Top 10 Christmas shopping weekends
Start your celebrations with a festive shopping break
Started your Christmas shopping yet? Frantic last-minute Christmas shopping can be a stressful experience so don't leave buying your presents until Christmas Eve.
Christmas is meant to be a relaxing time, so why not start your celebrations (and your shopping) now by getting away on a festive shopping break?
Much of Europe goes Christmas crazy at least from the end of November and almost every major city hosts its own market, each with great opportunities to snap up some seasonal bargains.
You may think, “I’ll avoid the hassle and do all my shopping on the internet”. Although shopping on the web has boundless benefits, there is nothing like soaking up the seasonal atmosphere and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the festive season. Get out and enjoy some of the Christmas spirit (literally!) and at the same time see somewhere you may not have visited before.
Christmas is a great time to visit New York City. Top stores, designer boutiques and open-air markets mean you're sure to find everything on your holiday shopping list. Aside from shopping, New York’s nightlife is legendary and when lit for Christmas, it takes on an extra special feel.
Reasons to go to New York
- Top stores including Macy's Department Store, Bloomingdale's and the magnificent toy store FAO Schwarz.
- Christmas is the perfect time to go ice skating in New York. Rinks are dotted all over the city; the Rockefeller Centre and the Wollman being firm favorites, as well as the Laser Rinks in Central Park and the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers.
- New York’s department stores put together beautifully designed windows to celebrate the season. The festive displays are a real attraction and a definite ‘must see’ of the city at Christmas time.
How to get to New York
An all in package will cost you around £500 with several companies offering deals, but beware these trips are extremely popular and are usually booked up some time in advance. Alternatively, flights into the Big Apple are not as expensive as they once were, with prices around £250 if you fly before the 15th of December.
Berlin goes market crazy at Christmas, with as many as eight main markets in the capital alongside excellent shops offering everything you could possibly want. After the shopping, it is also a great place to party with countless pubs, club, bars and nightspots.
Reasons to go to Berlin
- The markets including the Jewish Traditional at the Jewish Museum, the Opernpalais (famous for jewelry, ceramics, arts and crafts) and the Spandeur traditional market at the Town Hall, are just outstanding.
- The overwhelming Christmassy feel to Berlin.
- The illustrious Ka De We department store is a tourist attraction in its own right.
- An array of quirky, individual gifts, rather than the usual tat for sale.
- The Christmas drink, Glühwein – a mulled wine with a rather potent kick.
How to get to Berlin
There are lots of cheap flight options from the UK to Berlin and the standard rule is the sooner you book, the cheaper flight. Although there are other options, you could also take the hassle out completely, by booking an organised coach trip over an extended weekend break.
Pre-Christmas booze cruise to France
Christmas is inevitably a time when almost everyone in the family is known to indulge in the odd tipple. So stocking up with the festive booze is probably high on your list of shopping priorities. A trip across the Channel will save you a packet and the money you save can cover the cost for a night or two in a hotel while you are there.
Reasons to go on a cruise to France
- Price. There are great wine and beer bargains to be found across the water in France.
- There are huge numbers of warehouses and hypermarkets dedicated to cheap wine and beer, particularly in Calais, Boulogne and Dieppe – all of which are conveniently close to the south coast ports of Dover and Folkestone.
- You can also use the trip as an opportunity to buy other goods. Stock up on festive quality produce at a fraction of the UK prices.
How to get to France by boat
The cheapest way is to take a ferry trip from Dover or Folkestone. Day trips are excellent, but if traveling from further afield, then organising some accommodation for the night before you go or whilst you are away will give you more time to shop.
Festive shopping in Budapest is dominated by its annual Christmas market running from the 1st to the 24th December at Vorosmarty Square, offering quality folk and applied art products as well as wide selection of cultural displays and programs. Budapest is a real winter wonderland filled with nativities and cultural shows.
Reasons to go to Budapest
- A huge advent calendar house in Vorosmarty Square where one decorated window is opened every day until Christmas Eve, accompanied by sound and light.
- Seasonal skating! Any time in December you will find an ice skating rink.
- Tasty and colourful Hungarian Christmas cookies.
- Music – Matthias church is filled on Saturday nights during December with organ works and choral masterpieces.
- The Gala Concert of the Gypsy Orchestra is also held in Budapest Congress Centre.
How to get to Budapest
There are numerous flight options from the UK to Budapest, but book now to get the cheapest deals. As with most low-cost airline destinations, if you are prepared to fly at any time of day or night you can get yourself a cheap deal – leaving you with more to spend on presents!
Manchester is without a doubt one of the main shopping capitals in the UK and has a unique mix of high-street chains, individual companies and traders. The exclusive Triangle Centre, in the heart of the city and the Trafford Centre on the outskirts, make the range of shopping options extensive.
In the evening, Manchester proves its reputation as a 24-hour party city with fine dining, cutting-edge clubs and bars, and a progressive music scene.
Reasons to go to Manchester
- The sheer range of choice; designer stores through to traditional markets.
