William Shenstone, an 18th century British poet, once quipped: “Nothing is certain in London but expense.” We beg to differ. While fine living in London will certainly set you back, the city has been a reliable source of world-class shopping, dining, and entertainment for centuries. Several celebrated fashion designers, including Alexander McQueen and Paul Smith, hail from England’s capital, while culinary greats Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal have cooked up celebrity from several starred restaurant kitchens in the city.
In fact, London is so rich with good living, it’s hard for visitors to know where to start their exploration. If you’re a fan of luxe anything – even if it’s purely for ogling – make your first stop Bond Street in Stratford, an area in the northeastern quadrant of the city. Not only is it a flashy strip well worth a saunter, but it connects two other popular areas: Oxford Street to the north and Piccadilly Circus to the south.
The street itself had its origins in the early 1700s, when land owner Sir Thomas Bond began developing the area’s open fields. His sights were trained on the rich; estates sprung up along newly-laid Bond Street in short order, bringing the bourgeoisie in droves. Naturally, high-end shops followed and by the end of the 18th century, Bond Street had become a hub of high-end social get-togethers, shopping, and seen-and-be-seen glamour.
Over the years, Bond Street (now called New Bond Street, following renovations) has laid claim to mammoth auction houses, hotels, and shopping brands, including Sotheby’s, Claridge’s, Ralph Lauren, and Cartier. This high-profile lineup continues today, with several flagship stores attracting thousands of deep-pocketed shoppers every year.
Before you head to Bond Street, map out your experience to ensure you’re hitting the best of the best; our guide below will help. And make sure you spend your pounds wisely; Shenstone was right about this being an expensive draw.
For some, flagship fame is worthy of a look – even if you never intend to buy anything. If you’re one such ogler, then take note of the big names on Bond Street. Prominent fixtures include the Ralph Lauren, BALLY, Pal Zileri, and Alexander McQueen flagship stores. Dolce & Gabbana is also anchored here, with a glassy storefront and contemporary-meets-Victorian vibe.
If you’re in the market for a new wardrobe, you’ll find plenty of stylish options along Bond Street. For men, the somewhat edgy Moss Bros. is a prime first stop, featuring a mixture of classically fitted suits for the business pro, flashy linen jackets for the “make a statement” fashionistas, and casual polos for the more conservative dressers. French brand Zilli beckons from Bond and Maddox Streets, where knit sweaters are all the rage and simple button-ups occasionally enjoy a mashup with spring jackets for a surprisingly alluring, lean look. Down by Piccadilly, DAKS treats gents to outerwear fashion like they’ve never seen; wool overcoats, some designed in eye-catching plaid, make great buys for colder months.
Ladies, be sure to plan a trip to Oasis at Debenhams on north Bond Street where the dresses feature playful fringes, unusual textures, and eye-catching cuts for subtle fashion statements. If free-flowing wear is more your style, check out Chloé just north of Bruton and Bond Streets. Their garments, some of them made with see-through sheer material, are best for those eager to toss out form-fitting fab for something more comfortable. Lastly, be sure to stop into Saint Laurent for a look at the store’s latest collection. Lately, they’ve been featuring short-cut women’s leather jackets and flowy blouses with midriff ties.
If you’re shopping weary, take a break to soak in some serious culture. The Richard Green Gallery, by Oxford Street up north, curates a collection of art from the 17th century onward with a unique scholarly focus on the art’s origins. Recent exhibits featured marine life in Britain, impressionist works, and a painter’s perspective on 19th-century sports. (And here are some other London galleries worth visiting, in case you want to go farther afield.)
You can also amble over to the Royal Academy of Arts where the sprawling campus will treat you to multiple art displays, docent presentations, and information on the development of art in England over the past several centuries.
Last but not least, drop by the original Sotheby’s near Grosvenor Street. You likely won’t be invited to bid on anything, but you will be able to experience the auction house’s origins firsthand and get a peak at some breathtaking artwork.
No doubt you’ll build up an appetite shopping and sightseeing, so make time for some of Bond Street’s world-class eats. Hakkasan, now a worldwide phenomenon, offers guests an authentic taste of Cantonese cuisine (try the Sliced Blue Abalone or the Black Truffle Roast Duck) with two sprawling floors for seating. For something a bit more British, we recommend the quaint Mr. Fogg’s. Very much a Victorian-influenced concept – the plush velvet couches, 19th century knickknacks dangling from the ceiling, and deep wood everything gives it away – Mr. Fogg’s serves up hearty comfort food like sausage rolls, fish and chips, and mash. Don’t be fooled by the fare, though; cocktails are elevated with top-brand gin, rum, and – okay, well, mostly gin and rum.
Where to stay
Most visitors to Bond Street will have accommodations elsewhere in London, but if you want something close to the sales, you can certainly reserve a room looking down on the bustle of London’s premier shopping district. The Ritz-Carlton is one of the more opulent options, and can deliver pampering amenities of every stripe. The Ham Yard Hotel is a bit more modest – while decidedly more colorful – and will happily serve as your point of origin for day trips shopping and adventure further out into the city. They also have a bar and a gym, so if you feel like staying in, you’re covered. Last (but certainly not least) is the famous Claridge’s. Dock here if you want five-star everything and money is no object; you’ll be treated like royalty and enjoy a stay at one of the world’s most lusted-after hotels. For design aficionados, the sharp Art Deco design is hard to pass up.
How to get around
While maps might depict Bond Street as an expansive shopping hub, the reality is a bit different. Bond Street itself is quite narrow and there’s often construction underway between and in front of storefronts. To make your life easier, take a double-decker bus, train, taxi, or ride share to either Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Street, then walk your way along the street itself. If you’re up for more exploring, there’s plenty to enjoy on foot – including Grosvenor Square to the west, St. James’s Park to the south, and The National Gallery to the east.