Dave the Taxi Driver's
Guide to London
London is known as one of the greatest shopping capitals in the World. Virtually anyone who has ever made it as a designer has made it here, particularly in fashion. There are endless opportunities to indulge yourself in your retail needs all over the central area and beyond.
To be honest though, if you want to shop at your usual chain shops and stores then you don’t need to come into central London to do it. London has 33 boroughs including the City, each of which has its own high street. There are also shopping malls on the outskirts of London, if you are approaching London from the provinces. Brent Cross Shopping Centre (NW4),Lakeside (Essex) Bluewater (Kent) and much closer to central London,Westfield(W12) which opened in late 2008.
With all due respect to the inner London fringe and the suburbs, I have never heard of anyone saying that they came to London to shop on Ilford or Kilburn High Roads. People want the buzz of the West End or the charm of Chelsea, the affluence of Mayfair or St.James and the glitz of Knightsbridge.
If you want to try somewhere different and interesting you can take a trip out to Richmond or Kingston -upon -Thames. These are particularly attractive places to visit. Both are steeped in history and being by the River Thames have their special atmosphere.
London also has many long established Markets which I describe in a separate section.
Below is a general view of central London shopping. This is by no means the whole shopping scene, but it is where most people go. The City has its own share of class retailers and the Mall underneath Canada Square in Canary Wharf is also worth a visit if you are in the area.
Everywhere there are always side streets where you will find other little shops tucked away that don’t blast their presence at you with neon lights.
For anyone who does not know London, the West End is the area of Central London where almost everything happens, especially at Christmas, during the January sales, and all the time in between.
If you start from Marble Arch (Tube) Oxford Street continues eastwards passing Bond Street (Tube) on the way to Oxford Circus ( Tube) and then on to its junction with Tottenham Court Road (Tube) and Charing Cross Road. Crossing Oxford Street at Oxford Circus is Regent Street. Piccadilly(Circus Tube) which leads to St.James’ and Mayfair( Green Park Tube) is to the right at the bottom of the main part of Regent Street. Covent Garden(Tube) and the Strand are east of Leicester Square (Tube).
All in all there are thousands of stores and shops where you will delight in spending your money. The West End is an extensive area. To get around everywhere involves a lot of walking. I pick up many shopping- exhausted, foot weary people who have overdone it, who thankfully hit the back seat of the cab like a sack of potatoes.
Marylebone (Tube Marble Arch/Oxford Circus) is just to the north of Oxford Street, with its High Street, Baker Street (Tube)and Wigmore Street, plus lots of little streets running in between, such as Marylebone Lane and St.Christopher’s Place. Marylebone is typical of the distinct localities that have contributed to the make up of London. In the streets around Baker Street you will find sellers of ladies wear and wedding wear. Closer to Edgware Road Marylebone has a strong middle eastern presence with Lebanese restaurants. Alfie’s Antiques Market is on the corner of Church Street (NW8) near the Edgware Road Tube.
Fitzrovia, (Tube Oxford Circus/Great Portland Street) bordered by Regent Street, Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road has a history of the wholesale ‘rag trade’ but has become increasingly populated by restaurants and modern businesses. Some of the fashion wholesalers also sell retail as well. Most of the shopping here is on the ‘other’ end of Oxford Street away from Oxford Circus (Top Shop/HMV/Plaza) and the western side of Tottenham Court Road with all its Hi Tec equipment. There are lots of pubs, cafés and good restaurants so rather than shop here you can eat and drink your way through.
There are a few gems such as- music -J.P.Guiver (violins, violas and cellos). Hobgoblin Music (guitars and Celtic instruments), Ivor Mairant’s (guitars). French’s Theatre Bookshop, shirt makers Andreas Dometakis and Russell Hodge. Tailors George, Paul Kitsaros and George Sawa. Zecco (formal wear).Tee4me is a specialist novelty tee shirt producer.
Soho (Tube Oxford Circus/Piccadilly Circus) shows its respectable face on Regent Street with Liberty’s Store and seven floors of toys at Hamleys. Carnaby Street (who hasn’t heard of that ?) is still at the leading edge of fashion after all these years. Behind, in Soho’s old streets is a profusion of sex shops, bookshops which usually display an electric sign indicating that they are sellers of sexual material, maybe in the room downstairs and erotic underwear shops, with a couple of Tattoo parlours as well.
Chinatown (Tube Piccadilly Circus) is part of Soho along Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester Square. Apart from the many restaurants Chinatown is a great place to get your oriental provisions and enjoy a cheap Chinese Meal.
Oxford Street (W1) (Tube Oxford Circus)
The major department stores such as Selfridges, House of Fraser, Debenhams and John Lewis, to name but a few are situated in the western part of Oxford Street which ends at Oxford Circus Tube. Beyond here the street changes character. There are a few large retailers such as Top Shop at Oxford Circus and the HMV store plus the Plaza, but this part of Oxford Street has more of a back street feel than a sophisticated retail area. There are people standing around with placards offering bargains down in the smaller side streets and offers of cut price English Lessons. Here and there are fruit stalls and London souvenir stalls.
Tottenham Court Road (Tube)(W1 &WC1) could be renamed Hi-Tec Road. Just about every shop sells computers and everything to do with computers. The famous Heal’s Store is at the northern end close to the Euston Road.
New Oxford Street (WC1)
Again here are quite a few computer and software and camera shops.
Charing Cross Road(WC2) is the place for books-Waterstones and Foyles and music and recording equipment.
Denmark Street(WC2) (Tin Pan Alley) is just off here near Centre Point with Guitar shops and all to do with music. Lovers of Ray Davies and the Kinks will know this area from the song of the same name from the classic Lola, Powerman and the Money-go-round album.
