London is probably the best place to shop in the world right now. It's expensive in terms of hotel costs, hence the envy felt in the UAE towards those with the wherewithal to maintain property there. But in terms of shopping, it's like New York but better. A city where you can find absolutely everything, from every corner of the world, but in often-charming old stores and historic, architecturally beguiling old shopping streets. As the value of sterling has fallen almost 15 per cent since 2016, when Britain took the decision to exit the European Union, goods here now sell at great prices, too. London owes its status as a place to shop to many things, among them its historic entrepreneurialism and Britain's buccaneering days of exploration and colonisation, which saw valuable raw materials pour in from all corners of the globe. As the first country in the world to industrialise, for a while in the 19th century, London reigned as the world's leading manufacturing centre. Today, the city doesn't manufacture much at all, except banking gobbledygook, but its standing as a financial and trading hub makes it essential for shops from the rest of the world to maintain a London outlet. And its great plus is that with so many museums, theatres, cinemas, parks and historic houses, as well as countless restaurants and cafes, it offers numerous other diversions.
These days, there is a new generation of London artisan makers, producing everything from sunglasses to shoes, to draw you in. As a fashion centre, it can dress and accessorise anyone at any price, from those who insist on high-end – Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, all newly hot again – to those who like to mix designer labels with a dash of H&M or Primark. Britain's history of shoe-making, tailoring, shirt-making and leather-working means it has few rivals as a place to find beautifully handcrafted menswear. Excellent department stores mixed with small chains and niche outlets mean it is a place where you can find the best beauty products, from international brands to the niche names from Paris, Florence, and Los Angeles. And it sells much more than fashion.
Main shopping areas
For Selfridges and every mid-level brand from Adidas via Marks & Spencer, Nike Town, Primark and Topshop to Zara, visit Oxford Street.
For high-end designer boutiques, go to New Bond Street and Old Bond Street, collectively known as Bond Street, home to Fenwick, Smythson stationery, Fendi, Tiffany, Gucci, Dior, Miu Miu, Asprey and many more. Mount Street has Moynat bags and luggage; Marc Jacobs, Lanvin, Oscar de la Renta fashion; Frette (around the corner on South Audley Street), and Nicholas Kirkwood and Louboutin shoes. Regent Street (regentstreetonline.com) offers Liberty, Karl Lagerfeld, Nike Town, Nespresso, the seven-floor Hamley's, which is the biggest toy shop in the world, a massive Apple, and the Burberry HQ, which is one of the most technologically advanced stores in the world with its interactive mirrors . Soho and Carnaby Street offer Agent Provocateur lingerie, quirky little one-off cosmetic, fashion and catch-all boutiques such as Lazy Oaf, plus marvellous fabric shops such as Cloth House on Berwick Street. Covent Garden gives an enticing if touristy mix of the mainstream – Chanel, Apple, Cath Kidston – and made-in-England brands such as Links of London for jewellery and cufflinks, Mulberry bags, Cambridge satchels, Pollock's toys and a Hardys Original sweetshop. King's Road, Sloane Street, andhttp://sloane-street.co.uk Old Brompton Road are home to countless cool high- and mid-level fashion boutiques, plus Peter Jones, Harrods and Harvey Nichols department stores. Quirkier (and often calmer) top shopping streets include Marylebone High Street, Elizabeth Street, Lamb's Conduit Street and, in east London, Redchurch Street in Shoreditch.
London remains home to the world's first, and arguably still best, department store, the marble-floored Selfridges. It still feels youthfully surprising and provides enough fun and stimulation for hours of browsing fashion brands from Topshop and Alexa Chung to Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. It's also home to a massive cosmetic and skincare department, jewellery and watches to set any collector's heart beating in the Wonder Room, and the most humongous shoe department in Europe.
