/ Travel & Leisure

Destination Christmas: jetting off for a festive shopping spree

European Christmas market at night with Christmas tree and ferris wheel

Christmas shopping may be a chore, but it’s also an excellent excuse for a holiday. In New York you can escape the British high street mayhem. Will you be heading abroad to grab a festive bargain this year?

As I see it, when it comes to Christmas shopping, you’ve got three choices: a) hit the heaving high streets and fight your way to the tills; b) be super-organised, buy everything online and pray that it arrives on time; or c) book a relaxing holiday somewhere that offers unusual gifts at bargain prices.

At this time of year the best travel companies offer Christmas shopping packages to all kinds of destinations, from the glitzy Christmas-mad malls of Asian super-cities like Hong Kong,Singapore and Tokyo, to the more serene winter wonderland of Europe’s traditional markets. Are you tempted to join the ranks of the global gift-seekers? And if so, where are your favourite festive shopping spots?

New York, New York

New York is a popular Christmas destination, recently rated the world’s best destination for a shopping holiday by a Which? Travel expert panel. While it’s great for shopping all year round, the city really comes alive between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the Macy’s Parade, some of the most impressive window displays in the world, seasonal markets and the infamous Black Friday sales.

Visitors are more welcome than ever as the city gets back on its feet following Hurricane Sandy. And while the exchange rate may not be as favourable as it once was, New York is still the place to bag a bargain – especially if you’re looking for casual clothing or electronics. Keep an eye on your luggage restrictions though, if you’re planning to splash out.

Festive markets

Europe’s Christmas markets are another popular choice for a seasonal shopping break. I’ve been to several, though not with much success. I thoroughly enjoyed the festive atmosphere, the Christmassy smells of ginger bread and spices, and the excuse to spend the day glugging glühwein and stuffing my face with stodgy stollen. Trouble is, I don’t think I managed to buy any presents.

Maybe the brandy-infused mulled wine shortens my shopping attention span. Perhaps my friends and family aren’t sufficiently interested in gaudily painted wooden soldiers that double as nutcrackers. Either way it’s a much more enjoyable experience than Oxford Street on any weekend before Christmas.

Online shoppers may balk at the idea of leaving the house for Christmas shopping, let alone the country. But surely the thrill of seeking out the perfect gift in an exotic bazaar or browsing the lovingly-crafted wares of local artisans, or even just bagging familiar goods at knock-down prices, beats the UK’s homogenous high streets?


For many, getting the Christmas essentials sorted is expensive enough without the luxury of foreign travel added to the bill. Many, also, have used up holiday allowances and are unable to find time to travel. In my case, my caring duties stop me going. I have no doubt that the Christmas markets are lovely places to visit to soak up atmosphere and enjoy the festive spirit. Some come to this country and they are certainly worth travelling for. I wonder, however, whether you tinge the experience with a whiff of cinamon scented nostalgia.These places are also heaving with locals and tourists and pick-pockets. Jostling through the avenues of a busy market in the cold, might not be quite as Christmassy as the anticipation of going….