Appropriately for a city obsessed with class, London’s prime shopping streets aren’t usually defined so much by what they sell as by how much you’ll spend to bring home their booty.
THE ARCADES OF PICCADILLY & OLD BOND STREET
Tube: Green Park: There are several iron-framed, skylighted “arcades” (closed Sun), built by 19th-century blue bloods for shopping in any weather along these streets. The best include the longest one, Burlington Arcade, a block long parallel to Old Bond Street at Piccadilly (silverware, cashmere, handbags, Ladurée macarons); the Royal Arcade, south of Burlington Gardens (antiques, shoes, watches, and Budd Shirtmakers, in residence since the arcade’s 1910 opening); and Piccadilly Arcade, across from Burlington Arcade (men’s tailoring; it leads to Jermyn St. [below], a heart of haberdashery).
Tube: Oxford Circus or Piccadilly Circus: This used to be for the mod crowd, but today its legendary hyper-alternative looks are mostly found on Memory Lane. Instead, expect mainstream sporty choices such as North Face and Vans. Better for browsing is Kingly Court, a former timber warehouse converted into a mini-mall for 30-odd upcoming designers. (carnaby.co.uk)
Tube: Leicester Square: Distinguished by original glazed-tile Victorian storefronts, matching green-and-white shop signs, and a refreshing lack of cars, this block (it and St Martin’s Court just north are said to have inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley) was the cradle of British cinema, but today is a holdout of the antiquarian book trade that once dominated Charing Cross Road. Favorites are Marchpane, at 16, a trove of vintage children’s literature; Pleasures of Past Times’ David Drummond, at 11, an “ephemerist” collecting theatrical memorabilia; and Travis & Emery, at 17, specializing in music and books about music. (www.cecilcourt.co.uk)
Tube: Covent Garden: Every lane around Covent Garden is an obvious shopping drag, full of the usual brands but increasingly some one-off names. Check out Neal Street for shoes, Long Acre for big clothing stores, and Floral Street for designers. (www.coventgardenlondonuk.com)
Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park: The quintessential street for the natty man is home to several multi-named haberdashers that have been in business for more than a century (Harvie & Hudson, Hilditch & Key (since 1899), Hawes & Curtis, and mahogany-lined Turnbull & Asser (1895)—dresser of Chaplin, Churchill, Prince Charles, Ronald Reagan, William, Harry, and James Bond) as well as a growing number of shoemakers, such as Tricker’s, which tend to be better as you move toward St. James’s Street. It connects to Piccadilly by Princes Arcade, strong on shoes.
KENSINGTON HIGH STREET
Tube: High Street Kensington: London’s coolest department store street in the ’60s, the big ones have since decamped for the malls, and it’s now a hodgepodge of upmarket brand names, young trendy stuff on the east end, plus some boutiques on Kensington Church Street.
Tube: Sloane Square or South Kensington: The Chelsea avenue where affluent “Sloaneys” spend is where you go to dream—increasingly, about what King’s Road used to be. Most of the truly unique stores have recently been elbowed aside by the same old names, but amid the familiar (Ted Baker, Rag & Bone, Anthropologie), you’ll find a few independent boutiques, high-end mommy wear, and some designer furnishings. That doesn’t mean the French cafes on Sloane Square aren’t prime real estate for watching those happy rich kids pass by.
NEW BOND STREET
Tube: Bond Street or Green Park: The ultimate high-end purchasing pantheon runs from Oxford Street to Piccadilly, partly as Old Bond Street. Every account-draining trinket maker has a presence, including Sotheby’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, Graff, Alexander McQueen, Harry Winston, Tiffany & Co., Chopard, and Boucheron. Asprey’s, at 165-169, sells adornments few can afford, but its Victorian facade is a visual treat for all incomes. Nearby, South Molton Street continues the luxury, but at half-step down in expense, with Brown’s Ted Baker, Karen Millen, and other fashion houses.
Tube: Marble Arch, Bond Street, or Oxford Circus: The king of London shopping streets supports the biggest names, including Topshop, H&M, the ever-mobbed Primark, and a few lollapalooza department stores like Selfridges, John Lewis, and Marks & Spencer. Boy, are weekends crowded! (www.oxfordstreet.co.uk)
Tube: Shoreditch High Street: This 3 block Shoreditch stretch, once rammed with cabinetmakers, today is at the forefront for stylists. The 150-year-old menswear brand Sunspel opened its first retail shop here; Labour & Wait vends desirable kitchen toys; Maison Trois Garçons does slick interiors; and Terence Conran’s super-chic hotel/restaurant/café complex of Boundary and Albion seals the deal for scenesters. Around the corner, Boxpark, a hipster mall comprised of five dozen rehabbed shipping containers, hosts both pop-up boutiques and not-really-slumming corporate brands alike, while Cheshire Street is ideal for vintage discoveries.
Tube: Knightsbridge: Offshore millionaires come here to feast at the top of the consumerist food chain: Bulgari, Valentino, Miu Miu, Prada, Armani, and everything else haute and showy. And no farther than you can throw a chocolate truffle, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. (www.sloane-street.co.uk)
TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD
Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Goodge Street: Locals sniff, but the street’s lower half, between Oxford and Store streets, is their only drag for cut-rate electronics (including voltage converters). North to Torrington Place, pickings shift to brilliantly designed housewares and furnishings at Habitat (later in this chapter) and London’s grande dame of smart styling, Heal’s (later in this chapter).
Tube: Angel: Islington’s chief avenue is emerging as a low-key location for boutiques, vintage outfits, and kitchen-sink junk shops, all pleasantly spelled by unpretentious pubs and cafes. While you’re south of the Green, explore the sidewalks of Camden Passage, known for antiques and bric-a-brac.