Belfast Telegraph

TRAVEL GUIDE: London

With only 28 days left to Christmas the annual shopping spree is getting unavoidable.

But the seasonal spending doesn’t have to be the usual joyless grind. There’s still enough time to book yourself on a plane and buy your gifts in style in the centre of London.

And it doesn’t have to break the bank — as I found out last week.

Swanky hotels are offering cut-price Christmas deals for shoppers and as the credit crunch still looms over the High Street, shops are packed with bargains.

We tend to forget about the English capital as a shopping destination yet it offers everything you could want on a shopping trip away — from designer to vintage stores and trendy boutiques. London is so big it has a number of shopping destinations but with just a few days to splash the cash you need to keep it “local” and around the West End is the place to be.

I stayed at The Marylebone Hotel in the heart of one of London’s busiest shopping districts.

After a lavish refurbishment it has become a haven of luxury — with plenty of nice touches including velvet-lined walls to minimise noise.

It prides itself on its discretion and recent celebrity guests have included Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto who moved into a room to get out of the media limelight.

A short walk from the doors of the hotel take you to more than three miles of style on Regent Street, Oxford Street and Bond Street with around 600 shops and 200 bars, restaurants and cafes.

Here you’ll have a choice of high street stores, designer boutiques and quirky off-the-wall shops the like of which you won’t find in Northern Ireland or Dublin.

If it’s designer labels you’re looking for Selfridge’s — just 10 minutes’ walk from The Marylebone Hotel — has it all. Other stores of interest on Marylebone High Street itself include boutique clothes stores Agnes B, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Fenn Wright and Manson and Whistles and Mimco.

Homeware specialists include Cath Kidston, Le Creuset and Descamps while local beauty emporiums include Space NK and Diptyque.There’s also the Paul Smith shop and if it’s an interesting snack you’re after there is Roccoco Chocolates, the artisan cheese shop La Fromagerie and even Biggles gourmet butcher.

A bit further afield is the Westfield shopping mall in Shepherd’s Bush – Europe’s biggest shopping centre.

The mega-mall — which now has an indoor ice rink — threw open its gilded doors in 2008 just as the sun really started to set on the economic boom and the country tipped into recession.

But its two miles of shops have defied the recession and continue to flog their Jimmy Choo heels and designer wares with ease — and Rihanna switched on its Christmas lights at the start of the month.

To refuel after my first day touring the shops I dined at 108 Marylebone. The service is friendly but not overbearing and they use only the best ingredients from the myriad of quality local suppliers in the area including La Fromagerie, The Ginger Pig and Biggles Sausages. Another option for a break when you are out shopping is lunch at the five-star Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.

The nearby Gore Hotel is another option for afternoon tea — or tapas before heading out on the town. Under a mile from Knightsbridge shops such as Harrods and Harvey Nichols it’s billed as the most photographed and romantic hotel in London.

And while in London it would be a shame not to fit in a West End show.

Billy Elliot, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing are just a sample of what’s on — and the newest of that lot, Dirty Dancing at the Aldwych Theatre in Westminster, has got rave reviews.

My shopping partner persuaded me to go and I went in expecting to hate the show —but had the time of my life!

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