Shopping in the UK

The range of shopping facilities now on offer in the UK is vast, from historic markets to the glittering, ritzy new developments that are among the best in Europe. Diana Vowles highlights some of the many options for groups.

Inside Westfield London

Inside Westfield London

The beauty of group shopping trips is that nearly all tastes can be catered for in just one coach trip, be the destination a giant centre handily close to a motorway or a city centre. Some venues attract groups with benefits such as discount vouchers, but even where these aren’t on offer, the varying range of things to do makes a day out shopping ideal for groups.

London and the southeast

London offers everything from historic street markets to the giant Westfield London at White City. Here, there are more than 256 retailers, 40 of them luxury brands, 40-plus places to eat and a cinema. There’s a coach drop-off point outside and once inside you can take a hosted tour to help you make the most of your visit. Not far away is Portobello Road, bisected by Westbourne Grove; once bohemian, now they have designer and vintage clothes shops, art galleries and antiques. To the south, ever-smart Knightsbridge has the legendary Harrods and Harvey Nichols, along with many other luxury stores. In the centre, Selfridges and the flagship John Lewis store are in Oxford Street; turn down New Bond Street or South Molton Street for a raft of smart shops. Covent Garden has good shops and restaurants, interesting stalls selling jewellery, antiques and vintage clothes, and street entertainers to keep the atmosphere buzzing.

Shopping with friends in Covent Garden, London

Shopping with friends in Covent Garden, London

Further down the Thames, Greenwich Market gained its charter on 19 December 1700, granted for 1,000 years. Originally intended mainly for food, it is now strong on arts, crafts and antiques too; the focus shifts depending on the day of the week (Wednesday to Friday), so check for your particular interests.
In Essex, Lakeside Shopping Centre has over 250 shops, restaurants and cafés, with a retail park next door to widen the choice still further. There’s also a state-of-the-art Vue Cinema. The shops range from Hugo Boss to Debenhams, Monsoon, Miss Selfridge, Primark and Peacocks, so there’s something for all ages and pockets.
Further west, in Kent, is Bluewater, with 330 stores, 50 bars and restaurants and a 12-screen multiplex cinema. Opened in 1999 in a former chalk quarry that gives it 50-metre high cliffs and sufficient space for a lake and parkland, it has a triangular design with John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser at each corner; the Guild Hall has high fashion, lifestyle stores and gourmet restaurants; The Rose Gallery and Thames Walk offer high street stores and entertainment.
 

Around the rest of the country

Bristol’s top shopping venue is Cabot Circus, a £500 million centre that has won awards not just for its retail opportunities but also for its design and environmental approach. The top stores, such as Harvey Nichols, The White Company, LK Bennett and Kurt Geiger, are to be found in the Quakers Friars Piazza. Next door to Cabot Circus is Broadmead, with a further 300 stores on pedestrianised streets. The city also offers The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, with 135 stores including John Lewis, Pilgrim Jewellery and the largest Marks & Spencer in the region. Bristol Fashion Week from 23rd to 26th September will present catwalk shows of the new autumn and winter collections; tickets are available in mid-August and come with a booklet of discounts and offers from stores at The Mall. Elsewhere in Bristol you can find the Georgian architecture and upmarket independent shops of Clifton Village and Park Street; for those who like quirkier shopping, there’s the St Nicholas Market, which dates from 1743.

Browsing the factory shop at Denby Visitor Centre

Browsing the factory shop at Denby Visitor Centre

At thecentre:mk in Milton Keynes, there are 240 stores with big names such as John Lewis, high street fashions and a series of special events. Groups can prebook a Meet and Greet service where staff will meet the coach on arrival and provide an introduction and maps. Free and discounted refreshment vouchers are available for coach drivers and group organisers.
Those wanting to stock up on homeware should head for the Denby Visitor Centre near Matlock and the Peak District. You can take tours of the working pottery to see how the famous china is made and even make your own clay souvenir.
Pre-booked groups of 10 or more get a 10% discount. Shopping opportunities include the Factory Shop with Denby seconds at up to 60% discount plus reductions on best quality goods, the Dartington Crystal Factory Shop with best and second-quality glass and the
Cookery Emporium, where you will find top brands such as Le Creuset and Kitchen Aid. Free daily demonstrations in the Cookery Theatre last 30 minutes and you exit with recipes to take home.

