronics
Westfield Shopping Centre
When a new shopping centre opened in west London last year Chris and I were keen to investigate. The Westfield Centre is a little out of the centre of town which maybe makes it not such an obvious destination for tourists, but for us it’s quite conveniently located and we found it a useful addition to our shopping options.
The centre isn’t large compared with others in the UK such as Bluewater, Lakeside and the Metro Centre, but it’s the largest to be built in London itself. Shops here include Debenhams and House of Fraser department stores; fashion chains such as Dorothy Perkins, Gap, H & M, Monsoon and New Look, as well as some more upmarket high street names such as Coast, Hobbs, Jaegar, Karen Millen and Joseph; Foyles for books, HMV for music, Jessops for photography and very many more. There are also a large number of places to eat – not just the cheap and cheerful options normally to be found in shopping malls, but also some smarter restaurants, many of them located in a restaurant strip on the Southern Terrace. Shops are open until 9.00 or 10.00 PM but the restaurants stay open until midnight (11.00 PM on Sundays).
Getting here is quite easy, and the centre has been designed to encourage greener travel with a new tube station, Wood Lane, opened especially to serve the centre, as well as its own bus station. There is also parking for 570 cycles. If you want to drive there is plenty of parking beneath the centre but unlike other similar places this is charged for – this and the heavy traffic in the area makes this the least attractive option. Although, returning to the green theme, if you drive an electric car you’ll find that you can charge it here while you shop.
Directions: Nearest tube stations are Shepherd's Bush and White City (Central line) and Wood Lane and Shepherd's Bush Market (Hammersmith & City line)
Stanfords basement - the British department
I’m assuming that if you’re here on Virtual Tourist that you love travelling, and probably like me also like reading travel books, whether guide books, accounts of adventurous journeys or humorous writers such as Bill Bryson. If so, let me introduce you to one of my favourite London shops: Stanfords. Here are three floors dedicated to books on that single subject, plus maps, notebooks and travel accessories – but mainly books! In fact, it claims to be the world’s largest map and travel bookshop, and I can believe that.
What to buy: The range covers of course all the popular holiday destinations but also more obscure ones, and in a greater depth than I’ve seen anywhere else. For instance, most bookshops will sell a good selection of guide-books to the USA and to the most visited states and cities (a shelf-full on Florida, nearly as many on California or New York), but try looking for most of the other states and you’ll draw a blank – but not here. Maps too – we always come here when we need good road maps for our US adventures, and I saw in a recent advert that they’re now stocking hiking maps for countries such as Tajikistan.
When it comes to travel literature, again the range is very comprehensive, and they often have signed copies in stock which I think make great gifts for travel-mad friends. These will have been signed at one of the regular evening author talks hosted at the store, which are very reasonably priced and well worth checking out - see the website for details of forthcoming events.
What to pay: This isn’t a discount store, so you’ll usually pay the cover price for your book unless there’s a sale on. Yes, you could get it cheaper on Amazon, but you won’t have half as much fun browsing there!
Address: 12-14 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LP
Directions: Between Leicester Square (Piccadilly & Northern lines) and Covent Garden (Piccadilly only) tubes - I recommend you use the former as Covent Garden can get over-crowded. Follow directions to Covent Garden and you'll pass the shop.
Phone: 020 7836 1321
Borough Market is London’s oldest food market. There has been a market on this site for 250 years. At night it is a wholesale market, but during the day it draws discerning London shoppers and tourists, who are interested in good food from around the UK and beyond. Most of the produce on offer is organic, and the traders are closely associated with, or in some cases are the producers, so you get knowledgeable service and expertise. Most will offer you a taste, and make suggestions on how you might use or cook the ingredient, so it’s a great place for keen cooks to pick up new ideas.
There are two main areas to the market: Crown Square (the area bounded by Southwark, Stoney and Bedale Streets), and the Green Market (the area beneath the railway bridges north east of Bedale Street beside the cathedral). There also lots of interesting shops and restaurants in the nearby streets, so do wander off to explore these too. It tends to be pretty crowded, and a bit maze-like, so if you come in a group do keep a close eye on each other if you want to stay together, or maybe agree a meeting point where you’ll all head should you become separated.
The market is open for retail trade on Thursdays (11.00 AM – 5.00 PM), Fridays (midday – 6.00 PM) and Saturdays (9.00 AM – 4.00 PM).
What to buy: Among other goodies, look out for wonderful olives, herbs and spices, free range and organic meat, real ales, organic fruit and vegetables, flowers, bread and other baked goods and much more!
