Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping thoroughfare, is at its most frantic in the festive season. Neighbouring Marylebone feels a world apart. Away from the crowds and the uninspiring chain stores, it offers a much calmer and more elegant Christmas shopping experience, with a distinctive combination of upmarket boutiques, classy restaurants and specialist retailers.
Standout examples include the bookseller Daunt Books, with its magnificent galleried premises, and VV Rouleaux, stockist of more than 5,000 luxury ribbons, tassels, and other trimmings.
Venture further north and you find yourself in authentic, not-for-tourists London. Wander through the busy market on Church Street, with its stalls selling cheap fruit and veg and knock-off watches, and you might start to think you’re lost. But as the market peters out, you’ll discover antiques-shopping heaven.
At the eastern end of Church Street, Alfies Antique Market, a former department store with an Art Deco Egyptian Revival façade, is home to more than 50 dealers, selling everything from Chinese porcelain to antique jewellery to stylish mid-century furniture. With cheaper rents than ritzier parts of the city, and a community buzz, dealers have spilled out into the neighbouring shops. The result is a one-of-a-kind shopping experience in central London.
Places to visit in Marylebone
The Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection comprises the complete personal collection, amassed over several generations, of one family. It was bequeathed to the nation in 1897. Although there are relatively few famous names (and therefore fewer selfie-snapping tourists), the collection is filled with masterpieces of painting, sculpture, furniture, armour and porcelain. Be blown away by the intricate medieval boxwood carving of The Adoration of the Magi.
Originally built in 1901 by the Bechstein piano company to showcase its instruments, this intimate concert venue was designed to have the best acoustics for classical music in all of Europe. Lavishly fitted out in marble and mahogany, the striking Arts and Crafts cupola over the stage depicts the Soul of Music. In December, choral groups perform festive music from across the centuries.
Places to shop in Marylebone
Brocantry is the Dutch word for junk shop and Nick’s posh bric-a-brac is perfect for a rummage; he sells mainly to dealers, which means prices are low and stock moves fast. On the day H&A visited, Nick had shelves of vintage Champagne buckets (£15), which could be filled with flowers to make a glamorous Christmas table centrepiece.
At the back of the shop, Gwen’s sparkling cabinets of signed costume jewellery are a draw for collectors. We bought one of the Trifari monogram brooches (£10) – a perfect stocking filler.
The FM Gallery
Francesca Ahose’s flamboyant ceiling lights take centre stage in her shop dedicated to Italian 20th-century design. Building on the traditions of Murano glass-blowing and chandelier-making, the exuberant lights are sculpted in extraordinary forms – the hull of a ship, tangles of translucent spaghetti, an oversized flower head, a spiky sputnik. Rare examples fetch five-figure sums.
Beth Adams, Alfies Antique Market
Friendly Beth sells a range of decorative objects (dateline 1850 to 1960) but her passion is for Art Deco design, which she has been selling since the early 1980s. Her sizeable collection, spanning everything from sunny yellow Carlton Ware to rare Clarice Cliff pieces, is attractively priced – bargain of the day was a Clarice Cliff cowslip teapot in the Bonjour shape, sadly without a lid, for £350. Beth’s Bakelite animal napkin rings would make a quirky addition to the Christmas table (£20 and up).
Linda Bee, Alfies Antique Market
Oozing showgirl glamour, Linda’s bright pink showroom offers a stylish selection of powder compacts, perfume bottles, statement necklaces and earrings, exotic skin handbags, and other fun and flirty vintage accessories.
We loved the c1950s tiny gilt microphone (£95), which flips open to reveal a lighter.
Tin Tin Collectables, Alfies Antique Market
The last 18 months may have put the kibosh on our travel plans, but Leslie’s beautifully restored leather luggage might go some way to satisfying wanderlust. His room is filled floor-to-ceiling with high-quality steamer and motoring trunks, vellum suitcases, hat boxes and attaché cases. Prices range from £700 for a smart leather trunk (which would make an excellent side table), to £80 for a collar box.
Horner Antiques, Alfies Antique Market
Michael’s kitsch collection of Soviet and Eastern European Christmas tree decorations encompasses the beautiful and bizarre – from ice maidens and nesting dolls to pickles and pink elephants. At £4.50 and above, some of the most valuable are characters from Soviet children’s cartoons. For Russians, they’re hugely nostalgic – visiting oligarchs have been known to clear him out of stock.
Places to stay in Marylebone
The Zetter Townhouse
Of the many five-star hotels in London, The Zetter Townhouse is undoubtedly the most intriguing. Styled according to the taste of the fictional wicked Uncle Seymour, the opulent rooms are dripping with art and antiques. The result is somewhere between a high-class Victorian bordello and an exclusive gentleman’s club.
De Walden Street
With parquet floors, leather club chairs and stylish mid-century furniture, this two-bedroom apartment feels like a sophisticated homestay. It’s in fact owned by global hotelier Accor, so standards are high.
Places to eat in Marylebone
There are three Michelin-starred restaurants in Marylebone, and endless opportunities to blow the budget on fine dining. But for atmosphere, you can’t beat this evocative cafe at the top of Marylebone High Street, which transports you to turn-of-the-century Vienna. Whether you’re hungry enough for schnitzel, sauerkraut and strudel, or fancy fuelling up on a simple traditional Viennese cake and coffee, once revived you’ll waltz back out for more shopping.
221B Baker Street is the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes. (It’s actually between numbers 237 and 241.) A small museum meticulously recreates the rooms of the literary supersleuth.