Planning a trip to London and feel like you need to cram in as much as possible? There’s no need to exhaust yourself running around getting sweaty on the tube in the summer months when there’s everything you need and more in Carnaby . . .
With a compelling heritage that boasts the birthplace of Swinging London in the ‘60s, Carnaby is, today, the go-to destination for global fashion brands, unique independent stores, and world-first concepts. Located in London’s vibrant West End, just a short walk from Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus tube stations, the area invites you to discover over 160 brands spanning fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, and drink across 14 streets, including the world famous Carnaby Street.
Check out our guide of how to best utilise your time here . . .
Where to stay . . .
Karma Sanctum Soho
Just a hop, skip and a jump from Carnaby (or a stumble depending on what time it is) you’ll find Karma Sanctum Soho – London’s original rock n’ roll hotel. In 2009, music insiders joined forces to create a sophisticated boutique hotel for music industry friends and guests. 30 guest rooms and suites range from compact bedrooms to roof terrace suites all of which sit across two converted Georgian townhouses in the heart of Soho.
If you’re looking for a playful and energetic place to stay to inject even more fun into your London getaway, then this is the place for you. There’s surprising sculptures, eclectic artwork and rock n’ roll details around every corner. Live like a true rockstar and make the most of the 24-hour rooftop bar and alfresco Hydro Spa hot tub, screen a film in the subterranean cocktail bar or tuck into something tasty in the hotel’s Japanese restaurant and bar – Wild Heart Bar & Shokudo.
What surprised us most about the hotel is just how quiet the place is – being only two floors above street level we thought we’d be disturbed by the weekend nightlife below, but we didn’t hear a peep and had one of the best night’s sleep in a long time!
It’s the stay in the city that’s just a bit different.
What to see . . .
Carnaby is known for its world famous art installations, especially at Christmas, but this summer there’s some exciting things to feast your eyes on . .
Carnaby in Colour summer installation
Spanning across Carnaby Street and Newburgh Street is a brand new, vibrant feature made exclusively from recycled plastic. Brought to you by recycling brand 'Are You Mad' these three hand/heart shaped arches will be suspended above the streets until mid-September. Sitting alongside the existing Welcome To Carnaby Street arches that have also been upcycled with the colourful recycled hand embellishments, these installations form part of the wider Carnaby in Colour campaign. Crafted using 684kg of recycled plastic waste from local shops and restaurants the installation took four weeks of collecting waste plastic, 16 days of sheet pressing and a team of 13 people to create the finished materials. We think the installation showcases the community, colour and care that Carnaby is all about.
Festoon lights, Kingly Street
Kingly Street is home to some of the best restaurants in Carnaby from Dishoom, Pizza Pilgrims, Kolamba and Dehes. This back street is the perfect place to dine al fresco and enjoy a photo on the outdoor seating under the pink festoon lights.
Ganton Street giant light bulb installation, Ganton Street
The West side of Ganton Street has been taken over by 51 ginormous light bulbs suspended from the sky. Impressive at any time of day, the installation is best viewed at night when the LED bulbs light up in a rainbow of colours creating the most spectacular light show.
Where to shop . . .
Forget trying to dodge all the people on busy Oxford Street and enjoy a calmer and more authentic shopping experience in Carnaby with over 100 stores to satisfy all your shopping needs. There’s everything from international and British heritage labels, independent boutiques, one-off concepts, and bespoke jewellery specialists to name but a few. Here were our standouts –
Mind is Carnaby’s first permanent charity shop and houses a carefully curated collection of preloved vintage and designer stock for the stylish West London shopper. Items in store include the likes of luxury designers Givenchy, Vivienne Westwood, Burberry, Coach and Louis Vuitton, plus new stock will be added to the shelves each day meaning no two shopping experiences will be the same. It’s worth noting that Kate Spade and Lulu Guiness donate unsold stock to them regularly, meaning you can pick up some real bargains, all for a good cause!
Annie’s Ibiza sells a mix of eclectic and rare, one-of-a-kind pieces. Each and every piece is handpicked by Annie herself and is a reflection of her own wardrobe, with a majority of the pieces being exclusively available to Annie’s Ibiza. Even if you don’t buy anything, this store is an experience in itself and an Aladdin’s Cave of gorgeous garments. While there, we found a stunning dress made by Annie that was inspired by designs from the Ottoman Empire, as well as a dress made exclusively from recycled pieces collected from the shop over the course of a year.
Ffern is a natural fragrance maker based in Somerset. It was born out of a simple vision: to restore perfumery to its artisan roots. With this in mind, Ffern creates fragrances that are organic, vegan and made from the highest quality, sustainably sourced, natural ingredients. Working with the rhythms of the seasons, they blend, barrel-age and bottle four unique fragrances a year, released at the equinox and solstice. It’s a beautiful store that makes you feel calm and grounded as soon as you walk through the door.
