Being one of the most famous cities in history, London has become a major center for commerce. Oxford Street, Bond Street, and Piccadilly Circus are just a few of the many locations in London that are highly regarded for their unique stores, enticing shoppers to visit from all over the world.
Before studying abroad, I’d always lived in suburbs and rarely visited physical stores, preferring to order online instead. However, since coming to London, I’ve found myself shopping in person so often to the point where I’ve yet to make a single online purchase. I like how going to buy something here turns into its own little adventure, from mapping the journey out on the Tube to finding stores with rich histories. Here are some of the best purchases I’ve made so far.
1. Zara Shoes
I knew living in London would require a lot of walking, but I didn’t expect just how much damage it would actually have on my shoes. After just a few weeks, I had completely worn through the pair I originally brought with me from the States. Granted, those shoes already had a fair amount of wear before London, which is most likely why they didn’t survive too much longer with the extra steps I was adding to my daily routine. As soon as the first holes appeared in the soles, I knew it was time for some shopping—which ended up being in a Zara on Oxford Street.
More than a few viral videos on TikTok have joked about how much nicer the London Zaras are compared to the U.S. Zaras. After shopping at both, I can confirm that there is definitely some truth to those videos. In fact, I’ve found that most of the major clothing brands generally seem to offer better options here compared to the States. Once I had explored what the British version of Zara had to offer, I settled on a pair of white and cream platform trainers, which are probably the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever put on my feet. The additional thickness of the soles also gives me extra confidence that I won’t be needing to buy another pair any time soon. Again, with all the extra walking I’ve been doing, this was a much-needed purchase.
2. Muji Sticky Note Weekly Planners
Taking time to explore London while also staying on top of my classes was one of the main aspects of studying abroad that I struggled with at the beginning of the semester. Additionally, I knew I wanted to start journaling again so I could reflect on the places I went. So, naturally, I found myself needing to visit another store in central London—this time with the goal of buying some stationery. At the suggestion of a friend, we decided to go to a Japanese retail store called Muji. I’d never heard of Muji before, probably because there are only a few of them in the States (but they’re something I’m definitely going to miss now once I go back). Similar to Ikea, Muji offers a wide variety of simplistic but useful everyday items, including a robust stationary section. I ended up buying a set of sticky note weekly planners which have become essential for helping me organize my schedule.
3. Tamagotchi from Selfridges
Selfridges on Oxford Street first opened in 1909 and is now one of the most iconic department stores in the world. Considering its rich history, this store was high up on my list of places I wanted to visit in London. Unlike the previous entries on this list, the purchase I made at Selfridges wasn’t necessarily needed, but it’s still been one of my favorite things I’ve bought in London—a Tamagotchi mimitchi. I honestly have absolutely no reasoning behind this purchase, other than the fact that it’s something fun to take around London and doesn’t require any wifi so I can pass time on the Tube. Plus it’s cute!
4. Daunt Books Tote Bag
One of the most popular designs of tote bags I often see people wearing around London are these specific ones from Daunt Books. This bookstore on Marylebone High Street originally opened in 1990 in what was once an old Edwardian bookshop—a history that is still apparent when looking at the store’s interior. Being one of my favorite bookstores I’ve visited in London, I decided to buy one of these tote bags as well. I love the simplistic but classic British design of the bag and the fact that it features the store’s address on it without being too obnoxious. It’s definitely one of the cooler not-to-touristy mementos I can take back home to the States.
5. Primark Mini Umbrella
London weather is no joke, with a perfectly nice day turning into a rainy day with little to no warning. Since I’m outside walking around most of the time, one of the best decisions I made when I first got to London was to invest in a mini portable umbrella I found at Primark. It’s a convenient size that can easily fit into my backpack or tote bag and it’s definitely saved me on more than one occasion.
6. Zara “Fashionably London” Perfume
Many studies have shown that smell has a strong link to memory within the brain. Because of this, I knew wanted to find a perfume that I could use throughout my time here, with the end goal of connecting the smell of it with my memories of London once I return home. At the same Zara I purchased my shoes, I happened across one of their perfumes aptly named “Fashionably London.” While not my favorite scent I’ve ever owned, it checked all the boxes—affordable but not cheap smelling, and distinct enough that I’ll definitely be able to associate new memories with it. Plus, the name is perfect, and it comes with a gorgeous, surprisingly high-quality collector postcard featuring Tower Bridge.
The ease of access to such iconic stores like Selfridges and Daunt Books, and the much better products offered at stores like Zara, are a few of the things I’m going to miss most about London. Whether I’m actually spending money or just simply window shopping (the latter being more likely), I’ve grown to love spending time exploring London’s shopping districts. Not once have I found myself tempted to shop online, which is impressive considering I was strictly an online shopper back in the States. Overall, I’m satisfied with all the purchases I’ve made so far, and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to bring back some mementos to remember this time with.
Mackenzie Hornik is a student at University of Colorado Boulder and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA in London, England.