No visitor to the West End worth their salt passes up the opportunity to check out its outstanding, world-renowned retail options. There simply isn’t another area in any other city in the UK – or probably any other in all Europe – that’s as recognised for its legendary shopping as Central London’s high street brand-, department store-, boutique- and exclusive retail outlet-filled thoroughfares. So where must you take a stroll while here…?
Boasting up to 300 separate retail outlets, as it does, it’s not for nothing that Oxford Street’s regarded as the leading and most prestigious shopping street in the entire UK. Stretching all the way from the junction with Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road in the east to Marble Arch in the west, it’s a 1.2 mile-long boulevard of supreme shopping, ram-packed with the greatest and most essential high street names, as well as boutique and luxury brands. It’s fair to say that it also offers unbeatable offers and bargains and excellent eateries in equal measure.
Among Oxford Street’s cacophony of retail highlights are the revered flagship outlets of the shopping brands Selfridges and Topshop. The former is undoubtedly one of Britain’s leading department store brands – like Harrods in Knightsbridge, people step through its doors as much for the experience and inspiration as for actual shopping and like to peer at its magnificent window displays every Christmastime – while the latter is *the* fashion destination in the UK; this store alone enjoys around 200,000 shoppers a week. Not too shabby!
Lying between Oxford Street to its north and Piccadilly to its south, Bond Street is unquestionably the stretch of road to head to if you’re up for some serious luxury shopping – or window-shopping – in the West End. Populated by a panoply of decorous stores selling many an elegant item, its home to shops dedicated to designer fashion and exclusive brands, luxury goods, fine jewellery, art and antiques; its prestigious names include Asprey, Bulgari, Burberry, Chanel, Cartier, Dolce Gabbana, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Mulberry, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co. To stroll along Bond Street then is to step into the rarefied air of Mayfair; in short, it’s where the good, the great and the very wealthy go for their retail fix.
Going back in time, it was also home to a number of notable individuals, previous residents on the revered street featured the likes of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson and his lover Lady Emma Hamilton as well as many a literary figure. As such then, Bond Street’s always been, ever since its establishing in 1700, something of a playground for the richest, most famous and most undeniable of the international jet-set. This is definitely the place to head if you fancy dipping into the capital’s unequalled elegance, simply take a quick Tube journey from the West End hotel London where you’re staying (or stroll up from a Piccadilly hotel London) and then walk down it and breathe in the welter of wealthy history and luxury.
Running from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Street, Regent Street is one of London’s most iconic thoroughfares and, for the first-time visitor, one that definitely lives up to the hype. That’s not just because of all the retail options it offers, but because of its appearance. Established during the (albeit inglorious) reign of King George IV – it takes its name from his role as a ‘Regent’ monarch prior to this era – its architecture doesn’t exactly date back to this period, but the frontages of the buildings that spectacularly sweep down the mile-long curving avenue are definitely in the mock-Regency style, essentially maintaining the street’s original appearance.
And yet, speaking of its retail options, Regent Street’s blessed with as many as 75 international flagship stores, ensuring it’s second only to Oxford Street for popularity when it comes to West End shopping; such outlets include Anthropologie, Apple, Banana Republic, Liberty and, of course, the ultimate toy shop that’s Hamleys. That’s not all, though, because the street – and the back-streets off it – are also famed for their outstanding dining options, offering many the fine restaurant in West End London, such as Aqua, Aubaine, Bentley’s, Gaucho, Momo and Veeraswamy.
Finally, no West End shopping experience would be complete without a visit to the legendary Carnaby Street. Forever recalled for its rise as a retail mecca for hip, young things in the Swinging Sixties, it’s a short street that (running parallel with Regent Street for a short way) still deliberately carries chic echoes of its revered 1960s past, what with its stylishly retro-esque décor and its remaining a hub of independent boutiques, outlets for cool curios, sophisticated cafés and restaurants, traditional pubs and a site for pop-up shops and occasional live music.
It’s also carved out an estimable niche for itself as a recognised home for undeniably trendy yet very British brands and off-kilter retailers, including the likes of Adidas Originals, Baracuta, Barbour Heritage, Ben Sherman, Cubitts, Estée Edit, MOSCOT, Paul Smith, Pretty Green, Pro:Direct, Shinola and Urban Decay.