Top shops and cheap chic

Date Posted: 17/03/2010

We highlight some of the UK’s top shopping destinations and some appealing alternatives.

Been there: Bluewater

Said to be Europe’s largest retail and leisure destination, Bluewater, in Kent, boasts over 330 shops and 40 food and beverage establishments. It is comprised of three distinct malls, the Rose Gallery, Thames Walk and Guild Hall, each offering a distinct shopping experience and featuring their own food and relaxation ‘village’. The family-focused Rose Gallery includes major high-street retailers, a food court and the Wintergarden. Thames Walk offers high street fashions, cafes and entertainment, while the Guild Hall offers carefully selected classic high fashion retail, together with lifestyle stores and gourmet restaurants and cafes. Ample parking for over 50 vehicles is available in the specially designated coach park.

Key features: House of Fraser, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer department stores and on-site leisure attractions including a Molton Brown day spa, a 4D Sega XD Theatre, a 13-screen cinema, a rock-climbing wall and the Blue Lagoon winter garden where groups can hire pedalos, play mini golf, ride go-karts and much more. 

Try this: Ashford Designer Outlet

Ashford Designer Outlet, in Kent, is one of Europe’s most innovatively designed shopping destinations. Masterminded by Millennium Dome architect, Lord Richard Rogers, groups will find over 75 stores beneath its eye-catching tented roof. Pre-booked parties of 20 or more people staying for at least two hours can receive ten per cent discount cards and qualify for additional special offers in selected stores on the day of your visit. GTOs can also receive an information pack highlighting other attractions in the area.

Key features: Musto, Sketchers, Next Clearance, Toshiba, Fred Perry, Kurt Geiger, Samsonite, Lacoste and Tula are among the range of top brands present. The outlet is also in close proximity to Leeds Castle, Brands Hatch, Dover Castle and the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park.

Been there: Boundary Mill Stores

The Boundary Mill Stores in Walsall, West Midlands, extends a warm welcome to groups, with friendly coach co-ordinators on hand to welcome you and provide any additional assistance your party may need. Snacks and refreshments can be enjoyed in the 200-person capacity BB’s Coffee Shop and GTOs bringing groups of 25 or more people (staying for over two hours) receive a £10 Boundary Mill Stores Gift Voucher.

Key features: French Connection, Hobbs, Jaeger, Aquascutum, Austin Reed, Timberland and Ted Baker are just some of the brand names that you will find here, with up to 75 per cent off retail prices. Plus, there are a range of stores selling homeware, furnishings, china, glassware and arts and crafts. Other Boundary Mills Stores are located in Colne, Lancashire, Shiremoor, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Grantham, in Lincolnshire.

Try this: Hatton Shopping Village

Hatton Shopping Village, near Warwick, is home to up to 20 craft and specialty gift shops housed in converted Victorian farm buildings. The shops offer inspirational ideas for your home and garden, childrens’ toys and gift ideas for all the family and 20 per cent discount vouchers are offered to groups visiting on weekdays. The on-site Farmhouse restaurant offers an additional 20 per cent off for groups dining there during the week. Free coach parking and a generous driver hospitality package are also offered.

Key features: Look out for the department-style factory outlet, a farm shop selling fresh local produce, the Stables Antique & Furniture Centre and the Hatton Toffee Shop, stocked with a variety of homemade fudges and popular old-fashioned sweets. Hatton Shopping Village also hosts many special events throughout the year, including food and craft fayres.

Been there: Livingstone Designer Outlet

35 miles from Glasgow and 16 miles from Edinburgh lies what is reportedly Scotland’s largest designer outlet, home to 90 stores, a cinema and a health club, all under one roof. Pre-booked groups receive a ten per cent discount card, for use in selected stores on the day of your visit.

Key features: Within its 300,000 square feet of retail space, groups can find Cruise Clearance, Kurt Muller, Ted Baker, Calvin Klein Jeans and Karen Millen stores, with up to 60 per cent off. And for meals and snacks, visitors can also choose from a wide range of cafes and restaurants including Pizza Express, J.D Weatherspoon and Cafe Nero.

Try this: Gretna Gateway Outlet Village

Situated right on the Scottish border, Gretna Gateway boasts 50 outlet stores offering quality fashion, sports, outdoor equipment, homeware, gifts and confectionery at up to 50 per cent off RRP. Groups of 20 or more people will be greeted by a member of staff and given Privilege Customer Cards that entitle you to a further discount at participating stores and cafes (minimum spend level may apply). Families are also welcome, with both indoor and outdoor play areas for younger visitors. The outlet village has five cafes and offers an attractive incentive package to drivers and group leaders.

