Top five British Christmas shopping breaks

Queens arcade, Victoria Quarter

With Christmas creeping up fast, it's high time you were pounding the pavements on the hunt for gifts. But if you find the annual round of present-buying a bit of a bore, why not turn this chore into a chance to take a festive break? And you don't have to be London-bound. North, south, east or west: whichever way you choose to head this winter, Britain's towns and cities are bursting with smart shopping and must-see sights and attractions.

Who knows, along the way you might even find far more interesting presents to put under the Christmas tree. Here are our top five festive getaways.

Night Shopping on Buchanan Street, Glasgow

1 Glasgow

Glasgow's Style Mile is geared up for serious shoppers this Christmas, with more than 200 stores, from speciality shops to mainstream malls. Buchanan Galleries is packed with high-street favourites, such as LEGO and Lakeland. Tick off the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Pringle of Scotland in stylish Princes Square (to the accompaniment of carol singers). The Argyll Arcade, Europe's oldest covered shopping mall, is the place to shop for trinkets, with a choice of more than 30 jewellers, and the St Enoch Centre is the location of Hamleys and the Disney Store, and where you can also squeeze in a visit to Father Christmas.

Get into the Christmas spirit with the big lights switch-on on 19 November. George Square will host a Christmas Market, 25 November to 29 December, as will St Enoch's Square, 9 November to 22 December, with hundreds of traditional wooden chalets selling everything from local handmade crafts to homemade food from around the world, plus funfair rides. If you're in the city on 10 December, look out for the Santa Dash.

While you're in town be sure to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. A beauty in itself (especially the central hall), it is home to masterpieces by major artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. See the world-renowned work of the Glaswegian architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, including Scotland Street School, at 225 Scotland Street, The Glasgow School of Art, at 167 Renfrew Street, and Queen's Cross Church, at 870 Garscube Road. Keeping the creative theme going on the self-guided City Centre Mural Trail, a quirky way to get under Glasgow's skin. Find out more at www.glasgowlife.org.uk.

Stay at Blythswood Square, a chic boutique hotel set in a historic building, with a spa and cinema, restaurant and bar. From £166 per room per night.

Town Hall and Christmas lights on The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, Europe

2 Leeds

Leeds is famed for its fantastic shopping. Among its retail assets are the recently opened Victoria centre, which brings together Victoria Gate and the Victoria Quarter and is the site of the biggest John Lewis outside London as well as lots of other luxury brands. There are more high-street favourites at Trinity Leeds, while Kirkgate Market is likely to be fertile ground for presents – this is the largest covered market in Europe.

Get into the Christmas spirit at The Christkindelmarkt on Millennium Square, one of Britain's biggest German Christmas markets, will open on 10 November (until 17 December). Here you'll find wooden chalets primped with festive greenery and twinkly lights and laden with potential gifts, from jewellery to handmade toys to tasty festive treats.

While you're in town, Take the chance to visit The Royal Armouries Museum, the national museum of arms and armour. Explore Kirkstall Abbey, the ruined medieval monastery on the banks of the River Aire. Check out Leeds Art Gallery, which has just reopened following an extensive refurbishment of the original Victorian roof and Central Court. Find out more at www.visitleeds.co.uk.

Stay atThe New Ellington, with its Art Deco-inspired interiors and jazz theme. Book the Thank Gin It's Friday package, from £79 per room for a Friday-night stay with free gin cocktail from the Gin Garden bar.

Norwich Cathedral and cricket field in the snow

3 Norwich

Within this city's ancient walls is a satisfying array of high-street names and independents. The Royal Arcade, an exquisite covered avenue, which first opened in Victorian times, is an atmospheric spot in which to part with your cash (this is where you'll find the Colman's Mustard Shop & Museum). Castle Mall has five storeys of familiar names, from TK Maxx to Tiger, while House of Fraser is a highlight of the intu Chapelfield centre. Don't miss browsing around Jarrold, the city's department store since 1770, and quirky Country & Eastern, in the old Victorian ice-skating rink, a veritable bazaar of items gathered from across Asia and the Far East. Norwich also has the country's largest outdoor market, which takes place Monday to Saturday on Gentleman's Walk.

