If you are spending time in London leading up to or over the Christmas holiday, then you needn’t bother doing any shopping before you arrive, because London has everything you could possibly need and want. However, keep in mind that a lot of people have the same idea (because it is a good one), and so it can be a frenzied experience that ends in stress, stomped-on-toes and the hopefully-resisted urge to fight someone over the last Christmas cracker.
But it can be rewarding, fun and successful if you don’t do it right!
Here is our ultimate Christmas shopping guide for London, with all the tips and tricks to ensure you leave with everything you need.
Though shopping may not seem like an extreme sport, it can certainly feel that way in London over Christmas time. Guests of hotels in Kensington London will know this just by walking out the door and taking in the number of people in the area, mostly flocking to the Knightsbridge area to visit flagship department stores like Harvey Nicols and Harrods, which are your port of calls when it comes to Christmas shopping.
The key to success is to take breaks, whether it is a bite to eat at the Park Grand Restaurant in between shops or in either of these in-store restaurants.
Harrods’ food hall is the kind of luxurious break-spot that people would be tempted to visit even if they weren’t shopping in Harrods – though, admittedly, it is incredibly difficult to make your way to the fourth-floor food hall without being tempted by something. Depending on the intensity of the break you plan on taking, there is everything from Cream Tea to a full steak dinner. If you think a glass of Perrier-Jouet Champagne from the bar and lounge might do the trick better, the option is there.
The Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor Café and Terrace is a famed rooftop cafe with incredible views of the city and a pitstop that makes the whole race worth the run. It is open from 8am – 11pm, meaning that no matter when your shopping is taking place, there is somewhere to recuperate.
Get there early
The mad rush hits the likes of Regent’s and Oxford Street, beacons for all things high-street and luxury shopping, after midday. During the Christmas season, shops stay open late – until as late as 9pm and usually 10pm on Thursdays. If you can avoid shopping on weekends, that can make a big difference too – but if it is unavoidable, stick to that time-window and you should miss the worst of the crowds.
We can’t put together a Christmas shopping guide with mentioning London’s many bespoke Christmas markets. Not only is wandering around with your shopping in one hand and a mulled wine in the other a wonderful, heart-warming experience, but you are likely to find unique gifts that you would never find on the high street. Not to mention, markets are often the best way to support independent and small businesses. Here are some of the biggest, best Christmas markets to visit.
Given the success of the Brixton Market year-round, it should come as no surprise that the Brixton Christmas Market is an event of note. Hosted by the Old Victorian Dogstar pub in Brixton is a free event where independent designers and makers have set up shop. It is taking place from 3-4 December. The event is a part of The Crafty Fox Market, which takes place across London at different locations, but the one in Brixton is always one of the best.
The biggest and most obvious – though also the most impressive – of London’s Christmas markets is the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park which occurs annually. The park is transformed into a yuletide paradise and is littered with little cabin shops selling bespoke jewellery, clothes, trinkets, soaps, candles and many other Christmas stocking gifts of the sort.
Sometimes, you spot the perfect gift by an absolute stroke of luck. You see it on the shelf and immediately think, “yes, that is perfect for her”. However, this is a rare sighting and often, if you don’t have a vague idea of what you are looking for, you end up totally lost with a trolley hitting the back of your ankles. Having a general list of the items you want, where you imagine you will be able to get them, as well as an idea of who you are shopping for, will make the whole day run much more smoothly. Even if it is something as simple as “something decorative for grandma’s bedroom”, it can at least help you pick which floor you want to be wandering around.
We can’t always get it just right with the planning – there is seemingly always something or someone you forget about that requires a shop dauntingly close to Christmas day itself. The trick is to not let it overwhelm you and to give yourself strict timings. If you put aside a certain amount of time per last-minute present, you won’t find yourself spending a disproportionate half of the day fretting over one of the gifts, only to half left yourself less than half the day to do the rest. If you don’t find something you want, move onto the next item. Either you will find that you find something by accident while looking for the next thing, or you can come back to it later if you finish other shopping quicker than expected. Even though it is in the last-minute throws of things, implementing a little time management is always a good call.
Shopping at Christmas time is a very special experience. Between the glittering Christmas trees and the music blasting through the store-speakers, you really get into the spirit of things very quickly, which means even if you’re only staying at our hotel in Kensington for a weekend, you’ll leave feeling a bit of Christmas cheer. And, so long as you follow these relatively simple guidelines, you are bound to have a memorable, positive shopping experience in London that verifies what everyone says about how wonderful it is.