Key features: Marks & Spencer Outlet, Gap Outlet, Game, Cadbury, Reebok, Trespass and Antler are among the many top brands to be featured. In close proximity to Dumfries and Galloway and Carlisle, other local attractions include Gretna Green’s World Famous Old Blacksmith’s Shop and Hadrian’s Wall.

Been there: The Trafford Centre

Boasting 235 stores, 60 restaurants, bars and cafes, the largest Odeon cinema in the UK and such leisure facilities as Namco bowling and Laser Quest all under one stunning roof, there’s something for groups of all tastes and ages at The Trafford Centre, Manchester. Upon arrival, pre-booked coach groups are met by the centre’s ‘Meeters and Greeters’ who provide an introduction to the array of facilities. Coach parties can also receive a special voucher booklet offering savings in a variety of the centre’s stores and restaurants.

Key Features: High-street names ranging from Anne Harvey to Zara, plus Selfridges & Co., a new Harvey Nicholls Foodmarket and the UK’s first LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, which opens this month.

Try this: The Northern Quarter

Manchester’s Northern Quarter is renowned for its independent bars, boutiques, cafes, music and clothes shops. With its youthful, bohemian vibe, it is a prime destination for the young and young at heart to purchase quirky one-off items, from vintage art and jewellery to the latest independent fashions. Plus, the funky Fashion Market is held every Saturday on Tib Street, selling crafts, clothing and accessories from some of the city’s top up-and-coming design talent.

Key features: Affleck’s Palace is perhaps the most famous of the stores in the area; an ‘emporium of eclecticism’ boasting several floors of indie-style stalls and boutiques. Or for vintage fashion, try Retro Rehab, Pop Boutique and Oxfam Originals, which stocks the pick of the charity’s retro and designer donations.

Been there: Oswaldtwistle Mills

Oswaldtwistle Mills, in Lancashire, has over 80 different shopping concessions, local shops and craft stalls, offering fabrics, crafts, unusual gifts, pottery, glass, furniture, silk flowers, cards, clothing and locally made food produce. A dedicated group bookings team greets groups upon arrival and are happy to help GTOs organise familiarisation trips, suggest catering options and ideas for further visits in the area. Coach parties of 20 plus receive a range of discount vouchers.

Key features: Store highlights include Stockleys Sweets shop and visitor centre and the Potter ‘n’ Paint store where you can decorate your own pottery, and even attend special pottery workshops on the day of your visit (must be pre-booked). There is also a free, on-site heritage centre covering a variety of topics on the history of Oswaldtwistle, dating as far back as 4000BC.

Try this: Botany Bay

A true Lancashire gem, this converted Victorian Mill makes for an interesting and family-friendly retail destination. It boasts an indoor children’s play centre and five expansive floors of shops offering giftware, stylish furniture, fashion and a Christmas shop (open from August to Christmas). Coach groups can expect a personal welcome by the group bookings team and pre-booked group catering is available for parties of up to 200 people. Free entry is offered to parties of ten or more, plus there is a free coach park and a range of incentives for GTOs and drivers.

Key features: A Dickensian style ground floor, featuring an array of goods including ornamental items, jewellery, candles and fragrances. There is also a contemporary garden centre providing all manner of colourful flowers and plants, water features and inspiring ideas.

Been there: Liverpool ONE

This £1 billion open-air retail and leisure complex spans 42 acres of Liverpool’s town centre and features 160 shops, bars and restaurants, an Odeon cinema and two new hotels from Hilton and Novotel. Groups will find everything from high-street stores that you know and love, to ultra-hip independent boutiques and some of the newest brand names to hit the UK.

Key features: Flagship stores for John Lewis and Debenhams, the largest Topshop outside of London and club stores for local Premier League teams, Everton and Liverpool FC. And once you’re all shopped out, relax in Chavasse Park, a five-acre green oasis in the heart of the city which has re-established the link between the new-look city centre and historic Grade I listed buildings at Albert Dock nearby.

Try this: Cavern Walks

For a smaller, more intimate shopping experience, try Cavern Walks, reputedly Liverpool’s only boutique arcade. Situated on Matthew Street, in the heart of Liverpool’s historic Cavern Quarter, it features a range of independent stores and well-known designer brands.

