Shopping in London
London is one of the world's great shopping cities. From designer jewels to thrifty vintage clothing to cutting-edge technology, it is all here in abundance. Central London’s packed high streets make for an exhilarating shopping experience, while a more leisurely browse can be found in quaint pockets such as Dulwich, Hampstead Village and Parsons Green.
King's Road in Chelsea, SW1, has a long-standing reputation for fashion, as does Notting Hill in West London, while in the East, Shoreditch boasts cutting-edge boutiques and oodles of vintage. Oxford Street, W1, Regent Street, W1, and Kensington High Street, W8, brim with high street clothing, and Tottenham Court Road, WC1, is packed with electrical goods. Old and New Bond Streets, W1, are home to a high-end array of international designers, such as Prada and Gucci, with nearby Conduit Street sporting more off-the-wall designers, such as Vivienne Westwood. Covent Garden, WC2, is a charming hub of specialist shops and craft stalls, and Carnaby Street, W1, is awash with trendy purchases.
In the East End, you’re never too far from a fantastic market, whether it’s the en mass bric-a-brac of Petticoat Lane, E1, the stylish clothing of Spitalfields, E1, the foodie heaven of Broadway Market, E8, Brick Lane’s assortment of trinkets, E1, or the wonderful Sunday flower market on Columbia Road, E2. In the north, there’s iconic and edgy Camden market, N1, and West London’s famous Portobello Road antiques fare, W10, is still going strong. London Bridge’s Borough Market, SE1, is renowned for global cuisine, and Brixton Market, SW9, sizzles up delicious Caribbean fare.
Oxford Street’s key department stores include Selfridges, Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. High-fashion Liberty is on Great Marlborough Street, W1, with hip Carnaby Street just behind. Harrods in Knightsbridge, SW1, is a huge tourist attraction, and Fortnum and Mason, W1, is good for British foodstuffs. Westfield London, in Shepherd's Bush, is a giant shopping mall filled with high street and designer brands. Sister mall Westfield Stratford City, Europe's largest urban shopping mall, recently opened by the Olympic Park in East London.
Shops in London are open Monday to Saturday 0930-1800, with some open until 2000. Many open Sunday 1200-1800. Late-night opening (usually until 2000) is on Thursday in the West End and Wednesday in Knightsbridge.
Beside souvenir shops proffering a plethora of London Underground and Royal Family themed paraphernalia – some vaguely useful (London Tube Map tea towel) and some, well, not so much (William and Kate dolls, anyone?) there are some lovely souvenirs to be found. Museum and gallery shops are stocked with interesting purchases – the Tate Modern in particular has funky items spanning home wear, jewellery and artwork – and for luxurious British gifts, there’s distinguished department stores Fortnum & Mason and Harrods.
Most major shops in the West End are part of the Tax-Free Shopping scheme run by Global Refund (tel: 0800 829 373; www.globalrefund.com), which offers VAT (currently charged at 17.5%) refunds to visitors from outside the EU.