The Touristy Traps
Oxford Street is probably one of the most famous shopping streets in the world. Avoid it like the plague – chokka with tourists at all times, and nothing but oversized versions of boring UK high street shops.
Equally famous Bond Street and Carnaby Street tend to be almost as busy, and overpriced (IMO) – and Harrods in Knightsbridge is the busiest and priciest of all.
If you’re looking for posh brands at cheap prices, as well as TK Maxx, you can try the outlets around London. The ones in central London might still be full of tourists and usually don’t have a lot of options.
Not so obvious shopping options
In London: The newest – the Icon at the O2 – is still part empty, but has about 50 shops with reasonable offers – and is the only one near central London, in Greenwich, with plenty of other things around to do. You can hop on the Jubilee line from Green Park and get off at North Greenwich, where the shopping centre is.
Outside London: The other outlets are Bicester Village near Oxford, and Ashford Designer Village in Kent. Expect them to be busy, especially at weekends.
If you’re looking for unusual, handmade gifts for friends, crafts and other quirky gear – markets tend to have a wide range of small stalls and unusual goods. All will be more or less touristy, especially at weekends
- Greenwich Market – 120 stalls and covered roof. Busy, but nice. Also have Greenwich Vintage Market and the Clocktower Market close by.
- Covent Garden (and Jubilee Market next door)- particularly busy and touristy, but central; as is Spitalfields
- Portobello Road in Notting Hill – very popular, hundreds of stalls. Different themes daily.
Specialist shops, markets and shopping areas
While clothes and shoe shops are all over the centre (especially the loathsome Oxford Street and Camden Market), if you’re shoe shopping, try Neal Street in Covent Garden – there are about a dozen different shoe shops along its length.
Love flowers and plants? Try Kew Gardens (TW9 3PZ, Kew Gardens) or Colombia Road flower market (E2 7RG, Old St)
Looking for interesting / artisanal food options? Try foodie markets like Borough (SE1 1TL, London Bridge), Broadway (E8 4PH, Bethnal Green), Maltby St (SE1 3PA, London Bridge) and Brick Lane (E1 6QL, Liverpool St). Or, in shops, Selfridges Food Hall (W1A 1AB, Bond St) deserves it’s fame.
Fancy browsing or buying antiques and art? Portobello Road Market might be touristy but some days specialise in art and antiques (W10 5TA, Ladbrooke Grove); Alfie’s Antiques is a huge specialist shop (NW8 8DT, Marylebone), or Gray’s Antiques (W1K 5L, Bond St). Further afield is Battlebridge (1h east by train – SS11 7RF).
Book lover? The best shopping area is still Charing Cross road, which still has plenty of bookshops, and Foyle’s in particular tends to have stacks of author-signed books of recent releases. The South Bank book market also has lots of stalls of second hand books and prints.
Rainy weather and you need an umbrella, or reckon it’s the perfect London gift? Try the beautiful old James Smith and Sons for brollies, walking sticks, seat sticks and more, dating from the 1830s.
Love pens, calligraphy or art supplies? Try L. Cornelissen & Son – a beautiful old shop for calligraphers. More modern but comprehensive for art supplies is Covent Garden’s London Graphic Centre
Into all things astrology? The London Astrology Shop is aptly named, with books, birth charts, crystals, cards, sundials, tarot and more.
For musical instruments, ‘Tin Pan Alley” is the best shopping area – it’s the nickname for Denmark Street, which has a bunch of music shops. There are a bunch of other specialized shops scattered around, like the Duke of Uke for all your ukelele needs.
Party / dress up / fancy dress options needed? Try Hoxton Monster Supplies or Angels of Shaftesbury Avenue