Britain’s sale seasons and best shopping cities
♦ A guide to Britain’s sale seasons.
Brits love to track down deals, especially during seasonal sale periods when shops offer huge discounts and incentives. And it's not just the high street shops and major department stores that drop their prices. Many independent boutiques offer hefty savings and you can grab even bigger bargains at outlet centres such as Bicester Village near Oxford and the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in York. Time a visit to coincide with a big sale and you could make big savings during your trip. When are the main sale seasons in Britain?
Boxing Day and January sales.
The biggest sale of the year kicks off on Boxing Day (26 December). It may be a public holiday in Britain but many shops open early to sell their discounted Christmas stock. John Lewis famously launches its sale on 27 December to allow its staff to enjoy a Boxing Day break.
The Harrods Boxing Day sale is now legendary, and crowds flock to the iconic department store in London's Knightsbridge to queue around the block overnight (serious bargain hunters start queuing as early as Christmas Eve) in order to hunt for the best bargains. Customers are even given Harrods blankets to keep warm. In previous years, the Boxing Day sale event has featured live reindeers and a performance by Florence + The Machine.
Popular high street store Next has more than 500 branches across the country and is known for the generous discounts it offers in the Boxing Day sales, with some of its stores opening as early as 6am. Selfridges department store (in addition to the London flagship store, there are also outlets in Birmingham and Manchester) is also popular at this time of year, particularly for the designer handbags and clothes on offer.
Good Friday and Easter Monday are both public holidays in Britain and the long weekend is always a regular fixture on the sales calendar. Many shops use this opportunity to sell off some of their unsold winter stock. Department store Debenhams has more than 240 stores across the country and at Easter (and at many other times of the year) you can take advantage of its popular 'Blue Cross Sale' that sees items discounted by as much as 70 per cent.
After the Easter holidays you can also pick up heavily discounted chocolate eggs at Britain's main supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Waitrose.
Summer sales (June and July).
The date that shops launch their summer sales very much depends on a number of factors, including the weather and general trading conditions. Unlike the Boxing Day or Easter sales, the summer sales do not launch on a specific date and individual shops can start their own sales at a time that suits them. The summer sales usually kick off in July or late June and, depending on performance, can stretch into August. If it's a particularly hot summer, shops can offer considerable discounts to lure people in from the sunny streets.
Black Friday (the fourth Friday of November).
The American tradition of shopping for bargains the day after the Thanksgiving holiday has caught on in Britain, and Black Friday is now a major event in the yearly sales calendar. Many people buy up all of their Christmas presents, as the sales launch on the fourth Friday of November. The date is now considered to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season.
Whereas Cyber Monday focuses on online sales, Black Friday is all about
in-store discounts. You can expect to see crowds of eager shoppers up and down major British high streets as well as shopping malls and department stores, with many extending their opening hours. Marks & Spencer often promotes discounts of up to 50 per cent, and offers a number of promotions at this time.
Grab bigger bargains at Britain's outlet stores.
Britain's outlet centres offer deals all year round but you can grab even bigger discounts during the main sale periods as items are marked down even further. While some stores might not observe the Easter or summer sale traditions, most outlet centres offer heavily discounted stock in the Boxing Day and Black Friday sales.
Britain's most famous outlet centre is Bicester Village near Oxford, a 45-minute train ride from London or an hour's drive from Birmingham. It's home to more than 130 boutiques including brands such as Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Paul Smith. McArthurGlen has designer outlets in six locations across Britain, including York (a two-hour train ride from London) and Cheshire, a 45-minute train ride from Liverpool. Clarks Village in Somerset, an hour's drive from Bristol, features around 90 stores including top British brands including Clarks, Hamleys and Hobbs.
♦An insider guide to five of Britain’s best shopping cities.
London is a shopping wonderland, but why stop there? Bristol’s bohemia, Liverpool’s glamour, Edinburgh’s elegance and Birmingham’s diversity are all easily accessible by train. There’s always something new to discover – here are some tips to get you started.
Oxford Street: This iconic retail hub is home to more than 300 shops and flagship stores. Top shops include beloved British department store John Lewis, legendary Selfridges near Marble Arch, and the huge flagship Primark store near Tottenham Court Road is heaven for bargain hunters. Trend-conscious shoppers flock to the colossal Topshop/Topman Oxford Circus, famous for its extensive collections of up-to-the-minute fashion.
