Off the beaten track: The M&C guide to Christmas shopping
The thought of Christmas shopping often induces nightmarish visions of never-ending queues and angry mobs of disgruntled customers. Not for the faint-hearted, many of us put off hitting the shops altogether come December and opt for online retailers instead. But where's the magic in scrolling down page after page of products online? There's something to be said for perusing the shops under twinkling lights at this time of year - it's just the Oxford Streets and Bullrings we want to avoid if we're not in the mood to be trampled mid-browse. It's good news, then, that there are plenty of places just a little way off the beaten track that make for great Christmas shopping destinations. Instead paving the way for a hellish afternoon of blood, sweat and tears, the below will provide an experience that is positively angelic instead.
The hidden markets of London
The hidden markets of London
London is brimming with markets, all of which make for great shopping away from overdone tourist traps. Some of our favourites include Alfie's Antique Market, which sells fabulous antique and vintage clothing - perfect for your fashionista friend for whom the high-street shops just will not do. For the foodie relative that goes mad for locally sourced, delicious ingredients, there's Borough Market, which prides itself on the quality and provenance of its produce. And then there are markets like the ones on Brick Lane and Broadway, which sell a complete mishmash of fantastically eclectic goods, from second-hand furniture to shoes to arts and crafts. But if you're looking for a one-stop shop, Greenwich Market might be your best bet due to the sheer size of it and the diversity of what's on sale. If you do decide to visit the capital city's markets this December, be sure to check out Millennium & Copthorne's 5 and 4 star London hotels for an extra special break.
The shambles of York
Shambles, or 'The Shambles' as it's referred to by locals, is a cobbled street in York that is steeped in as much charm as it is history. Lined with lovely little cafes and gorgeous independent shops, it's the perfect place to beat the monotony of shopping centres and enjoy your Christmas browsing in a picturesque setting instead. In fact, the street is one of the most photographed in England, with its original wooden beams and cosy curiosity shops making for quite the view. And there's no doubt that it will look even more spectacular under the shining lights of Christmas.
The cobbled streets of Edinburgh
Although Edinburgh is home to most of the big names on the high street, and offers everything and more when it comes to hitting the mainstream shops, there's a lot to be discovered off the beaten track too. With independent boutiques, vintage treasure-troves and international designer names lining the cobbled streets of the Scottish capital in abundance, it's just a matter of figuring out where they are. To do so, try hitting less obvious areas such as the West End, the Grassmarket and Thistle and Rose Street.
Make a trip of it: Europe on your doorstep
Who said you had to do your Christmas shopping here in the UK? With so many destinations in Europe only a cheap flight away, there's no reason you can't take the notion of 'going off the beaten track' up to the next level. Why not hop on a plane to Prague, where you'll be immersed in markets selling luxurious local leather and crystal products, as well as their huge and festive annual Christmas markets? Or Vienna, where the Christmas market tradition actually dates all the way back to the 13th century, and where you'll find beautiful wooden houses, woollen clothing, hand-blown glass, silverware and ceramics. Then of course there is Rome, which lights up something spectacular at this time of year. The Christmas market at the Piazza Navona is not to be missed, and the Grand Hotel Palace could offer the perfect place to stay, with its Art Deco architecture and handy location.
With magic to be found in the most unlikely places, Christmas shopping needn't be a chore when you know where to look. So if you're doing a last minute dash but can't face the same old stores of years-gone-by, head to one of the hidden gems above and give your Christmas spirit a new lease of life.