Covent Garden (WC2) (Tube Covent Garden) (Rail Charing Cross)Usually choc full of tourists especially on Saturday and Sunday. Hundreds of fashion shops, cafes and restaurants, also loads of small interesting places off Neal Street and Seven Dials, many of which lean to the esoteric and health/ vegetarian lifestyle. In the old market building, which is the centre piece there are (neo) traditional sellers of things like soap, cheese and Cornish pasties and pies.
St.James (SW1) (Tube Green Park)
Oh how can I be so disrespectful to majestic St.James? Where the sombre Palace sits aloof from the stately retailers who have quietly traded for centuries; where you don’t just buy things and get a sandwich or a burger. Heaven forbid! Here you immerse yourself in the scents of leather, waxy Barbour coats, crisp shirts and perfume; wrap your thighs in musky corduroy above your booted shins and look forward to a horsy weekend; sip aromatic coffee with a patisserie or sample vintage wines with oysters, surrounded by establishments purveying fine art.
If you want something more earthy then try the Golden Lion Pub in King Street, opposite Christie’s Auction rooms. There is an old saying-‘the pub is no good till the beer’s in the wood’. This is certainly true of the Golden Lion. Good food and good ale. The aroma of age old beer hits you as you walk through the door.
Trumper’s high class gentlemen’s hairdresser typifies St.James. You have you hair tailored at Trumper’s just as you have your hats/ jackets/suits/shoes/ shirts/ties and underwear made to a very high standard in the fine establishments nearby. In fact gentlemen’s shirts are the speciality of the area, particularly in Jermyn Street.
Like Mayfair, St.James’ has been patronised by the Royals for centuries, class is everywhere. This is where the well bred, well shod and well financed do their rounds. The Queen’s grocer, Fortnum and Mason graces Piccadilly where you can take English Tea, or if you prefer you can take tea at the Ritz. Just along Piccadilly is Royal Warranted Hatchard’s Books and Lladro. Towards the Ritz is the Caviar House.
St.James’ Street itself is steeped in excellence. Lock’s Hatters (1676) and Lobb’s Bootmakers (1849).For oenophiles, Hugh Johnson’s crystal and wine accessories shop complements two world class wine merchants close to St.James’ Palace, Berry Brothers and Rudd(1698) and Justerini and Brooks (1749). For specialist smokers there is Davidoff’s Cigars. Next door is Beretta, hunting outfitters and gun suppliers since 1536. Truefitt and Hill have supplied grooming products for gentlemen since 1805. Living history over each threshold.
Pimlico Road (SW1) (Tube Sloane Square)
Chelsea (SW3) (Closest Tube Knightsbridge/Sloane Square/South Kensington)
The Conran Shop is on Sloane Avenue, just down from the next corner by the great Bibendum/Michelin Building. This announces the beginning of the Fulham Road with Ralph Lauren, Theo Fennell and the always entertaining windows of designer handmade jewellers Butler and Wilson. This theme continues down to near the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, with exquisite antique furniture at Apter- Frederick’s and the lavish interior design of Colefax & Fowler to name but two.
Kings Road (SW3 & SW10) (Tube Sloane Square)
Fulham (SW6) (Nearest Tube Fulham Broadway)
Knightsbridge /Sloane Street /Beauchamp Place/Brompton Road (SW1/SW3) (Tube Knightsbridge/Sloane Square)
Bayswater (W2) (Tube Bayswater/Queensway)
Beyond Whiteley’s to the left is Westbourne Grove. Although this begins in Bayswater, it becomes really trendy in the W11 end towards Notting Hill.
Kensington (W8)(Tube High Street Kensington)
Barker’s Department Store closed its famous doors in 2006. The fine old building is now the organic Whole Foods Market.
Kensington Church Street upwards of the bend towards Notting Hill is largely given over to Antique shops. Below towards Kensington High Street are ladies outfitters and girlier shops.
Notting Hill (W11) (Tube Notting Hill Gate)
As with Kensington Church Street antique and furniture shops abound; retro music and retro clothes with quirky places with their windows full of colorful arty things, ancient magazines and of course Portobello Road with its Market.
Trendy Westbourne Grove is a walkable distance, about half a mile north of the tube.
Camden Town (Tube Camden Town/Chalk Farm)
Camden buzzes full of bohemian razzamatazz with live music, bars, bistros and cool restaurants. Camden is one of the top tourist spots of London and it is absolutely packed at weekends especially on Sundays. All the shops here seem to have been turned inside out and put all their wears and other eccentric creations on the outside walls. The place for teens, rainbow children, goths, cybergoths, punks, pagans, psychedelia, rockers, tattoos, arty crafty creations, older people with creative tendencies, body piercing, body art, comics, vintage clothing, Doc Marten’s, hempseeds and other hemp products, alternative designer jewellery and funky everything.
There had been a proposal to redevelop part of Stables Market in 2006 which attracted intense opposition. Planning permission was given. In February 2008 there was a devastating fire which began in the Canal Market and which was apparently caused by a stallholder’s heater being left switched on. After the fire buildings had to be demolished. Subsequently the planned redevelopment of part of the Stables Market went ahead. The new glass fronted blocks replace the old Victorian buildings and contain offices, shop units and bars. This is not in keeping with what Camden is about. The intention is to attract a different kind of shopper and thus, in the opinion of many, including myself, Camden’s individuality is being diluted. It must not be allowed to be the thin end of the wedge of change. Camden’s identity is very special and very different from your usual high street and semi detached suburbia. In fact Camden does not need what you can get anywhere, that is another high street clone. Camden has its inimitable character which must be kept alive.