Get into the Christmas spirit at the Festive Fair at The Forum, on Millennium Plain, which takes place from 24 to 27 November, featuring more than 50 stalls selling local arts, crafts and produce, plus live music. The big Christmas lights switch-on takes place on 16 November, the same day as the opening of this year's Tunnel of Light, an impressive walk-through installation, 45 metres long and 4 metres high, which emulates the Northern Lights courtesy of 50,000 pulsating LEDs.

While you're in town, Sights to see include Norwich Cathedral (01603 218300, ) and its Close, which dates from medieval times, and Strangers Hall, a fascinating interpretation of a medieval merchant's home, where every room is decorated in the style of different eras through the ages. Catch The Russian Season at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, featuring exhibitions about Royal Fabergé and radical Russian art and culture in the 20th Century. Find out more at www.visitnorwich.co.uk.

Stay at The Assembly House , a stylish boutique hotel offering a Shop-Stay-Eat break including two nights B&B from £340 for two sharing a room.

Wales

4 Cardiff

If you're after big brands, St David's shopping centre and Queens Arcade won't disappoint, with names such as Superdry and White Company typical of the top-class stores found here. The elegant Victorian and Edwardian arcades, Royal, Castle, and Morgan offer retail therapy in a refined setting, with Welsh textiles, vinyl from the oldest record shop in the world, and fine art and antiques among the covetable goods to buy. Cardiff Market offers even more variety under its great glass roof.

Cardiff will get festive with the opening of its Christmas Market on 9 November (until 23 December), with wooden chalets lining the Hayes, and Working, Hills and Trinity Streets. Slip on some skates and take a turn around the ice rink, too, at the Winter Wonderland (9 November to 7 January 2018), where there will also be an authentic bierkeller, Alpine village and funfair. And if your little ones fancy a chat with Santa, he'll be camped out in his grotto in the castle.

While you're in the city be sure to visit Cardiff Castle (029 2087 8100) and explore the 2,000-year history of this intriguing fort, which offers clues to its past in a Roman wall, Norman keep and Victorian Gothic mansion with opulent interiors. Visit the National Museum Cardiff, a bold contemporary addition to the city's skyline within which is an eclectic collection of world-class art and natural history, showcased in diverse exhibitions such as the current focus on modern art masterpieces, "Bacon to Doig". Find out more at =visitcardiff.com.

Stay at the Park Plaza (02920 111 111), a sleek four-star city-centre address with a spa, restaurant and bar. Rooms cost from £189 per night.

Christmas Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth

5 Portsmouth

This south-coast port has plenty of shopping options up its sleeve. Try Gunwharf Quays for famous brand outlets, including Armani, Hugo Boss, Le Creuset and Cath Kidston, where discounts of up to 60 per cent are available year-round. Palmerston Road Southsea is the place for the big-hitter department stores – John Lewis and Debenhams – and other high-street names, along with independent shops and regular Hampshire farmer's markets. In the boutiques of nearby Marmion Road and Osborne Road, hunt for chocolates, jewellery and shoes, while Albert Road also bustles with independent traders, some quirky, featuring retro clothes, antiques, and crafts.

There will be a Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from 1 to 3 December, with 150 stalls offering hand-crafted gifts and curiosities, plus sing-a-longs and performances by street performers and musicians in Victorian garb. Fagin's Tavern will be serving warming winter tipples, and Father Christmas is due to put in an appearance.

While you're in town, visit the Spinnaker Tower (02392 857520, www.spinnakertower.co.uk) for stunning panoramas of the south coast. The multi-award-winning Mary Rose Museum (02392 812931, www.maryrose.org) is the place to see treasures of the deep, some nearly 500 years old. The English National Ballet will be performing Tchaikovsky's magical Christmas tale, The Nutcracker, at the Mayflower Theatre (02380 711811, www.mayflower.org.uk) from 29 November to 2 December. Find out more at www.visitportsmouth.co.uk.

Stay at Florence Gardens, a boutique hotel with stylish rooms and a gastro pub serving classy classic bar food. From £83 per room per night, including breakfast.

