If you have ever walked the wrong way up Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon in December you will have experienced quite how hideous Christmas shopping in London can be. The pushing and the shoving, the agony of shopping bags colliding with your shins, the angry faces and the irritating music. The hyper-consumerism and the waste, the panic and the crowds all conspire to make it a miserable and stressful experience.
There are ways to keep your sanity whilst shopping for presents, and with the right approach Christmas shopping can turn from an unpleasant ordeal to a joyful, fun, inspiring and twinkling experience.
There are a few specific parts of London I head for where I know I can get a lot of shopping done in one go and at the same time feel that I’ve been on a date with my city. Getting out and enjoying the nicest parts of London in December is part of what makes living in London so special. It’s nice to go with a good friend, or your other half, and make an occasion of it. It’s a chance to soak up some of the gorgeous Christmas lights and window displays and stop for a glass of champagne or a delicious meal along the way.
Here are my favourite places.
Lamb’s Conduit Street
This pretty, part-pedestrianised street in the heart of Bloomsbury is lined with elegant men’s clothing and shoe shops, including British brands such as Oliver Spencer, Folk and Grenson, There is even a small men’s outpost of J. Crew to add some transatlantic style to the mix. Whether you are looking for clothes, socks, scarves or scented goodies from Haeckels, you will be able to get everything here to give a man in your life a Christmas overhaul.
And if all the testosterone gets a bit much, you can drop in to Persephone Books to redress the balance. Persephone is a publisher and bookseller specialising in neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century women. Their books are stylishly bound in grey and made for lovely presents.
Knockbox coffee is a good place for a caffeine pit stop. If you fancy something stronger, the 18th century Lamb Inn with its Victorian snob screens and patronage by Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is a suitably atmospheric place to rest once you are done shopping. There’s also the fabulous Holborn Dining Rooms down the road for a decadent meal and a gin cocktail.
Skandium and the Conran Shop at the top of Marylebone High Street are great for unusual Christmas decorations, and the Cire Trudon shop on Chiltern Street is just gorgeous. Further down, on Marylebone Lane, is V V Rouleaux, the best place in London to buy ribbon and other wonderful things for wrapping and adorning your presents. Chiltern Street also has Sunspel and Hamilton and Hare, both of which are perfect for replenishing your husband’s underwear drawer.
Mayfair is by far my favourite part of London at Christmas. Elegant at the worst of times, it is utterly sublime at Christmas as all the high end stores go all out to impress you, creating a visual and sensory treat.
Mayfair is great for those small luxury items such as stationery from Smythson, a handbag tassle from Anya Hindmarch or perhaps a keyring from Mulberry. In addition you are just a couple of streets away from Liberty which is excellent for stocking fillers and you’re also very near Claridges and The Connaught, both of which are perfect for a post-shopping cocktail.
For a slice of genteel old world shopping, there is nowhere better than St James’s. Here you will find some of the world’s oldest shops and the area seems to have delightfully resisted moving into the 21st century. It’s particularly good for buying presents for older relatives with lovely scented things from Santa Maria Novella, excellent wine from Berry Bros & Rudd, shaving accoutrements from Geo. F Trumper, soaps, perfume and shaving brushes at Floris and edible goodies at Paxton & Whitfield. Not to mention sweet things in Fortnum & Mason and books from Hatchards.
When the world famous flower market has been packed away, you can actually see that Columbia Road is a pretty Victorian street lined with an array of independent stores selling all manner of lovely things. Late night shopping happens on Wednesday evenings in December, allowing you to indulge in some Christmas present buying. It’s busy and buzzy, without the claustrophobia of the flower market when it is in full swing.
These Christmas shopping evenings are wonderful. The atmosphere is upbeat and fun, with live music, carol singing and food. When it comes to gifts, there are lots of brilliant indie shops including Nelly Duff for prints, Angela Flanders for perfume and candles, and A Portuguese Love Affair for pottery. Afterwards, you have the whole of Shoreditch and Spitalfields as your urban oyster for dinner.
Known as London’s larder, this is the best place to buy a present for the foodie in your life. Whether it’s a pretty tin of olive oil and Jamon Iberico from Brindisa, a can of confit of duck from one of the French shops, incredible cheese from Neal’s Yard, English wines, or a cake from Konditor & Cook, there’s something for every taste bud. And it’s not just the market, there are also some lovely shops on Park Street including Aesop and a cute Paul Smith store which is great for little bits and bobs for filling stockings.
It goes without saying there are plenty of places to have a delicious lunch or dinner once you are ready for a sit down (my favourite is Padella).
And finally, a wild card. One of my favourite places to do Christmas shopping isn’t in London at all. It’s the Daylesford farm shop in Gloucestershire. Whilst the London satellite branches are nice for lunch and a spot of food shopping, for Christmas you need to head to the Cotswolds mothership.
Daylesford is the most ridiculously posh farm shop you will ever visit and now that it has expanded to become around three times its former size, it has a comprehensive homewares store. You can buy pretty much anything from tableware to cookery books and sheepskin rugs all in that pared-back chic Daylesford aesthetic. The food shop is also brilliant for gifts and at Christmas they have a good Christmas shop which sells nice tree decorations as well as tins of biscuits and the like.
The restaurant is always good and it makes for a fantastic day out. I think it’s entirely possible to nail all your Christmas shopping here in one go, except perhaps for children. You can drive there, of course, but you can also get a train from Paddington to Kingham station from which the farm shop is just a 5 minute taxi ride.
Next week we take possession of a dilapidated, neglected Victorian terraced house in North London and so begins a six month renovation project, during which we will be moving to the country.
My guide to the most stylish and atmospheric things to do in London this Christmas to make the most of this magical festive period in our beautiful city.