It’s just not Christmas without a last-minute dash through the sale aisles, indiscriminately filling your basket with any old tat like a deranged Santa, right? WRONG. London has a huge selection of shops selling excellent gifts, you just need to know where to look.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of brilliant Christmas shops around the capital, where you can pick up gifts that people will remember for years to come for all the right reasons. Festive dons like Harrods and Selfridges are in there, of course (they’ve been hanging their tinsel since July) but we’ve got indie shops too, from arty museum gift shops to cute boutiques, geeky bookshops to top menswear stores. Now get your wrapping paper at the ready and get shopping.
RECOMMENDED: Find more festive fun with our guide to Christmas in London
Good for: arty accessories and soft furnishings
Forget rainbow rubbers and giant pencils, Tate Modern’s gift shop is full of lovely things you’d actually use, from David Shrigley tote bags to Grayson Perry cushion covers. You don’t even need to pretend you’re a modern art fan to shop here – thanks to its handy position at the museum’s entrance.
Good for: designer streetwear
For casual clothes and quirky homeware that doesn’t take itself too seriously, take a trip to this concept shop, full of handpicked items for Goodhood’s very hip customers, from hand-made soy candles and affordable accessories to branded tees. It’s all good in the ’hood.
Good for: all-around elegance
You know you’ve made it when your Christmas tree is covered in silk-panel baubles from Harrods. Gloriously grandiose, with its famous grotto, this London institution really comes into its own at Christmas. You could easily lose hours here floor-hopping from Toy Kingdom to the heavyweight fashion brands to the elegant beauty halls. This is London shopping at its most decadent.
Good for: decadent gifts
Wandering through this doyenne of department stores is a little like exploring a stately home. Except that instead of portraits of dead ancestors it houses a lovingly curated selection of beautifully designed floral fabrics, designer fashion and beauty brands.
Good for: throwback toys
In these times of VR headsets and child-centric iPad games, it’s heartening to see there’s still an appetite for playthings of the more traditional variety – as found at this timewarp of a toyshop. Founded in 1856, Benjamin Pollock’s houses an intriguing jumble of toy theatres, books and puppets – kids and grown-ups love it so.
Good for: nailing the Christmas shopping in one place
With nine floors’ worth of designer goods, a well-stocked beauty hall and a wealth of price points, you could tick off your entire Christmas shopping list here. Sick of shopping? Try a panto in the basement theatre.
Good for: contemporary kids toys
A trip to this Blackheath toyshop will lighten the mood of even the grumpiest of little ’uns, while parents can treat it as a reconnaissance mission for scouting potential gifts. Win-win. The store touts itself as a ‘modern children’s shop’ and as such stocks beeswax sandwich wraps, comics and designer Maileg dolls’ houses.
Good for: renowned literature and bijou tea
With informed and enthusiastic staff, invitingly arranged bookshelves and two floors packed with politics, poetry and philosophy, plus sections for audiobooks, classic and new fiction, this petite store is well worth a visit. Refuel and flick through your purchases in the excellent onsite café.
Good for: specialist queso
Sniff out this Greenwich outfit to find one of London’s classiest cheese shops. It celebrates some unusual British varieties along with Continental classics, with biodynamic wines, crackers and chutney thrown in for good measure. Staff are happy (in general, probably) to let customers try before they buy.
Good for: artisan bread and local food
A supermarket for those who don’t much care for supermarkets, Greensmiths is tucked away round the back of Waterloo station on the cobbles of Lower Marsh. Each of its four floors teems with gastronomic treasures, from the excellent butchery on the ground floor to a basement jam-packed with craft ales and wines.
Good for: luxe interiors
Cross the threshold of this Shoreditch emporium and you’ll be greeted with an audacious array of prints – from ’70s-style Palmeral to dusky Dalston Rose – which adorn fabric, mugs, wallpaper and garments. Minimalism is not the vibe here, nor downstairs where you will find statement furniture and ahead-of-the-curve accessories.
Good for: unusual editions
This cute corner shop provides shelf space for small press publications, artsy limited editions and carefully selected small runs of collectable books. Beautifully designed cult magazines and coffee table tomes make this tiny haven a lovely place to grab something special for a bookworm with eclectic taste.
Good for: up-and-coming labels
This multi-coloured mecca for the fashion-obsessed houses some of London’s brightest stars and big names, from Kiko Kostadinov's collaborations to Molly Goddard’s dreamy dresses. Besides, where else can you find polka-dot Converse alongside a beautiful menagerie of stuffed birds?
Good for: trending retro gear
Anyone with an eye for vintage should head to this fabulous old furniture factory. It’s filled with rails of coloured denim, silk kimonos, seersucker blazers and shiny, lace-up brogues, plus a floor for accessories and a great book collection. You won’t find that musty charity shop smell here: all the stock is cleaned, steamed and folded before it hits the rails.
Good for: menswear
Founders Steve Sanderson and Nigel Lawson have been supplying the snappily dressed men of London and Manchester with stylish yet understated garb since 2002. Find their new store on Seven Dials, buy some obscure brands, then sit back and watch all your mates follow suit.
Good for: cute collectables
A testament to the enduring popularity of these adorable soft toys, the Sylvanian shop in Highbury has been around since the early ’90s and continues to attract both serious collectors and younger fans. It’s the only store of its kind in Europe – a genuine retro delight.