14 PHOTOS
The UK's best Christmas markets
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The UK's best Christmas markets
Traders from all over Europe and much further afield come to the Belfast Christmas Market at City Hall. Browse the selection of handbags, satchels, wooden toys, essential oils and hand-painted pottery. Don't miss the new food court for a bratwurst or Dutch pancakes. Dates: 18 November to 23 December 2017. Stay: The Merchant Hotel
Hosting one of the UK's largest Christmas markets, Manchester goes into full-on festive mode with several markets popping up in the city. Stock up on international food, traditional crafts, amber jewellery and ornaments. Dates: 10 November to 20 December 2017. Stay: Abode Hotel
Bringing a touch of Alpine charm to the south west, Bath Christmas Market plays host to more than 200 little wooden chalets brimming with locally made gifts and festive food. Set against the backdrop of Bath's Roman architecture, the city makes for one of the most atmospheric Christmas destinations in the UK. Dates: 23 November to 10 December 2017. Stay: Brooks Guesthouse
Leeds Christkindelmarkt is one of the most established German Christmas markets in the UK. Held in Millennium Square in the city centre, highlights include the Frankfurter Scheune at Alp Chalet - perfect for delicious Bavarian delicacies. Dates: 10 November to 24 December 2017. Stay: The Chambers Park Place
The Frankfurt-style Christmas market held in Birmingham is one of the biggest of its type outside Germany and Austria. Don't miss the live music, weissbeer and roasted almonds. Dates: 16 November to 24 December 2017. Stay: Hotel du Vin & Bistro
Set in Edinburgh's city centre against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the Christmas markets include the ever-popular European Christmas Market with its delightful gifts and treats, and the Scottish Market which offers the best food, drink and craft Scotland has to offer. Stock up on unique chocolate, Gin, Scottish crafted jewellery and woodwork at the Scottish Market. When: 18 November 2017 to 6 January 2018. Stay: Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa
Set against the beautiful backdrop of Exeter Cathedral, the Christmas market offers something for all, from handmade gifts to decorations and warm food. Although it is inspired by continental markets, it represents the best of what Britain and the South West has to offer. Stock up on crafts, unique gifts and decorations. Dates: 16 November to 17 December 2017. Stay: The Magdalen Chapter
Winchester Christmas Market is recognised as one of the best in Europe, attracting more than 350,000 visitors each year. Traditional wooden stalls are set up in the Cathedral's historic Close - a perfect setting for festivities. Stock up on British jewellery, glass and decorations. Dates: 20 November to 22 December 2017. Stay: Lainston House Hotel
Cardiff Christmas market is set in the pedestrian areas of the city centre, with stalls offering shoppers a range of quality craft products including enamel and pewter work, Welsh slate products, carved Welsh love spoons, metalwork, pottery, jewellery and traditional wooden items and toys. There is also a range of delicious seasonal food on offer, as well as plenty of mulled wine to keep shoppers warm as they go. Dates: 9 November to 23 December 2017. Stay: Jolyons
Winter Wonderland returns to London's Hyde Park in November with the ice rink, a giant observation wheel and, of course, its famous Christmas market. Enjoy hot cider, mulled wine and farmhouse foods alongside a spot of rustic revelry in the shape of an outdoor fire pit at the park’s heart. Dates: 17 November 2017 to 1 January 2018. Stay: Park Plaza County Hall
The luxury Christmas market in Nottingham's Market Square features 65 Victorian-styled trading cabins with an array of quality Christmas gifts from local traders and mouth-watering treats, timber decked walkways, an Ice Bar, a bandstand and at the centre of it all, an outdoor ice rink which promises to be bigger and better than ever before! Dates: 17 November to 24 December 2017. Stay: Jurys Inn Nottingham

This small, traditional market is set in the picturesque Whitefriars Square and is a good spot for quirky Christmas presents. Pick up traditional festive gifts, such as tin toys and Christmas ornaments, and enjoy German foodie treats, incudling Bratwurst and gingerbread. Dates: 25 November to 24 December 2017. Stay: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge

Gloucester's impressive historic docks provide the backdrop for a very Victorian Christmas experience. Explore an authentic market selling high quality food and drink as well as hand-made gifts. Enjoy choirs, brass bands and don’t forget to keep an eye out for a host of colourful and larger than life Dickensian characters who bring the market to life, all under the watchful eye of the faithful 'peeler'. Dates: 16 to 26 November 2017. Stay: The New County Hotel

The European-style St Albans Christmas Market offers a unique location in the walled Vintry Garden in the shadow of St Albans Cathedral. The market has more than 60 stalls selling a wide range of gifts and goodies, including decorations, jewellery, clothing and homeware. Festive food ranges from German-style bratwurst to gluhwein and there is packed programme of festive fun, including music, dance, magic and circus skills. Dates: 25 November to 23 December 2017. Stay: The Clarion Collection Hotel

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