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Shopping centres and malls abound in and around London for varied choice



You are spoilt for choice when you visit London if shopping is the name of your game. It really is a shoppers paradise, and you can find small individual market places, huge streets and thoroughfares set up to keep you busy all day. But in recent years, there have been a few huge American style shopping centres and malls built too. The latest, at least within the ring road, is Westfield Stratford City, in fact, this company, Westfield have bracketed the central line and given East and West London their very own mega shopping centres, since the other one is at Shepherd's Bush. 

There are even bigger centres out of town at places like Bluewater or Thurrock in Kent and Essex which are worth visiting if you have a car, but if you don't and want something a little closer to home, then just treat some of London's most famous centres as an outdoor shopping mall- think Oxford Street, High Street Kensington, Spitalfields Market, Hatton Garden for Jewellery or Angel Islington, they all offer something different and a specialist or niche product as well as the main high street stores. 

In the kaleidoscope that is modern London, the very concept of shopping centres and malls is changing too, and that can only be good news for those of us who love shopping.


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Brent Cross shopping centre is a staple of North West London. It's been going since 1976 and was the first stand alone shopping centre in the UK. In the late seventies and early eighties it really was unique and was a huge treat to go there as a child, to buy your new school shoes, or Christmas shopping with Mum. The gigantic Christmas tree in the centre of the building would grow up alongside the escalators, so as a child, as you climbed the floors you would always have a bit of Christmas tree to examine. At other times of year, the great big light displays in the centre would also fascinate and glitter as you made your way towards the mecca of department stores. There are now 2000 brands in this shopping mall, and more than 120 shops.




Westfield Stratford City is Europe's largest shopping centre. It compliments its sister shopping centre, Westfield at the other end of the Central Line in Shepherd's Bush. There's a John Lewis, a Marks and Spencers and just about every other high street store you could wish for. Large food courts and some lovely speciality food outlets mean that you could literally spend all day here without leaving the centre's warm, if busy embrace. Right by Stratford rail, tube and bus station, this shopping centre has fast connections to the rest of London and concentrates most of the shops you'd see on Oxford Street, or Kensington High Street in a more tiered space.




Westfield Shepherds Bush was the first shopping centre in the Westfield group to open up on the western end of the Central Line. Its location proper is White City, near the old HQ of the BBC and Television centre. This part of West London is bordered by motorways, big roads and housing estates, but the shopping centre itself is a shiny monument to consumerism, with huge echoing glass roof, shiny floors and fizz and panache wherever you look. It is great fun to shop in, although not the best place to go if you have a headache. Each store blares out loud music, fun and a huge array of goods to buy, and when you're tired there are plenty of food stores, hairdressers and spas to pop in to and take the weight off your feet, sit back and relax before flexing your credit cards that little bit more.


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Fitzrovia

Oxford Street is London's busiest shopping street. At Christmas time it can sometimes be unbearable, but also magical too, as a string of lights across the road draws you in and some of the jewels in Oxford Street's crown, Marks and Spencer's flagship store at Baker Street, John Lewis and Selfridges put out beautifully creative window displays and exquisite goods year in, year out with every season. In among the big boys of retail, Oxford Street also has the slightly smaller high street chains and a few independent shops too. Either side of the street are a number of side areas that are also good to mine for shopping inspiration, bars and restaurants too. There is Bond Street, Regent Street, and the area around Baker Street and Wimpole Street which also provide a bit of respite from the main thoroughfare.




N1 shopping centre at the Angel Islington is small but perfectly formed. Along with the shops up and down Upper Street, Cross Street, Essex Road and Camden Passage it forms a great shopping centre area with a twist. The twist being, that as well as the chain stores and cinemas in N1 itself, there are plenty of smaller independent shops or more quirky small chains in the area which help you find an interesting buy on your visit to London. Be that beautiful cakes in Ottolenghi, Danish design, great kitchen gadgets at Gill Wing (just down the road) or great jewellery in Gill Wing, Dinny Hall and Stephen Einhorn. Make up and cosmetics comes from MAC, Benefit and Neal's Yard Remedies and Lush. In N1 itself, there is a cinema, Monsoon, a bookshop, French Connection and Gap, and Chapel Market for a taste of the Old Islington and bargains galore.


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Outlying Areas


Bluewater bills itself as Europe's biggest shopping centre outside London. It is just on the edge of the British capital in Kent. It is a great big behemoth of a shopping centre, and at Christmas time it even includes a winter wonderland and a skating rink, so it is really one of those places that wants the whole family to come and hang out and be happy. It is still a relatively new concept for Britain, having huge out of town shopping centers, but as the recession bites, they are becoming more and more popular. Harrassed stressed parents can drive there, and get everything they need, essentially under one roof without ever having to walk outside except to get back to the car. There are over 300 stores, over 50 parks and over 13,000 free parking spaces, so it is difficult for you not to find your niche here.




Spitalfields Market is an amazing place to shop in London both at the weekends when it gets very busy, and in the week, when you have a bit more space to hang out with some great coffee and cake and browse the huge mix of shops, from cool, quirky local designer stores which will catapult you in to the hipster category very quickly. Spitalfields has gone from being a brilliant market space, where foods from around the world jostled to treat you whilst you shopped and hand made crafts and antiques were spread out, to a much more refined space. Some were sad when the smaller stalls went from the market, but others find it more like a traditional shopping centre now, which depending on your taste you will love or hate.




High Street Kensington, or High St Ken as it is known in London is Kensington's main shopping street, with a bit of something for everyone. It is a long street and the character changes as you move further away from the tube up and down the street. The old Barker's Arcade used to dominate at one end, and was a department store once upon a time, then it housed Marks and Spencers and a few other shops, a kind of mini shopping centre, now it has a huge Whole Foods market. Next door is a little indoor market called Kensington Market where you can buy the kinds of things teenagers love. Opposite, is a Top Shop and Urban Outfitters and big shoe emporiums.




Hatton Garden is the perfect place to shop for jewellery in London. There are over 50 jewellers gathered in one small street and the surrounding area. You can buy everything from antique to spanking new jewellery, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, silver, rose gold, white gold, black diamonds, saphires and various other gemstones. You name it, they've got it. The area has been the centre of London's diamond and jewellery trade since Medieval times and got its name from Sir Christopher Hatton who was awarded his title by Elizabeth I. This tradition used to be repeated right across the city of London with each small cluster of streets centre to a different trade or manufacturing type. Now, London is much more diverse but Hatton Garden has remained and diversified. It's now also home to part of London's creative industries.


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South Bank


Hays Galleria is a very bijoux kind of shopping centre in the heart of London's South Bank just near the bustling London Bridge station which also contains a mini shopping centre these days. Hays has mostly tiny shops and little cafes so it's a very different type of shopping experience, but it's a little bit the symbol for the whole of the South Bank experience, in that you can wander, walk, learn, soak up the history, gasp at the modern sky scrapers that have sprouted all around the station and then walk a little further, scratch the surface and feel more history. Hays provides the perfect place for a little stop off and a quick browse of souvenirs and little gems before moving on. Don't come here expecting clothes but if it's interesting knick knacks in a relaxed atmosphere then Hays is the place for you.


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Meet Emma Wallis

London gives Emma a warm fuzzy feeling every time she gets back to her home city. As a writer and broadcaster she travels extensively round Europe and the world, but is always happy to return to...  More About Emma

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