Christmas Shopping: Dream Christmas shopping spree destinations
Some of the world's most exciting cities have an extra special sparkle at the moment, so here are our experts' top tips for a very special Christmas shopping spree.
It's hard to imagine New York with an extra skip in its stride, but it happens in the weeks before Christmas. Perhaps it's the brandy punch cocktails, but more likely it's the shopping.
Just a stroll down the Holiday Walk -- the Christmas-light nativity displays in the windows of the department stores on Fifth Avenue -- will melt the most hardened consumer's heart.
There's no Christmas sale season in New York -- sales take place all year -- but Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving (it fell on November 25 this year), is when major chain stores cut their prices by up to 50pc.
The grand department stores are frenetic at this time of the year, so opt for smaller boutiques or design outlets away from the crowds.
Get a 'scent' of the city at Bond No9 (bondno9.com), a chic perfumery with five city shops, where the fragrances -- Madison Soirée, Nuits de Noho, Park Avenue -- are named after New York neighbourhoods.
The Paul Smith Sale Shop (280 Grand Street; paulsmith.co.uk) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a wonder: it sells marked-down items collected from all the other PS stores in the US. Suede shoes and pork-pie hats sit alongside obscure miscellanea such as, er, ukuleles.
For custom-made men's and women's wear ( shirts, suits, pyjamas), style slaves swear by Seize sur Vingt (78 Greene Street; 16sur20.com) in trendy Nolita, and in the Plaza Hotel in Midtown.
For great last-minute gifts, Il Papiro (1021 Lexington Avenue. Tel: 001 212 288 9330), on the Upper East Side, is a jewel-box-sized Florentine stationer's selling exquisite photo albums, leather-bound address books and engraved paper.
Downtown, C Wonder, just opened in Soho (72 Spring Street; cwonder.com), is a preppy homeware store. Buy ceramic trays, graphic pillows, lacquer boxes and other giftware.
The presence of so many fabled department stores elevates the New York shopping experience.
The Midtown classic Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Avenue; bergdorfgoodman.com) has eight floors of designer wear featuring every name from Alexander McQueen to Zac Posen; don't miss the superb handbag collection, with the latest creations from Nancy Gonzalez, on the main floor.
On the East Side, Barneys (660 Madison Avenue; barneys.com) is sophisticated shopping without pretence. Try the superb collection of men's designer cufflinks.
The Co-op Floor offers funkier fashions for the younger set (as do three Co-op shops around the city).
At this time of year, the British capital is seized with a happily frenzied mood that brings mulled wine in the pubs, festive lights in the shops and carol singers by Tube stations.
And while the thrill of the post-Christmas sales can be undermined by early discounting, it's still a great time to go up to town. Key diary dates are December 10 and 11, when Oxford Street stages a traffic-free shopping weekend, and December 26, when most sales start. A few stores, including Harrods and Fenwick on Bond Street, wait until December 27, a public holiday this year.
If you're a one-store Christmas shopper, make a beeline for Liberty (Regent Street; liberty.co.uk) or John Lewis (300 Oxford St; johnlewis.com).
Spitalfields Market (oldspital fieldsmarket.com), nearby Redchurch Street and Brick Lane are cheerful hunting grounds for on-trend, independently crafted gifts (good for tricky teenagers).
For old-school schmaltz in a glittering riverside setting, visit the Christmas Market on the South Bank (southbankcentre.co.uk).
Menswear shops to visit are the new Topman General Store (98 Commercial Street; topman.com) and the flagship branch of Liam Gallagher's Pretty Green (57 Carnaby Street; prettygreen.com).
Close by at 31 Fouberts Place, the skincare products at Cowshed Carnaby (cowshedonline.com) will go down a treat with most women, and harassed parents can seek instant salvation at the pop-up Harry Potter Shop at Harrods (87-135 Brompton Road; harrods.com).
Muji (muji.eu) and Labour and Wait (85 Redchurch Street; labourandwait.co.uk) are smart stops for stocking fillers, while Oh Baby (162 Brick Lane; ohbabylondon.com) has clothes for the rock 'n' roll infant.
If you want to get the family on their marks for next year's Olympics, bag souvenir merchandise from the London 2012 Shop at St Pancras International (Euston Road; stpancras.com/shop).
With its vast array of small boutiques, it's hard to beat Paris for shopping. The key retail districts -- St-Germain-des-Prés, Le Marais and Rue St-Honoré -- are also beautiful historic areas to explore and full of atmosphere at Christmas.
