Ideally, there should be a personal shopper to accompany us everywhere – just like you see on the streets of Manhattan on TV documentaries. And now there’s the American Express Black card, with its classy style and almost unlimited purchasing power. We can’t give you any advice about the credit card but if you fancy combining shopping and tourism during this week of sales, here are a few tips to take with you onto the streets of Europe.
Italy means fashion. Let’s put aside the traditional Italian strongholds for a moment: Via Montenapoleona in Milan and Via Condotti in Rome. This time let’s dive into Bologna, a youthful and multifaceted university city. Here, just like in most places in Italy, the first sales start during Epiphany, which officially starts on 9 January and goes on until the end of February.
Go to Bologna and kill two birds with one stone: along with a weekend of shopping, you can sample fine cuisine since this region is home to tortellini, lasagne, salumi and good wine. Stay in a B&B if possible: there’s plenty of choice and the friendly management can give you the best tips on pubs and restaurants. In Bologna, the street par excellence for shopping is Via Indipendenza, right in the centre of town. The shop windows are full of all the most famous Italian brand names and the staff are happy to help. But the best shopping in Bologna is done at the markets. The prices are always low and during the sales you can’t do better anywhere else. Where do you find them? Fridays and Saturdays go to the market of Montagnola in Piazza VIII Agosto, where primarily you can buy clothes, brand names included, at great prices. At the last few stalls you can also find the more rare items: African crafts, Indian clothing, second hand goods and all sorts of vintage items.
Given that Bologna is only an hour’s journey from Florence, a trip to Tuscany is a must. Strolling around the fabulously arty city, you can buy some great things. In Via Tornabuoni and in Via Calzaiuoli, you can find a concentration of shops with the most famous Italian designers: Armani, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana. But an absolute must while in Florence is to buy a bag. Tuscans are the indisputable masters of leather goods. In city centre shops you will certainly find the jacket or belt made just for you ... shopaholics be warned!
Conquering the East: Budapest or Prague?
With one of the budget airlines, it only takes two hours to reach Budapest from London, Rome or Paris and now’s the time to hurry since the sales started on 27 December. Get there early for the best accommodation. The east is exotically cool: as well as the big brand names, found everywhere thanks to globalisation, you can also find native labels that not as many people know about. Shopping is done in the commercial centre and here are some streets to keep in mind if you decide to go Budapest: there is Vàci Utca for the glamorous ones amongst you, Westend City Centre for fans of hip-hop fashion, as well as the Asia Centre, a shopping outlet for those with smaller budgets. And you can stay overnight equally easily on a low budget in one of the city’s hostels.
The budget airlines also open up another pearl of the East: Prague. Wenceslas Square and Avenue Narodni Trida have the biggest choice of shops but, due to their location in the centre of the city, prices tend to be rather high. Our advice? Have a walk around the less touristy streets as well. Prague has a rich range of youth subcultures and is therefore teeming with shops where you can find samples of types of clothing, all ready to be bought and taken back with you. Prague is a magical city and not just for shopping: My Czech Republic provides useful advice for organising your visit and for finding places for all your needs.
England: join the rush
Everybody knows about London and Oxford Street, the traditional capital of European shopping. But let’s look North for a while: do you know what Manchester is famous for? This is where you can find the biggest range of second hand clothing, from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Manchester is the home of mods and vintage. Talk about cool!
The sales in Manchester, like in most parts of England, start straight after Christmas so you need to hurry to find the best bargains. Where should you look? The Nothern Quarter offers plenty of Oxfam Originals, My Goodniss! and Pop Boutique bargains, and then take a trip to the myriad of small shops in Affleck’s Palace, which resembles the renowned Camden Town in London. Given that the entire city is sprinkled with an endless number of small shops, the best solution is to get hold of a good map of the city centre and wander around looking for bargains. You can stay in a hostel in Manchester too. It is situated in Potato Wharf, a lovely area full of trendy pubs and bars.
Barcelona: progressive offers
In the last few years, Spain has joined the fashion Olympics: names such as Camper, Custo Dalmau and Antoni Miro have turned the ‘made in Spain’ style into cult gear. Here, the sales started on 7 January and they escalate from there: from reductions of 30% on the first day, right up to 70-80% discount by February ... practically giving things away! Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla Catalunya and via Pelayo must not be missed: from shops containing the merchandise of the greatest fashion designers to those more affordable, international brands and Custo’s t-shirts, which draw crowds from all over the world.
For those who want to avoid trekking all over the city, our advice would be to attack the commercial centre. The most famous is definitely El Corte Inglés, but La Maquinista and l’Illa Diagonal are also worth a visit. To have everything at arms reach, the best choice for accommodation would be near Passeig de Gràcia: there is a cosy hostel, which is close to shops and restaurants, right in the heart of Catalan life.
The following correspondents collaborated on this article: Letizia Gambini in Florence, Judit Járadi in Budapest, Miriam Rodríguez in Barcelona, Lindsey Evans in Manchester and Andrea Fialková in Prague.