Monday, November 26, 2007

Holiday Shopping in London

Granted, the US dollar is not at its strongest right now, and everyone's flocking in from the UK to the US for this at the moment, but the shopping experience in London is just very satisfying, even if you plan to just window shop. Holiday or Christmas shopping as it is better known as in the UK, can be a competitor sport, but this article is about informing you about alternatives to the popular areas tourists usually go to (i.e. Oxford Street and Knightsbridge).

Okay, here's a bit about the lingo. The British do not generally use the term 'mall'. The rest of this post uses the phrase 'shopping centre' which is essentially the same thing, and is the preferred term in the UK. Also, you'll notice the spelling for 'centre'...

1) Whiteleys Shopping Centre: Situated just north of Hyde Park on Queensway in the popular Bayswater area, this mall is medium-sized and houses stylish upmarket fashion names such as French Connection and Karen Millen, as well as super-trendy Zara to name but a few, the Spanish fashion chain which is affordable and popular with the 18-35 bracket. There is a food court, a cinema, and countless shops and various ethnic as well as mainstream restaurants in the surrounding area.

2)Whitgift Shopping Centre: If you're not staying in central London but closer to South-East London, then this mall is where you should be. This huge covered shopping center is located in the busy town of Croydon, and has all the big names you expect. There are many dining options, and being here gives you a taste of where some of the real residents of the city shop.

3) Brent Cross Shopping Centre: Located in North London with tons of free parking, this is another gigantic covered mall with all the main heavyweights having a significant presence. It used to be the country's biggest covered mall when it was first built in the 1970s, and it is always being improved in terms of its look and accessibility. Highly popular with the locals.

4) Richmond: I recommend this mainly for the warmer months, and if you are into more high end, unusual and boutique-y shops. Richmond is a beautiful area in South London, and as soon as you exit the train station and walk towards the Thames (should be signposted, or ask anyone around you), you will fall in love with the 'village-within-a-town' feel. I say summer, because there isn't a covered mall as such, and also the riverside here is stunning (see my posts under London). There is a good mix of the popular high street names as well as upmarket boutiques with beautifully tailored clothes.

5) Kensington High Street: Or as the locals say 'High Street Ken' is a beautiful and popular shopping alternative to Oxford Street, located in the posh area of Kensington. A couple of excellent shops are located in a covered section adjoining the station, but the bulk of the shopping is out on the open street. It is very easily accessibly by both the tube and buses. The main departmental stores are all clustered in the area between the western edge of Hyde Park and the tube station. Great departmental stores, boutiques, supermarkets, restaurants and coffee shops, this area has it all.

6) King Street Shopping Centre: Situated in Hammersmith Broadway in West London and minutes from the Hammersmith tube and bus station, this offers a somewhat grittier shopping experience compared to the others mentioned above, but does offer the household names. There is a covered mall called the 'King's Mall' as well as free standing shops along the street. There are several discount shops too so if you are looking for a bargain or more reasonably priced items, you are more likely to find it here, compared to say, High Street Ken. There are some excellent pubs around, and the station also has some smaller shops which are worth exploring.

Given London's excellent public transport network, all these areas are easily accessible from Central London. Doing a quick Google search on each should yield you with directions of how to get there. Or ask at your hotel or local tube station for assistance. Get hold of the free tube and bus maps to help you as well. Bus maps may not be visible at the stands, but if you ask an attendant, they should be able to provide you with one. Bus maps are broken up into regions (central, north west London etc) so check which ones you need.

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