Christmas shopping in London is something else. Ever since I was little we would annually go to London for gift shopping. The family tradition brings back so many heart-warming memories that I attempt to uphold it as much as possible. Since I know London like the back of my hand, I can easily stuff all my favourite addresses, streets and shops into a 72 hours shopping itinerary and build in some sightseeing and high-tea-ing on the side. Because seriously, can one ever get enough of seeing the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace? In London my motto is: Seen it, done it, but doing it again anyway just for fun. For the less well-traveled and London newbies I compiled an extended guide to Christmas shopping in London.
The iconic luxury department store Harrods always meets expectations when it comes to their Christmas shop windows and their ‘Christmas World’ department. It is therefore always my first stop when I visit London. Harrods has been around since 1849 when it started as a grocery store. Today it has seven floors and 330 departments. When the almost 12000 light bulbs turn on at night it becomes a magical landmark. The shop windows are a true spectacle that draw adults and children. This year (2017) they teamed up with Dolce & Gabanna to create a fashionable and entertaining window display and other decor throughout the store. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana created 14 magnificent themes in the windows with dressed Sicilian puppets, glamorous mannequins and Italian designs. (Watch my video on my YouTube channel for moving pictures of the animated dolls) Don’t miss the Egyptian Hall and stairs, the Salon de Parfums, the Foods departments and of course Christmas World.
My second favourite place to go gift shopping and experience the Christmas spirit is Covent Garden. The area is packed with small boutiques and restaurants. But you will also find larger brand stores here like Kate Spade, Rituals and Ladurée. In the center of Covent Garden is the old market building which used to be a fruit and vegetables market in yester years. Now it houses lovely coffee and lunch spots and small boutiques.
metrostop: Covent Garden
Neil’s Yard and Seven Dials
Not far from Covent Garden there are 2 hidden shopping areas. One is Seven Dials, seven clustered streets that all unite at the Cambridge Court roundabout. The Seven Dials streets are boasting with independent boutiques, lifestyle stores and cozy restaurants. The other shopping area is Neal’s Yard, consisting of two streets that opens into a courtyard with colourful facades.
metro stop: Covent Garden
Carnaby (incl Carnaby street, Kingly Court and Newburgh Quarter)
Carnaby street in Soho is the street to score exclusive gadgets, fun gifts and other hip and trendy things. It’s a magnet for the young adults. Carnaby street is just off Regent street and close to Piccadilly Circus. Also part of Carnaby is Kingly Court, a three-storey food and dining destination. Here you’ll find 21 restaurants, cafés, bars and food shops around a beautifully lit courtyard. Newburgh quarter with its cobbled streets draws people who love independent shops, one-off concepts and trendy pubs and bars. The quarter runs through Newburgh Street, Marshall Street, Ganton Street, Foubert’s Place, Lowndes Court and Marlborough Court.
Metrostop: Oxford street or Piccadilly Circus
Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason is thé quintessential British department store. Founded in 1707, it is a the grocer to the queen. This is your address for exclusive perfumes and beautifully boxed beauty gifts. On the ground floor you’ll find the most extensive assortment of teas and tinned delicacies. Stately spiral stairs lead to the other departments and restaurants. The Fortnum & Mason hampers are iconic and did you know they invented the scotch egg? Before entering the store take a minute to look up at the the famous Fortnum’s clock. The clock has bells from the same foundry as Big Ben. Every fifteen minutes a selection of airs is played on eighteen bells.
Metro stop: Piccadilly Circus
Another London landmark and shoppers’ favourite is department store Liberty. On the corner of Regent street and Great Marlborough street there’s the slightly prominent building that looks as if moved from Germany or Switzerland. Liberty can’t escape anyone. The store has been around since 1875 when Arthur Liberty started it as an Eastern style bazar with fabrics, ornaments and art objects. Shopping at Liberty is an experience with its heritage still palpable.
metro stop: Oxford Circus or Piccadily Circus
When you see photos of London during the Christmas season, it is your best bet that it’s a photo of Regent street. Favourite stores in this street are Molton Brown, Anthropologie (must go!), Kate Spade, Gap, Uniqlo and Ted Baker. But this is also where you can shop Zara, H&M and Top Shop.
metro stop: Piccadilly Circus/Oxford Circus
London’s high street is Oxford street. It has more than 300 shops and is 1.9 km. Here you’ll find all the big brands like Nike, H&M, Zara, House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams. You can either start at the beginning (Marble Arch) end (Tottenham) or in the middle at Oxford Circus where it crosses with Regent street.
metro: Oxford Circus
Oxford street is lined with department stores, but there’s one that is legendary and that is Selfridges. In 1906 Harry Selfridge opened his store that soon became legendary with its unconventional shop windows, innovative and creative marketing events and cutting edge products. Selfridge was the founder of experience shopping. It has been named Best department store of the world three times. I have to be honest and say that Selfridges isn’t as exclusive any more as it used to be. They also changed the set up of the store which I think wasn’t for the better.
metro stop: Bondstreet (3min)/Oxford Circus (9 min)/Marble Arch(5 min)
Mayfair (incl Brook street, Bond street, South Molton street)
Mayfair is the neighbourhood of the upperclass Londoners. Bondstreet, formed of New and Old Bondstreet is where you’ll find Victoria’s Secret, all the high fashion design stores like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, but also more affordable shops like MAC, Tod’s and La Perla.
