The ultimate guide to shopping in London

Sep 18, 2020

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London is a fantastic shopping destination — in fact, you could easily visit just for that purpose. It is also, in my opinion, one of the fashion capitals of the whole world — so what better spot for a wardrobe shake-up or something for a special occasion?

London is huge, multicultural and full of shops for every budget, so I challenge you to not to be able to find something you love.

So whether it’s art, haute couture, vintage clothes, jewellery or even just a souvenir, there are places that will suit you. Combined with our capital’s amazing food scene and collection of lovely cocktail and coffee spots, you can have a dreamy day of retail therapy — solo or with someone else — very easily.

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(Photo by Brian Bumby/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Bumby/Getty Images)

Department stores

London has loads of these — from the super swanky Harrods, Selfridge’s and Fortnum & Mason to the more mainstream options like Debenhams. Despite the differences in price tags, they are all a “one shop stop” for everything. But each has its own charm. Harrods opened in 1849 and is famous for being the purveyor of all things fancy, from food to furniture to lion cubs (yes, you could buy exotic animals there even until the 1970s).

It’s located in Knightsbridge and is a very pleasant place to while away a few hours, admiring the lavish decor and liveried doormen and maybe stopping off for a snack at one of its 23 eateries.

Read more: 10 awesome things to do in London for free

England, London, Knightsbridge, Harrods, Food Hall, Chocolate Counter (Photo by: Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Harrods Food Hall. (Photo by Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Selfridge’s, on Oxford Street, is more modern and its beauty hall is mind-blowing. Fortnums is worth a visit for its food hall and Liberty, in a Tudor-revival building near Oxford Circus, is the place for homeware and fabrics. Meanwhile, Debenhams and John Lewis are handy for slightly more affordable ware with a mix of high street and designer products.

All department stores tend to have nice restaurants and Champagne bars, and I have some very fond memories of looking for bridesmaids dresses and inspiration for my wedding at both Harrods and John Lewis (or Peter Jones) on Sloane Square.

Markets

London boasts some incredible markets — perfect for finding real hidden treasures. Borough Market in London Bridge is the go-to one for foodies. It’s teeming with stalls from truffles to fish to ice cream to the stinkiest of cheeses. If it’s not food you’re after, Leadenhall Market in the City was originally a meat, poultry and game market but is now home to a “number of boutique retailers, restaurants, cafes, wine bars and an award-winning pub”.

Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, UK. (Photo by RoBeDeRo/Getty Images)
Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London, UK. (Photo by RoBeDeRo/Getty Images)

Another TPG U.K. favourite is Columbia Road Flower Market, near trendy Shoreditch. Open every Sunday, you can get blooms for a bargain and it’s also full of vibey coffee shops and some lovely bars. Portobello Market near Notting Hill in west London is fabulous for antiques, comics, records and vintage clothes and the shops go on for nearly two miles. The pretty pastel-coloured houses and cafes are very charming, too.

In the south-east is Greenwich Market, open daily and covered, too, so ideal if it rains. Greenwich is a personal favourite for present shopping, as there are lots of affordable and quirky stalls and once I’ve found the perfect gift, I treat myself to a giant ice cream at Panache.

Vintage

Vintage clothes shopping is almost a sport is some cities. In particularly good shops, it can get very aggressive, like being at a New York sample sale (I imagine!). Naturally, there are lots of decent vintage shops scattered throughout the city, but there is a large concentration of them in the Brick Lane/Shoreditch/Spitalfields areas of east London and the City.

Some personal recommendations are Beyond Retro — it’s labyrinthine, so be prepared to spend a while there. It’s in a former dairy on Cheshire Street and opened in 2002. You can find everything from cowboy boots to vintage sunglasses to fabulously hideous 1980s prom dresses. It’s so fun and there are also branches in Soho and Dalston.

Other great vintage shops in the area include Hunky Dory Vintage, Rokit and Brick Lane Vintage Market (loads of stalls all under one roof). One of my favourite-ever finds was an old cheerleading jacket from a random high school in Idaho.

Couture

For a real “Sex and the City” feeling — even if you’re not buying — head to New Bond Street in Mayfair and its environs to gaze in the windows of labels like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, YSL, Chloe, Cartier and much more. Christmas is a great time to window shop here, as each house takes its festive window dressing very seriously. It’s also the third most expensive street in the world to rent shop space, according to Retail Gazette.

Read more: The complete guide to London’s parks and green spaces

New Bond Street at dusk. (Photo by
New Bond Street at dusk. (Photo by shomos uddin/Getty Images)

If you’re in the market for a treat, you can spend an afternoon making your way down Old Bond Street towards Fenwicks and veer off to South Molton Lane, Bruton Street and more. After spending loads of money, a little more won’t hurt for a cocktail at Mews of Mayfair, surely?

Other shopping spots to note

1. The King’s Road

This road that snakes through Chelsea is a mecca for affluent millennials and is dotted with up-and-coming fashion designers and shops selling gorgeous but pricey trinkets. It’s associated with 1960s-style as both Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood had (and have) stores there. Chelsea is also home to lots of excellent restaurants — including one of my favourites, No. Fifty Cheyne, so worth a visit to the area just for that. The King’s Road, at two miles long, starts at Sloane Square station.

2. Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street is another London epicentre of style and culture and was where the Swinging Sixties era was said to have started. It was also home to the Mod, Skinhead, Punk and New Romantic movements and has got a pretty rock ‘n’ roll heritage too. The Small Faces, The Who and the Rolling Stones performed in nearby Soho and Carnaby Street is referenced in many songs such as “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” by The Kinks.

Read more: An expert’s guide to London neighbourhoods

(Photo by by Andrea Pucci/Getty Images)
(Photo by by Andrea Pucci/Getty Images)

The Stones even have their own shop there now. There are also “over 100 international and British heritage labels, independent boutiques, one-off concepts, cult beauty emporiums, grooming salons and bespoke jewellery specialists”. There’s a really exciting atmosphere on Carnaby Street and every Christmas and during big events, it’s like walking down a street in a film set.

3. ICON Outlet, the 02

This is the spot for bargain hunters with taste. Part of the O2 Arena in North Greenwich, this discounted outlet offers up to 70% off mid-luxury brands such as Aspinal of London, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Levi’s. It’s modern and airy and without the huge crowds found at some outlets, and afterwards, there is plenty to do in the arena itself.

Bottom line

From reading this far, you would be right in assuming I love to shop. I’m also very lucky that I live somewhere so brilliant at it. However, I have the benefit of having had quite a bit of practice here. The first time I visited New York or Paris, I felt overwhelmed (actually, panicky is more accurate) at all the choice. What if I couldn’t find all the beautiful things? Shopaholic or not, I hope this guide helps you make a plan, figure out where is best suited to you and most of all — find something to buy that no one else has!

Featured photo by Ben Pipe Photography/Getty Images

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