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Time to Explore: Carnaby Street

Time to Explore: Carnaby Street

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Carnaby Street is colourful, pedestrianised, and perfect for selfies. It’s also home to some of the best quirky boutiques, pubs and restaurants in London. But it wasn’t always that way.

The history of Carnaby Street is full of surprises. 

It was the birthplace of William Blake, a plague pit in the 1500s and 1600s, and home to some of Shakespeare’s relatives (in fact, they ran a pub on the street). 

And that’s all before Carnaby Street became an icon of the swinging ’60s, when it was a favourite haunt of mods and celebrities alike. If you visited the one of the many taylors on Carnaby Street in the mid-60s you might have rubbed shoulders with Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Kinks, or maybe Elizabeth Taylor.

Christmas Lights Carnaby Street
Carnaby at Christmas

Basically, Carnaby Street manages to sum up much of the story of London in its 200 metres. Which raises the question, where should you go on Carnaby street?

This guide to Carnaby Street has got you covered. Read on for the best pubs, restaurants, shops, bars, and more on Carnaby Street.

 

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Cool Things to do on Carnaby Street

Sophie Tea

This bright-pink building is hard to miss amongst the Carnaby Street shops. Fittingly, it’s a great spot to take a picture for Instagram. That’s probably by design: Sophie Tea is a self-taught artist who got her big break on the app and is now in demand worldwide, with studios in London and Sydney. 

In the Sophie Tea shop you’ll find a nudie selfie booth, a compliments mirror, and a free vending machine (?!) amongst other delights. It’s all about empowering women and making art accessible, which is very Carnaby Street.

Wander the Newburgh Quarter

The Newburgh Quarter just off Carnaby Street is a cute little area of cobbled streets and historic buildings. Originally built as houses way back in the 18th Century, Newburgh Street has been a shopping spot since the early 1900s. 

Of course, retailers have changed over the last 120 years. Just like most Carnaby Street shops, stores in the Newburgh Quarter tend towards quirky fashion with brands like The Great Frog, and modern luxury at Skin Laundry (where you can get a laser facial) and Muhle (the place to go for a wet shave). 

You don’t need to be looking for a beauty treatment or new outfit to visit the Newburgh Quarter, though. It’s a great place to just stroll around, taking in the atmosphere of Carnaby. 

Check out the Street Art

Carnaby Street and the surrounding area is home to a ton of street art. 

Whether you’re an avowed art lover, or just want some great instagram opportunities, you should check out the Giant Plug on Ganton Street (it lights up at night), Julian Opie’s ‘Walking portrait’, Shaida Walking, which is displayed at the top of Broadwick Street, and the Spirit of Soho mural and clock. Time your visit to that last on carefully; on the hour, opera star Teresa Cornelys winks at her lover, Casanova.  

Carnaby street itself also features several arches, as well as a suspended, shimmering Union Jack, so remember to look up as you enjoy your walk down the pedestrianised street. 

Must-Visit Carnaby Street Shops 

Dr Martens

Dr Martens on Carnaby Street is a must-visit if you want a pure London street-style experience. Carnaby Street has always been a fashion hotspot. In the 70s it was a favourite hangout of mods, and in the ’70s it became a stomping ground for Skinheads. Both subcultures loved Doctor Martens. 

Somehow, these boots, once built for factory work, are still cool. You’ll see chunky Doc Marten sandals with ankle socks all over the place in London, as well as their classic boots and cute lace up shoes. 

Earthly Matters

Since the 1960s, Carnaby Street has been at the forefront of new trends. Earthly Matters (just round the corner on Newburgh Street) brings a new movement to the area. It’s the first zero waste refill shop in the neighbourhood!

Okay, it’s not as glamorous as a tailor cutting suits for London’s first mods, but it’s interesting to see somewhere as iconic and historical as Carnaby Street moving into an age of sustainability. And it makes sense that it’s doing so. After all, it was home to pioneering vegetarian restaurant, Cranks, way back in the ’60s.

At Earthly Matters you can stock up on organic produce and essentials, either with your own container or a glass jar bought in-store. 

Liberty London

Liberty is an iconic department store. Particularly beloved for its wild floral fabrics, Liberty London opened in 1852 and has been going strong since. In fact, it has long been a central hub for London’s fashion scene – which makes sense, given that it’s so close to Carnaby Street. 

The mock-Tudor building that houses Liberty is a sight in itself

Carnaby Street Restaurants

Flat Iron London

Flat Iron Soho is part of a small chain of London steak restaurants. That might sound pretty run of the mill, but Charlie Carroll, Flat Iron’s founder, spent months researching butchery and cuts of meat before he opened the first branch in 2012.

This resulted in Flat Iron serving not only the best restaurant steaks possible, but also a full menu that is innovative whilst maintaining food traditions, and affordable while feeling decadent. Everything, from the flat iron steak to roast cauliflower with parsley, mint, and lemon is cooked with incredible attention to detail. 

If you haven’t tried Flat Iron, their King Street location is a great place to start. 

Senor Ceviche

This Carnaby restaurant brings the flavours of Peru to London. Set up after a long series of pop ups and supper clubs around the capital, Senor Ceviche is now located in Kingly Court, just off Carnaby Street.

