Whether you’re looking for late-night shopping to tackle that Christmas list or atmospheric Christmas markets for picking up the last few stocking fillers, choose your shopping spot wisely this festive season.
Christmas shopping is hardly ever straightforward – one moment you’re browsing the novelty socks for your secret santa, the next, you’re hunting down that one out-of-stock gift you wish you’d bought weeks ago.
The best shopping areas offer a mix of trendy boutiques, sprawling malls and vibrant high streets, meaning you can tick off even the most eclectic shopping list all in one trip.
We’ve discovered a number of towns and cities that will meet your expectations. Which? members have rated* the UK’s towns and cities for their shopping facilities, along with food and drink offerings and value for money.
Some cities that scored highly for their shopping scene will be no surprise, but a few major retail hotspots such as London weren’t awarded the full five stars. Below, we’ve outlined the best-rated cities for shopping, as well as those with festive fun taking place this December.
Best large cities for shopping in the UK
Christmas shopping in Liverpool
A large number of Liverpool’s shops are compacted into the Liverpool ONE open-air centre (see Christmas opening hours) – so it’s a time-efficient way to shop for those Christmas gifts.
Away from the main shopping hub, head for Bold Street. On its cobbles you’ll find vintage pieces in Cow as well as at Pop Boutique. You can also gain inspiration for gift ideas from an eclectic array of stores for those family members who prefer something more unique to unwrap.
You could finish up in St John’s Gardens, where this year’s Christmas market is being held until 8pm on 23 December. It’s another great place to find presents, from personalised festive decorations to jewellery. When you’re all shopped out there are food stalls and bars aplenty to enjoy nearby.
Christmas shopping in Glasgow
Most of Glasgow’s shops are situated on the ‘style mile’. In the Buchanan Galleries you’ll find more than 80 stores from John Lewis to Levi’s – useful for ticking off Christmas list requests.
Head to the West End for streets of independents such as Voltaire & Rousseau Booksellers and Caledonia Books. Both stock second-hand and antiquarian books – perfect if you’re shopping for a literary special someone.
Glasgow was also awarded five stars for food in our UK cities survey, so it shouldn’t be tricky to find a decent lunch or dinner spot when the time comes.
Alternatively, ramp up the festive mood and make your way to St Enoch Square where you’ll find over 50 chalets in the city’s Christmas village. You can buy gifts from stalls selling everything from Scottish hats, scarves and gloves, to handmade Christmas decorations, right up until 10pm on 23 December.
Christmas shopping in Cardiff
For those located in Wales, St David’s shopping centre in Cardiff should have you covered, particularly if you’re treating your family to clothing, accessories or jewellery. The mall is a one-stop area in Cardiff for high street fashion. You’ll find brands from H&M and Hollister to Reiss and River Island (see how well they performed in our clothing shop survey results). See St David’s Christmas opening hours.
For a more characterful spree, head to the Victorian and Edwardian arcades just a five-minute walk away. The old architecture adds to the charm and the area is filled with boutiques.
Round off your trip with a visit to the Christmas market located across St John Street, Working Street, Trinity Street and the Hayes. It is open until 6pm on 23 December and you’ll find some locally produced gift options from artisan honey to ceramic jewellery and hand-painted vases.
Best medium-sized cities for shopping in the UK
Christmas shopping in Chester
Chester no doubt scored its four out of five stars for shopping due to the unique retail experience it offers. Along with modern shopping centres, Chester is also home to marketplace The Rows.
Dating back to medieval times, The Rows consists of two tiers of timber-framed buildings joined by galleried walkways, with shops at street level as well as on the first floor. Hundreds of years ago you’d find people shopping at The Rows, too, but in search of fruit and vegetables, shoemakers and ironmongers’ wares. Nowadays you’ll find clothing stores, jewellers and art galleries – plenty of choice for Christmas gifts. In December, the street outside is illuminated with Christmas lights, so it’ll feel festive as you mosey from shop to shop.
To get properly into the spirit of the season, round off your spree at Chester’s Christmas market located in Town Hall Square. Traders are selling everything from craft beer to candles until 6.30pm on 22 December.
Christmas shopping in Chichester
Chichester might provide you with more space than other cities while you shop for gifts this December. It scored five out of five stars for lack of crowds in our survey. Still, most cities get busy in the build up to Christmas, so don’t count on swathes of space.
Although Chichester isn’t exactly famous for its shopping scene, it scored four out of five in this category. Readers may have enjoyed browsing stores in a historic setting; a 12th-century cathedral sits at the heart of its pedestrianised shopping streets.
Pop into Hansfords, a family-owned menswear store, situated just yards from the Cathedral. The store has been in the family since 1908. You’ll find smart and quirky garments inside and it’s a great place to find stocking fillers including scarves, socks, belts and beanies.
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Christmas shopping in Norwich
For a festive shopping weekend getaway, look no further than Norwich. On winding cobbled lanes sit independent jewellery stores and toy shops, ideal if you’re seeking inspiration for your Christmas list. Or look to its quaint arcade – designed in 1899 – for boutiques selling everything from exquisite prints to artisan chocolates.
But we can’t mention Norwich without a nod to Jarrold, a department store that’s been family-run since 1823. Take a minute to admire its elegant Christmas display outside before entering. Inside you can shop well-known brands, including Kate Spade and Barbour, as well as products locally made in Norfolk.
This December, Santa’s Grotto will reside in the children’s department on the third floor, so you could take the kids with you for a visit to the man in red.
Find out how Norwich scored for food and drink in our city breaks survey
Best small cities for shopping in the UK
Christmas shopping in Bath
Bath, with its quaint Georgian buildings, is the best small city to head to for a Christmas shopping spree – it was awarded four stars for its shopping scene in our survey. And this year, some of the cities’ most iconic streets and buildings will be illuminated, so you can enjoy light displays while you wander around the store-lined streets.
Much of the city centre is pedestrianised, so it’s easy to dart from shop to shop – that’s if you visit on a less popular day. Bath did score just two out of five stars for lack of crowds. But, despite it being busy, Which? readers still appreciate its retail therapy credentials – demonstrated by its five-star shopping rating.
If you do visit, make sure to head to the Guildhall Market – it’s the oldest shopping venue in Bath. Traders inside offer everything from locally crafted cheese to fine jewellery and traditional sweets – ideal for those extras for under the Christmas tree.
Bath sits directly nest to the Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) – see how the Cotswolds fared in our AONB survey results.
*Last carried out in December 2019.