The West End
Oxford Street is undeniably the West End's main shopping attraction. Start at Marble Arch -- the westernmost end -- for an enormous branch of budget clothes chain Primark and designer department store Selfridges. As you walk the length of the famous street toward Tottenham Court Road, you'll notice that the quality of shops goes downhill, especially east of Oxford Circus. Think bargain basement tat and cheap souvenirs, and you have the idea. Topshop remains an Oxford Street must-visit (the branch here is the largest clothes shop in Europe), and a giant New Look close to Marble Arch offers yet more great value clothes. You're certainly very brave to attempt Oxford Street at the weekend; weekday mornings are best for your sanity.
Oxford Street is also a great starting point for hitting the more interesting shopping areas, such as affluent Marylebone. If you're looking for some extreme shopping adventures, this is where London's top plastic surgeons are based -- and it's impossible not to fall in love with the quaintness of Marylebone's main street. The street's chocolate shops and interiors brands ooze luxury.
Regent Street crosses Oxford Street at Oxford Circus. Regent Street shopping is more toward the high end of "high street," typified by the affordable luxury of chain shops such as Mango and French Connection. Boutique lifestyle shop Anthropologie is a relatively new addition, but is expensive in comparison to its U.S. equivalent. Head south from Oxford Circus for the world-famous Liberty department store. Inside a mock-Tudor building, Liberty is a London landmark. You're now at the top of Carnaby Street, and although it's not quite the Sixties' style mecca it once was, it's worth a stroll -- especially if you veer off into the Newburgh Quarter. The area is also home to Kingly Court, a gorgeous little piazza of independent shops and vintage boutiques -- the cafes are generally overpriced, but do provide a great perch to sit and people-watch.
Parallel to Regent Street, the Bond Street area connects Piccadilly with Oxford Street, and is synonymous with the luxury rag trade. It's not just one street, but a whole area, mainly comprising New Bond Street and Old Bond Street. It's the hot address for international labels and designer jewelry shops. A slew of international hotshots, from Chanel to Versace, have digs nearby. Make sure you stop off at Dover Street Market -- not a market at all, but actually a designer shop housing all sorts of fashionable folk under one roof.
Burlington Arcade (Tube: Piccadilly Circus), a glass-roofed Regency passage leading off Piccadilly, looks like a period exhibition, and is lined with 35 mahogany-fronted intriguing shops and boutiques. Lit by wrought-iron lamps and decorated with clusters of ferns and flowers, its small, upscale stores specialize in fashion, gold jewelry, Irish linen, and cashmere. If you linger there until 5:30pm, you can watch the beadles (the last London representatives of Britain's oldest police force), in their black-and-yellow livery and top hats, ceremoniously place the iron grills that block off the arcade until 9am, at which time they remove them to start a new business day. Also at 5:30pm, the Burlington Bell is sounded, signaling the end of trading. Make sure to catch the clock at Fortnum and Mason -- it moves on the hour.
Nearby Jermyn Street (Tube: Piccadilly Circus), on the south side of Piccadilly, is a tiny two-block street devoted to high-end men's haberdashers and toiletries shops; many have been doing business for centuries. Several hold Royal warrants, including Turnbull & Asser, 71-72 Jermyn St. (tel. 020/7808-3000), where HRH Prince Charles has his PJs made. A bit to the northwest, Savile Row is where you'll find London's finest men's tailors.
The West End theatre district borders two more shopping areas: the still-not-ready-for-prime-time Soho (Tube: Tottenham Court Rd. or Leicester Sq.), where the sex shops are slowly morphing into cutting-edge designer boutiques -- check out clothing exchange Bang Bang, 9 Berwick St. (tel. 020/7494-2042), for designer bargains -- and Covent Garden, a shopping masterpiece stocked with fashion, food, books, and everything else. The original Covent Garden marketplace has overflowed its boundaries and eaten up the surrounding neighborhood; it's fun to shop the narrow streets. Just off trendy Neal Street and Seven Dials, Neal's Yard is a stunning splash of color on rainy days if you're looking to buy foodstuffs from Neal's Yard Dairy. Monmouth Street is somewhat of a local secret. Many shops here serve as outlets for British designers, selling both used and new clothing. In addition, stores specialize in everything from musical instruments from the Far East to palm readings. Make sure, too, to take in Charing Cross Road and get your nose into one of the many secondhand bookshops. You can't avoid Foyles (and nor should you), but the smaller shops have some great options and well-priced first editions if you're particular about your Pulitzers.