In Brook street there are a few of my favourite stores namely: Penhaligon’s the British perfume house (no 20), Diptyque the Parisian fragrances and scented candles icon (no 37) and Pretty Ballerinas with the largest and most beautiful assortment of flat ballet shoes (no 34).
Metro station: Bond street
Although Nottinghill is much more beautiful in spring and summer when everything is in bloom, it is still picturesque in winter. The colourful houses and the vintage and antique shops draw hordes of tourist in all seasons. Portobello Road is therefore packed during the Christmas shopping season with people scouring for antique treasures. From metrostation Noting Hill gate, you can walk via Pembridge Road to Portobello Road. On this route you pass many avantgarde shops and retro boutiques. Other popular streets are Golborne Road and Clarendon Cross. I prefer to go to the less crowded Westbourne Grove and Ledbury road where young urban professionals and 30-something families go for shopping and coffee. It has an elegant, non-pretentious atmosphere with international allure.
Metrostation: Nottinghill Gate
Lambs Counduit street and its side streets in Bloomsbury is almost like a village in the big city. Small book shop, cozy coffee bars and independent shops make this another favourite shopping area for me personally. Don’t be surprised if you get handed a glass of wine, hot chocolate or Christmas cookies when you enter a shop. It’s what they do in Bloomsbury. A few years ago I published an extensive shopping route with all my favourite shops. You can re-read it here.
Camden stables market
Second-hand finds, vintage and bric-brac. Camden Stables is mostly about browsing and scouring for that little gem. The ambiance at the old stables is like nowhere else. It is located in the historic stables of Pickfords and the Grade II horses hospital. Small boutiques and over 700 stalls fill the passages and old railway viaducts. It’s so much fun to wander through the maze of streets and arches hidden behind wooden gates and high brick walls. Marvel at the huge bronze statues of horses that remind us of the heritage. Indulge in the many foods from ethnic vendours with foods like Chinese noodle dishes or Indian flat breads with spicy meat. Best time to visit is at night when the massive chandeliers are lit and cast a magical ambiance in the brick corridors.
metrostation: Camden Town
Shoreditch is hip, eclectic, artistic and hipster. To explore this part you will need a full day. Best day to go to Shoreditch is Sunday when there are lots of markets and the ambiance is at its best. The most popular streets are Old Street, Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street, Red Church street, Old Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane and Columbia Road Market. Shoreditch is a melting pot of cultures and lifestyles. From ethnic shops, handmade design shops and quaint coffee shops to bustling restaurants and vintage markets. Shoreditch has it all. Read my 2 Shoreditch shopping routes here and here.
metrostop: Old street
Of course there are many other parts in London where you can shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. But above areas are in my opinion the ones not to miss. If you have extra time on your hands you can also go to:
- the Camden Passage in Islington
- Chelsea where you’ll find the Conran shop, Jonathan Adler, and Kings Road with trendy boutiques and shops like Gap, Cath Kidston and Anthropologie.
Tips before you go
Make daily plans and itineraries to save time.
London is huge and commutes always take longer than you expected. Nothing is more annoying than finding out that you were already near a street or site before and have to go back to that part of town. Study the metro lines and map before you head out and plan things on the same metro line to get the most out of your day. Avoid rush hours unless you don’t mind being a sardine in a moving tin.
Wear your running shoes
London involves a lot of walking so wear your sports shoes or most comfortable footwear. Even if you move around by metro and bus, it’ll still take a lot of walking to transfer metro lines or simply reaching the exit. Also be prepared to walk lots of stairs as many metro stations aren’t (easily) accessible by elevator or escalator. The pace of Londoners is another thing to keep in mind. They don’t stroll, they speed walk. Just move along with the current, stay on the right on stairs and escalators and you’ll be fine.
Buy an Oyster Card to get around
The most convenient and cheap way to get around is with an Oyster Card. I’ve had mine for years now since I travel to London often. But even if you don’t it’s worth the purchase/deposit. It’s a smart card that you hold against the gate ways to enter and exit public transportation. Once you put money on your card at one of the machines, you pay as you go. For 48 hours in London you roughly need £ 25 credit on your card including your journey to and from the airport. Oyster Card fares are cheaper than buying a paper single ticket or 2-day visitors ticket. Your Visitor Oyster card has daily capping on it. This means you can travel as much as you like in a single day and the amount you pay for your travel is limited (or capped). For example, you can travel as many times as you like in a day in Zones 1 and 2 and you won’t be charged more than £6.60
Take advantage of extended opening hours
In Oxford street and Regent street shops close much later than elsewhere. The large department stores are open till 10 p.m. Take advantage of the prolonged opening hours by planning your shopping in those parts in the evening. Besides, the Christmas lighting is best appreciated after 5 p.m. Watch the Christmas lights and ambiance in my video on my YouTube channel