London is expensive, sprawling and crowded. Many of the main streets in the capital look like bespoke Identikit retail experiences. Nevertheless, it is still voted the best, if not the best shopping city in the world, which boils down to one thing: it has everything you could want.
The Globe Shopper City Index finds that London outperforms all other European cities in terms of the quality of its shops and the availability of international and local brands. Whether you go to one of the many excellent department stores (this is where London really stands out) or the main streets (Oxford Street and High Street Kensington are the most famous), there is unlikely to be a global brand that does You can’t find.
As in every major capital city, shopping is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of the city, be it in the arcades of the famous Covent Garden with Eliza Doolittle, who sings beautifully in your head, or in the lively headquarters of the 1960s in Carnaby Street.
But London’s best treasures are the most esoteric: the multicultural local markets in every corner of the city and the backstreet boutiques. This list covers the full range of shopping experiences available in London, from the mainstream to the independent.
1. Carnaby Street
This was the epicenter of London’s swinging sixties fashion, where designers like Mary Quant opened boutiques and bands like Who and Rolling Stones performed in nearby music venues. While it has been known for many years as a tourist destination with groups posing under the famous arches, recent revitalization, including the pedestrian zone, has brought it back to the forefront of shopping. Carnaby Street has a number of global brands (American Apparel, Miss Sixty, Jack Wills) and independent stores located in the arcades of Kingly Court.
The interior of this absurdly trendy shop is located in an inconspicuous warehouse in Dalston and is known as the “Red Dwarf Science Fiction meets Art Exhibition”. Thanks to stage designer and art director Gary Card, but people would still come here for the Fashion Forward collections. There are three product rooms with carefully compiled collections that range from the currently leading designers (Rick Owens, Comme Des Garcons, Acne, etc.) to the more unusual ones. Styling is tough, nervous, masculine – you don’t come here for pretty and predictable. They also have a library, record store, and club area for private events (also by invitation only) where DJs play with their custom-made vintage sound system.
3. Top Shop
The Oxford Circus Flagship Topshop is one of the largest high street shops in the world. There are five floors in this Goliath, including men’s and women’s fashion and accessories, a wah nails bar, a tailor service, a hair salon, an EAT café and a personal shopping service. More than 30,000 buyers come here every day, so you can expect crowds of people at almost any time. Topshop is a standard British product and offers affordable catwalk-inspired fashion with constantly updated collections and celebrity collections by Kate Moss. In the early morning it is the quietest to find it (if this word can ever be used).
4. The Old Truman Brewery
The Old Truman Brewery is the centerpiece of life on Brick Lane. Once one of the largest breweries in the world, it was closed in 1989 and the original location was bought up by the developers. Back then, Brick Lane was still a rough and ready place that many Londoners would not think of as the art scene was just beginning. They transformed hectares of empty and dilapidated buildings into offices for media-savvy companies, bars, restaurants, shops and the now famous markets when artists and creative types took over the area. While most venues here rent space from All Star Lanes to Rough Trade, the Old Truman Brewery is most commonly known for its markets, from the Sunday Upmarket with 200 stalls to the Backyard Market with its kitschy handicrafts. These have made the area a mecca for fashion students from all over the world, and now a lot of tourists.
5. Rough Trade
Every music lover should pay homage to the legendary rough trade. They have been supporting independent music since 1976 when they campaigned for new genres such as punk, reggae and new wave. They founded a record label and signed, among others, The Smiths and The Libertines. They ignore the commercialized mass music market and hold on to their weapons to bring real music to people. The flagship Notting Hill Store is fairly small, but offers the quintessential 80s, indie record store experience, with posters on the walls to prove it. Rough Trade East is bigger, with a shop café, picnic tables, and an incomparable collection of records.
6. Redchurch Street
It started with Shoreditch House, the branch of the Soho House international media center in East London that opened around the corner, followed by Sir Terence Conran’s Boundary Hotel, restaurant and café, and the fashion world quickly began to pay attention to this little alley. There are not many shops or well-known brands – you come here to discover the interesting independent shops, the reserved atmosphere and the unique products. For fashion, the cool Parisian APC or hip-mens boutiques Hostem and Sunspel are recommended. The area is characterized by interesting household goods, such as Retro Labor & Wait, the opulent Maison Trois Garcons (owned by the adjacent restaurant) and Caravan, one of the original pre-gentrification shops that offer handmade gifts. Beauty can be purchased from Aesop, the brand’s first retail store, or from Murdock Shoreditch for traditional men’s grooming.
7. Selfridges & CO.
This was the success of Selfridges & Co., which can now be found in Birmingham and Manchester. However, the flagship store in London is by far the most impressive when it comes to content. The hotel is in a large building that opened in 1909. It is a luxury fire and from the beginning they focused on almost theatrical performances. Start with the many designer handbags and cosmetics on the ground floor. Go upstairs and discover high-end fashion with a selection of more accessible, young labels. This is a 6-story wellness oasis that is open from the Cow Shed Spa to pamper yourself in the Food Hall, which is known for its Christmas dishes.
8. Dover Street Market
Combine London’s love of markets with innovative, aesthetic and luxurious fashion, and you’ll be close to Dover Street Market. In simple terms, DSM is a six-story, 1200 square foot department store in Mayfair, the prices of which can match those of Mayfair. But the carefully curated fashion and chic design by Comme des Garcons Rei Kawakubo set it apart from any other luxury shopping destination. The minimalist interiors are equipped with strong steel beams, bare brick walls and portals for changing rooms. The 50 designers adapt to their surroundings with pieces by Lanvin and Givenchy that are exhibited against corrugated iron, salvaged wood and contemporary art. Every six months they experience “Tachiagri”, which means new beginnings when the shop is closed while designers are reconfiguring the room. So don’t be surprised if it looks different every time you visit.
9. Portobello Road Market
Three times a week, Portobello Road is full of marketers who sell everything from 19th-century silver candelabras to 1970s retro platforms or first-edition Charles Dickens books to cheaply-made Logo-T- shirts. The world famous and historic market starts at the intersection with Chepstow Villas and stretches for one mile to Golborne Road. The further south the section, the higher the quality of the antiques and the cheaper the arcades that are covered with antiques. The Westway is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of vintage fashion, as well as a number of junk sellers who often have great finds. The full market takes place on Friday, Saturday and Wednesday, the latter being the quietest day to explore.
Liberty’s characteristic half-timbered facade has deceived many visitors who thought the building was much older, but the Tudor revival style was popular in Britain in the 1920s. This historic department store was founded by entrepreneur Arthur Liberty in 1875 and became one of the most prestigious in London to take on Parisian fashion. Liberty is still known for luxury fashion, cosmetics, accessories and gifts. But despite its long history, it’s anything but stuffy or old-fashioned with designers like A.P.C., Christopher Kane and Acne, and the more traditional Barbour or Grenson. However, they are best known for the distinctive Liberty print fabric, which is available in swaths in haberdashery or as scarves, ties, diaries and other accessories.