Written by Ayesha Khan
Harrods is known the world over as the purveyor of all things for all people, everywhere. Encompassing seven floors across 1.8 hectares, over 15 million customers pass through its doors each year.
The iconic Knightsbridge store was first established in 1849 by Charles Henry Harrod, a grocer and tea merchant, in a single room with two assistants and a messenger boy. The tea counter soon made £200 per week, and today Harrods stocks 165 teas, including the most expensive on earth.
Operating from a smaller store in the current location since the early 1850s, Harrod started to acquire neighbouring shops and in 1861 sold the store to his son, Charles Digby Harrod, who further expanded both the store and the range of merchandise.
In 1883 a fire destroyed the store, but with the help of architect Charles William Stephens, Harrod rebuilt it as a far larger building as what you see today – a grand, palatial-style building, its frontage clad in terracotta tiles adorned with cherubs, swirling art nouveau windows, and topped with a baroque-style dome.
The store's popularity grew and shoppers flocked to Harrods in November 1898 when Britain's first moving staircase, pioneering for its time, was installed. Cognac and smelling salts were available for the faint-hearted!
Always catering for more unusual and exclusive requests, from the 1890s right up until the 1970s Harrods had a department selling exotic pets, which included the sale of a much-publicised lion cub, an alligator, and a baby elephant.
Since then, the pet department has become Pet Kingdom on the fourth floor, stocking boutique labels and luxury items for furry friends. Next door, The Pet Spa offers a dedicated retreat for pampered pets with services including behavioural counselling, full body massages and animal reiki as well as nutritional advice, personal training sessions and grooming.
Also on the fourth floor is the childrenswear department, and the Disney Café, which will keep little ones amused with table activities and screens around the room playing Disney and Disney/Pixar movies. When the restaurants centrepiece Big Ben chimes twice each hour, its time for a countdown to a classic Disney story!
Head down to the third floor where youll find furniture and home accessories as well as the technology department, featuring the latest gadgets and products from highly regarded brands including Bang & Olufsen, Loewe, Porsche Design, and Apple.
This floor is also where the kids will find Toy Kingdom, a multi-sensory department with an enchanted forest, intergalactic science lab, curious sweet emporium, and toy grand canyon. In the Reading Room they can choose from the rotunda of books, climb into one of the special cubby holes to hear famous voices reading extracts, have fun with electronic gaming pods, and explore the world of Harry Potter.
As well as kitchenware, tableware, bed and bath, and home decoration, the second floor is home to high-end stationery, books, and luxury luggage. This is also the place to head for gifts. The Gift Bureau has personal consultants who will help compile a list that reflects your tastes and lifestyle.
While you're on this floor, the In-Q Café celebrates the tastes of Qatar: try a traditional Arabic coffee or tea and traditional patisseries.
Fashionistas shouldn't skip the first floor – its dedicated to womenswear and women's shoes, with every luxury brand you can think of including, of course, a Christian Louboutin Boutique.
The ground floor hosts arguably the most famous department –the Food Halls. Featuring the world-famous Doulton tile decoration designed by artist William Neatby in 1902, Harrods Food Halls are Grade II-listed. Comprising seven specialist departments in five rooms, a trip through the Food Halls offers a plethora of tantalising food and drink choices. Vast as they are, the Food Halls also share a floor with fine jewellery and watches, beauty, fashion accessories, and menswear.
More fashion accessories and menswear can be found on the lower ground floor, as well as The Refinery: a grooming emporium for men offering barbering, skincare and spa treatments.
Back up on the fifth floor at the top of the store, tucked away from the sports fashion department and Mens Fashion Lab, is Urban Retreat, where you can step straight from the store into a sanctuary; and the decadent Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie, a one-of-a-kind, luxurious experience where consultants will help you find your signature scent.
Restaurants, bars, and cafés are located on every floor and, much more than a department store, Harrods' other services include concierge, theatre ticket bureau, Harrods Bank, and Harrods Gold Bullion.
Qatar Airways at Harrods
Harrods welcomed Qatar Airways' flagship high street ticket office to its lower ground floor in July this year. This new central London location offers Qatar Airways customers a personalised booking service to visit over 130 destinations across six continents. "London is one of our most important gateways," said Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker. "We opened our ticket office in central London at Harrods as it is a place that not only reflects the high level of service we offer, but is where our most discerning customers can be found. Harrods customers can now experience our unrivalled 5-star service in-store and on board. Harrods is an iconic institution in London, and one commonality in this partnership is that Harrods and Qatar Airways are all about the customer experience – from start to finish."
A lion called Christian
In 1969, Australians John Rendall and Anthony 'Ace' Bourke came across a lion cub in the exotic animals sections of Harrods. They bought the cub, named him Christian and took him home to their Chelsea flat above a furniture shop. The three bonded and Christian ate in fine London restaurants, played soccer in a church backyard and spent his days lounging in the furniture shop. But after a year he had grown to epic proportions and the two friends wanted him to return to his natural habitat.
A chance encounter with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of Born Free, led to a new life for Christian, and he spent four months in a specially built enclosure in their garden before being released into his rightful home in Kenya with the help of renowned wildlife conservationist George Adamson. Almost a year later in 1971, John and Ace returned to Kora in Kenya to meet their old friend and, more than 30 years after the event, the edited footage of the heart-warming reunion became a worldwide sensation on YouTube.
Distance: 5,219 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Frequency: 6 flights a day