The menu includes ceviche, obviously, in several forms, along with Peruvian BBQ ranging from Super Pollo to papaya marinated flat iron steak, to asparagus and sweet potatoes. And all that can be washed down with pisco cocktails. It’s like walking straight out of Soho and into Lima.

Myung Ga

This Korean restaurant is an institution. 

It has been in the same spot, on Beak Street about a five-minute walk from Carnaby Street, for an amazing thirty years. Myung Ga used to just serve Koreans living in London, but these days draws a much wider crowd, all looking for authentic, affordable Korean dishes that go a little beyond kimchi and bulgogi. Don’t worry though, both are represented!

You can get a set lunch including a main like bibimbap, an ox tail or tofu stew, or Korean BBQ, along with a soup and side for £12. Perfect to fuel an afternoon shopping on Carnaby Street. 

The Best Carnaby Street Bars 

Disrepute 

Opened in 2016, the Carnaby Street bar Disrepute brings the exclusivity of an out of hours drinking club back to the street it all started on. 

Well, it’s on King’s Court, but close enough!

Applying for membership might sounds daunting, but it’s a process of moments (and you can do it online). Just make sure you have a code word in mind, as you’ll be asked to provide one for yourself.

Cocktails are innovative and delicious – and some (like the Holy Smoke, a mescal-based delight) come in a smoke-filled bell jar! The decor is very roaring 20s, so wear appropriate flapper attire. 

Cahoots

Cahoots is a Carnaby bar to write home about. Seriously, it’s in an old tube station!

This is another King’s Court offering playing on the speakeasy, but honestly, it doesn’t get old. The bar is spread across the underground station itself, the ticket hall, and the upscale control room. 

In normal times, Cahoots offers loads of 1940s themed events, and during the COVID lockdown they also started selling cocktail ration kits. Now things are somewhat back to normal, though, you can head to Kingly Court Station (aka Cahoots) to sample a Cafe de Paris, a St-Germain Blitz Spritzer, or a Top Dog. 

For context, that last one is  Copper Dog Scotch whisky, clarified muscovado yoghurt, liquorice bitters, topped with sparkling apple juice. Pretty exciting stuff!

Brilliant Pubs on Carnaby Street

Shakespeare’s Head

Located on the corner of Great Marlborough Street and Carnaby Street, this London pub pays homage to the Bard with a head and shoulders statue of the great man staring extremely creepily out of a ‘window’ on its side. 

Built in the 1700s, this Greene King pub is bursting with traditional features, and also with stories. This is the pub that Will’s relatives apparently owned way back when, although the actual provenance of that tale is unknown (and it sounds like great marketing to us). 

The Clachan

The Clachan isn’t on Carnaby Street. This pub is instead located seconds away on King Street, just off Carnaby’s main drag. 

Famous for being the local for central-London firemen and coppers for many years, this 1898-built pub retains plenty of original carvings, fireplaces and ironwork. 

Like most Nicholson’s pubs, they serve really decent meat-and-two-veg style food, as well as a wide selection of wines, beers and spirits.

Must-Try Cafes on Carnaby Street 

Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

Yeah, the name of this espresso bar is… a lot. But don’t let that put you off. 

The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs makes amazing coffee in a chic, industrial-inspired space in Lowndes Court just off Carnaby Street. They source amazing single-origin coffees, and are passionate about making the best cups of the stuff possible. Definitely one to hit if you need a pick-me-up while exploring Carnaby Street. 

Soho Grind

It was hard to work out whether to put Soho Grind under bars or Carnaby Street coffee shops. In the end, coffee won out, but mostly just because the coffee shop is on top of the bar.

Soho Grind is an espresso bar with a basement cocktail bar, so you can grab a coffee or a fresh cold-pressed juice before work, a quick grilled cheese for lunch, and a pink negroni (the pink is peach) after work on a Friday. The all in one experience!

Crumbs & Doilies

This Kingly Court favourite, located seconds from Carnaby Street, is more a full-on cake shop than just a cafe. But how could that be anything but a good thing?

They serve incredible New York style cookies in a whole range of flavours (they differ day to day as they’re fresh baked), as well as treats like Biscoff cake and the ever-popular unicorn cake. 

All their baking can be enjoyed in-store (we recommend sitting at the window with a coffee), bought to take away, and even shipped throughout the UK.

Practical Tips for Visiting Carnaby Street 

First off, you’ll probably notice that not all of these things to do, places to see, and places to eat and drink are on Carnaby Street. That’s because the street itself is pretty tiny, and the larger area it is in the middle of on the edge of Soho is often referred to as ‘Carnaby’ as a whole. 

Give yourself permission to explore all of it – there’s no way The Beatles stuck strictly to Carnaby Street. 

How to Get to Carnaby Street 

Tottenham Court Road station, Oxford Street station, and Piccadilly Circus are all 5-10 minutes from Carnaby Street. 

If you’re getting an overground, Charing Cross and Euston are 15 and 20 minutes away respectively. 

By bus, hop on any of the many, many London buses that are heading to Oxford Street or Tottenham Court Road and you’ll alight close to Carnaby. 

Carnaby Street: Map

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