Ever since moving to London from the US three years ago, Facebook has been an essential connection to friends and family back home. It has even reunited me with people of the past I would’ve never seen otherwise simply because it made them aware I now live in London, and London is a hub of business and pleasure travel that seems to bring everyone here at some point (see my post, “This is Your London Life” to see what I mean). In any case, I just received a Facebook message from a high school friend informing me that her husband is in London on business this week. She wanted my advice on any London “must haves” that he could bring back for her—aside from the usual tea and biscuits, she’s thinking fashion accessories. Well, tastes can vary, and I’m admittedly not expert enough to exhaust quintessential London items, but from my brief expat experience, here’s what I suggested beyond the usual souvenir stores…
First of all, it was funny she should mention tea and biscuits because, honestly, the first thing that popped into my mind was digestive biscuits! Milk or dark chocolate. McVities are all right (found anywhere), but Marks & Spencer’s brand at their Simply Food grocers are my personal favorite. And if you’re in the City centre and keen to buy tea, I recommend the original Twinings shop where Fleet Street turns into the Strand (just across the street from the Royal Courts of Justice)—it dates back to 1706 and has a massive selection.
But to get more into her line of thinking…my favorite department store here is Liberty of London. Just walking through it is an experience, filled with pretty fabrics, designer clothing, and vintage-inspired this-n-thats for gifts (like teacups, etc.) and home furnishings. They’re famous for their fabric prints and sell all sorts of items featuring them like cosmetic cases, tea towels, blouses, Wellies, and whatnot. As other department stores go, the major ones here are Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Selfridges; Harrods has a floor selling self-stamped gifty items but otherwise, like the other stores, more or less sells the same designer brands you’d find at home. Top British designers, though, include Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, and Paul Smith. Mulberry and Aspinal of London offer luxury handbags, and Cath Kidston has cute vintage, kinda kitschy stuff. For men, Charles Tyrwhitt—along with the previously mentioned Paul Smith and Aspinol—is nice for business wear and accessories.
Portobello Road in Notting Hill is always a cute spot for finding really good deals on trendy little dresses and accessories in both the boutiques and street stalls. It’s not high-end stuff but fun. There’s a shop there where I’ve bought bags for every female in my family—it’s called Oi! and sells handmade fabric purses in different shapes and sizes with an eclectic mix of patterns that always changes. Also in Notting Hill is a string of really posh boutiques along Westbourne Grove selling higher end clothes, boots, etc.—particularly within the first couple blocks east of Portobello. On the corner of Portobello and Westbourne Grove, actually, is another favorite store of mine, All Saints, but as of recently it’s now in New York and Chicago, too, so maybe not as unique to London anymore. They’re stuff is cool, though, so worth checking out if you’re still in the States!
So that was my off-the-top-of-my-head two pence on the topic. I of course look forward to shopping more in London to get better acquainted with its other “must haves,” but in the meantime the above locales make for great gift ideas for when you’ve made your international relocation to London and want to treat those at home or yourself!