Trying to get all your Christmas shopping completed each year can be, let’s be honest, a headache. Yet, if you’re visiting London in the coming weeks – perhaps to check out the Christmas markets and catch a show in the West End – why not kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes? That is, combine your intended visit (packed full of ace visitor attractions) with a seasonal shopping spree? After all, the Big Smoke’s one of the greatest retail destinations on earth – and here are several reasons why…
Whiteleys Shopping Centre
(Queensway W2 4YN)
Originally London’s very first department store when it opened way back in 1912, this huge building – following the closure of ‘Whiteleys’ the store in 1981 – re-emerged in 1989 as a ginormous shopping centre (with a staggering 300,000 sqft-plus of store space, it remains London’s biggest; in those terms, twice the size of Westfield at Shepherd’s Bush) and houses more than 70 individual high street-style, mainstream shops. Having played a significant role in reviving the Bayswater area – just down the road from Paddington (so ideal for hotels near Paddington Station UK) – its exterior boasts a beautiful colonnade façade, while its marble ‘La Scala’ staircase makes for the main atrium’s centrepiece.
(87-135 Brompton Road SW3 1RT)
Taking up all seven floors of its grand Knightsbridge address, this icon of the retail world that vends a vast array of different wares – everything from pianos to cooking pans and men’s and women’s fashion to perfumery – Harrods is the first name in department stores in London; perhaps in the world, in fact. A modern highlight is its Superbrands department, which is, indeed, supreme with its 17 boutiques delivered by major global designers, as well as Salon du Parfums, where you’ll find many of the most exclusive and admired scents on the planet. Yet, perhaps most revered of all, is the place’s Food Hall; an exceptionally exotic, idyllic outlet for fresh food that’s derived from every corner of the globe (plus, lest we forget, this store’s also home to a staggering 27 individual restaurants).
If you feel Harrods may be slightly out of your price range (which would be rather understandable; we won’t judge), then you must certainly wend your way Oxford Circus-way to complete those last minute Christmas present purchases. Stretching nearly two miles all the way from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch (and crossing the likes of Bond Street and Regent Street; see below), Oxford Street may face stiff competition these days from the likes of London’s two Westfields and Brent Cross, yet it remains Europe’s most popular retail shopping thoroughfare, enjoys half-a-million visitors every single day; walking up and down its pavements and milling in and around its hundreds of outlets. And what about those outlets? Well, on the one hand there’s the UK high-street flagship stores of HMV, Nike, Next and Top Shop, as well as three of Britain’s premier department stores; Selfridge’s, John Lewis and House of Fraser.
Just as easy to get to from Hyde Park Paddington hotels as Oxford Street (which, of course, it intersects), Regent Street makes for a fair complement to latter, thanks to its contrasting retail options. For, on this uniquely elegant-looking thoroughfare, every retail outlet appears to seamlessly blend into the Regency-like-fronted architecture of the entire street (owing to building regulations), which ensures its many and various exclusive stores coalesce to deliver something of a collective Regent Street ‘brand’. Among its most famous outlets today are The Apple Store, as well as flagship shops for ‘superior’ clothing names like Banana Republic, Ted Baker, Burberry and Aquascutum. Best of all, thought (and especially at this time of year, of course), is that it’s this London street on which you’ll discover surely the best – and oldest – toy shop in the world. Hamleys is an undisputed London (if not global) institution and truly vends very good toys with excellent staff. In fact, a visit here is almost as fun for adults as for kids…. almost!