Shopping Guide to London
Welcome to one of the world’s best shopping cities. London has it all: from famous department stores such as Selfridges, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason to high street chain stores and specialty boutiques.
Enjoyable features of London’s big stores are the in-store tea rooms, bars and gourmet restaurants – just great for stopping to catch your breath! Most of the big stores are grouped around Covent Garden, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus.
For real value, time your visit to coincide with London’s annual sales. And don’t miss the more than 300 markets, perfect for snapping up rare and unusual shopping items.
Sales - Traditionally, store sales in Britain are held during January and July, but promotions can happen at any time.
The January sale is the big shopping event of the year, and while some stores start their after-Christmas sales on December 26, most start in the first week of January.
Expect discounts from 25 to 70 per cent at leading department stores. Typically, Harrods (the most famous sale in London), Selfridges and Harvey Nichols launch their January sales season on December 27; people have been known to sleep on the pavement the night before to get in the door first! July sales begin in June – or earlier.
Shopping hours - Typically, London stores open at 10am and close at 6pm, Monday to Saturday, with late shopping until 7pm on Thursday night. Those stores on Oxford Street and in Covent Garden are open until 7pm every day. On Sundays, stores are generally open from 11am until 5pm.
Taxes - In Britain, most goods, even at flea markets, carry a 17.5 per cent value-added tax (VAT), which is included in the price. Fortunately, non-European Union residents can apply for a VAT refund on purchases above GBP30. VAT is not charged on goods shipped out of the country, whether you spend GBP30 or not.
Getting a tax refund - Complete the VAT refund form supplied by the retailer at the time of purchase. Present this form – with the purchased goods, receipts and your passport – to the Customs office in the airport. Once the paperwork has been stamped, you can receive a credit card refund on your credit card. Or to get your refund in cash, make your way to the airport’s Cash VAT Refund desk.
Duty-free airport shopping - All the terminals at Heathrow offer a wide range of duty-free shopping outlets. Items such as souvenirs can be priced higher than on the streets of London, but duty-free prices on luxury goods are usually lower.
Best buys - Cutting-edge designer labels and affordable ready-to-wear fashions, tailor-made suits, jewellery, specialty goods, China and porcelain from Wedgwood, Crown Derby, Royal Doulton and Royal Worcester, luxury food and chocolates, antiques and books – particularly second-hand first editions.
Best Shopping Areas
Here are some of London’s most interesting shopping areas.
The West End
Explore the heart of London's big-name shopping. Head to Oxford Street for affordable shopping – don’t miss Marks & Spencer (known locally as Marks & Sparks) for quality goods.
Venture along Regent Street, en route to Piccadilly, for upscale department stores (including the famous Liberty of London), various chains stores such as Laura Ashley and specialty shops.
Bond Street (Old and New)
Bond Street, which connects Piccadilly with Oxford Street, is synonymous with the luxury designer shopping from Donna Karan and Chanel to Ferragamo and Versace.
Discover small, chic stores specialising in fashion, jewellery, cashmere and Irish linen as you stroll through the elegant Burlington Arcade, the famous glass-roofed, Regency-style passage that leads off Piccadilly.
For high-end toiletries and bedtime fashions, check out Jermyn Street and possibly Turnbull & Asser, where HRH Prince Charles has his PJs made.
For the finest in men's tailoring, don’t miss Savile Row (between Regent St and New Bond St). Both the narrow streets of the Soho and Covent Garden area are great shopping for hip fashion (old and new), local food, books (old and new), musical instruments and palm and crystal-ball readings.
Knightsbridge and Chelsea
Knightsbridge is the home of Harrods, and nearby Sloane Street is crowed with fashionable designer shops.
Wander along Brompton Road (toward the Victoria and Albert Museum) to Beauchamp Place and Cheval Place: this area is the haunt of young British aristocrats (known in London as ‘Sloane Rangers’) who typically shop here for the ‘season.’
Further along is Brompton Cross – another chic area for designer shops, Walton Street – a tiny street specialising in nonessential luxury goods, and King's Road – forever a symbol of the Swinging '60s, now home to a collection of markets, indoor stands, stalls and booths located together within various buildings and selling everything from antiques to 60s hippy-beads.
Kensington, Notting Hill and Bayswater
For anything short, black and tight-fitting, head to Kensington High Street. Then move on to Kensington Church Street, one of London's main shopping streets, for everything from Impressionist paintings to antique furniture.
For some of the trendiest world fashions, wander around the boutiques of Carnaby Street and offshoot streets such as Foubert's Place, Kingly Street and Marlborough Court.
Covent Garden Market
Arguably England’s most famous market, Covent Garden has several different markets every day of the week, offering a huge array of goods, both old and new. Browse handmade items and antiques, glassware and ceramics, jewellery, leather goods, toys and clothes.
Open from 10am (Sunday 11am) until 6pm every day. Pop into the indoor market section, located in a restored hall, to browse the specialty shops selling fashions and herbs, gifts and toys, books and cigars.
Head to the flea and craft markets in the royal city of Greenwich for some of London’s best Saturday and Sunday shopping. Take the tube or, better still, float downstream past the Tower of London on a half-hour boat ride from Charing Cross or Westminster Pier.
Once there, explore several antique stalls as well as those catering to lovers of books, crafts and lots of old junk.