London’s hipper-than-thou high-street brands may have gone global, but there’s still a thrill to hitting the shops along Oxford and Regent streets. London’s most iconic addresses – from the sprawling Topshop flagship store to the hallowed halls of Selfridges – can be found in this thronging, bustling stretch of the city centre. But even the most hardened fashionista can need a break from a spree. Thankfully, there are plenty of spots to retreat to when it all gets a little too much. Whether you’re in the market for a restorative cocktail or some cultural enlightenment, here’s how to survive the maman of all shopping trips.
Head to Thomas’s Café in Burberry to refuel with a quintessentially English afternoon tea hosted by the iconic British brand. The chic, minimalist décor is easy on the eyes and offers a well-earned break from the bright lights of the high street. Feast on lobster and chips, caviar blinis or tempting cakes, best savoured with Lalani & Co teas hand-selected from Japan to Hawaii.
When your plastic is all flashed out, head over to the Wallace Collection on Manchester Square for some artistic nourishment. Housed in a grand townhouse, this treasure trove of decorative arts was amassed by the Marquess of Hertford and his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace. Seek out Fragonard’s iconic oil painting The Swing among the many French masterpieces that ended up here during the French revolution.
For an underground retreat from the high street, escape to this fun-loving bar, built in the style of an old London Tube station. Decorated with distressed posters, theatre seats and other vintage paraphernalia, it’s the perfect spot for a restorative cocktail after a mad dash through the high street. Try the Dreambuster (Irish whisky, vermouth, and cinnamon syrup) for a spicy pick-me-up.
Nothing beats a spot of pampering when you’re in need of a breather. London fashionistas swear by a good manicure – and they’re all going gaga for House of Lady Muck’s eye-catching but understated nails. Stop by HOLM’s concession in the Topshop flagship store for a quick manicure or the full works, including nail art with an East London twist for £2 per nail.
Bargainistas who brunch should make a beeline for this handsome Aussie-inspired café, tucked away behind the eastern stretch of Oxford Street. Energy-packed brunches (aubergine fritters, banana bread sandwich) are on offer until 4pm. If you’re in a rush, tuck instead into the scrumptious bites to share, such as the surprisingly delicious vegemite, cheese and truffle doughnut.
Get there early: the shops are blissfully quiet until lunchtime
Or stay our late: many of the big brands stay open until 9 or 10pm
Avoid Oxford Circus station at rush hour, when queues form to access the platforms
Steer clear of the crowds on Regent Street by taking a gourmet detour on pedestrianised Kingly Street
Get a bird’s eye view from the rooftop of the John Lewis department store, which hosts seasonal pop-ups
Don’t expect a personalised welcome: shoppers are usually left alone until they ask for help
Jumping the queue is a big non-non. Respect it or risk the dreaded British “tut”
Be green and bring a cloth tote: shops charge for plastic bags, and many don’t offer paper alternatives
Image credits: © Getty; © Getty; © Thomas’s Café at Burberry; © Great Gallery © The Wallace Collection; © Cahoots; © House of Lady Muck; © Scarlett Green