Holly Cave rounds up the UK & European shopping venues that combine retail therapy with a great day out
There’s no doubt that we Brits love to shop and luckily, some of our shopping and leisure centres are located near to brilliant destinations so we can combine a bit of retail therapy with a great day out. Shopping centres are definitely morphing into all-round entertainment venues.
Some of the biggest and best offer cinemas, sporting experiences, casinos and nightlife within their walls. Yet classic shopping villages in some of the countryside’s best locations remain popular for laidback browsing.
BEST FOR LABEL LOVERS
Bicester Village in Oxfordshire is one of the most popular outlet shopping centres in the UK.
With a focus on fashion, you’ll find some of the top brands and designers, with more than 130 stores including Hugo Boss, Jimmy Choo and Ralph Lauren.
The top end of the high street can also be found here with stores such as Cath Kidston, Reiss and Pandora.
A luxury coach service runs to Bicester Village from central London if you don’t have your own mode of transport. If you have time for more than just shopping, consider exploring the nearby town of Bicester, which lays a 15-minute walk from Bicester Village.
A worthwhile trip while you’re in the area is the National Trust property of Waddesdon Manor – a grand mansion in the style of a 19th century French chateau.
Lakeside Village near Doncaster is extremely group-friendly. There is a coach drop off point and coach parking available. Coach drivers who report to security at the Centre Management Office upon arrival will receive a £5 voucher if they bring 20 or more passengers and stay for two hours or more. The small but perfectly formed site has more than 45 high street favourites, offering up to 60% off recommended retail prices including M&S, Next, Clarks, Bench and Jeff Banks. There are lots of attractions in and around Doncaster if you’d like to extend your trip. These include Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, the Air Museum, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Potteric Carr Nature Reserve.
BEST FOR FUN LOVERS
Set to open in Summer 2015 at the NEC, Birmingham’s Resorts World will be so much more than just a shopping mall. Facilities at the £150million centre will include a huge four-star hotel and spa, an 11-screen cinema, a conference centre, casino, restaurants, bars and a designer outlet centre housing 50 stores. For now, Birmingham’s Bullring still draws shoppers into the city centre with retail’s star player Selfridges taking centre stage.
Classy restaurants and bars such as Browns, Café Rouge and Jamie’s Italian keep customers coming back for more. There’s also lots of health and beauty venues, so you can team your shopping trip with a spot of TLC. Thinking of travelling further afield to the vibrant Spanish city of Barcelona? Then you’ll want to add Las Arenas to your to-do list.
This former bullfighting arena still has its original ornate façade, but there’s now a very different kind of entertainment on offer inside, with Spanish and international stores and an organic market. The brightly coloured, high-tech interior covers three floors and a panoramic rooftop – accessible by external glass lifts – that offers amazing views over the city.
BEST FOR CULTURE VULTURES
Boutique shopping should definitely come with a spot of culture and visual beauty and luckily, some of the UK’s prettiest places offer fantastic retail opportunities too. The Shambles in York is just one location.
The narrow, twisting lanes that weave through the centre of the city boast the best-preserved medieval streets in the world.
Originally, it was filled with butchers’ shops and slaughterhouses and eagleeyed visitors can still spot some of the meat hooks on the shop fronts. Today, the independent boutiques and teashops are less smelly and a lot smarter. Top picks include the fudge and chocolate stores, leather producers and jewellers. Hop over the Channel and the iconic Galeries Lafayette in Paris is the perfect example of boutique shopping. This beautiful department store in the centre of the world’s most romantic city dates from 1893. The architecture of the building is stunning and it’s a wonder to shop as you gaze up at the impressive glass domed roof. It’s also worth wandering past at night-time when it’s illuminated to great effect. Eager brides-to-be will adore the dedicated wedding boutique, plus there are weekly half-hour fashion shows worth putting into your diary if you plan to pay a visit.
They are held every Friday afternoon at 1500hrs in the Salon Opéra on the Coupole’s 7th floor. Reservations are recommended.
BEST FOR SENIORS
Modern shopping centres with their game arcades and trendy labels aren’t for everyone. Luckily, there are plenty of brilliant destinations that are perfect for more mature shoppers. Boundary Mill Stores has five locations across the UK: Colne, Grantham, Newcastle, Sheffield and Walsall. You’ll find fashion, gifts and homewares from many well-loved brands at outlet prices. The company won Best Shopping Retail Outlet at the Group Leisure Awards 2014 and each store is well located for groups to extend their visit to other local attractions. Each site can arrange tours of the area on your own coach, either before or after shopping time. From Grantham, you could call in at Grimsthorpe Castle and Pureland Japanese Gardens or take a cruise along the River Newark.
The 13th century Crook Hall and Gardens is a popular attraction close to the Newcastle store and from Sheffield, many head to the Botanical Gardens. After shopping at Walsall, why not visit RAF Museum Cosford or the Walsall Leather Museum? Dedicated coach co-ordinators for each site will help you plan your visit.
There are plenty more retail destinations around the UK that combine shopping with heritage attractions. Masson Mills Shopping Village – at the Museum and Conference Centre in the Peak District – is just one great choice. The refurbished red brick mill was first built in 1783 and overlooks the River Derwent. When it comes to shopping, you’ll find 60 different retailers and the site also has a restaurant that serves amazing breakfasts and great value afternoon teas alongside lots of other snacks. The on-site working textile museum welcomes groups with daily machinery demonstrations and tours. There’s plenty of parking available for booked and non-booked groups. Plus, coach drivers can enjoy free shortbread! The venue also plays host to regular swing dances on the first Friday of each month. Nearly 200 dancers are in attendance, with a fantastic live band and supper included in the ticket price of £5. Dance classes are also held on Monday evenings.
BEST FOR FAMILIES
At Xscape in Milton Keynes, you can ski and shop in one place.
The Snozone Centre has the biggest real snow slope in the country, stretching 170metres from top to bottom, with a novices’ slope plonked beside it. The venue is a great place for beginners to test their skills on skis or snowboards. Plus, families can participate in activities together, such as ice sliding and sledging. There’s also Europe’s first purpose-built body flying tunnel Airkix, where you can simulate the feeling of sky-diving, plus rock climbing walls, bowling and a multiplex cinema. Throughout the school holidays, free family entertainment keeps the kids occupied. Xscape’s shops are focused on sports and outdoor activities, with retailers including Ellis Brigham, O’Neill and Trespass.
The centre also has loads of familyfriendly restaurants on-site, making it the perfect destination for outdoorsy types to prepare for their next adventure.
Further north, Gateshead’s intu Metrocentre is a firm family favourite with over 340 stores and restaurants.
There’s a 12-screen cinema with IMAX screen, which has special family screenings, plus 18 10-pin bowling lanes, a soft play area and arcades.
There’s a lovely outdoor play area where kids can get some fresh air and exercise and even a Maths Trail, which can be downloaded from the attraction’s website in advance. During the school holidays, the Metrognomes perform free shows for smallest family members to get involved with.
Heading abroad? Istanbul is a feast for the senses for adults and children alike and the city’s enormous Istanbul Cevahir mall covers six floors with a few hundred shops featuring international brands, eateries and entertainment venues for all. Kids will enjoy the children’s cinema, bowling lanes, surfing simulator, miniature rollercoaster and zombie experience.