Good for: amusing oddities
Selling ghoulish-sounding sweets such as ‘Fang Floss’ and ‘A Vague Sense of Unease’, plus stationery, t-shirts and letterpress cards, this inspired east London store feels like something JK Rowling might have dreamed up. In fact, its takings help fund the Ministry of Stories, a charity co-founded by Nick Hornby that provides writing workshops and coaching for youngsters.
Good for: fancy footwear
Not all girls are Barbie-pink glitter fiends, and those who aren’t will appreciate the relaxed, boxy clothing, eclectic jewellery and pastel ceramics sold at Pam Pam. With a front room dedicated entirely to women’s trainers, it’s the ideal shopping destination for trainer-savvy women.
Best for: utilitarian-yet-stylish gifts
If you’re shopping for a design-loving chum, it’s worth sticking your head into Labour and Wait. Think toolboxes, pocket knives, can openers and the like mixed up with plaid shirts, Welsh tapestry, enamelware and all manner of charmingly-packaged condiments (never has a jar of mustard looked so enticing). You may leave clutching a Japanese ladle wondering how you can feasibly pass it off as a Christmas present.
Good for: distraction-free literature
At this fun, stylish, tech-free bookshop, you can leaf through literature, which has been arranged into themes such as ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Enchantment’ and ‘The City’, which should make discovering new authors easier as well as speed up any last-minute gift-buying you happen to be doing.
Good for: garden lovers
Petersham Nurseries has a knack for making you want to buy everything in the shop; carefully curated displays of intricate glass baubles sit beside potted ferns, suitably botanical-themed stationery and handmade ceramics. For something pocket-friendly, thoughtful and a little homespun, consider gifting a plant - pop in to the nursery greenhouse where all the ingredients (hyacinth bulbs, terracotta pots) lay waiting to be assembled.
Good for: travel books
Oak balconies, stained-glass windows and viridian-green walls combine into what could well be London’s most beautiful bookshop. Its Edwardian walls are packed to the rafters with paperbacks and the travel section’s especially great: ordered by country and bound to induce wanderlust in the homeliest of homebodies.
Good for: unusual stocking fillers
The V&A Shop is home to all sorts of things - jewellery, textiles, superb greetings cards and reasonably-priced homeware. If you’re filling a stocking, look out for those little knick-knacks like compact mirrors, bejeweled pencils, funky stitch-on clothes patches and embroidery kits. Keep your eyes peeled for designer collaborations, too, which include Stella McCartney silk scarves and limited edition artist’s prints.
Good for: modern aesthetics
Heal’s puts its 42,000 square feet to good use with an aspirational edit of fancy furniture, Nordic dinnerware and Tom Dixon fragrances and candles. If you’re short on gift-getting inspiration, its gift-laden ground floor is sure to provide a eureka! moment or two, and its customer service has been a virtue throughout its long history.
Good for: cocoa alchemy
Willy Wonka has nothing on Paul A Young, the pastry chef-turned-chocolatier behind this boutiquey store, and others in the city. This is where you’ll find the good stuff: quirky truffles in fantastical varieties (Marmite, for one), gooey brownies and bingeworthy boxes that can be made up with an assortment of your faves.
Good for: popular reads
After moving into the old Central Saint Martins building in 2014, the dramatically made-over Foyles can make a decent claim to the title of London’s best bookshop. Its 37,000 square feet of floor space is packed with more than 200,000 books, as well as a floor dedicated to events and a swish café. With that amount of real estate, you’ll find all the latest cookbooks and high-profile releases as well as plenty of niche titles, plus very well-read staff.
Good for: designer homeware
Sir Terence Conran’s eye for dazzling design is as sharp as ever judging by the offerings at his Fulham Road flagship. Bringing together trendy investment pieces, ornaments and cookware, it’s the ideal place to pick up gifts and goods for the home. The art deco building itself was formerly owned by Michelin, and there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, Bibendum, and oyster bar housed within.
Good for: budget-friendly decor
Owned by the brains behind Pottery Barn, this is the place to unearth some lovely interior designs at affordable prices. As well as top-notch homeware and artwork from local artists, West Elm hosts in-store workshops, from painting to photography.
Good for: quirky homeware
Anthropologie is a sort of one-stop shop for more or less every friend or relative. A typographic mug for your ‘Secret Santa’, a cat-emblazoned tea towel for your granny, a scented candle for your sister-in-law, a fancy hair accessory for your best mate. The list goes on. Get in there early for a pleasurable browse, and pop in again right before Christmas when the sale has started.
Best for: stylish stationery
Most of us know a stationery lover – someone who finds notebooks exciting and gets a kick out of a nice ruler or stapler. That person would be in heaven in Clerkenwell’s Present & Correct. An organised mash up of books, pencil cases, paint brushes, prints, and vintage paraphernalia, this is a shop for the person who knows their Rhodia from their Penco.
Best for: gift wrap
Having started out in a garden shed, family-run Marby & Elm has maintained its handmade appeal since opening up shop in Exmouth Market. If you derive more pleasure from wrapping than buying gifts, this is the shop for you – gift tags, wrap, tape and cards abound, all hand screen-printed in neon shades of pink, green, orange and blue.