There is no doubt that London is a shopper’s mecca. The amount of high street retailers, flagship stores and department stores are second to none in Europe. The main shopping streets Regent Street and Oxford Street offer a huge selection of goods, throw in the very posh shopping in Mayfair west of Regent’s street and the more bohemian shopping around Carnaby Street east of Regent’s street and you have days of shopping ahead of you.
We tend to avoid those areas, with the exception of the streets east of Carnaby street and the occasional dip into the Nike shop and Top Shop at Oxford Circus. We have our own favourites that are a bit more tranquil than the hubbub of Oxford Circus.
Situated in the backstreets east of Regent Street and just two minutes’ walk from Oxford Circus, Carnaby Street offers 150 shops and 50 independent restaurants and bars. We have always loved to stroll down Carnaby Street and the smaller alleys and streets in the area. Carnaby Street was the hub of The Swinging 60s London, and a stronghold for fashionistas, hippies and mods especially. Bands like Small Faces, The Who and The Rolling Stones trawled the designer shops for new threads before heading to nearby legendary Marquee club in Wardour Street to play a gig or sit in at a jam session. The street was satirised in the The Kinks song “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” and it was featured in the Simpsons episode “The Regina Monologues”.
In 1973 the street was pedestrianised and since the area has grown and developed into a shopping destination. The combination of independent smaller boutique shops with great pubs and restaurants makes Carnaby Street something for everyone. Dads can relax at the pub and read about the history of Carnaby Street while the youngsters roam the shops.
King’s Road is the major Chelsea street known for fashion and street wear from the 1960s and not least the punk movement of the 1970s with Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop being the favourite hangout for the Sex Pistols and other punk wannabees in the late 70s.
The street is still a centre for fashion and fashionistas, and the top end towards Sloane street station has many upscale fashion shops and retailers. We like to walk King’s Road due to the high number of shops of course, especially some great independent shops the further west you get from Sloane Square, but also because it is filled with great cafes, restaurants and pubs along the way. The road is also great for people watching, looking at the Chelsea tractors (Range Rovers) and other expensive cars slowly rolling by is a treat. If you want to go full posh, grab lunch at The Ivy Chelsea. Sloane square station is easiest access by public transport and is on the Circle (yellow) and District Line (green).
Neal Street/Seven Dials
Perhaps our favourite in London is the area around Neal Street just north of Covent Garden. Covent Garden is a shopping haven, but for us it is a bit too crowded with tourists. Just head a few hundred metres north and enter Neal Street. The “secret” Neal’s Yard is a colour explosion and a cool collection of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. We love to sit down with a coffee and people watch here.
Neal Street itself is packed with small independent shops, especially shoe shops. Seven Dials market has a good selection of shops and restaurants also. Seven Dials itself is just up the street to the west, named after the seven roads, that converge here, it is a great spot to sit at the Seven Dials monument in the middle and watch the world go by, or you could, and you should grab a pint of beer at The Crown pub in the square. Earlham street that runs from Seven Dials west towards Shaftesbury Avenue also has a great selection of independent shops. East of Neal Street is Endell street with the legendary fish and chips shop Rock and Sole Plaice and just down the road is the sublime Cross Keys pub. All the smaller streets to the east of Neal Street towards Drury Lane contain many small gems, not least the retro delight of Wow Retro in Drury Lane.
The hipster’s paradise of Shoreditch has gone from somewhere we were not recommended to go in the 90s to something of a hub for street and hipster fashion and food. The number of hotels, street food vendors, cafes, bars, pubs, pop up shops and other places to spend your money is simply staggering. We would like to especially mention a few places that we like, the first one is a biker’s heaven at The Bike Shed, motorcycles, clothes, and food here is epic. If you are a petrolhead, this is a must visit location. The Cocktail Trading Co. at Bethnal Green road is award winning and we can understand why, the last time we visited we had a hard time finding our way home after tasting our way through the extensive and incredibly fun drinks menu. Pizza East on the corner of Bethnal Green road and Shoreditch High street is also one of those restaurants that is a must visit, very cool interior and very very tasty food. Just up the high street is the very chic Ace Hotel with the very cool Hoi Polloi restaurant, both are worth the visit. And Sneakers n Stuff must be mentioned, if you need the most fashionable new kicks, this is the place to get them for sure. The proximity to the old institution of Old Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane makes this area a perfect location for a full weekend of shopping and drinking (and eating of course). You could spend an entire weekend in Shoreditch, and if you have seen London a few times, this is probably an option, everything you need is here in close proximity. Worth mentioning are the rooftop bars of Shoreditch and indeed London, the Rooftop Guide has a good list of notable bars with great al fresco drinking in London.