In Blackpool, the Houndshill Shopping Centre has tripled in size in recent years, with retailers including Debenhams, River Island, Next, TK Maxx and Primark. The Blackpool Tourist Information Office has a base at the centre, making it easy to arrange a visit that takes in other places of interest in the town.

The entrance to Houndshill Shopping Centre, Blackpool.

The entrance to Houndshill Shopping Centre, Blackpool.

The huge Liverpool One has 160 shops, numerous bars and restaurants, a 14-screen cinema and a five-acre park. You can find high street names, independent boutiques and brands such as Karen Millen and Ted Baker. For arts and crafts, the Tate Liverpool and the Beatles Story, head for Albert Dock; Cavern Walks has independent shops with top names such as Cricket and Vivienne Westwood; at Metquarter, the city’s newest shopping centre, you’ll find famous names such as Armani, Dolce& Gabbana, Gucci and Prada; Liverpool Church Street and nearby Bold Street have major high street stores, while the 150-stall indoor Heritage Market, open on Sundays, has vintage clothing, handmade jewellery memorabilia and much else besides.
Nottingham is very strong as a shopping centre. Old Market Square is the UK’s second largest public square and here you’ll find big names such as Primark, Denhams and Jaeger, with food and craft markets often in progress. In the elegantly glass-roofed Exchange there are upmarket names such as Karen Millen, while in the FH Mall you can buy designer fashion from Vivienne Westwood. Bridlesmith Gate offers the likes of Diesel, Hobbs, Kurt Geiger and Paul Smith who, as a local boy, set up his flagship store here. There’s also the Victoria Centre, with big names such as John Lewis and House of Fraser.

The Exchange in Nottingham

The Exchange in Nottingham

York won the title of Most Group-Friendly UK Destination at the Group Travel Awards 2009 and in 2010 there are new 1, 2, 3 and 6 day Yorkshire Passes that give you
access to more than 70 attractions and various restaurant, shopping and entertainment offers. There are group discounts on passes for 10 or more people. A ‘Shop & the City’
leaflet maps out four shopping trails to suit various tastes so that you can maximize your time. Main shopping streets include The Shambles, one of the best preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe, with cafes and quirky boutiques; Stonegate, with top-class shops set in medieval and Georgian architecture; and the Swinegate Quarter, with designer boutiques, jewellery shops, winebars and cafes.
The Metrocentre in Gateshead is the largest shopping and leisure centre in Europe, with 330 stores ranging from Peacocks to Kurt Geiger. The new Qube development offers five restaurants, a bowling alley, and, from December 2010, an Odeon cinema with an IMAX theatre.
In Edinburgh, shopping choices range from designer names such as Gucci and Prada at Harvey Nicols and just around the corner in Multrees Walk to the boho area of Stockbridge. Princes Street offers high street fashion on one side and the famous castle on the other; try the West End and Bruntsfield, within walking distance of the centre, for interesting independent shops.

Designer outlets and mill stores

Away from the larger shopping centres and city centre destinations, there are bargains to be had at the new breed of designer outlet and mill stores that have grown up around the country in the last few decades.
Edinburgh Woollen Mill has 192 mainstream high street stores, 94 speciality tourist shops and 31 visitor centres throughout the UK, the latter operating under the name, Simply the Best. At these you will find the woollen and cashmere clothing that is the company’s trademark, along with tartans, tweeds and Spirit of Scotland Whisky Shops, offering free whisky tastings, traditional and modern crafts, gifts and souvenirs. Their newly re-opened Spean Bridge Mill has been completely rebuilt, with food, fashion, gifts, and a weaving demonstration area using a traditional loom. Group benefits are available.