What to pay: Prices aren’t cheap, because you’re paying for small scale production methods, but most things are reasonable value for the quality.
Directions: Nearest tube station (and mainline) is London Bridge (Jubilee and Northern lines) – follow signs for Borough High Street and the market will be just near where you exit
Theme: Food and Drink
There are several branches of Nomad in London – my photo shows the one opposite Russell Square tube station. It is a very useful shop for travellers to know about. Not only does it sell a wide range of useful products such as bags, travel clothing and equipment, but it also houses a travel clinic (walk-in or by appointment), offering vaccinations, dispensing of anti-malarials, prescription only medicines and specialised medical kits. I used them for vaccinations for my Uzbekistan trip a couple of years ago and would certainly go back in future as the service was good and the price competitive.
What to buy: Products include:
~ cases, back-packs and holdalls galore
~ money-belts, padlocks
~ sleeping bags, liners, tents and mats
~ torches, power adapters, knives, compasses and other gadgets
~ guidebooks (mainly Lonely Planet and similar)
and much, much more.
They also do mail order – check out the website for the full range.
What to pay: Prices are pretty standard, neither cheap nor a rip-off. The main reasons to shop here though are the range, and the convenience of having all travel goods under one roof
Address: 40 Bernard Street, WC1N 1LJ
Directions: This branch is directly opposite Russell Square tube (Piccadilly line) - check the website below for others
Phone: 020 7833 4114
Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury
This is a pleasant modern shopping centre in the centre of one of my favourite historical districts of London, Bloomsbury. It’s open air, so particularly appealing on a summer’s day, when the many cafés with outdoor seating create a relaxed but busy atmosphere. Shops here tend towards the slightly higher end of the high street chains, e.g. Hobbs, LK Bennett and Coast, though there’s also a branch of cheap and cheerful New Look. There’s an excellent Waitrose supermarket (again, at the higher end of the British high street options).
Eating options including a branch of Carluccio’s, Yo! Sushi, Giraffe, Nando’s, and Strada. There’s also an art house cinema, The Renoir, showing an eclectic mix of films from all over the world.
The 1960s architecture here fits firmly into the “love it or hate it” category. Personally, I’m in the former camp – the crisp whiteness of the buildings and their geometric shapes make an interesting contrast to the surrounding areas which I think works really well.
Directions: Opposite Russell Square tube station (Piccadilly line) between Marchmont Street, Bernard Street and Brunswick Square
Oxford Street is probably London’s most famous shopping street. As a child, this was the main Christmas shopping destination for my family. As a teenager, this was where I came religiously every school holiday to spend my limited cash on the cheapest clothes I could find, as well as LPs from the biggest record stores (when I wasn’t in Kensington for the market and Biba – but that’s another story!) And as an adult, I now find that the street has lost much of its attractions for me, but I recognise that this is unfair, and is based on its bad years in the 1980s before recent improvements such as widening the pavements and restricting traffic access. So if you want the ultimate in high street shopping experiences in the heart of London, do come here to sample what Oxford Street still has to offer.
Among the very many popular chains here are:
Top Shop – the branch at Oxford Circus is the largest in the country
Marks & Spencer – the huge Marble Arch branch is one of the few shops that does still lure me here
Selfridges – arguably London’s best department store if you’re looking for the perfect compromise between quality and value
John Lewis – another excellent department store
Primark – an ultra-budget conscious fashion chain, somewhat controversial in its use of third world labour (as highlighted in a recent BBC documentary), but if you must shop there this is the branch to come to for the latest ranges
Borders - a great (and huge) bookshop with a café too
There are branches of most of the other major chains, and several specialist shops, as well as two smallish shopping malls (one at Bond Street, the other near Tottenham Court Road).
By the way, do make sure you have bags of energy and good shoes when you come here! The street has over 300 shops, and is one and a half miles end to end. And it’s not like a shopping mall, where if you find you want to retrace your steps to a shop you visited earlier in the day you can do so quite easily – here, that shop could be over a mile back down the road! However, plenty of buses travel the length of the street, albeit slowly, so you could always hop on one of these.
Most shops open 10am until 6 or 7pm. Many open on Sundays from midday to 6pm with late nights on Thursday.
Directions: The Central line serves the whole street, with stops at Marble Arch, Bond Street (also Jubilee line), Oxford Circus (+ Bakerloo line) and Tottenham Court Road (+ Northern line). Many buses come here, but can be slow along Oxford Street itself
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