Best of British: Christmas shopping

BY Fiona Hicks

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Best of British: Christmas shopping

Tired of the same old high street? Plan a visit to these distinguished destinations instead.

Padstow Christmas Festival


Padstow Christmas Festival

Already possessing a reputation for being a culinary haven, Padstow is setting its sights on becoming a festive one too.

The Christmas Festival takes place over the first weekend in December, with more than 100 stalls selling a range of goods. Food, of course, features heavily, with especially delicious Cornish chutneys, pies and mulled cider on offer.

Festival organiser Tina Evans enthuses about the “world-famous chefs showing enthusiastic audiences what they do best”—this year, Rick Stein, Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw are all on stage.

If you can’t make it for the festival, it’s still worth taking a trip to this south-Cornwall town as part of your Christmas preparations. An eclectic mix of independent stores (such as Country Goodness) and more mainstream shops (Joules, for example) make gift buying a breeze.

Compared to bigger cities, it’s blissfully crowd-free too.


Burlington Arcade


Burlington arcade

This luxury retail destination in the heart of Mayfair is said to have paved the way for modern shopping centres.

Back in the early 19th century, Lord George Cavendish, who lived in Burlington House (now known as the Royal Academy), commissioned the architect Samuel Ware to design a covered promenade of shops.

The official reason was “for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females”, but rumour has it that the real reason was to stop passing ruffians from throwing oyster shells onto his property.

The arcade was soon bustling, and remains so to this day. With shops such as Chanel, Church’s and La Perla, this admittedly isn’t a destination for those with shallow pockets. But it’s a sumptuous setting, and Bill Nighy has even been known to switch on the Christmas lights.


Christmas market


Christmas market Bath

Running from November 26 until December 13, this market lines the streets around the beautiful Bath Abbey, and its twinkling fairylights, mulled wine and carols can’t help but get you in the festive mood.

It’s big—with 170 wooden “chalets”—but the fact that around 70 per cent of the stallholders are from the area lends the market a very local feel. “The important thing to remember,” says communications manager Caroline Hook, “is that it’s not a German Christmas market, it’s very much a British Christmas market.”

There are toys and trinkets galore, and it’s also an especially good place to stock up on your Christmas grub. In fact, visitors have been known to come armed with an empty hamper.


Craft in the bay


Craft in the bay

Looking for a truly unique present? Pop along to this delightful Victorian dockside building, which houses the Makers Guild in Wales. Less than a minute’s walk from Cardiff Bay railway station, this gallery-cum-shop features the works and craftsmanship of a huge range of artists.

Exhibitions change regularly, so there’s always something new. “We have the very best in contemporary Welsh craft,” says manager Simon Burgess. “It’s a changing showcase of jewellery, ceramics, textiles, metalwork and bespoke furniture.”

What’s more, there are events held in December (as well as throughout the year) to make the shopping experience that much more enjoyable. 

“Meet the Maker” afternoons also enable buyers to hear first-hand the artists’ ideas, inspirations and intentions for their creations—after all, everyone loves a gift with a story.


Style mile


Style mile Glasgow

This holds the curious accolade of being “the UK’s largest retail phalanx outside London”. More simply put, it’s a jolly good place to shop

This square in the centre of Scotland’s second city is home to more than 200 outlets, which cover pretty much all needs (and budgets).

The especially nice branches of The White Company, Cath Kidston and L’Occitane should help those frantic shoppers on Christmas Eve, while those with time to browse can enjoy passing an afternoon in Buchanan Galleries—home to the crème de la crème of high-street retail.

From mid-November onwards, George Square is also the site of a range of Christmas entertainment, including the famously huge tree.



The Shambles


The Shambles York
Image via Flickr

Cities don’t come much more quaint than York, and shopping on The Shambles makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Says Make it York’s Kate McCullen, “It’s crammed full of independent shops and is often named as one of the most picturesque streets in England.” 

Once you’ve taken photos of the cobbled streets and delightfully wonky buildings, dive in to Lily Shambles to select some jewellery gifts, pop into The Gift Gallery for some stocking fillers and refresh yourself with a cuppa at The Earl
Grey Tea Rooms. 


Read the full article in the December issue of Reader's Digest