Harrods of London. For many tourists, the words conjure up the essence of London and a department store where if you have enough money you can buy anything.
But it is also a fun place to window shop and lose yourself, because Harrods is more than a department store and does for retail what tour companies are increasingly doing for holidays – creating an immersive experience of style and luxury, of aspiration and of immediate fun and of wonder and excitement. An amble around Harrods is like moving from one set to another in a giant theatre where you can interact at any stage or buy the props for yourselves. Like any museum, the trick to enjoying it rather than being foot sore and crowd weary is to have a few ideas of what is there waiting for you and to plan your trip to include them. This blog post should help you with that.
My absolute favourite place in the whole of Harrods is the Egyptian escalator from the ground floor going up. The entrance is on the East side of the store and there are other escalators and elevators to choose from, so you need to make a conscious effort to make sure not to miss this. On a Saturday morning you’ll often hear the wonderful voice of a live soprano wafting down.
Harrods was opened by Charles Harrods in 1849 and the image above would never let on quite how humble his beginnings were as an East End grocer and tea merchant ! However while it was always a luxury store, successive owners each put an even grander stamp of elegance on it. These owners included Al Fayad and after he sold out (following the sad deaths of his son Dodi and Princess Diana), the Qatari investment trust.
Before you enter, take in some of the external window displays surrounding the shop.
On the ground floor the food halls are eye poppingly tempting starting with the chocolate and coffee hall which is absolutely massive. Women and children will love it!
The fruit and vegetable hall and the hall where you can choose a bar by cuisine-type (sushi champagne and seafood, and many other options) are equally fun and lovely.
I also love the perfume and cosmetic halls and the handbag room with its Egyptian design
Taking the Egyptian staircase up to the first floor you enter into a fantasy world of designer clothes stores within the store. Leading out from this area are theatrically designed passageways that make even the entrance to the hosiery department exciting.
For inspiration on furniture, cooking or anything else, just walk through the department of interest. Just don’t try to do it all or you will be exhausted – go with a priority list!
Harrods is a great place for children. The Toy Kingdom on the third floor, and the Disney store on the fourth floor are very traditional with lifesize (soft) giraffes, wonderful teddy bears and a human size superman. They recreate the excitement of my childhood and I don’t know any child that isn’t charmed by the magic of the world. If you are lucky enough to visit in November and or December they always create the most wonderful effects for Christmas. My birthday fell in the October half term, just as the Christmas toys were being displayed and it was always a memorable treat to go to pick a birthday present!
If you visit even half the places within Harrods I’ve told you about, you’ll want to punctuate the trip with a few refreshment breaks. I mentioned the quick options at the different cuisine bars in the food halls but some of the best London cafes are dotted around other parts of the store. For example Harrods has its own elegant Laduree store (with many different flavours of macaroons), including a cafe, which is on the ground floor West side entrance. It also has a Godiva chocolate cafe on one of the higher floors, ideal for the children with wonderfully thick hot chocolate and tempting cakes. Yet more options include a cosy third floor cafe near the toy kingdom with rather fun oversize chairs, and an elegant Georgian tea room and gallery on the fourth floor.
If you are stuck for affordable gift ideas and are in a rush, I can recommend the beautiful Harrods tins of shortbread biscuits, an exotic tea from the huge tea counter, a Harrods teddy bear from the toy kingdom, the beautiful Harrods translucent lollipops with dried edible flowers inside them or the boxes of Harrods chocolate almonds.
Enjoy your trip round the store and I’d love to hear how it went if you have time to come back here and tell me. I must say: I’m in awe of the talent of this new type of professional that Harrods has created in its visual merchandisers!.