For one-shop buying, the Boulevard Haussmann department stores Galeries Lafayette (galerieslafayette.com) and Printemps (printemps.com) offer vast choice, and their Christmas windows are magical.
Many shops will be open on the three Sundays leading up to Christmas and they almost all offer a free gift-wrapping service.
For a classic present, sniff out scents that are hard to find elsewhere at L'Artisan Parfumeur (artisanparfumeur.com) and État Libre d'Orange (69 Rue des Archives; etatlibredorange.com).
Maison Francis Kurkdjian (5 Rue d'Alger; franciskurkdjian.com) stocks original scents, creates bespoke perfumes and even sells perfumed bubble mixture, a luxurious stocking filler.
Lafayette Gourmet (at Galeries Lafayette) has everything from grocery basics to modish macarons and incredible vintage Bordeaux wines in the Bordeauxthèque.
For heavenly but not extortionate chocolate try Jean-Paul Hévin (jphevin.com), especially the chocolate orange peel, bars of chocolate and this year's bÃ»che de noÃ«l.
Don't forget museum shops for great gifts: Printemps Design at the Centre Pompidou (centrepompidou.fr) has eclectic design items, while 107Rivoli (lesartsdecoratifs.fr) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs ranges from inexpensive notebooks to fabulous jewellery and ceramics.
Winter sales start on Wednesday January 11 and last six weeks. Expect between 30 and 70pc off fashion, houseware and linen.
Head for the mid-range boutiques that have recently shot into the limelight, such as Sandro (including 269 Rue St-Honoré, 16 Rue du Vieux-Colombier; sandro-paris.com) and Maje (including 267 Rue St-Honoré, 42 Rue du Four; maje-paris.com) for stylish clothes.
Candlelit windows in Georgian brick homes, trees festooned with lights, carol singers on every corner... a Christmas shopping break in Boston is much more than just ticking off gifts on a list.
The city is more compact than New York and is easily explored on foot. Sales tax are lower than in the Big Apple, too. A shopping spree is underway, with reductions before Christmas and bigger ones from December 26.
For quirky gifts, head to the Cambridge Artists' Cooperative off Harvard Square (59A Church Street, Cambridge; cambridgeartistscoop. com), where much of the jewellery, and scarves, ceramics and more are made by local craftspeople.
At Faneuil Hall Marketplace (faneuilhallmarketplace.com), the choice ranges from stalls crammed with stocking fillers to specialist stores such as Orvis, where fly rods are much cheaper than in Ireland.
For individuality, poke around Boston's South End district. OKW (pronounced o-koo; 631A Tremont Street; okwfashion.com) makes sophisticated clothes in a studio downstairs, while Gifted (2 Dartmouth Street; giftedboston.com) has tree ornaments handblown by the owner.
Clothes, particularly sportswear and kids' clothes, are good buys.
Compare prices in department stores at The Shops at Prudential Center (800 Boylston Street; prudentialcenter.com) and swanky Copley Place (100 Huntington Avenue; simon.com).
Bargain hunters: head for Downtown Crossing's discount stores. Find sporty menswear in the Eddie Bauer Outlet (500 Washington Street; eddiebauer.com), and clothes for men, women and children in TJ Maxx (350 Washington Street; tjmaxx.com).
In Rome, Christmas shopping still has an old-fashioned feel. There are global chains, of course, but the best Roman shopping experiences are to be found among the one-off boutiques, food shops, vintage stores and artisans' workshops that continue to thrive in the city's centro storico.
The sales begin on Friday, January 6, and you are likely to find plenty of very good discounts.
If you must buy socks, go for cardinal's red or purple ones from the Vatican-appointed religious outfitters Gammarelli (Via di Santa Chiara 34). They are cult items among globetrotting fashionistas.
At MMM (Via dell'Orso 57; massimomariamelis.com), Massimo Maria Melis crafts 'archaeological' jewellery in gold, coins and precious stones based on Etruscan, Greek and Roman models.
Marina Sersale's and Sebastian Alvárez Murena's Eau d'Italie (eauditalie.com) perfume range distils the essence of the Mediterranean. Go to the cutesy Roma Store in Trastevere (Via della Lungaretta 153) or the Profumeria Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda 70a).
For shoes, boots, bags and belts at knock-down prices, head for the stalls that line one side of Testaccio Market (just off Via Marmorata).
At Il Discount dell'Alta Moda (Via GesÃ¹ e Maria 16a), regular discounts of up to 50pc on designer togs from the likes of Armani, Versace and YSL reach 70pc-80pc during the seasonal sales.