What's the attraction?
From a festive shopping point of view, Christmas is already just round the corner, and the hunt is on to find those perfect gifts to place under the tree. If the prospect seems daunting, why not take your retail ramblings off to new territory and combine them with a pre-Christmas break in Britain or beyond? Many European cities offer festive events to get you in the swing, while others tempt with trinkets that you'll be unlikely to find on UK high streets. Whether you opt for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, or Bath's Christmas market, there should be plenty of seasonal cheer.
Souk it and see
Hopping over to Marrakech has never been easier, with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) relaunching its link from Gatwick and BMI (0844 848 4888; flybmi.com) starting flights from Heathrow. The Moroccan city offers an exotic blast in the winter months, with its bustling souks. The cogno- scenti make a beeline for the homewares on sale at Mustapha Blaoui's Trésor des Nomades, 142 Rue Bab Doukkala (00 212 524 38 5240). Tchaikana, 25 Derb el Ferrane (00 212 524 385 150; tchaikana.com) is a restored riad with doubles from €90 per night.
A capital Christmas
Festive shopping in London needn't start and end on Oxford Street, although the crush will be eased when it and Regent Street close to traffic on 10 and 11 December for a shopping event (westendlondon.com/vip). A more intimate experience takes place every Wednesday evening from 30 November to 21 December on Columbia Road in east London (columbiaroad.info), where you can browse quirky boutiques. Tomorrow, from 5-9pm, more than 100 shops, bars and restaurants will take part in the Carnaby Shopping Party (carnaby.co.uk).
Copenhagen is already in full seasonal swing with the Christmas market at the Tivoli Gardens (00 45 33 15 10 01; tivoli.dk). The city is also renowned for contemporary design found in shops such as Illums Bolighus (00 45 33 14 19 41; illumsbolighus. com) and Normann (00 45 35 55 44 59; normann-copenhagen.com). SAS (0871 226 7760; flysas.com) flies to Copenhagen from Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Aberdeen; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Norwegian (00 47 21 49 00 15; norwegian.no) also serve the city.
Glühwein and gingerbread
European cities are putting up their wooden huts, unfurling the fairy lights and hanging up the wreaths. Germany is the pre-eminent player in the world of Christmas markets, with glühwein and gingerbread galore. The oldest is reputedly Dresden's Striezelmarkt, now in its 577th year and on from 24 November to 24 December (dresden.de and germany.travel).
Last year, Vienna played host to 21 Advent markets, and this year the main event is the Rathausplatz market, with more than 150 stalls in front of the City Hall (austria.info). The Belgian city of Bruges provides a scenic backdrop to its annual Christmas market from 25 November to 3 January. Until 9 January, Cresta (0844 879 8014; crestaholidays.co.uk) is offering three nights in Bruges from £155 per person, including return Eurostar travel and accommodation with breakfast.
There are plenty of festive goings-on around the UK, too. Tomorrow, the largest traditional-style German market outside Germany comes to Birmingham with the opening of its Frankfurt market – 180 wooden chalets take over Victoria Square, selling everything from hand-crafted items to lebküchen (visitbirmingham.com). Bath will be hosting its annual Christmas market (bathchristmasmarket.com) from 24 November to 11 December.
There's a gift for even the most hard-to-buy-for friend in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Its warren-like lanes are thronged by over 1,500 vendors, who sell everything from traditional ikat textiles and leather handbags to antique jewellery and porcelain. From now until 14 December, Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; exclusiveescapes.co.uk) is offering three nights in Istanbul for £620 per person, based on two sharing staying at Stablesgate House in Sultanahmet. The price includes return flights from Heathrow.
City of light
When it is en fête in the run up to Christmas, Paris more than lives up to its dazzling moniker. A seasonal highlight is always the Champs-Elysées, festooned under an elegant display of thousands of twinkling lights. The lower reaches are lined with dozens of wooden huts for a festive market from 19 November to 2 January (parisinfo.com). There are also plenty of opportunities to pick up unique presents in the city's stylish boutiques and department stores.
Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com) has some midweek availability for £69 return fares from London to Paris in the run-up to Christmas. Present your ticket at Galleries Lafayette to get a 10 per cent discount on goods.
By royal appointment
The shelves groan with elegant homeware, covetable decorations and tempting food at the Highgrove Shop on Prince Charles' country estate in Gloucestershire. The elegant Montpellier Chapter Hotel (01242 527 788; chapterhotels.com) in Cheltenham is offering an overnight package with an invitation-only shopping day at the shop on either 7 or 14 December. Shoppers will get the chance to browse the goods (pictured below) then repair to the Highgrove Tea Shop for a cream tea. The package costs £120 per person, based on two sharing and includes B&B and entrance to Highgrove.
Who said that?
"As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled" – Victor Hugo
"Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping" – Bo Derek
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year" – Charles Dickens
"For holiday shopping in Paris, my tip is to start early. Right now, there are lots of special, invite-only sales going on where you can get good deals on the latest merchandise. Search online for ventes privées or ventes presses in Paris to find them. Other than that, the best tip is to get your shopping done this month. Don't wait until the last minute when stores are crowded and the pressure is high."
Rebecca Perry Magniant, Chic Shopping Paris chicshoppingparis.com