Regent’s Street: Arching from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus, this elegant street is home to some of London’s oldest, most famous shops. Luxury British heritage brand Burberry’s four-floor flagship store is visually stunning. Britain’s most famous toy shop, Hamleys, has been trading for more than 250 years and sells every toy or game imaginable over its six floors. Founded in 1875, one-of-a-kind artsy department store Liberty, just behind Regent Street, is famous for its floral prints and large selection of pieces by young British designers.
Carnaby: Step under the iconic arched Carnaby Street sign to this funky area between Regent Street and Oxford Street with more than 100 shops – a mix of boutiques, shoe and denim brands and heritage brands such as Dr Martens – plus bars and restaurants to recharge in. Check out distinctive jewellery at The Great Frog, where every piece is hand crafted on site. Customers include Johnny Depp, rock legends Metallica, and supermodel Kate Moss.
Covent Garden: Covent Garden, under 2O minutes’ walk from Carnaby Street, is one of London’s prettiest, most diverse shopping areas. Check out arts and crafts at Covent Garden Market and King Street for classy brands such as Sandro and Jo Malone London. Deviate from the mainstream in bohemian Neal’s Yard, a brightly painted courtyard lined with vegan cafés and home to ethical beauty brand Neal’s Yard Remedies for the last 30 years.
Seven Dials is a network of seven atmospheric streets lined with international fashion stores, boutiques and beauty salons. Beadworks Bead Shop’s huge range of unique beads from all over the world is a crafter’s
dream. Check out British jewellery brand Tatty Devine’s playful, kitsch acrylic statement pieces - in the Seven Dials store you can design your own personalised name necklace and see it get made on the spot!
Portobello Road Market, Notting Hill: An unmissable London shopping experience, Portobello Road boasts one of the most famous street markets in the world. It’s easy to spend hours browsing along this mile of shops and stalls selling vintage clothing, rare antiques, gifts, souvenirs, and street food. The market is around ten minutes’ from central London on the underground and is in full swing on Saturday – arrive by 11.30am to avoid the crowds.
Saddle up in Wild West-style at Jessie Western – a visual feast of cowboy boots, Stetson hats, fringed suede jackets and Navajo turquoise jewellery. Just a few shops down is Alice’s antiques, a fascinating emporium of rare, out-of-the-ordinary vintage finds. You won’t miss it - the outside of the shop is painted bright red!
Knightsbridge: This glitzy area of London is synonymous with luxury, and is less than 15 minutes by underground from Portobello Road. It’s home to the world-famous Harrods - a spectacular emporium of prestigious brands and all things luxury, including its dedicated Shoe Heaven department, and Toy Kingdom for little shoppers.
Camden Market: Actually a series of adjoining markets, you’ll find a maze of stalls and some of the most unusual shops in London at Camden Market, with punk clothing and tattoo parlours aplenty. Full of atmosphere, the markets are open every day and busiest at the weekends. Browse home decor, boho fashion, crafts and trinkets, jewellery, books and vintage in the original Camden Lock Market. The adjoining Stables Market, a former horse hospital, has 700 stalls selling wares ranging from antiques to alternative fashion. Camden is also the home of Cyberdog, which has been clothing clubbers for more than 20 years. This neon-lit, three-floor wonderland specialises in dancewear and fluorescent futuristic fashion. You can’t miss it - two giant robot statues flank the large doorway.
Shoreditch High Street: Now a shopping destination in its own right, Shoreditch is renowned for vintage outlets alongside big brands, designer boutiques, indie labels and eclectic gift shops. After browsing indie labels such as Wondaland and Knowledge Cotton in Aida, shoppers can get their hair and make-up done at the store’s vintage beauty salon. Shoreditch High Street is around 25 minutes from central London using the underground and overground networks.
Boxpark, Bethnal Green Road: This ‘pop-up shopping mall’ housed in shipping containers is a mix of contemporary lifestyle stores and cafés, and is just around the corner from Shoreditch High Street. Parla is a curated selection of beautiful jewellery by various designers, chosen by the store’s owner. Be inspired by quirky, bright home accessories, creative books, artwork and funky stationery at The Gift Box.
