Going out to brick-and-mortar shops might seem almost quaint these days. But some shopping experiences can’t be replicated online. Department stores actually reported a 4.3% rise in sales in September 2021—there are no changing rooms on the internet, after all.
Loved by tourists and Londoners alike, these institutions offer multiple floors of commerce where you can buy clothes, gifts, and have afternoon tea. Here are some of the best London department stores.
Liberty, Great Marlborough Street
Home of the famous Liberty print, Liberty is the department store for design lovers. It even manages to have a mock Tudor façade without looking tacky. It’s been serving customers since 1874 and is filled with character and charm inside and out. Liberty (like most department stores) is at its most stunning over the Christmas holidays.
But visit year round to peruse the dreamy stationary section as well as jewellery, accessories and reams of beautiful fabrics. Although many of the goods are at the luxury end, there are plenty of treats and items to be found to suit more modest budgets from notebooks to fancy chocolate.
Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly
Famous for its hampers, tea and fancy baked goods, Fortnum & Mason is a food lover’s delight, and has been serving up fancy food and drink since 1707. The 300-year-old department store has not one but five restaurants; the most famous of which is arguably The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, which serves up afternoon tea.
There is a massive food hall too, and the store is great for picking up foodie gifts or boxes of tea like Smoky Earl Grey, Afternoon Blend and Darjeeling. Take a look up at the roof and you might spot one of the F&M beekeepers tending to one of the gilded beehives placed there.
Selfridges, Oxford Street
Selfridges & Co (better known as Selfridges) is one of the biggest department stores in London—second only to Harrods. It’s more contemporary than Fortnum & Madon or Liberty, although it’s been around since 1909, founded by American Harry Gordon Selfridge. Selfridges spans six floors, including designer and high street fashion, beauty products, technology and a massive basement filled with home decor and kitchenware.
It’s a department store that emphasises experience as well as commerce. The Brasserie of Light restaurant is a large art deco eatery with a giant Pegasus sculpture (made by Damien Hirst) suspended high above the main dining hall. Elsewhere you can grab refreshments at the very instagrammable EL&N Café, sip Veuve Clicquot at Le Tram Champagne Bar, and it even has its own cinema. On the lower budget end, you can grab a bowl of ramen at Tonkotsu and get cake from Lola’s Cupcakes.
There are pop-ups throughout the year too, and the rooftop comes into its own during the summer. This year Dior did a takeover at Alto, transporting diners from Italy to France via the Oxford Street sky.
You can’t write about London department stores without mentioning Harrods. It needs to be seen to be believed. Unlike the others, it’s pretty much caters to the rich, which is evident the minute you walk in the door (and from the area that surrounds it). There are some outlandish and bizarre items on display, including the bronze Dodi and Diana statue. But, you can do other things at Harrods besides balk at the gaudy, garish and overpriced world of the uber-rich. The kitchenware floor hosts live cooking demos, and the Halcyon Gallery is a contemporary gallery showing major exhibitions, including Warhol Unseen in Autumn 2021.