With Christmas on its way, I’d like to combine a city break with a shopping spree! Where are the best cities to shop until you drop but also have a little mini-holiday too?
I’ve been on a couple of breaks that I can admit now, were really all about shopping. When the dollar was weak against the pound back in 2007, I went on a Christmas shopping splurge in New York.
I took an empty suitcase and came back with it full. Although the dollar is stronger now, at around $1.5 to the pound, you can still get some great value on your Christmas shopping.
For kids and teenagers it’s easy to get presents in the US, with brands like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle offering branded t-shirts, tracksuits and accessories. They are all over town, including large shops on Broadway, as well as dotted throughout the city’s malls – great if it’s cold outside. Just make sure you get a good idea of what they like before wasting your money.
For women, I’d recommend going to Anthropolgie. It’s a fashion and homeware shop, and although it’s now come to London, it’s much cheaper in the US. You can buy candles, linen, ceramics, accessories, blankets and all sorts of girlie treasures in there, and there are stores on West Broadway, Fifth Avenue ad the Rockefeller Centre.
For the foodie in your life, head to Dean and Deluca, the deli (also great for a speedy lunch or a coffee and a cake between shops). There are outlets on Broadway, Madison Avenue and West 56th Street. The oils and vinegars, chocolates and kitchenware are all wonderful, or you can buy a souvenir tote bag or apron.
If you want to score a few brownie points with a present that’s a bit more unique, I’d recommend either browsing around Soho and the Lower East Side or heading to one of New York’s markets. The Brookyn Flea Market is at two different locations on Saturdays and Sundays and even has its own website – . There are over a hundred stalls at both with tons of quirky knick-knacks and vintage finds for the hard-to-buy-for friend or relative.
Also try these gems – Aedes de Venustas, a fragrance boutique in the West Village where perfume bottles start from £66, but are worth the extra expense if only for the gorgeous gift wrapping. Or try one of the MoMA Design Stores (www.momastore.org) which are dotted around town and sell unusual gifts and souvenirs including posters, toys, mugs, glassware, stationery and jewellery.
If you want somewhere affordable to stay, so you can save your pennies for the shops, try The Jane, a fashionable hotel in the West Village where the rooms are decorated like retro railway carriages. The cheaper rooms are small and the bathrooms are shared, but it’s spotless, fashionable, and great fun, from £62 a night.
If you can’t face the New York chill, somewhere a little more mild (and exotic), which offers countless shopping opportunities, is Marrakesh. I went a few years ago to buy a coffee table, and miraculously, found one. It’s inset with an original Berber door (or so I was told) and is now covered with glass in pride of place in my living room.
If you decide to buy something big like that, which won’t fit in your suitcase, then you will need to ship it. This takes time and is expensive. In my case, the table cost around £200 and shipping added the same amount again. I had to hand over the full amount and walk away with a hand-written receipt and a vain hope it would arrive a few weeks later. It did – but it felt like a leap of faith. Most people have similarly positive experiences with shipping, give or take the odd broken lantern or two, but it’s wise to be careful before handing over your money.
My advice would be to go with your instincts and not buy and ship with a retailer unless they have an established shop, contact details that work (check the website and phone number) and even better, a recommendation from your guide, hotelier or guidebook.
So – where to go shopping? Most shoppers head to the medina and the souks off the main square, Jeema Al Fna. You’ll be spoilt for choice if you want lanterns, jewellery, scarves, coloured glassware, leather belts and bags, fezzes, crockery and tagine pots. It’s a colourful, full-on, and at times, overwhelming experience, and you’ll need to have your bartering head on (start at under half the quote price and finish up at around half to two thirds of the original price).
As for recommendations, if you’re in town on a Thursday head to the market at Bab el Khemis (Thursday Gate) for a smorgasbord of antiques, knick-knacks and plenty of rubbish inbetween.
As for some more specific recommendations, get a guide to take you to Mustapha Blaoui at 142-144 rue Bab Doukkala, for lanterns, rugs, furniture and crockery. Also try La Tannerie in Souk El Kebir for good quality handbags and Beldi in Bab Fteuh for silk trousers.
As for where to stay, I love Riad L’Orangeraie in the medina. It costs from £112 a night and has a wonderful roof terrace where you can book a private supper and where you’ll have breakfast every morning. The rooms are elegantly decorated with antique and modern Moroccan furniture and art, and the central courtyard is a peaceful escape from the frenetic streets outside.
If that’s not festive enough, try a Christmas market. There are lots to choose from around Europe throughout December, but one of my favourites, and the most famous, is in Cologne. In fact, it’s not just one market, but four around the city. Am Dom is the main affair in the square in front of Cologne’s famous cathedral, so you can cross off a cultural sight as well as doing your Christmas shopping.
There are over 100 stalls, many of them offering you food and drink delights to keep you going through the retail challenge. Be sure to try warm apple juice, pretzels, sausages, star-shaped spice biscuits and hot wine.
As for gifts, you’ll find candles, ceramics, handmade arts and crafts, wooden toys, gingerbread and sheepskin. This year the markets are on from November 22 to December 23 and during that time there will be live bands, outdoor ice skating, and even a chance to dip a wafer in the chocolate fountain at the city’s wonderful Chocolate Museum.
If you’re looking for somewhere unusual to stay I’d recommend Hotel im Wasserturm, a modern hotel occupying an 11-storey brick water tower in central Cologne. The luxurious Deco-style, but contemporary interiors make for sophisticated surroundings and there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant on the top floor with great views of the city – particularly magical during the Christmas market season. Rooms cost from around £128, although you’ll need to book early to bag a rate that low.
Enjoy your shopping – don’t forget to go with plenty of space in your suitcase, check for any nasty foreign transaction charges on your credit and debit cards (and apply for one with a better rate before setting off, or go cash-only but keep it under lock and key in your hotel room), and remember that gifts bought abroad can’t be taken back – so think carefully before you make a rash purchase. Good luck!
Answer by Ginny Light – TimesOnline travel editor
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