London is a true destination for shopping of all sorts as evidenced by a number of hotels in Knightsbridge who have specially renovated their suites to have extra large closets for storing all the goodies their clients purchase while visiting. Though in all honesty they tell me that sometimes, the closets still are not big enough and travelers will have to book extra rooms just to hold their shopping! If you are planning on visiting London to do a bit (or perhaps, a lot) of shopping, check out these top four iconic department stores while you’re there. There are truly endless options for all types of shopping in London, so if you are planning a visit let’s talk about the options available to you.
Selfridges The youngest of London’s iconic department stores, Selfridges was founded in 1909 by an American named Harry Gordon Selfridge and has been named the World’s Best Department Store four times. Taking up an entire city block on London’s Oxford Street, and second only in size to Harrods, Selfridges is just the place to pick up some truly memorable gifts. It is also famous for its creative window displays, many of which involve moving mechanisms and animated mannequins. Selfridges’ roof hosts all kinds of events and pop-up bars and restaurants. It also played host to fashion shows, until World War II when the store was bombed, and the rooftop gardens were destroyed. Today, the roof is back in action every summer and remains one of London’s most popular rooftops. When you travel to London with Louisa White, ask us about how we can arrange for exclusive access to Selfridge’s VIP Suites where you will enjoy their top-notch personal shopping services as well as complimentary refreshments, fast track VAT service, complimentary delivery of your purchases to your London hotel, complimentary parking for 3 hours, and the Selfridge Concierge Service.
When it comes to luxury department stores, London’s most famous and most visited name is Harrods. Known for high quality at equally extravagant prices, it is a paradise for luxury shoppers. Harrods started off as a humble groceries and tea shop in 1849, which is a far cry from the seven-story, glittering icon it is today. Even if you do not plan to buy anything, it is well worth a look for its lavish interiors. Though with that being said, this can also be the drawback of Harrods. There are times when you will find it difficult to do any actual shopping because there are so many sightseers walking through and taking pictures. But do not let that dissuade you from visiting since it really is an iconic London experience. I prefer to pop into the food hall and pick up a delightfully indulgent truffle and cheese sandwich which, when warmed up (they will do this for you, just ask!) is simply the best treat. Grab some other goodies while you are there, though don’t be too shocked when the bill comes. Also, be sure and pass by at night when the whole outside of the store twinkles in lights.
Liberty Just off beautiful yet busy Regent’s Street and housed in an exquisite mock-Tudor building, with each floor inhabiting its own minstrels’ gallery, Liberty is one of London’s oldest and most exclusive department stores. Five floors of luxury goods including richly detailed fabrics, fashion and jewelry make this a real landmark for London shoppers. The store dates back to 1874 and originally sold fabrics, ornaments and crafts from far-off places like Japan. Today, you will find designer luxuries, and the store also boasts a truly wonderful perfume and beauty department. When visiting, make sure you look up and check out the store’s copper weathervane, which was designed to resemble the Mayflower ship. (It’s over four feet high and weighs more than 112 pounds!)
Fortnums For a real treat, Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly really can’t be beat. Known as the Queen’s grocer, Fortnum’s was established back in 1707 and quickly became a household name for the supply of quality food. The shop saw huge popularity during the Victorian era and its famous hampers were even mentioned by Charles Dickens who said: "Look where I will.... I see Fortnum & Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad!" These hampers (or upmarket gift baskets) are filled with a whole array of edible treats and are what Fortnum’s is best known for. Fortnum’s was famously called upon to provide provisions for the very first British Everest expedition, which included a whopping 60 tins of foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne...because when you are hiking Everest, you simply must have champagne!
You don’t need to read my blog for very long to know that Fortnum’s is my absolute favorite department store. I never visit London without finding time in my schedule to visit Fortnum’s – whether for tea, doing a spot of shopping, or picking up a bottle of bubbly to celebrate New Year’s Eve – there’s always a reason to stop in. While afternoon tea in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is a treat for anyone visiting London, one of my top recommendations for true tea lovers is to arrange for the Private Tea Tasting Experience in the Tasting Room on the 4th floor of the store. During this experience you will be guided through five rare tea blends by an expert who will take you on a journey of discovery. Learn about the appearance, aroma, flavor, as well as the differences between regions, varieties, and the suggested food pairings. Following the tasting you will enjoy a full afternoon tea with a glass of Fortnum’s very own Blanc de Blancs Champagne and cap off the afternoon with a special gift to take home.