London is a great city full stop, if you ask me. But then I live here and have for nearly 18 years. Admittedly, though I haven’t always counted my home city as a great one. So what is it about London that makes it great?
First, the capital has a vibrant soul, a spirit, which dominates central London but also stretches from east to west, north to south. Sure, different neighbourhoods have different charms, attractions, depending on whom you ask.
And if you ask me, I’ll tell you that most areas share this underpinning of vibrancy, even the areas that are as different as the eye can see, like Camden Town and Knightsbridge, for example. The charm is in the people, the restaurants, and the shops.
Speaking of shops, a plethora of choices contributes to London’s greatness. Jokingly, I am known for saying that if a city doesn’t have a Harvey Nichols or the likes of it, then it can’t be great.
Admittedly, swank department stores feature big in London. The complexity of course, with some of them, is the word big. Take Harrods, for example, it’s easy to get lost in there, lost in the crowd or just plain old turned around. And then there is Selfridges, covering blocks of the busy Oxford Street. It’s all too much, one tourist admitted recently.
But that’s before she talked to me about navigation. Though it’s true I prefer Liberty and Harvey Nichols to the bigger stores, I can’t imagine London without the big girls. The trick is negotiating them.
Three rules of thumb:
- Number 1 – Get there at 10.00 or shortly afterwards to beat the crowds.
- Number 2 – Have a plan. In other words, do not try to do the entire store in one go. If you want to buy shoes, go the shoe department. In both places, you will find plenty of choice. But if you want to browse only, go to Toy Kingdom at Harrods. You will see things there you’ve never seen before.
- And number 3 – Get your bearings, using an escalator or elevator as your landmark. Also, ask for a map and use it as you would in a busy city.
As for those who don’t want any part of a department store, check out the boutiques, the smaller shops.
“Where are they,” an acquaintance asked recently while visiting London?
“Everywhere I told her, everywhere.”
The trick here is to go neighbourhood browsing, so to speak, to find either locally owned boutiques or flagship designer boutiques.
Take to South Kensington, where Carven has a beautiful store on Pelham Street, for instance, and if you don’t find anything there, head to Fulham Road and feast your eyes on the range of boutiques from Joseph’s to Chanel. There are some reasonably priced ones, too.
Looking for something different, then head to Marylebone High Street, any high
street, really. But Marylebone is one of my favourite’s to nip in and out of trendy shops.
There, what to do now in this great city – pop into one of its many trendy restaurants. Recently, we had the pleasure of dining at two newer ones—Tredwell’s in Covenant Garden and Sea Containers at the Mondrian Hotel. Delicious on both accounts!
There, it is true, …”when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson.
I agree and would venture further to say that even the rain doesn’t dampen the spirit of London. Catch it anywhere, the spirit that is, not the rain, although there is plenty of that around, too.