15 April 2011

Kingston Shopping: A Review

A true shopping experience

If you desire a shopping experience as diverse as Oxford Street without losing yourself among the imposingly huge stores, Kingston-upon-Thames is the answer. When I lived in nearby Thames Ditton, I came to love the town for its riverside setting and many stores, although its prime as a fashion hub did not catch my eye until I was 15. With a vast array of high street and designer retailers, a shopping trip here is never worthless. 

The focal point of the Kingston shopping scene is The Bentall Centre, where you'll find 80+ well-known retailers, most of which aim to provide you with the latest fashions. The main outlet is the Bentalls department store, which stocks a vast collection of designer brands, including All Saints, Fred Perry and Karen Millen. The make-up department also has many popular beauty brands to choose from, including MAC and Bobbi Brown.

Within the rest of the shopping centre are four floors of high street and designer stores. My personal favourite is naturally the double-storey H&M, which - due to the rise in metrosexuality - now has a whole floor dedicated to menswear. Other retailers include Zara, Esprit, Republic, Levi's, Bank and a brand new Hollister.

If you're looking for a bite to eat, Bentalls has a selection of cafés and eateries, although the cheaper option of McDonalds can be found on the lower ground level. However, if you choose to eat here, do not be surprised if you have to sit outside the fast food outlet on the shopping centre floor, as this particular McDonalds is always busy and doesn't have additional seating. Out on the streets, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants dotted about, although - if the weather is fine - I would personally recommend purchasing food from the nearby Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury's and eat beside the river. A loaf of bread wouldn't go down too badly with the local community of swans and geese either.

Also on the streets are many more well-known fashion retailers. The pedestrianised Clarence Street has the largest number of shops, including Gap, French Connection, River Island, two Marks and Spencer stores, and separate Topshop and Topman outlets. My favourite here, however, is the UniQlo at the far end of Clarence Street, which has recently been refurbished to provide a larger menswear department.

The newly refurbished menswear department in UniQlo
At the other end of Clarence Street, towards the River Thames, is a TK Maxx, but opposite this on Wood Street is Kingston's other large department store, John Lewis, which - like Bentalls - provides a huge selection of designer clothes and beauty products. Even if you don't want to purchase anything from here, I find it's still nice to have a brief wander around each open-spaced level. There is also a Waitrose below should you wish to buy any food or drink.

But don't think that's all there is to Kingston shopping. Opposite the Bentall Centre, towards the market square, you can find more popular fashion stores such as Accessorize, Office, White Stuff and JD Sports. Then at Market Place itself, you'll find Sunglass Hut, Next, and a Cath Kidston just around the corner on Thames Street.

In addition, there is a second smaller shopping centre in Kingston, the Eden Walk Shopping Centre, which can be found on the other side of the larger Marks and Spencer. Here you'll find even more retailers, including Boots, BHS, Ann Summers and a smaller H&M. However, if cheap clothes are what you're after, there is a three-floor Primark opposite Eden Walk on Effingham Road, which tends to be relatively tidy despite being rather busy.

As a whole, I would say Kingston-upon-Thames is the best shopping location in Surrey. Whether it's for a shopping trip or a shopping spree, Kingston will have what you're looking for and so much more. There are dozens of stores to choose from, so if you're a dedicated shopper, you'll need to give yourself at least a few hours. But don't worry about car parking - there's plenty of that too.

Looking east along Clarence Street
So if you're ever in need of satisfying any shopping cravings, get yourself over there! Because even if you don't end up spending any money, I promise you won't regret spending your day.

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