The Budget Babe | Affordable Fashion & Style Blog

What to Wear and Where to Shop in London

Recently I received a question from a reader seeking advice about what to wear and where to shop for a trip to London. Apparently, my readers are quite the world travelers! Fortunately, so are many of my friends: Today's guest blogger is none other than the Budget Babe's International Travel Advisor Fifi LaMode (an alias), who regular readers may recall has brought us tales of her countless travel adventures from Guatemala to Greece since this blog first launched. Read on for Fifi's expert advice, whether you're planning a trip or just want a little escapism for your weekend.

Written by Fifi LaMode
Since I haven't been in London in a dog's age, I asked an expert - my husband, who hails from across the pond. Here's his advice: Aside from the usual tourist stuff, which you can check out in any guide book, go to Trafalgar Square to get a feel for the trappings of the old Empire. A short walk away is the church of St. Martin's in the Fields where they have free concerts (check the days and times). Downstairs in the church there's a restaurant where you can have a cheap good meal and the floor is full of tombstones from days of yore. He says it's one of London's best kept secrets.

Also recommended is a day trip to Greenwich (where Greenwich Mean Time was invented - we can thank them for all the time zones in the world) to see the Royal Naval Observatory. Apparently it's quite grand and a reminder of the days when Britannia ruled the waves. Also a day trip away is Hampton Court, one of the palaces of Henry VIII. It's all done up Elizabethan-style. For shopping hubby recommends Covent Garden which has a host of small boutiques which he says are very nice (who knew my hubby was so metro?).

What to pack: Layer, layer, layer. One day could be beautiful, springy and sunny, then it can turn ugly real fast and you're in a downpour. Don't take any shoes you don't want getting wet. Pack a small umbrella that fits into your handbag. I get these rain ponchos from Target for 99 cents that weigh nothing and fold into a 3x3 pack. Great for sudden downpours and you can keep your purse dry too. When it rains there, it rains.

For shopping, well, frankly everything is cheaper in the U.S. but if you see something you really like, get it because they have some really cutting-edge styles and their way of dressing is different from ours. Everything I've ever bought in London has gotten me lots of compliments, from kids' shoes at Harrods to coats at John Lewis to boutique fun stuff.

Did you know that the American tourist will be paying 25% less this year than last year, thanks to the favorable exchange rate dollar/pound? Also, the price you see is what you pay, not like here where you see something for 9.99 and it ends up costing you $11 due to taxes. Their taxes are built into the price. Be sure to get VAT receipts for big ticket items (usually over 75 pounds). You can claim the money back at the airport and get either a cash refund or money back on your credit card. Use your ATM to get pounds because the banks charge high commissions for exchanging money and the rate is not so favorable.

Meals: Pub meals are a must for good value and variety. Do lunch in a pub and you won't need a big meal in the evening. English pubs are a cultural institution and must be visited. High tea at The Savoy is also a must - the Savoy Hotel on the Strand is in an area of high-end shops and residences (not far from Trafalgar Square) and high tea includes sandwiches and cakes and tea - all you can eat for a fixed price. Count this as dinner. Covent Garden is also full of nice eateries. If you like Opera, Covent Garden is the place for you.

Re: museums, check out the Victoria & Albert Museum, down the street from Harrods (whose food court must not be missed). The fashion collection through the ages is wonderful, as is the ambiance at the V&A, London's favorite museum.

Antiques and flea markets are held Sundays. The most famous one is at Portobello Road. There's one in Greenwich as well.

That's all for now.
Enjoy your trip - I'm jealous.

xox Fifi

I was just in London in late November-early December. I didn't find their manner of dressing much more "cutting edge" than mine, but then I live in New York so maybe that's why? Most women were dressed like me, with knee boots over jeans.

Also, if high tea at the Savoy is too expensive, I can suggest a substitute. I had a wonderful high tea for less than £5 at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace.

If you do go the Opera, be aware that the very cheaptest tickets (which look like such a great deal) are for standing places. Which would be fine exept that a tourist has likely already spent a day on her feet. I made the mistake of going and standing after a day of exploring Windsor, and it was torture.
#1 Christina on 2009-03-21 09:40 (Reply)
Oops, that's £15, not £5.
#2 Christina on 2009-03-21 09:43 (Reply)
Also a culinary institution is Fish and Chips. Yum! This is delicious and greasy, but GOOOOOD. Huge pieces of cod or haddock fried up in a thick batter with loads of chips (i.e. fries) which you put vinegar on. Can be gotten at any 'chippie', i.e. fish and chips shop. they also serve something called 'mushy peas' which my husband adores but i pass on. it's exactly that - peas mushed up. supposedly it's good but i can't get past the color. try it - you might like it. :-)
#3 Fifi LaMode on 2009-03-21 11:54 (Reply)
Ooh! I live in London - maybe I can share some tips, too!

