From the mid-century modern movement that spawned public architecture such as the Barbican and Southbank Centres, to the youthquakes of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies that filled our wardrobes with wonderfully designed clothes and our Ercol sideboards with vinyl records.
It's also home to lovingly preserved Soho cafes and East End pubs. Recent years have seen us celebrating our vintage heritage like never before and from being something that was pretty underground a few decades ago, London's vintage clothes and furniture shops and coffee bars are now flourishing.
There has never been a better time to explore the world's most creative city. Whether you want to find a frock like your nan wore, take afternoon tea, dance to timeless Northern Soul or furnish your home with Formica, here are some of my favourite vintage/retro hotspots:
CAMDEN MARKET, NW1
Camden Market has a special place in my affections. It was here more than 30 years ago that my wife Gerardine and I emptied on to a tiny stall our wardrobes of second-hand clothes, Fifties printed frocks and Sixties canvas pumps, spawning our career in vintage design and fashion. Head to the Stables Market area where the vintage sellers are clustered.
For a great selection of classic clothes (I spotted an Yves St Laurent Rive Gauche coat recently) try Vintage Planet (Unit D23) or Planet Bazaar (Arch 68) for a pop art collectible or, for a real swinging Sixties experience, a hanging chair.
Berwick Street is one of Soho's liveliest, grungiest stretches, preserving an older and untidier Soho, and is famous for its music shops. Sister Ray (nos 34-35), Reckless (no 30) and Music & Video Exchange (no 95) pursue the same eclectic principles and browsing through their racks it's impossible to guess what aural treasures you'll find.
While in the area grab a coffee at Bar Italia (22 Frith St), Soho's, if not the capital's, most famous classic caf©.
It's a rare surviving example of the coffee shops that sprang up in London after the Second World War. Perch on a stool at the Formica bar to enjoy your espresso and you're sure to witness a few of its colourful and devoted clientele.
CHARING CROSS ROAD, WC2
Though many of the smaller bookshops have disappeared, Charing Cross Road retains its special feel. Quinto, Henry Pordes and Any Amount Of Books are classic second-hand bookshops all with multiple rambling floors and a stock mixing immortal classics with forgotten ephemera.
Drift down to Cecil Court, a pedestrianised street where David Drummond is crammed with treasures documenting pop culture and the performing arts while Marchpane sells collectible children's books.
A short walk away in Covent Garden is Blackout II (51 Endell St) where the basement feels like a walk-in dressing room shared by a clutch of movie stars, with Doris Day two-piece skirt suits and some gorgeous Biba and Dior dresses.
Pop Boutique (6 Monmouth St), with its sign in the window declaring "Don't follow fashion buy something already out-ofdate!", is great for vintage basics such as Breton tops and trenches.
BRICK LANE, E1
Brick Lane is a hive of activity thanks to its innumerable shops and curry houses but on Sundays it's especially vibrant. Worth a browse are The Tea Rooms (Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 10am-5pm), a charming indoor warren of stalls selling good quality antiques, homeware, records and books.
The Sunday UpMarket (Sun 10am-5pm) sells affordable secondhand clothes, vinyl and quirky jewellery while the first-rate Vintage Emporium (14 Bacon St) is a treasure trove of women's fashions from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties with a nostalgic tea room, complete with atmospheric soundtrack.
Further up in the former Dolphin pub, Labour And Wait (85 Redchurch St) is a contemporary take on an old-fashioned hardware store selling beautiful enamelware and storage jars.
GOLBORNE ROAD, W10
At the top end of Portobello, Golborne Road opens up with a considerable fanfare: broad and straight with the Grade II-listed Seventies' Trellick Tower dominating the scene. It feels like an even stronger expression of the vintage spirit with myriad shops dedicated to the weird and antiquated, the beautiful and abandoned.
Ollie & Bow (no.69) is stuffed with tattered furniture and architectural oddments, while at Rellik (no.8) you might need to ring the bell, giving you an instant sign of the exclusive nature of this well-established destination for high-end fashion.
On Friday and Saturday a fascination with everything old and battered spills out on to the streets with sellers lining the pavements with everything from bona fide vintage furniture to charming old toasters.
A wonderfully eclectic street, unknown by many, Lower Marsh is home to two superb vintage stores. Radio Days (no.87) is a one-stop shop for vintage magazines, glassware or Bakelite phones as well as being accessory heaven, while What the Butler Wore (no.131) serves up scooter dresses, sharp-collared paisley shirts and mohair cardigans, all in saturated cherry reds, acid greens and egg-yolk yellows. Most stock skews toward the tailored-mod end of the 1960s and designer pieces crop up frequently. A back room holds bargain rails of dresses and tops (131 Lower Marsh SE1, 020-7261 1353, whatthebutlerwore.co.uk)
Next door ScooterCaff¨ (no 132) is the spiritual heir to the beatnik hangout, themed coffee bars that used to line Soho and Piccadilly in the Fifties and Sixties. All this a stone's throw from the most architecturally stimulating area of London, the wonderful Royal Festival Hall and Southbank Centre.
The Vintage Showroom, Covent Garden
The buyers at The Vintage Showroom not only understand that men also love vintage classic clothing, but also have their noses close enough to the ground to sniff great pieces out. This is, hands down, the best source of vintage menswear in central London, if not all of London. This is vintage for men who do not want to dress up – either in a formal and mannered style or to show allegiance to a subcultural tribe – but who want to dress well. The Showroom was originally exactly that, an industry-only showroom full of archive clothing and research pieces, that designers would visit for inspiration. So many people wanted to buy these clothes that a shop was inevitable.
14 Earlham Street, WC2, 020-7836 3964, thevintageshowroom.com
Wayne Hemingway is Consultant Editor for The Rough Guide To Vintage London (Rough Guides), published on May 1, £9.99, and is also founder of the awardwinning Vintage Festival (vintage festival.co.uk).