Brick Lane: This buzzing area, a five-minute walk from Boxpark, is best-known for its curries, but also offers great shopping. Sunday UpMarket in the Old Truman Brewery is a mélange of 140 creative traders, and lauded as one of London’s best markets for new designers. Pam Pam caters for ‘girls who aren’t girly girls’, with a room dedicated to women’s trainers. Rough Trade East on Dray Walk is arguably one of London’s best independent music shops, and stages in-store gigs. Just off Brick Lane on Hanbury Street is Blitz, the world’s largest vintage department store, with racks of classic rock tees, Japanese kimonos and pastel denim.
Spitalfields: Old Spitalfields Market is a vibrant hub for creative traders. On Saturdays and Sundays it’s packed with stalls, including new designers and mouth-watering street food. Inspitalfields is a colourful shop for humorous gifts, cards, and unique homewares, while stylish independent boutique The Mercantile London sells selected pieces from affordable European labels– and even has a cute shop dog called Robert!
Columbia Road Market. A 20-minute walk from Spitalfields, Columbia Road becomes an oasis of foliage and flowers every Sunday, and has 60 independent shops - from art galleries to garden shops - as well as pubs, delis and cafés to refuel in.
Liverpool, north-west England
Cavern Walks, Mathew Street: This boutique designer shopping centre is on Mathew Street in the city centre, close to the legendary Cavern Club – the birthplace of the Beatles. Top shops include Cricket, Liverpool’s famous designer boutique selling the hottest designer collections. Meanwhile, the Vivienne Westwood store sells the full range of fashion and perfumes from this iconic British designer. For carefully-selected quality menswear brands for the contemporary gent, head to Weavers Door.
Metquarter, Whitechapel: A very short walk from Cavern Walks is Metquarter, a central luxury shopping mall containing boutique stores and brands including MAC, Hugo Boss and Diesel. Smudge Boutique has dressed stars for the red carpet and stocks labels including Alice McCall and Wildfox. For beautifully-made court shoes and clothes, check out beloved British brand, LK Bennett.
Bold Street: Under ten minutes’ walk from Metquarter is Bold Street – a bohemian thoroughfare selling everything from world foods to art and funky clothes. Utility celebrates totally individual design, selling quirky books, gadgets and funky cards. Transalpino sources rare trainers from around the globe, and Resurrection has great vintage finds. An ideal spot to refuel is Leaf – a teashop and café serving delicious food.
Liverpool ONE, Wall Street: Also within walking distance is the huge Liverpool One, which has more than 170 shops, bars and restaurants spread across its open-air complex. You’ll find top high street brands such as Zara and Topshop at this modern city centre shopping mall, plus the Harvey Nichols Beauty Bazaar - a one-stop beauty destination with a champagne bar, and even a spa.
Cheshire Oaks, Ellesmere Port: Looking for a bargain? Just a 30-minute drive from Liverpool is Cheshire Oaks – Britain’s first and largest designer outlet centre. It has 145 stores, with luxury labels including Belstaff, Burberry and Mulberry offering products at discounted prices.
Bristol, south-west England
Clifton Village: Clifton Village is Bristol’s main boutique shopping area, and is a pretty cluster of cobbled streets. Explore stylish boutiques, gift shops, cafés, hidden gardens and the Victorian Clifton Arcade. Owned by three sisters, Grace & Mabel is a curated mix of clothes and accessories including labels such as J Brand jeans, Paul Smith and Antik Batik, alongside local design talent.
Arch House Deli in Boyce’s Avenue is a food lover’s paradise of picnic-perfect delicatessen goodies. And don’t miss Bees & Graves in Clifton Arcade, a glittering emporium of 1920s beaded dresses and vintage costume jewellery.
Park Street: Less than 20 minutes’ walk from Clifton Village, Park Street is home to some of the trendiest shops in the city. Weapon of Choice is a dedicated street art gallery and shop. Jewellery fans can browse bold statement pieces from designers including Alex Monroe and Kate Smith at Diana Porter Contemporary Jewellery, which offers an engraving service. Walk further up to Queen Street and flick through CDs and vinyl of every genre at Rise Music, which has an in-store bar and hosts live gigs!
St Nicholas Market, Corn Street: Around 15 minutes from Park Street is Bristol’s oldest market. St Nicholas Market dates from 1743, and is open between 9.30am and 5pm Monday-Saturday. A maze of quirky stalls, historic architecture and street food, the market is full of character and heaven for bargain hunters, with Bristol’s largest collection of independent retailers under one roof. On Fridays and Saturdays there’s the Nails Market, with original artwork, handcrafted jewellery and vintage clothing; then two Saturdays a month, Bristol Flea Market arrives with more than 100 stalls selling all sorts of items.
