London is one of the best places in the world to go shopping. From world-famous stores such as Selfridges, Hamleys and Fortnum & Mason to markets such as Spitalfields, Portobello and Covent Garden, and with a whole host of boutique shops and chains in between, if you can't buy it here you probably can't buy it at all. But where to start your shopping exploration?
Below we've listed some of the most popular places to put those credit cards through their paces, and you can also browse our recommendations and check out every Lonely Planet-reviewed shop in London.
Though rather overrun with tourists, Covent Garden's old market hall and surrounding piazza is still worth a visit for the buzz and the pretty architecture. But for actual shopping your best best is to branch out into the side streets around the square where you’ll find a whole lot of cool fashion. Try Long Acre and Neal St for high-street chains, then literally sniff out Neal’s Yard Dairy for more than 70 varieties of cheese from the UK and Ireland, or head to Poste Mistress for fabulous footwear before taking a break at the Seven Dials column, watching other shoppers hurry past.
Shoreditch & Spitalfields
These East End neighbourhoods are the coolest areas to shop in London. Spitalfields Market (open daily) is where where young, cutting-edge designers display their creations, or check out nearby Brick Lane, Dray Walk, Redchurch and Cheshire Streets for quirky shops, vintage dens and cool homeware. At Boxpark a series of shipping containers have been turned into a hip mini mall. Come here to search out small boutiques for something unique, or check out the numerous eateries for a quick bite. For something really different, try the once-monthly Hackney Flea Market.
With its ocean of consumers, sprinkling of tacky souvenir shops and crawling traffic, Oxford Street, Europe's busiest shopping area, can feel simultaneously overwhelming (thanks to its crowds) and underwhelming (regarding its offerings). But if you're looking for a no nonsense shopping street and the headquarters of the chain stores, this is the place to visit. Alongside massive branches of H&M, Zara, Urban Outfitters and Top Shop are large department stores such as John Lewis, Debenhams and Selfridges. The section west of Oxford Circus, Oxford Street's main intersection, is more appealing than the eastern stretch.
Regent Street, which curves away to the south from Oxford Circus, is a similarly busy but more upmarket affair (the likes of Burberry have big stores here, and Hamleys is always popular with families), and also a great spot to enjoy Christmas lights. Delve into the side streets to the east from here and you’ll find pedestrianised, uber-hip Carnaby Street, one of London’s most famous shopping streets which, along with the narrow, centuries-old tangle of lanes around it, has been revitalised over the last decade or so.
High Street Kensington
The less crowded, more salubrious alternative to Oxford St, this area, in the heart of one of London's wealthiest neighbourhoods, has all the high-street chains, plus trendy stores such as Miss Sixty and Urban Outfitters. Snap up antiques along Church St.
Buzzy Camden Market is packed with stalls and is enormously popular – visit during the week if you want a quieter vibe. The goods themselves can vary in quality, but there's plenty of classic alternative gear here. However, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s become more tacky than cool over the last few years. Still, the food options and canal views are worth the trip.
A far cry from its 1960s swinging heyday, well-heeled King’s Rd is now strong on household goods, with the Designer’s Guild, luxury interior design outlet William Yeoward and Indian-themed Opium. Children are well catered for at Trotters.
Harrods is internationally famous and certainly the most eye-catching of the capital's big department stores, so go and witness the exuberant food halls, dramatic 'Egyptian Escalator' and crush of tourists at least once. Harvey Nichols is nearby and, along with the designer stores lining Sloane Street to the south, is the go-to destination for cashed-up fashionistas wanting brand name clothing.
Marylebone High Street
Not quite exuding the villagey atmosphere it sometimes claims, this quaint and elegant street just north of Oxford Street deserve a visit for homeware stores such as Cath Kidston and food speciality outlets such as Ginger Pig, one of London's best butchers, and cheese-ophile heaven, La Fromagerie, both on Moxon St.
London's markets are among its most appealing features. Foodie Borough Market is an established attraction, but younger alternatives like Broadway Market and Maltby Street Market are also worth a look. Columbia Road blooms with flowers on Sundays – come early (it starts at 8am) if you want the best selection with fewer crowds.
In west London, Portobello Road Market is iconic and great for a stroll, while in the southeast, Greenwich Market is aimed at tourist looking for quality souvenirs and anyone with an appetite looking for a globe-spanning selection of cuisines.
This article was first published in September 2010 and updated by Will Jones in July 2018.