Napoleon famously referred to England as a nation of shopkeepers. That was more than 200 years ago, but London is still one of the best places in the world to go shopping. Its main shopping attractions are the sheer variety and number of shopping opportunities. The big-name emporiums, such as Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Hamleys, Fortnum & Mason and Liberty, are both sightseeing attractions in their own right and temples to shopping devotees. The nearby side-street boutiques – the capital’s true delights — also sell just about anything, from clothes to old-style British homewares.
There have been talks of turning Oxford St into a traffic-free paradise, with breezy trams going up and down, but until that becomes even a remote reality, the street's ocean of consumers and stagnant traffic is likely to feel simultaneously overwhelming (in terms of its crowds) and underwhelming (regarding its offerings). This is where, however, you will find the chain "headquarters" with massive H&Ms, Zaras, Urban Outfitters and large department stores such as John Lewis, Debenhams and Selfridges.
Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Spitalfields
This is London's trendiest shopping area, home to Sunday's fabulous Spitalfields Market where young cutting-edge designers display their creations. Brick Lane, Dray Walk and Cheshire St are full of quirky shops, vintage dens and cool household havens. Come here if you want to see London at its hippest and to search out small boutiques for something unique.
Visit, but do not shop at the touristy old market hall. Instead branch out into the little side streets for a whole lot of cool fashion, and hit Long Acre and Neal St for less hectic high-street chains. The Thomas Neal Centre on Earlham St is packed with urban/skate/surf fashions from the likes of High Jinks.
High Street Kensington
The less crowded, more salubrious alternative to Oxford St, this has all the high-street chains, plus trendy stores, such as Miss Sixty (No 63) and Urban Outfitters (No 36). Snap up antiques along Church Street.
A far cry from its 1960s mod heyday, well-heeled King's Rd is now strong on household goods, with the Designer's Guild (No 269), Habitat (No 206) and Heal's (No 234). Children are well catered for at Trotters (No 34). Putting excitement back into the increasingly bourgeois area is Shop at Bluebird, the stunning Terence Conran-owned emporium of young designer fashion, accessories, furniture and books, all set in a 1930s Art Deco building.
Harrods is a national institution, so go and witness the exuberant food halls and dramatic Egyptian Hall of gifts at least once. Harvey Nichols is within easy reach, and there are many nearby stores for cashed-up fashionistas.
Marylebone High Street
Marylebone today is as interesting to visit as it is to pronounce. (That is marlee-bone to the uninitiated). Its high street is now one of London's most interesting retail strips, so when coming to visit leave plenty of time to investigate delights such as the Conran Shop (No 55), Calmia (No 52), Cath Kidston (No 51) and Shoon (No 94). But food is the neighbourhood speciality, with London's best butcher Ginger Pig (8-10 Moxon St).
Visited by millions each year, Camden Market has made an art form of (and a mint from) packaging up and selling "alternative" culture. Bondage-style trousers, stripy off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, thigh-high wedge boots, batik throws, knitted hats, purple Goth wigs are all quite novel initially, but the love affair soon wears off. Visiting at weekends is just as likely to make you want to flee rather than spree, so try to visit during the week, unless you enjoy crowds.
The article 'London’s top shopping strips' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.