Stokes Croft and Gloucester Road: Slightly to the north of the city is Stokes Croft, famed for its street art, including work by legendary local graffiti artist, Banksy. The connected Gloucester Road is Europe’s longest street of independent shops, and a great place for shabby chic and artisan food and drink – relaxed wine shop Grape & Grind, for example, offers a great selection of high-end and everyday wines, craft beers and artisan spirits.
Birmingham, central England
Birmingham is a city that is renowned for its shopping. Whether it’s luxury or value, it has something to suit all budgets and tastes, all within easy distance of each other.
The Bullring: This iconic shopping centre – a design statement in itself – boasts 160 stylish stores featuring 2,000 brands. These include Selfridges Birmingham - a smaller, edited version of the famous London store, housed in an extraordinary bubble-like architectural wonder.
Custard Factory, Gibb Street: Just a ten-minute walk from the Bullring, the Custard Factory is an independent shopping destination dubbed ‘Birmingham’s creative quarter’. Browse jewellery, ceramics and textiles from more than 70 of Britain’s leading designer-makers at the Sara Preisler Gallery, and find rare, niche vinyl at Milque & Muhle record shop.
The Mailbox, Commercial Street: A 20-minute walk from The Custard Factory (or ten from the Bullring), this attractive city centre building is a luxury retail hub. Be pampered in the Harvey Nichols beauty rooms, or browse The Mailbox’s edit of standalone stores of acclaimed brands, such as London-based Savile Row tailor, Gieves & Hawkes.
Jewellery Quarter: Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is Birmingham’s ‘golden mile’, home to more than 100 specialist outlets, all within 25 minutes’ walk of the city centre. With shopfronts glinting with gold and dripping with diamonds you’ll be sure to find gifts galore. If, however, you’re after something extra special, a number of the jewellers take commissions to design bespoke, one-off pieces. Silversmith Becca Williams makes pieces inspired by coastal landscapes; firm Dripgold specialises in engagement rings; while award-winning designer Fei Liu fuses eastern heritage and western design in his colourful creations.
The Balti Triangle: This colourful area isn’t just about curries – it’s also home to glistening Asian jewellery and textile shops, and is just a 20 minute bus ride from central Birmingham. Step inside Gohil Emporium in Stratford Road for crafts, artefacts and specialist household items imported from the Far East. World of Fashion in Ladypool Road is a treasure chest of special Asian garments and accessories mostly designed by Nesh, the shop’s owner.
Princes Street: This sophisticated street has medieval Edinburgh Castle as its backdrop and is high street fashion heaven, with huge flagship stores such as Primark, Marks & Spencer, and the historic Jenners department store.
The West End: This quaint area is a minute’s walk from Princes Street, with William Street and Stafford Street at its heart. William Street is an enclave of gift shops, delis, and chic indie boutiques such as Sam Brown and Frontiers. For unusual jewellery pieces sourced from local and global designers, check out Lily Luna, while stationery fans will love Paper Tiger.
George Street and Thistle Street: A short walk from the West End, the shopping experience continues! For clothes, Jane Davidson’s boutique on Thistle Street stocks selected pieces from international fashion brands such as Erdem, Jenny Packham and Roksanda Ilincic. If you’re in the market for a diamond engagement ring or a luxury watch, head to super glamorous ROX on George Street, complete with an in-store Laurent-Perrier champagne bar. For traditional Scottish tartan design in contemporary styles and colours, browse ceramics, textiles, furniture and fashion at Anta on George Street.
Multrees Walk, St Andrew Square: Under than a ten minute walk away is Multrees Walk – a luxury shopping area that’s home to stores including Mulberry and Burberry. It also features Scotland’s only Harvey Nichols, where you can browse the likes of Celine, Victoria Beckham and Balenciaga all under one roof.
The Grassmarket and Victoria Street: Apparently, Harry Potter author JK Rowling based Diagon Alley on this narrow, winding street of shops, with its mix of independent Scottish designers and artisans selling world crafts, vintage clothing and antiques. Within 15 minutes of leaving Multrees Walk you could be at the acclaimed IJ Mellis Cheese shop, sampling fine cheeses from across Europe and picking up a selection of breads, chutneys and meats – the perfect ingredient for a picnic in the nearby Princes Street Gardens.
Author: VisitBritain "Shopping is Great", 2017.