If you're heading west, the first place you should find yourself in is Notting Hill. Of course, one of the main draws for shopping in West London is Portobello Market. Every Sunday, the whole of Portobello Road turns into a sea of antiques, cool clothing (and even cooler shoppers), and maybe even a celebrity or three.
Some of the best boutiques in London are also here. The independent shopping scene thrives; this is an area where people want to be unique, but still look expensive and groomed. Expect one-off, vintage-style dresses, quirky homewares, and more than a handful of retro record shops. Stick to Portobello for antiques, but head to Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road for boutiques.
West London is also home to two American-style shopping malls. Westfield takes up residence in Shepherd's Bush and Whiteleys sits in Bayswater. They're huge, they have everything, and they're busy. If it's raining and you still want your high-street shops, head here. Just don't expect to find anything special or out of the ordinary.
The home of Harrods, Knightsbridge is probably the second-most famous London retail district (Oxford Street just edges it out). Sloane Street is traditionally regarded as a designer area, but these days it's more "upscale high-street," and nowhere near as luxurious as Bond Street .
Walk southwest on Brompton Road -- toward the V&A Museum -- and you'll find Cheval Place, lined with designer resale shops, and Beauchamp Place (pronounced Bee-cham). It's high end, but with a hint of irony. Expect to see little lapdogs in handbags.
If you walk farther along Brompton Road, you'll connect to Brompton Cross, another hip area for designer shops made popular when Michelin House was rehabbed by Sir Terence Conran, becoming the Conran Shop. Seek out Walton Street, a tiny snake of a street running from Brompton Cross back toward the museums. Most of the shops here specialize in nonessential luxury products, the kind a severe Victorian moralist might dismiss as "vanities and fripperies." You'll also be near King's Road (Tube: Sloane Sq.); once a beacon of Sixties cool, this became a haven for designer clothes and homewares but is gradually becoming more corporate.
Finally, don't forget all those museums in nearby South Kensington. They have fantastic and exclusive gift shops. If you're looking for jewelry and homewares, the V&A and the Design Museum are must-visits. The Science Museum shop is perfect for inquisitive youngsters. Make sure to view the collections, too. They're free, and have some world-class exhibits.
Kensington High Street (Tube: High St. Kensington) is the hangout of the classier breed of teen, one who has graduated from Carnaby Street. While there are a few staples of basic British fashion here, most of the stores feature items that can be described as modern classics with a twist. Think black, well cut, and tailored, with a fun edge for the youngsters. From Kensington High Street, you can walk up Kensington Church Street. Like Portobello Road, this is one of the city's main shopping avenues for antiques, offering everything from antique furniture to Impressionist paintings.
Insider Tip: Kensington might scream money, but there are still places to pick up a bargain. The charity shops here (particularly along Kensington Church Street) are full of designer bargains. After all, where else is London's upper crust going to drop off last season's clobber? It might not be good enough for them, but if you're looking for cut-price Gucci and Pucci, that's where you'll find it. That's not to say you'll be paying pennies for your wares (the people who work here aren't stupid), but you can pick up a vintage bargain and do your bit for charity at the same time. There's nothing better than virtuous shopping, is there?
Herne Hill (Train: Herne Hill) and Dulwich (Train: North Dulwich) merge slightly, and both attract a "yummy mummy" crowd -- that's middle-class mothers with posh buggies, in case you're wondering -- but the shops also benefit from a local community vibe. It's certainly worth browsing here, in preference to Clapham -- which apart from a few gems such as Lisa Stickley, is unlikely to wow you.
The best place for shopping in London's far southwest is Chiswick (Tube: Turnham Green), which has always had a thriving artsy community. This is where you'll find modern little galleries on the corner of residential streets, and unique homewares retailers such as Eco as well as pop-up stores (temporary shops). It's still a mostly residential suburb, but there's always something new happening here, especially when it comes to shopping. Start your browsing along Devonshire Road and follow your senses.
