London espresso: Vibrant Central

Part of a series highlighting one area of London.

Central London. Get your walking shoes on and your wallets out, because this walking guide will have you traipsing around some of the busiest, most vibrant shopping areas of London. This was written with my Mother and Sister-in-law specifically in mind!

Day Planner
Distance: The route itself is 2 miles (3.2km) and would take about 40 minutes to walk. However, you will want to allow plenty of time for shopping!
Stops: Selfridges Department Store, Oxford Street, Liberty of London, Canaby Street, Regent Street, Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square (and an optional detour to M&Ms World), Trafalgar Square, and Charing Cross.

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  • Make your way to Selfridges, a luxury department store near Bond Street Station (easy to get to from Liverpool Street on the Central Line). This is second largest shop in the UK (after Harrods) and opened in 1909. Originally from America himself, Mr Selfridge attempted to dismantle the idea that consumerism was strictly an American phenomenon – he is said to have coined the phrase “the customer is always right.”
  • After Selfridges, walk east along Oxford Street which is Europe’s busiest shopping street. On average, half a million people visit Oxford Street every day, and foot traffic is in severe competition with buses and taxis – watch out! The first department stores in Britain opened on Oxford Street in the early 1900s, including Selfridges (above) and John Lewis. However, be alive to the fact that there are many “downmarket” stores trading alongside more prestigious stores. My advice is to avoid the trashy tourist shops.

 

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Oxford Street in 1987, with Selfridges in the distance (the shop with flags on the roof)
  • Once you reach Oxford Street Circus, turn right and walk south along Regent Street. This is one of my favourite streets in London because of its stunning architecture. Along this street are many renowned shops including Burberry, Barbour, Hamleys, and Louis Vuitton. Before you walk the length of the street however, turn left off Great Marlborough Street to see Liberty.
  • This will take you to Carnaby Street, which is a pedestrian shopping area a bit calmer and cooler than Oxford Street. It was the centre of activity for the Swinging Sixties scene in London, with bands like The Who and Rolling Stones working and socialising in the area.
  • After exploring Carnaby Street, head back onto Regents Street and follow its southeastern curve to Piccadilly Circus. (If you’re in need of a quick snack or some vegan-friendly soaps, Whole Foods is right around the corner…)

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  • Piccadilly Circus (“Circus” meaning circle in Latin) was built in 1819 and is a major traiffic junction with a vibe not unlike Times Square in New York City. Sadly, the famous illuminated sign is currently being replaced and will be switched off until late 2017. Make sure you get a few photos of yourself at the ‘Eros’ Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain!14435292241_d0bc98d704_k
  • If you’re in a sugary sort of mood, take a quick trip to M&Ms World. My husband will laugh at my recommendation of this place, and truthfully it is rather touristy and silly. However, it’s something silly and unique to do if time allows: it’s the largest candy store in the world! After Piccadilly Circus (or M&Ms World, if you made the detour) head to Trafalgar Square by walking around (or through!) the massive National Gallery.
  • Trafalgar Square is named for the 1805 British Naval Victory off the coast of Cape Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars. Admiral Horatio Nelson died in this battle, so ensure you take note of the 169-foot (52 m) Nelson’s Column which is guarded by four lion statues. Can you see what Lord Nelson is missing?
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    Trafalgar Square in 1963, with the National Gallery to the left and Nelson’s Column.

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    One of my favourite views of Big Ben is from Trafalgar Square.
  • After Trafalgar Square, continue to walk east for about two blocks to Charing Cross, which is recognised as the true “centre” of London, for measuring purposes.

    charing-cross-station
    Charing Cross Station doesn’t look much different today!
  • From Charing Cross you can easily head back towards Liverpool Street Station (via Embankment Station two blocks away). Alternatively, if you’re in need of some refreshment after a day of shopping and walking, you really must visit Gordon’s Wine Bar, established in 1890. Located on a side street next to Charing Cross station, Gordon’s Wine Bar is a wonderful cave-like cellar bar, full of candlelit tables and hidden spots.
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Gordon’s Wine Bar is genuinely one of the most charming places in London to grab a glass of wine. But be warned, it can get exceptionally busy in the summertime, especially on a Thursday!
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