McArthurGlen Swindon

McArthurGlen Swindon

McArtherGlen has seven Designer Outlets offering discounts of up to 60% plus a further 10% at selected stores for pre-booked groups of 20 and over, with a minimum two-hour stay. Brands include Armani, Hobbs, Hugo Boss, Kurt Geiger, LK Bennett, Calvin Klein, Paul Smith, Nicole Farhi and Ralph Lauren. Ashford, designed by Lord Richard Rogers, has the world’s largest ‘tented roof ’ structure, located just off junction 10 of the M20, with over 80 stores; Bridgend, at junction 36 of the M4, has over 80 stores; Cheshire Oaks, off junction 10 of the M53, is the UK’s largest designer outlet, big enough to house 20 football pitches and with 140 stores; East Midlands is near junction 28 of the M1, with 70 stores; Livingston is Scotland’s largest designer outlet, with 90 stores near junction 3 of the M8; Swindon is one of the largest covered designer outlets in Europe, situated in the Grade II listed buildings of the former Great Western Railway Works, just off junction 16 of the M4; and York has over 115 stores. All the venues have plenty of restaurants and bars.
Bicester Village in Oxfordshire is one of the nine Chic Outlet Shopping Villages in Europe. It offers over 130 luxury boutiques, with brands including Armani, Brook Brothers, Cerruti, Cath Kidston, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana at discounted prices of up to 60% off, with a further 10% off for groups.
Boundary Mill Stores has four sites at Grantham in Lincolnshire, Shiremoor in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Walsall and Colne in Lancashire (the newest and biggest). All offer up to 75% reductions on high street prices. Your group will be met by a coach co-ordinator on arrival. If the coach is carrying at least 25 passengers and stays for a minimum of two hours, the driver gains £10 cash and the group organiser a £10 voucher to spend.

Looking around at the Lowry Outley Mall in Manchester

Looking around at the Lowry Outley Mall in Manchester

At Gloucester Quays, a £400 million development in a historic area of the city, you’ll find waterfront bars and restaurants and the Designer Outlet, where more than 40 stores offer high street and designer labels with up to 60% reductions on recommended retail prices. There’s also a three-floor Antiques Centre; specialist areas include clocks, jewellery, vintage clothing and items from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. There is a coach drop-off point at the Quays and a main coach park in Westgate Street near the cathedral. In the Westgate Quarter, there’s a range of independent shops and delicatessens and a thriving café culture.
At The Quays in Greater Manchester, located where once there were docks on the Manchester Ship Canal, you’ll find the Lowry Outlet Mall. Coach drivers and group organisers receive a £10 gift card for the Mall and all group members benefit from a 10% discount voucher. There’s a coach drop-off point at the Mall and free parking nearby. Special group days offer a classic film, buffet lunch and a tea dance as well as shopping time. The Mall offers up to 60% off high street prices in its 80-plus stores, and on Tuesdays there’s up to a further 20% discount for the over-60s.

The Trafford Centre

The Trafford Centre

Whilst not strictly a designer outlet or mill store, if you are in the area, you can also pay a visit to the nearby Trafford Centre in the Trafford Quays Leisure Village, where there are more than 230 stores with plenty of designer brands and 60 restaurants. Telephoning ahead is recommended and you can book a Meet and Greet service to give you an introduction to the Centre before you disembark from your coach. Everyone on the coach gets a discount voucher booklet offering up to 30% reductions at a range of stores and dining venues. In the Leisure Village you can enjoy indoor ski slopes and golfing facilities.
Oswaldtwistle Mills in Lancashire is a shopping village with a real commitment to groups. You can book various itineraries and meal options for a minimum of 12 people, with the organiser dining free if the group tops 30; guided tours of the surrounding countryside in your own coach are to be had, as well as retail vouchers and discounts in shops offering clothes, arts and crafts, luggage, furniture and much more.