Fifi LaMode had some great suggestions... here are mine:

More about where to shop:
- You must go to Oxford Street! It is probably the most famous street in London, filled with all the lovely high-street stores. From Ox St there is easy access to Bond St (with more designer price tags) and Regent St, which is absolutely lovely and leads to Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square.
- Give Westfield (the big new shopping center) a miss. I think the charm of London is shopping on streets and finding little boutiques. You can get plenty of malls in London.
- There are loads of wholesale shops that are sometimes open to the public: look around Great Portland Street, Margaret Street, and all around that area.

What to wear:
I have never been to the States but friends who come from there tell me that people are a lot more dressed up here - even more than in New York. I know I never leave the house without at least some make-up on, and I would never go out in sweatpants. I would say that almost everyone wears clothes that are well-fitting or tailored, or trendy and chic.

Also, apart from shoes that you don't mind getting wet, make sure you have comfortable shoes to walk in. The best way to get a feel for London is to walk! It's a great city to walk in - I usually wear flat pumps (never trainers!)

You must, must, must have a small umbrella for your handbag, and a warm layer! I know Fifi said so but it's really important so I'm saying it again!

Have a great time - London is an amazing city :-)
#4 Leia (Homepage) on 2009-03-21 12:05 (Reply)
Oops - meant plenty of malls in the US, which is why you should give Westfield a miss! Hope that makes sense!
#4.1 Leia (Homepage) on 2009-03-21 17:59 (Reply)
don't forget to check out PRIMARK, at the end of oxford street. I was in London for 4 months and it was the only place I could ever afford to shop. Sometimes you really have to dig but it's worth it for basics and trendy pieces. Try to avoid it on the weekends though.. I once waited 30 minutes for a dressing room!
#5 Perry on 2009-03-21 18:26 (Reply)
When I was in London I enjoyed TopShop and the shops in Covent Garden the most. Also Portobello Road and Greenwich. It IS a walking city. I loved it there, I wish I could move there. I admit I didn't buy many clothes, in general I felt the cost was too high unless I found something super unique.
#6 Maria (Homepage) on 2009-03-21 20:49 (Reply)
Last easter I spent a long weekend down in London with some family friends who visited from California (we live in the north of England).

Again, Oxford St and Harrods are a must, but be very aware that this is literally the shopping heart of London and is very expensive.
Potobello Road is great, even when the market's not on. There are little independent shops that sell jewellery and stuff along there. Also, I adored Covent Garden. It's beautiful and there is such a variety of shops!

For more affordable clothes, you could also try Topshop, River Island, Oasis, etc etc, all the high street big names. Primark's worth a visit for staples because it's cheap, but as previously mentioned, be prepared to queue!

We also visited Greenwich, and I agree it's worth a visit :-)

The weather's acually been quite nice over here recently, but I really wouldn't take the risk. Layers, a light coat and an umbrella are a must. Have fun!
#7 Demi (Homepage) on 2009-03-22 05:03 (Reply)
As an self-confessed Anglophile, I must chime in on the conversation.
I go over to the UK once a year.

BURBERRY OUTLET STORE--not to be missed, Hempsted Heath (sp?)

Props to Fifi on the Portabello Road tip--simply amazing stuff. I bought jewelry there for 5 GBP that I wore to the Cannes Film Fest and received many, many compliments on. It was made of....wait for it...piano wire and paste gems, but it looks sooo ooo expensive. Fred Leighton eat your heart out!!
#8 Mary Hall (Homepage) on 2009-03-22 08:00 (Reply)
As an self-confessed Anglophile, I must chime in on the conversation.
I go over to the UK once a year.

BURBERRY OUTLET STORE--not to be missed, Hempstead Heath I think.

Props to Fifi on the Portabello Road tip--simply amazing stuff. I bought jewelry there for 5 GBP that I wore to the Cannes Film Fest and received many, many compliments on. It was made of, wait for it, piano wire and paste gems, but it looks sooo ooo expensive. Fred Leighton eat your heart out!!
#9 Mary Hall (Homepage) on 2009-03-22 08:03 (Reply)
I am making my first trip to London and staying till mid July.
I have with me, my mom and 2 small daughters (2 and 3 and half).
Please please please suggest places that is good, cheap and convenient to bring kids.
We will be staying at King’s Road, Kingston Upon Thames
#10 Schatz on 2010-02-03 04:32 (Reply)
Leave a comment
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed.
Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.