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Exclusive | London: What to See & Do Part Five

Exclusive | London: What to See & Do Part Five

Any shopping spree should begin (or end) at world-famous Harrod's (87-135 Brompton Rd., Knightsbridge, SW1; +44-20-7730-1234), where the decadent downstairs food hall with its outlandish displays is worth a visit even if you don't buy anything. The newly revamped Selfridges in Oxford Street offers floors of pricey lovelies and is a whole day out in itself.

Liberty (Regent St.; +44-20-7734-1234) is strong on atmosphere and style, but lipstick lesbians and trendy boys will still prefer the so-gorgeous-it-aches ambiance of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge (+44-20-7235-5000) -- forget Harrod's, this is the place to see and be seen. London's answer to Barney's has great fashions, cosmetics and yes, awe-inspiring prices.

Covent Garden's famous Piazza has long since become a tourist trap, but the narrow streets of this district still hold out some surprises. Key Largo (19 Shelton St, WC2; +44-20-7240-7599) is a popular clothing store for gay men, Shellys (14-18 Neal St; +44-20-7240-3726, plus branches) is a mecca for shoe lovers, and is full of the street style London is famous for, while Neal Street, Long Acre and Floral Street all have something of interest.

You will undoubtedly have read or heard something about London's famous outdoor markets -- notably Portobello Road, Bermondsey, Islington, and Camden Town in descending order of price and snootiness. Portobello Road (near Notting Hill; market open Saturdays, shops open six days a week) used to be the antique hunter's dream but has increasingly succumbed to huge crowds, inflated prices, and touristy trinkets of "ersatz-antique" value.

Bermondsey (near Southwark, London Bridge; Fridays, 6 a.m. to noon) is where the dealers themselves now shop, showing up early for bargains among the paintings, porcelain, silverware, jewelry, and assorted English bric-a-brac. Nearby Tower Bridge Road is home to some vast antique warehouses with everything from art deco furnishings to complete Victorian pub interiors. Islington (a.k.a. Camden Passage, near Angel tube, Wed. and Sat.) is also where to find the true antique treasure at a still-reasonable price, but be prepared to haggle considerably.

Finally, Camden Town (near Camden Lock; weekends, 7 a.m.-sunset) is the liveliest and most affordably diverse of the markets, with an amazing ethnic mix of African arts, leathers, boots, and locally made jewelry for all possible tastes. It is also quite the fashion parade, and any people come out just to watch the crowds and catch the street-music. Shoppers will be pleased to know that most major London stores now open Sundays. Booklovers need to check out Soho's quaint Cecil Court (near Leicester Square tube), a series of alleys lined with bookshops offering vintage classics, collectibles and prints. Many of London's biggest bookstores are in Charing Cross Road, where you'll find Borders and Foyle's. But the biggest of them all is the glamorous new Waterstones ( in the former Simpson's store in Piccadilly.

Gay's The Word (66 Marchmont St, WC1; +44-20-7278-7654) near Russell Square is London's only exclusively gay bookstore,. Waterstone's, with locations all over the city, is also great for contemporary works.

Obsessions (23 Old Brompton Rd., SW7; +44-20-7589 0071; Farringdon and London Bridge branches less obviously gay-themed) has long enjoyed (and deserved) its reputation as London's upmarket gay shop for gifts and accessories from kitchenware to hand-carved footstools. And American Retro (35 Old Compton Street, W1; +44-20-7734-3477) has trendier (and cheaper) trinkets and objets de art. You'll find nothing here that you need, but plenty you'll want!

Specifically "gay-themed" shops include Prowler (3-7 Brewer St., Soho, +44-20-7734-4031) that sells all manner of "toys for boys" and is well worth a stop. Ladies can pick up a toy at London's only women's sex shop, Sh! (57 Hoyxton Square, N1; +44-20-7613-5458), which has built its success on its determinedly friendly, unseedy environment. Comfortable seats, fresh coffee and a strict veto on men make for an easy souvenir hunt. (That only leaves you to carry your pink tissue-wrapped goodies back through customs.) Finally, leather/rubber/latex lookers will find plenty of specialty shops here as well.

World-famous RoB (24 Wells St., W1; +44-20-3073-1010) has the most hardcore, handmade leather selection, but Regulation (17a St. Alban's Place, Islington, N1; +44-20-7226-0665) is a veritable supermarket of rubber, leather, bondage gear, second-hand military clothing and everything from rubber maid's outfits to gas masks (as well as being quite cruisey on a Sunday afternoon!). Hard Wear (70 Essex Rd., Islington, N1; +44-20-7359-8667) is a dressing-up box for any gay man into the military look. Trendy South Shoreditch (?Sosho' to the hip crowd) is home to Expectations (75 Great Eastern St., EC2; +44-20-7739-0292), a well-stocked leather and 'toy' store catering to a tough "Eastender" crowd. Serious rubber and fetish fans will love Recoil.557 (1 The Railway Arch; Redcross Way, SE1; +44-20-7378-0557).

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

Related Articles:
London: Introduction
London: Where to Stay
London: Where to Eat
London: Where to Play/Meet
London: Resources

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