Kat Maconie shoes are instantly recognisable by their dazzling colour palette, statement hardware frames on architectural heels, and maximalist details. From beaded and bedazzled, to embroidered and appliqued; more is more. Uniquely comfortable and easy to wear, Kat Maconie shoes are designed with comfort and fit at the forefront. It’s fun fashion for your feet and bound to add a little spring to your step.
Hayley Menzies has opened the doors to a beautiful new boutique in the heart of Carnaby. The store hosts a highly curated edit of Hayley Menzies essentials for those embarking on a day out in the city’s revered shopping district. Pop downstairs to see what deals she has on and chat to the fab assistants to see what styles they recommend.
Where to eat . . .
With 60 restaurants, bars, and cafes to choose from you sure won’t go hungry in Carnaby. We’ve done the hard work and compiled some of the places that are a MUST VISIT, trust us, you wont regret it . . .
This is Indian food cooked from the heart with the all-female kitchen, most of whom began as part-time assistants when Asma started her business years ago, have all been taught to cook by their mothers and grandmothers. Darjeeling Express started as a dinner for 12 guests at home, serving Indian food lovingly cooked from family recipes that go back to generations by founder Asma Khan. Based on the top floor of Kingly Court, her London restaurant is inspired by the interiors of Indian train station waiting rooms filled with terracotta pots and wooden ceiling fans. Discover mouth-watering textures and flavours in her compelling dishes including nourishing Dhall, tender Methi Chicken, Prawn Malaikari paired with tantalising sides such as Beetroot Chop, Bulandshahr Rogni Roti and Spinach Pakora. The biriyani will have you coming back for more, which probably explains the regular queue outside the door. However, we recommend the set menu dinner served on a large silver tray filled with delectable dishes allowing you to have a taste of everything. And the cocktails are just as good as the food!
This famous Bombay-inspired eatery can be found throughout the UK, but the Carnaby site is the fourth in the London collection. Inspired by the old Irani cafes that were all the rage in Bombay in the ‘60s, Dishoom pays homage to these now rare places. Rich businessmen, courting couples and sweaty taxi-wallas all frequented the cafés. They were the first places in the city where people from any caste or class could have an inexpensive snack or a hearty meal, or just seek cool refuge from the street with a glass of chai. But now as the city rushes towards modernity, these beautiful old cafés are disappearing, mourned by Bombayites, and fading into memory.
Open all day, pop along for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but be prepared to queue unless you’ve managed to get a booking. Breakfast is our favourite, not only can you usually get a table, it will be a breakfast unlike any you’ve had before. Tuck into their famed bacon naan, try chilli cheese on toast or opt for the never ending refillable date porridge. What we love the most, however, is that for every breakfast you eat at Dishoom, the restaurant will donate a 'magic' breakfast to a school in London. Magic Breakfast charity aim to end hunger as a barrier to education by providing nutritious breakfasts to its partner schools. Now, how lovely is that?
Located on the corner of Foubert’s Place, Zahter showcases true Istabanbulite cuisine with its rich and vibrant places. The interiors comprise of a pleasant blue and white palette with the wood and charcoal oven at the centre of it all. Long countertop tables are perfect to perch at and people watch on a busy afternoon. The menu encompasses finely crafted dishes and exotic tastes all of which are cooked in the open wood-fired oven and are continually changed to showcase what’s in season.
All the dishes are small and designed to share, but the menu felt a little overwhelming having little knowledge of Istanbul cuisine, so we asked our delightful waiter to choose for us and boy did he do good! A watermelon salad paired with goats cheese, chilli and honey was not something we would have usually opted for, but it was heavenly and the baked aubergine is something like we’ve never had before. Using fresh ingredients is vital for the taste, hence sourcing ingredients from original sources and small artisanal producers.
What to do . . .
Pamper at So.Shell
Pop by Ukrainian nail bar, So.Shell, a place where customers don’t have to compromise between time and quality. Here you can get a manicure, pedicure and eyebrow treatment all done in just 90 minutes! However, their large treatment menu extends beyond this with nail extensions, nail art, lash treatments and brow lamination all available and performed by highly qualified professionals. So.Shell interior resembles a holiday destination, helping you to relax and recharge. Dip your feet into a relaxing bath followed by a massage, order a refreshing drink and escape from your daily routine.
I opted for a pedicure which was heavenly! My technician Irene gave my poor feet some much needed love and attention ,and I left with not only a beautiful bright red pedicure, but also a spring in my step.
Cocktails at Cahoots
Descend into Cahoots for an immersive 1940s experience where you’ll find yourself sipping on themed cocktails from a Toby Jug, jiving away to jazz and swinging the night away in a reworked 1940s tube carriage.
Inspired from the era that saw Londoners take refuge in the underground, as stations were commonly used as air raid shelters during the war, Cahoots replicates the wartime British spirit with drinks and sing-alongs around the piano to boost morale. With an extensive cocktail menu printed on an old newspaper, all drinks are themed and regularly change, making it all too easy to spend most of the evening down here. Be adventurous and ask your waitress (who’ll likely be in character) what they recommend. Wartime rations are served in the form of small plates to share with friends.
Read more about colourful Carnaby over at carnaby.co.uk