Whether a vacation in London is for just a few days or a couple of weeks, sightseeing can keep tourists busy all day, every day, with visits to museums, monuments, and scores of historical sites. But since most travelers will want to bring a London keepsake home with them, time set aside for shopping often is part of an itinerary.
The city's historic ties in nicely with a shopping excursion, considering that London has been a major commerce site since Roman times and because a slew of stores and shops still operating today have been in business since the early 1700s. In many cases, their longevity isn't their only claim to fame; they may also have received a Royal Warrant of Appointment from the royal families who ruled the day. The warrants were, and still are, recognition that the shops regularly supply goods or services to the queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales.
London's oldest stores and shops that were granted warrants are entitled to display the Royal Coat of Arms, and most do, as a kind of badge of honor signaling that their wares are good enough for royalty.
Iconic Department Stores Date Back Hundreds Of Years
Fortnum & Mason, the high-end department store at 191 Piccadilly, sells a huge variety of home goods and gifts but is best known for its food-focused specialties and its massive food hall, where tourists can indulge in a traditional afternoon tea. The company, dating from 1738, also has shops at Heathrow International Airport and at St. Pancras station.
The store also can be credited with being among the first to offer what was known as portable food when it began selling the Scotch Egg, a British favorite, in 1738. It's a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and coated in breadcrumbs, then fried. In the 18th century, it was marketed to travelers who were headed out of the city and wanted a snack to take with them. It's still a best seller today. Tourists can shop here for classic British keepsakes such as tea collections, picnic hampers, holiday decorations, jewelry, and stationery, among other items.
Harrod's, another of London's iconic department stores, is found in Knightsbridge, on Brompton Road. Not as old as Fortnum & Mason, Harrod's opened as a one-room store in 1824, selling mostly linens. It expanded to offering tea and groceries, and today it's known for selling clothing, household goods, gifts, and plenty more in its 300-plus departments. Like its Piccadilly competitor, Harrod's has a shop at Heathrow airport.
Harrod's also is known as the site of one of the first escalators, known as a moving staircase, back in 1898. A major tourist draw, Harrod's motto since its opening has been Omnia omnibus ubique, which is Latin for all things, for all people, everywhere. Tourists will find clothing, home décor items, culinary treats, and luxury items such as jewelry, perfumes, and high-end gifts like silver and pewter.
A 'Joy Emporium' And Other Centuries-old Shops Abound
Find a fun gift to take home for the youngsters at Hamley's, the oldest toy shop in London. Opened in 1760, the store moved to its present location on Regent Street in 1881and today sells more than 50,000 different toys. Its success over the years prompted a huge expansion to 60 locations across the globe.
Founded by William Hamley, the store was widely known as the joy emporium and lays claim to a royal warrant. Visitors will find every imaginable toy in this store, including games, puzzles, mini-railroads, dolls, puppets, science kits, video games, and robotics.
Here's a don't miss for book lovers. London's landmark bookshop Hatchards, is the oldest in the city, established in 1797 by John Hatchard. Located at 187 Piccadilly, next door to Fortnum & Mason, the shop is known for its collection of rare books, first and limited edition books, and author-signed books. The store holds several royal warrants and also has a location at St. Pancras station.
Go shopping on swanky Savile Row. Said to be the heart of English bespoke tailoring, Henry Poole & Co. got its start as a small linen draper shop in 1806, owned by James Poole. The family business was handed down to son Henry and in the early 1900s, had grown to employ some 300 tailors. The Savile Row business had famous clientele, including Charles Dickens and members of the royal family. Visitors can buy suits, ties, scarves, and other classic attire.
Fragrance lovers will appreciate Floris, founded in 1730 on Jermyn Street, just off Piccadilly. It's the oldest perfume seller in London, and its products are still crafted in a perfumery located behind the retail store. It also has its share of famous customers; a store copy of a receipt is signed by Winston Churchill.
Artists will want to browse around L. Cornelissen & Son, the artist supply shop founded in 1848 by Belgian lithographer Louis Cornelissen. The high-end store on Great Russell Street sells brushes, papers, canvas, pigment powders, paints, and gilding materials, among other artists' necessities.