The other must-visit department store is Liberty, which has maintained its appeal for affluent 20- and 30-somethings, its creaky-floored 1920s Tudor revival building always yielding a mix of fashion-department discoveries such as new British label Rixo and quirkier expensive labels such as Shrimp, with a focus on organic brands in the beauty and skincare department. Fenwick on Bond Street provides a calm setting for a well-curated mix of mid-price fashion; John Lewis and Peter Jones excel in homewares; Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge is good for little-known as well as more expensive fashion, skincare and accessory brands. For the most expensive of everything, no store rivals Harrods, also in Knightsbridge, oozing money and confidence, and worth visiting for its gloriously Edwardian food hall alone.
Best personal shopping suites
To take advantage of London’s status as a style centre and organise a new-look new you, it’s hard to beat the pleasure of settling down in a cool setting with a trustworthy private shopper. At Selfridges, the men’s suite even outdoes the women’s, for once, with a gentlemen’s club vibe and library. For sophisticated high fashion, there’s Harvey Nichols; for a quirkier, artier look, Liberty; and for a mix of both in an intimate town house setting, try Matches.
Shopping is evolving, with bricks-and-mortar stores closing as we all spend more online. Malls are something new, however, in London. On an overcast or chilly day, it's worth heading for the Dubai-standard Westfield mall in Shepherd's Bush, west London: it has 300 stores, from A to Z, and 50 restaurants. There's another one in east London's Stratford.
Great fun to browse on a weekend are Borough Market (Fridays and Saturdays) for gourmet food stalls; Portobello Road (Saturdays) to see the location for Notting Hill; Columbia Road Flower Market and nearby Brick Lane (Sundays) for small one-off shops and cafes and stalls. There's also Maltby Street Market (Saturdays and Sundays) for high-end food shops, with cafes built under the old railway arches.
Unique old shops
London has some of the oldest shops in the world, many around Piccadilly. Most notable is Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly, purveyor of super-deluxe foods, including distinctive tins of tea, coffee and biscuits, as well as perfumes, china and more. It was founded in 1707 by one of Queen Anne's footmen on the proceeds of selling half-burnt palace candles. A few minutes' away, Lock & Co Hatters on St James's Street opened in 1676 and feels very Harry Potter-ish; on the same street are D R Harris, which has been selling men's shaving products since 1790, and James J Fox Cigars, where Winston Churchill bought his cigars, and which, as the world's oldest cigar store, has a fascinating little cigar museum. On Jermyn Street, you can smell Paxton & Whitfield, which has sold cheeses since 1797, before you see it; things are more fragrant at Floris perfume shop, which has been unchanged since 1851.
Above all, London shopping is about clothes buying. The city's main shopping streets are lined with shops selling styles of every description: high-fashion pieces that are soon to prove either daft or directional, inexpensive copies in Zara and all the other many mid-price- level stores, and really cheap versions in giant Primark and H&M stores. Thanks to the profitability of this, you can exit, say, Gucci, on Bond Street, which is lined with designer boutiques, and seconds later be comparing versions at Zara, on Oxford Street, a tourist magnet that is a heaving home to mid-level and cheaper stores.
Just about every international designer name has a shop in London. But ever since the 1960s, when Mary Quant and, later, Biba designer Barbara Hulanicki headed a fashion revolution, Britain has excelled in mid-priced fashion, and it's that area that is perhaps London's great draw as a fashion shopping centre. Competition is such that even the Zara stores in London stock a better range than almost anywhere else. Whistles, Jigsaw, & Other Stories and newcomer Arket on Regent Street are always packed, and for a reason. And Topshop at Oxford Circus always yields something irresistible: a little something in pink fake fur, say, along with great jeans for about £50 (Dh252). For inspiration before you set out, netaporter.com, asos.com andmatchesfashion.com – all London launches that have gone international – are worth consulting. So too is the newer villoid.com. This "online mall of boutique shops" curated by Londoner stylists and influencers such as Alexa Chung, Daisy Lowe and Pixie Geldof also provides a platform for new young designers such as Jessica Russell Flint, a graduate from London's world-famous Central St Martins fashion school. Her vivid oversize Texicana washbags (£75 [Dh378]), are in the once-seen, must-have category.