Key features: Popular stores include Cricket, Boudoir Boutique, Lola Loves and Kids Cavern, however Cavern Walks’s main attraction is its close proximity to the world-famous Cavern Club, where The Beatles reportedly played 292 times. Music fans can also find pubs The Cavern, The Grapes and White Star nearby, which were known to be frequented by the Fab Four in the early 1960s.

Been there: Bicester Village

For a particularly chic shopping experience, try Bicester Village shopping outlet, in Oxfordshire.

Set in quintessentially English village-style buildings, it features an impressive range of 130 luxury fashion, home and lifestyle brands selling previous seasons’ collections at reductions of up to 60 per cent off. Once you’re done shopping, groups can stop for coffee in Starbucks or Pret A Manger, or enjoy a gourmet meal in either Carluccio’s Italian restaurant or Villandry French bistro.

Key features: Matthew Williamson, Alexander McQueen, Pringle of Scotland, Jimmy Choo, Versace, Burberry and Mulberry can all be found here. Visitor attractions nearby include Blenheim Palace, Waddesdon Manor and the city of Oxford.

Try this: Gloucester Quays Designer Outlet

This impressive £400 million open-air waterside retail and leisure development lies adjacent to Gloucester’s historic docks and city centre. The atmospheric old docks offer a stunning backdrop to the designer outlet, which houses top high-street brands and designer labels at up to 60 per cent off retail prices. Group benefits include a meet and greet service, a convenient coach drop-off area with parking facilities, and an exclusive discount voucher book for everyone in the party.

Key features: A new three-storey antiques centre, maritime museum, hotel and cinema. Gloucester Quays also hosts a variety of lively events, plus the area’s fascinating history offers a number of options for local excursions.

Alternative London experiences

Some of London’s best kept secrets and special experiences

Columbia Road Flower Market

Held every Sunday from 8am to 2pm, Columbia Road in London’s East End is transformed into an oasis of foliage and flowers. Green-fingered groups will be spoilt for choice as lively traders fill the narrow Victorian street with their colourful plants and flowers and some of the best bargains are to be had in the final hour of trading. Columbia Road itself is lined with small art galleries, cup cake shops and vintage clothes stores sat alongside English and Italian delis, garden and antique shops. Plus, there are a wealth of charming pubs and eateries in the surrounding area.

The Clothes Show London

From the 25th to 27th June, Earl’s Court will host the second annual Clothes Show London, which promises to be an unmissable event. Watch an impressive 45-minute fashion show in the Fashion Theatre, feast your eyes on stunning hair and make-up demonstrations, hear trend reports and receive celebrity fashion tips at The Style Stage, or simply relax with a cocktail at The Designer Beach. And with a wide selection of high street and indie brands in the Chic Boutique, designer collections and quirky one-offs in the Offbeat Boutique, visitors will be sure to find something for every taste. Group booking is available, with discounts and free places offered to educational groups.

Anita’s Vintage Fashion Fair

Anita’s Vintage Fashion Fair (AVFF) stages six events a year (in alternate months) at the Battersea Arts Centre. Comprised of around 65 stands devoted entirely to vintage fashion, textiles and accessories dating from the 1800s to the 1970s, this is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of distinctive items. Shop for everything from vintage buttons, braids and trimmings to 18th century attire, high fashion from the 1930s to 1960s and stage, film and TV costumes. Future fairs have been scheduled for the 11th April, 12th September, and 28th November. AVFF will also be exhibiting at the Clothes Show London in June and the Clothes Show Live at Birmingham’s NEC in December.

Bermondsey Antiques Market

Taking place every Friday from 4am to 1pm, in Bermondsey Square, south east London, the Bermondsey Antiques Market is one of the capital’s most important and longest running markets. Its roots date back to 1855, in north London, where it was a place that thieves could legally sell their ill-gotten goods without fear of punishment. It remains to be a top destination for purchasing Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian furniture, silver, glass and china - and it’s all above-board. It is also a good place to stop by if visiting HMS Belfast, City Hall or Winston Churchill’s Britain at War, which are all nearby.

London Fashion Weekend

Experience the buzz of London Fashion Week at this twice-annual event, held in the official Fashion Week venue, Somerset House. The next event, in September (date to be confirmed), will round up the key looks for Spring/Summer 2011 at one of the capital’s premier fashion and shopping events. Here, groups can get beauty tips and hair care advice from Elizabeth Arden and Toni & Guy, and shop from over 100 designers selling samples, one-off originals, and current and past seasons collections at up to 70 per cent off retail prices. And once you’re done, you can unwind with a champagne cocktail in the Chambord Bar. Group bookings are available via official ticketing agent, See Tickets.

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