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The Joy of Shopping on Your London Vacation
Why is a man writing about shopping? Wouldn’t this subject be more suited to a woman? Well, yes it is in my opinion, but being married to a “professional” shopper, I have been taken to places by my wife where I would normally not consider spending my time. I have, surprisingly, enjoyed the following shopping venues while on a London vacation. By the way, let it be said, this information is aimed at both male and female readers.
Is there anywhere in the world like London for shopping? I can’t hope to cover every wonderful store, market, or boutique in this great city, but here are some tips on where to go, given my selection of places which I have personally enjoyed.
I have to start with Selfridges, the enormous and classy department store on Oxford Street. You may have caught the TV show, Mr. Selfridge. If you did, you will know the store was a dream come true for the American merchandiser and founder, Harry Selfridge. When I lived in London, Selfridges was an okay store, but over the subsequent years, it has been transformed to rival every other department store in the city. Once through the revolving doors, you will find yourself in a world unto itself. There is a buzz that hits you right away. Beware, you will need time to explore the many vast floors and departments. I won’t go into discussing the merchandise here, most of it of a very high quality, but I do want to mention the fact that apart from the usual department store items, you can also buy wine at the wine store and purchase cheese, olive oil, and other delicacies. As for eating and drinking, there is the Rooftop Bar, a charming tea room in the basement, and if you really want to indulge, there is the Champagne and Oyster Bar. So, even if you don’t spend a cent in Selfridges, you can easily spend enjoyable time, on your London vacation, just exploring the store.
A household name in stores is, of course, Harrods in Knightsbridge, the doyen of London department stores. It used to be said that Harrods sold everything from pins to elephants, and if not in stock, they would order it for you. Again, as a store, the word “classy” comes to mind, but it is designed in a more traditional fashion. The store, which is 160 years old, has 7 floors, 330 departments, and 27 restaurants. Now I know why my wife once went in there at opening time and didn’t come out until closing time! If you don’t go anywhere else in the store, do go to the Food Hall. I can’t imagine a more seductive sight than the one at Harrods, both in the presentation and variety of food items, some of which I have only heard about. On your way in and out, watch the limousines roll up outside, dropping off obviously very special shoppers. A visit to Harrods is definitely a highlight and must-see on your London vacation.
Another quality and traditional store is Liberty, just off Regent Street. This store sells luxury merchandise and is famous for its arts and crafts, including fashion and accessories. Its specialties are its own floral and artistic prints. I once bought 2 ties there (they were on sale!), and they are still beloved by me and hanging in my closet.
Looking at some speciality stores, one of my “must visit anytime I am in London” stores is Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road. If you love books, you don’t need to go anywhere else. The different bright and well-lit departments are well laid out and clearly designated. I can’t imagine many books you wouldn’t be able to find here. The staff at Foyles is knowledgeable and helpful. When you have not quite resisted buying at least one or two books, you can then head to the very pleasant top floor café to relax and ponder your purchases.
If you have small children or know any and would like to buy them presents, while on your London vacation, there is only one place you need to go and that is Hamleys on Regent Street. I suggest being wary of taking a child there, as it consists of 5 floors of toys and games for children of every age. They may be overwhelmed and want to stay all day. You can watch demonstrations given by the staff and you can send your kids to the play area while you look at toys you wished you’d had when a child.
Fortnum & Mason
When it comes to food, have a look around Fortnum & Mason, on Piccadilly. I understand it was established in 1707, so they must know all about food. It is actually an upscale food department store selling everything edible from the basics to the exotic. It is also a nice place to have afternoon tea, British style. I read somewhere, they organize hampers and can include champagne, oysters, and smoked salmon with no problem. I also hear they supply the Queen’s marmalade!
Portobello Road Market
Okay, so you are on a budget but want to purchase something to bring back home. You can visit the Portobello Road Market at Notting Hill Gate. I quote their website, “Portobello Road, the world’s largest antiques market with over 1000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectible. Visitors flock from all over the world to discover one of London’s best-loved landmarks which contains the most extensive selection of antiques in Britain.” However, they don’t do themselves justice. You can buy fashions, second-hand goods, fruit and vegetables, and even furniture. It takes time to walk from one end to the other, and it’s open every day except Sunday, while the main market is on Saturday. I suggest going early as it becomes very crowded later in the day. They also have a number of food stalls, should you feel hungry.
Another open-air market is Spitalfields in the city, not far from Liverpool Street Station. I had remembered Spitalfields as being London’s premier meat supply market. This is no longer the case as it has been totally converted. I stumbled across this market by accident and once inside the covered area, was hooked on browsing around. I found all kinds of souvenirs and other merchandise that suited my budget. You can find clothes and fashion, jewellery, leather goods, and antiques, plus enjoy a selection of food stalls. There are certain days of the week when Spitalfields specializes in different types of merchandise. On Thursdays, it is antiques and vintage jewellery. On the first and third Friday of the month, it is vinyl records, and on Saturdays, it is totally vintage.
Another suggested venue for fun shopping is Covent Garden, once famous for its fruit and vegetable market. Now it is basically an entertainment spot (who said shopping wasn’t entertaining), including street artists, buskers, outdoor cafes, and restaurants. There are a number of small boutiques offering everything from clothes to jewellery and chocolate. For more serious shopping around Covent Garden, you can head immediately north and find many small boutique stores selling mainly clothing apparel and shoes. Afterwards, when your credit card is exhausted, come back to the main square and enjoy the fun.
My last item for shoppers intent on finding something to take home, on their London vacation, is the gift shops of most museums and art galleries. This includes major venues such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Library, and so on. Best part, you don’t have to pay to go into the gift shops.
I know I have only scratched the surface on the joy of shopping on your London vacation, and have left out icons of fashionable shopping such as Carnaby Street, King’s Road, Chelsea, and High Street Kensington. This has been one man’s idea of fun shopping. I wonder if my wife would agree.
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