The South Bank
Apart from Gabriel's Wharf, the South Bank isn't really a shopping destination on its own -- although the area is slowly getting a facelift. The OXO Tower, Bargehouse St. (tel. 020/7021-1600; Tube: Waterloo), now has a collection of upscale boutiques in its lower floors, and Hay's Galleria, 2 Battle Bridge Lane (tel. 020/7403-3583; Tube: London Bridge), by the Tooley Street entrance to London Bridge station, is cute. Borough Market brings foodie crowds south in their droves, as does Tate Modern with its fabulous shop for artsy visitors and locals.
Something delightful happens to the area over Christmas, however. There's a Christmas Market, which stretches along the whole South Bank, offering festive delights. Everything from food to Christmas decorations can be bought, all before taking a trip to see Santa himself. There's also a Slow Food Market in winter (visit www.slowfood.org.uk), offering roasted meats and chutneys and foods that you'll want to savor.
The City & East London
The financial district itself doesn't really offer much in the way of shopping -- especially at the weekend, when everything tends to be shut. However, a new shopping center, One New Change, is attracting a rich crowd for its luxury goods. It's opposite the eastern end of St. Paul's Cathedral. You'll also find a handful of tailors in the area, and there are several high-end brands in the nearby Royal Exchange (www.theroyalexchange.com; Tube: Bank). Unless you're often suited up for work, however, it's really not a shopping destination by itself.
Wander west from St. Paul's and you'll wind up in the jewelry district around Hatton Garden (Tube: Chancery Lane). On Saturdays it's a sea of nervous men hunting the perfect engagement ring. If you're not in the market for fancy finger adornments, Lamb's Conduit Street is a short stroll farther west. It's a beautiful street, full of history -- and now independent shops and restaurants.
Continue your adventure farther east on Commercial Street (Tube: Liverpool Street/Train: Shoreditch High Street), Shoreditch. This is where you'll find the best vintage shops in the city. They're on almost every corner, and new ones seem to appear every day, alongside pop-up stores just here for the weekend and the antiques market in Spitalfields.
A short stroll north, Columbia Road is more than just a flower market; in many ways, the main attractions are the artist studios that line the street. Head up every single one of those staircases you see. If the door is open, you're allowed in.
Shoppers should split north London in two: Camden (Tube: Camden Town) has its heavy metal and Goth shops; Primrose Hill (Tube: Chalk Farm) and its surrounds has perfect little streets full of local finds. The two could not be more different, but that doesn't mean either is less enticing.
Camden could never be dull. Even if the bustling high street with its black leather-clad crowds isn't your thing, it's worth a stroll just for the spectacle: street-food stalls and Goths in full make-up at lunchtime against a backdrop of Camden Lock and the canal. Camden Market itself has changed somewhat since a fire in 2008. The refurbishment has tidied things up a little, although many would argue that some of the charm has gone with it. The stalls are back, the Stables area is more exciting, and everything is just perhaps a little more refined; it still has some rough Camden charm, but also a wider appeal, whether you're looking for neon industrial clubwear or handmade jewelry. It's best to avoid the food stalls, though.
Primrose Hill is Camden's northern neighbor, and the Cinderella to North London's ugly sister. Everything is pretty, perfect, and rather posh. Designer stores, chi-chi art galleries, and overpriced clothes are what you'll find in this part of town.
Angel -- in Islington, south and east of Camden -- bridges the gap between indie and vintage cool, and luxury and boutique style. Head to Camden Passage for the best of vintage. The weekend market stalls are interesting, but the real charm lies in the street's small shops. Upscale vintage and specialized antiques flank both sides, leading up to Essex Road and Upper Street. Both these major thoroughfares have shops lining them: Essex Road is good for independent designers; Upper Street sticks to high-street and specialist chains.
Although many London stores now open on Sundays, the best weekend shopping is still the stalls of Greenwich's flea and craft markets. The ideal way to arrive is to float downstream on a boat from Embankment or Westminster piers. The trip takes about a half-hour. Both the DLR station (Cutty Sark) and the pier are minutes from the indoor craft market, which is held Wednesday through Sunday. Greenwich town center isn't very big: Follow the signs -- or the crowd -- and you'll find it. Greenwich Market is bursting with art and crafts, both global and local. The shops around the outside of the market are also worth a look, and make sure to walk through the food market when you're done, if only to try the churros filled with dulce de leche (milk caramel). You're now only 5 minutes from Greenwich rail station, on Greenwich High Road, from which there's a train back to the center of London every half-hour until about 11:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.