The cosmopolitan streets of London glitter with a generous array of world-renowned retail emporiums. This metropolis is home to more than 40,000 stores and competition is fierce, with pop-up shops, designer boutiques, high-end department stores, big-name brands and dazzling flagships all vying for attention.
Aside from the celebrated shopping haunts around Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street, the historic maze of Covent Garden, situated on the edge of the West End, has an extra-special appeal. Once a busy market selling fruit, vegetables and flowers, it has successfully maintained its vibrant atmosphere, but with an added edge of sophistication and charm. Here’s our ultimate Covent Garden shopping guide.
Lined with beauty brands such as MAC Cosmetics, Charlotte Tilbury and Rituals, James Street is a cosmetics haven. It’s certainly home to a fair few of Covent Garden’s 35 beauty stores. But this broad pedestrianised boulevard is perhaps best known for its artistic flair. Invariably, there are musicians, magicians and mime artists trying out their performances on those happy to season their shopping with some light entertainment. You’ll find most of the action unfolding in front of Apple’s ultra-cool flagship at the end of the street.
The elegant Greco-Roman Market Building at the end of James Street is unmissable, and no Covent Garden shopping guide would be complete without a nod to it. The Market Building has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a produce market in 1654, with the current structure having officially opened in 1830. It’s here that Armani launched its first box pop-up in the UK and Tom Ford established its first beauty store. You’ll find the Dior Beauty Boutique as well as the first UK boutiques of jeweller Olivia Burton and watchmaker Daniel Wellington. Penhaligon’s, the luxury British perfume house that’s favoured by the Royal family, also has a fragrant branch in the Market Building. If all this retail therapy builds up an appetite, indulge in a delightful pastel macaron or two from French bakery Ladurée.
Intersecting James Street is Floral Street, a quiet row of excellent boutiques that’s very easy to miss when caught up in the busy tides of Covent Garden’s main piazza. Midway down the street is Diptyque, purveyor of coveted fragrances and beautifully scented candles. But it’s really in the field of prestigious British menswear that Floral Street comes into its own. Fashion designer Paul Smith opened its first London shop here in 1979, and Kent & Curwen, which injects classic British style with a sharp 21st-century flavour, has a store a few doors down. Further along, there are branches representing British menswear designers Nigel Hall and Ted Baker.
Long Acre joins the top of James Street and runs all the way down to the Leicester Square. Here, you can’t miss the sparkle of Tiffany & Co. and the sumptuous leather-scent of Mulberry. For wearable women’s fashion, shop high-street favourites Reiss, Cos and AllSaints, while Lululemon is piled high with stylish yoga, running and athletics gear. Quintessential British shoes and bags can be found at Russell & Bromley, while Barbour is excellently stocked with its iconic waxed jackets. For a moment’s respite from the thirsty work of shopping, the chic Black Penny has good organic coffee and a suitably indulgent array of homemade cakes.
Take a right from Long Acre onto Mercer Street, and from here, walk straight until you reach Seven Dials. There are dozens of reputable brands in this busy corner of Covent Garden, from cosmetics brand Benefit to specialist shoe-maker Birkenstock. You’ll also find branches of British designer Cath Kidston, skincare specialist Kiehl’s, unisex fashion designer Diesel and luxury chocolatiers Rococo and Hotel Chocolat.
Take a wander down any of the streets from the main square and you’ll find something special. On King Street in the north-west corner of the main piazza, Moleskine accommodates anyone who prefers the page to the screen. Further down, Petersham Nurseries is a one-stop shop for exquisite homewares, not to mention its excellent Italian restaurant La Goccia. Nigel Cabourn. and Fred Perry make Henrietta Street a niche spot for menswear, and the much-loved, all-natural beauty brand Neal’s Yard Remedies sits just off Neal Street, which runs perpendicular to Long Acre.
With no street more than a 15-minute walk away, Covent Garden is a charming and laid-back area that’s ideal for some retail therapy. Whether it’s window-shopping or heavy-duty spending, it’s a charming district that’s guaranteed to please.