- The Trafford center; 280 stores and 38 restaurants all under one roof!
- Exclusive independent boutiques in the funky Northern Quarter and prestigious designer stores in King Street.
- The nightlife to help you unwind after all that shopping.
How to get to Manchester
Manchester is easily accessible from all major motorway routes. Manchester is also conveniently accessible via Manchester's railway network, which includes three main stations – Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria. National Express coaches arrive and depart from the Chorlton Street Coach Station near Piccadilly Station.
Gothenburg at Christmas just radiates with fun and lights. Its Christmas market is held within Liseberg amusement park which is brought to life with more than 700 trees illuminated with festive lights. The air is usually filled with the aromas of toasted almonds, mulled wine and ginger biscuits. Skilled craftsmen can be seen making everything from silverware to hand-rolled cigars, while the tables of Liseberg’s restaurants are laden with the specialties of the season.
Reasons to go to Gothenburg
- The Christmas market of more than 60 stalls selling traditional handicrafts.
- More than three million light bulbs strung from the park’s trees – keeping the dark nights at bay.
- Ice skating in the park or taking a genuine sleigh ride.
- More than 600,000 people visit the markets each year, so they must know something.
How to get to Gothenburg
A good way would be to take a short mini-cruise, going from Harwich or Newcastle and book night cabin accommodation on board. These trips only cost around £100 but the time you have to actually spend in city is limited, but perfect if you want a just a few hours to soak up the atmosphere.
Thanks to its climate and rich Christmas traditions, Krakow is most deserving of the title as the world’s capital of white Christmas. Seasonal street decorations, window-dressing and festive carols relying on lively traditional dancing tunes, make the city appear like it has emerged from a Christmas card or film set.
Reason to go to Krakow
- The market located on Rynek Glowny, one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, with stalls selling food, hot wine, traditional decorations and handmade arts and crafts.
- Gothic churches and baroque palaces take on an even greater appeal at Christmas time.
- The Christmas cribs, which form part of an annual competition are fabulous and provide portable Theaters for the traditional nativity puppet plays.
- Amateur and professional companies of players stage live nativity performances.
How to get to Krakow
Flying is the only real option due to the seasonal weather and time limits for a weekend break. Many budget airlines offer deals to Krakow and you can expect to pay around £100 for the trip including taxes etc. However, booking now might just bag you one of those great £14.99 flights – Bargain!
From the end of November, Vienna becomes a magnificent market city in which the aromas of candied fruits, Christmas punch and roasted chestnuts fill the air. The City Hall (Rathaus) forms the stunning backdrop to the city’s annual Christmas market with well over 100 large wooden stalls selling a huge selection of delicious foodstuffs, decorations, and gifts. A huge tradition of classical music helps add to the Christmas cheer.
Reasons to go to Vienna
- The classic Christkindlmarkt on the square in front of the City Hall.
- The festively illuminated Schoenbrunn Palace provides a spectacular backdrop to enjoy mulled wine and ginger bread.
- Classical music emanates from every street corner.
How to get to Vienna
Flight packages with accommodation included are probably the best and cheapest option as for a flight alone you can expect to pay around £100.
The main Christmas markets take place in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, with smaller ones at Namesti Republiky and Havelske Trziste. Visitors can enjoy a glass of mulled wine, wander over the ancient cobblestones and check out the stalls selling goods specially made for the season, including: candles, wooden toys, puppets, polished and painted glass.
Reasons to go to Prague
- See the astronomical clock, miniature zoo and spectacular Christmas tree, shipped in from the Sumava Mountains – all in Old Town Square.
- Choral entertainment adding a magical ingredient, with local and international choirs, along with musical ensembles.
- The Baroque and Romanesque buildings that surround the squares are all the more decorative at Christmas.
How to get to Prague
With the advent of low cost airlines, getting to Prague need not be expensive. However, the earlier you book the better the deal. Obviously the festive season is a more expensive time to fly but if you are organized, a return flight could cost you around £70.
Copenhagen’s Christmas activity centres largely in Tivoli Gardens, the city’s amusement park. Christmas celebrations begin in mid-November, where the gardens are dressed for the season with over 750,000 twinkling lights and glittering decorations. The old garden provides masses of market stalls, decorations, lights and an outdoor ice rink, as well as restaurants offering Christmas specialties and mulled red wine. Aside from the traditional fare on offer, the city is excellent for snapping up some of the more up-market gifts including delicate porcelain and a wide range of electrical items.
Reasons to go to Copenhagen
- Tivoli Gardens providing a range of shopping and fun activities for children.
- International design icons as well as Danish designers at much cheaper prices than in the UK.
- Danish breweries add to the spirit of Christmas with their own specially brewed Julebryg or Christmas beer, at a powerful 5.7 % alcohol.
- Great shopping on Stroeget – a pedestrians-only shopping zone almost a mile long.
How to get to Copenhagen
Most budget airlines offer deals to Copenhagen. However, if you have a little extra time, take a mini-cruise from Harwich taking advantage of the on-board cabins.