With only four weeks to go until Christmas, have you started your gift and food shopping yet? You may be groaning at the prospect, but why not turn the annual ordeal into a fun and exciting mini break to somewhere different?
Here we share some of our favourite Christmas markets and other festive shopping hot spots.
Where will you go?
You name it; you can buy it in New York. Renowned for its sheer breadth and depth of shops it’s easy to be totally overwhelmed by what’s on offer in the city, so research online before you go and plan your shopping visit.
Clothing remains excellent value, but you can buy all sorts of weird and unusual gifts and curios, wade through vintage shops for everything from home ware to antiques, and, if you are into making your own gifts, you’ll find areas of the city dedicated to things such as haberdashery and stationery.
Of course, there are also big name department stores such as Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, chic designer stores such as Barneys, and outlets of all the leading fashion houses such as Chanel.
If you head to Soho and the Canal Street area you’ll find urban brands and thrift stores side by side, ideal for bargain hunting. And Century 21 remains a must-do store for those looking for labels at discounted rates.
Toys are the preserve of FAO Schwarz, at the beginning of Central Park, and Toys R Us on Broadway, which is complete with an inhouse Ferris wheel.
If you want gifts for the home, then head to Fishs Eddy, DwellStudio, Home Goods or A&G Merch.
And, while it’s not all about the shopping, there is plenty to get you in the festive mood from the Thanksgiving parades in late November through to the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and ice rink, or the Rockettes performing their seasonal spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
Alternative shopping destinations in North America are Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia.
The Swedish capital drips with style – here, shopping is all about design and class.
The central shopping area of Stockholm is east of the main railway station around Sergels Torg. Here you’ll find the big department stores such as Ahlens City, NK and PUB, as well as some of the biggest outlets of H&M, the Swedish-owned fashion chain you’ll find everywhere.
Acne has its flagship clothing store in the area and there are markets to explore around the city centre.
South of the city centre is the cool and trendy Sodermalm district. It’s full of Swedish designer boutiques such as Tjallamalla, well known fashion brands such as Weekday, stores selling home wares and interior decorations, and vintage shops such as Sivletto. It’s also a great area for people watching over a coffee and cinnamon bun.
In late November, the old heart of the city, Gamla Stan, hosts a Christmas market with traditional Swedish gifts and decorations, and you’ll find entertainment around Kungstradgarden, including ice skating.
A great alternative to Stockholm is Copenhagen, with its fantastic festive decorated Tivoli Gardens and upmarket design stores such as Illums Bolighus, Hay Cph and Designer Zoo.
Keep your spending within the UK and hit the streets in the nation’s capital.
London has a huge range of areas and shops to explore, so getting organised will help you make the most of your visit. It’s also well worth planning some entertainment, perhaps with a trip to see a musical or some dining out.
And, of course, don’t miss the Christmas lights on Regent Street, slap bang in the centre of London.
The West End is home to all the famous names, department stores, designers and home wares. From Aquascutum to Zara, you’ll find them all here – including icons such as Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Browns and Heals.
Nearby Covent Garden is packed with little shops and craft stalls, or you could head to Westfield in Stratford or Shepherd’s Bush if you want indoor shopping centres packed with well known brands.
However, it’s worth exploring the side streets of London to find smaller, more unususal stores for everything from the perfect umbrella from James Smith & Sons, on New Oxford Street, to unusual home wares and interior decoration at Darkroom on Conduit Street.
You’ll also find unusual recycled items at the Dog & Wardrobe.
More up-and-coming areas such as Hoxton and Shoreditch have loads of individual one-off outlets selling all manner of goods.
And don’t forget the various markets around the city such as the antiques and gifts market in Greenwich, Camden Lock Market for clothing and gifts, Borough Market for food lovers, and Portobello Road where you’ll find loads of vintage items.
Great UK alternatives are Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham for the big cities and Bath, Chester and York for more shopping in beautiful surroundings.
There are plenty more places you could combine with a pre-Christmas break to find some distinctive gifts.
Marrakech in Morocco is certainly exotic with its medina and bazaars, and Dubai is excellent for big brands and gold souks.
Germany hosts a huge number of Christmas markets from Berlin to Munich, with some of the most traditional being those in Nuremberg and Dresden. Stalls sell food, gifts, and amazing decorations.
You can also find excellent markets in Vienna, Prague, Brussels and Budapest.
Paris is also home to food shops such as Fauchon and Hediard and is chock-full of department stores for gift ideas. It is also excellent for fashion, as is Milan, with major names and out-of-city outlets selling items at heavily discounted rates.
Elsewhere in France, Lyons, Strasbourg and Lille are foodie heaven and you can also stock up on wines while you’re there – going by car and ferry will help you to get your shopping home at an affordable rate.
Finally, make sure you follow our tips and advice on how to plan and book your trip. A little bit of homework will make a huge difference.