Terms like "Swinging London" and the "Swinging Sixties" have become so synonymous with Soho's Carnaby Street, that it's hard to imagine one without the other.

Not only was Carnaby Street once considered the "Capital of Cool," it was also the epicentre of the British youth revolution during the 1960s, and only the hippest of the hip could call Carnaby Street their stomping ground. The many fashion shops selling Mod fashion items made Carnaby Street a household name all around the world, and its influences on London's fashion, shops and touristy industry can still be seen today.

But before Carnaby Street became a highly desirable place to "shop 'til you drop," it was actually once a very run-down area where victims of the plague were cared for during the 17th century. Its name is derived from a building which once stood on the eastern side of the street (Karnaby House) which was built by Richard Tyler in 1683.

By the 19th century, Carnaby Street started becoming a popular haunt among creative and bohemian types thanks to its convenient location to London's many theatres and galleries; but it wasn't until the arrival of John Stephen, a clothing entrepreneur from Glasgow, who helped transform Carnaby Street into the world-famous fashion area that it is still known as today.

Stephen (who has been coined as "The King Of Carnaby Street") was responsible for designing the iconic sharp suits for the 1960s Mods, and his clothes were worn by members of the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and many, many more. As a matter of fact, Carnaby Street became so intertwined with Britain's music culture during the 1960s, that several songs have been written about it over the years (such as Paul Weller's "Carnaby Street," The Kinks' 1966 hit "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion," and The Jam's "Carnaby Street").

Carnaby Street maintained its fashionable reputation throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and was a popular hangout for for popular punk bands like The Sex Pistols and The Jam.

Today, Carnaby Street still boasts a ton of unique and fashionable clothing stores that offer items you won't find anywhere else in the city, or possibly even the world. The entire Carnaby shopping area consists of Kingly Street (to the east), Marshal Street (to the west), and Newburgh Street (also coined as Newburgh Quarter), which boasts over 50 restaurants, pubs and bars.

Carnaby Street, christmas. By Tony Austin Carnaby Street, John Stephen plaque. By Nathan
Carnaby Street, Kingly Court Carnaby Street, shop. By Ruth Johnston Carnaby Street, sign arch. By Matt Gillman

Carnaby Street Highlights

Besides strolling up and down Carnaby Street and drinking in all the sights, most people venture to the area to browse around its countless shops, dine at a restaurant, or sip on a cocktail at a bar with friends.

As soon as you enter Carnaby Street you will be greeted with the world-famous iconic arch (which makes for a great photo-taking opportunity), but just behind that arch lies a ton of different shops selling everything from footware, vintage clothing, vinyls, cosmetics, and much, much more.

A must for any first-time visitor to Carnaby Street would be to stroll around Kingly Court, which boasts three floors of various concept stores which surround an open-air courtyard. In recent years, Kingly Court has become a mecca for foodies as it is home to a ton of different pop-up restaurants where chefs can test-run their unique recipes to hungry customers.

The Newburgh Quarter is also well worth the visit, as it boasts over 30 different independent stores and boutiques like Mark Powell, the Peckham Rye tie shop, Evisu, Levi's Vintage, Laurel Wreath by Fred Perry, and much much more. Nearby you will also see the Liberty department store (which was founded in 1875), and other famous fashion brands like Pepe Jeans, Diesel, Replay, Puma and Levi's, just to name a few.

And although very few of the original shops which were famous during the Swinging Sixties still remain today, Sherry's (on Broadwick Street) offers a ton of Mod fashion items, as well as Lambretta (at 29 Carnaby Street) and The Face (at 1 Marlborough Court).

If you feel like shopping around for some vinyl, you can find a ton of records at Deal Real or Phonica; and if you have some extra time then check out The Shakespeare's Head, which was once owned by distant relatives of William Shakespeare during the 1700s.

Special Tips

  • Although many of Carnaby Street's original houses were rebuilt over time, you can still see some of the original buildings at 17 Newburgh Street, 10-12 Ganton Street, and 7-8 Kingly Street.
  • Be sure to take a stroll down each and every small side alley as you walk up and down the street, as there are many high-end boutiques and fashion stores hidden from Carnaby Street's main walking area.
  • If you're a hardcore Beatles fan, 3 Savile Row (also known as the location of their historic rooftop performance) is only a six minute walk away.

Prices and Hours

Much like the rest of the area, restaurants, shops and bars along Carnaby Street tend to be quite expensive, but that's the price you'll have to pay to shop and dine in one of the most fashionable areas in London!

Of course each and every shop and/or restaurant has varying prices, but expect to pay quite a fair chunk of change if you want to buy a unique, one-of-a-kind item from an independent boutique. However, chances are you'll be able to find a good deal at any of the major, big-named chained outlets.

The majority of shops along Carnaby Street are open seven days a week from:

  • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday to Friday
  • 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays
  • 11 a.m. to 6 p.m on Sundays

Restaurants tend to be open later than the majority of shops along the street; however if you have a specific place in mind you may want to check their official website beforehand.