SELFRIDGES: Spanning a complete city block, Selfridges, founded by – gasp! – an American (and one from Wisconsin at that), draws you in immediately from the sidewalk with its over-the- top window displays. The department store boasts six floors of prime designers, food and wine, the world’s largest beauty hall, and a … tattoo parlor. Yes, you can get inked while buying a Vivienne Westwood gown (she did grow up just a few miles away in South Kensington.) And, if you’re dodging paparazzi, or just want to pretend, Selfridge’s VIP personal shopping service has a separate entrance and exit.
Selfridges, Lower Ground Floor, 400 Oxford St., London, W1A 1AB, UK, +44 20 8123400,
LIBERTY: A black and white Tudor manse in the middle of modern London? That would be Liberty, one of the city’s most charming luxury emporiums. Known worldwide for its eponymous collection and signature print, the store also sells housewares and hard-to-find accessories. The subtle floral print is traditional, but the store also does a notable job of pleasing more up-to-date fashionistas as well. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood’s line of clothes printed with his own oil paintings are sold exclusively here. Perfect holiday gifts for the hostess: signature print towels, leather-bound embossed journals, and lavender-filled silk pillows.
Liberty, Great Marlborough St., London, UK, +44 20 7573 9484.
SKETCH: Featuring décor described by GQ magazine as “jaw-droppingly ambitious,” this restaurant will have you snapping cellphone photos of everything from the enormous domed skylight and heavy lead chandeliers in the main dining room to the toilets shaped like individual plastic space pods. Sketch was formerly Christian Dior’s London showroom and is now where well-heeled Mayfair residents come to dine. The food is labeled as French but is really a fusion of refined Gallic cuisine, English comfort food, and Asian flavors. Afternoon tea in the parlor is a modern version of that storied English institution with chicken cocotte, tuna sashimi, and avocado tempura to nibble along with your Earl Grey. Come for the food, stay for the décor, the art, the music, and of course the people watching.
Sketch Restaurant, 9 Conduit St., London, W1S 2XG, UK, +44 870 777 4488 .
ALFRED DUNHILL: If Prince Charles were having a boy’s afternoon out, he would probably choose to break open the cognac, smoke a cigar, have a shave, and buy a new wardrobe at this elegant ode to testosterone. Housed in a building erected in 1793, it once belonged to the Duke of Westminster (who famously had an affair with Coco Chanel), and now houses Dunhill’s coveted leather goods, ready-to-wear line, a movie theater complete with the house’s leather armchairs and action flicks, a humidor where Sir Winston Churchill kept his stogies, a spa, barbershop, indoor and outdoor café, and bespoke studio. Bat an eyelash or two at the head tailor and he will show you Orlando Bloom and Jude Law’s made-to-measure suit patterns. This is where to buy Dunhill’s numbered limited-edition accessories, Rollagas lighters, and enough cashmere to warm a battalion, but also a welcoming place to laze the afternoon away in a man’s man’s world.
Alfred Dunhill, 2 Davies St., Mayfair, London, W1K 3DJ, UK, +44 (0)845 458 0779.
BURLINGTON ARCADE: The longest and the first covered shopping street in England, the Arcade has been a great escape since 1819 when Lady Cavendish told her husband she simply could no longer shop among the masses. Lord Cavendish kindly built Burlington Arcade, which soon included dozens of elegant specialty stores guarded by the famous Beadles, liveried attendants wearing Edwardian frock coats and top hats who enforce the arcade’s strict code of behavior. There is still no whistling allowed (Sir Paul McCartney is exempted, of course), but it is a great place to check off your entire holiday list with such stores as Polistas (for the Middleburg polo player in your life), the Vintage Watch Company (with the world’s largest vintage Rolex collection), Luponde Tea, Laduree, and Crockett & Jones for high-end shoes.
Burlington Arcade, Mayfair, London, W1, UK.
FORTNUM AND MASON: Famous for its overflowing holiday hampers (Yankee translation: really lavish gift baskets), “The Queen’s Grocer” has been catering to the Royal Family forever and the lucky folks on your holiday list will be happy to be pampered, too. The store has been selling fine teas since 1707 and is an optimum choice for terrines, truffles, chocolates,caviar, and other fine foodstuffs as well. To really indulge, order the Christmas Feast Hamper overflowing with King George Christmas pudding, goose foie gras en gelée, Fortnum’s Vintage Champagne, Tanzanian coffee, and much else.
Fortnum and Mason, 181 Piccadilly Westminster, London, W1J 9, UK, +44 20 7734 8040.