Hay straddles the Wales-England border, and the town was only half-joking when it declared independence from both countries in 1977. Hay-on-Wye isn't officially an ‘independent kingdom’, but when you stroll around the shops, it certainly has that feel. The shopping here is all about high-quality, free-thinking individualism – which makes it perfect for a Christmas shopping expedition. Each November you will also get the added bonus of the Hay Festival Winter Weekend, which has a food festival and vintage fair alongside the usual literary events.
Cardiff is one of the top shopping cities in Britain. Pretty much every prestigious retail brand is packed into the compact, pedestrianised city centre. The mighty St David’s shopping centre is a major destination for well-known names and labels, including flagship stores like John Lewis and Apple as its cornerstones. In the warren of Victorian and Edwardian arcades, you’ll unlock the city’s strong independent streak, with dozens of home-grown boutiques, cafes and delis. Christmas brings a big seasonal street market to The Hayes area, just outside the traditional Victorian indoor market that’s still going strong after more than 100 years. If ‘quirky’ is on your shopping list, the sprawling antiques and curios emporium of Jacobs Market is unbeatable.
Swansea’s the main retail hub for South West Wales, with a great spread of big brands and local independents. You can find most of the big names in and around The Quadrant shopping centre and Oxford Street, while the vast traditional market is easily the biggest and best covered market in Wales. The best of the local independents are in the Independent Quarter, which encompasses the arcades and side-streets off the main drag. During the festive season, Swansea Christmas Street Market sets up dozens of stalls along Oxford Street to offer crafts, handmade gifts, fine foods and unique Christmas decorations.
Cowbridge has always been at the prosperous heart of the Vale of Glamorgan and where Cardiff’s business moguls pilot their Range Rovers at the end of the working day. Accordingly, there’s an upper-echelon feel to Cowbridge’s many shops, galleries and bars, which are mostly strung along a single high street that runs the whole length of the town. Women’s clothing is where Cowbridge really excels (around 18 boutiques the last time we counted) but it’s also great for gifts, jewellery and art. Christmas begins here on the last Sunday of November at the Reindeer Parade, when Father Christmas is drawn by real reindeer down the high street, accompanied by a mass of festive elves.
The pretty hilltop town of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire has become a popular day out for independent shoppers, who spend a leisurely day trawling the town’s many boutiques, jewellers, galleries and antiques shops. In summer, it’s obligatory to snaffle an ice cream from Heavenly, but since it’s Christmas we may opt for a warming hot chocolate at one of the many cafes and pubs. The annual Festival of the Senses kicks off the festive season with live entertainment, fireworks and late-night shopping.
Here’s a Christmas quiz question: how many chain stores are there in Conwy? Answer: only three. All the other shops – a whopping 92.5 per cent - are proudly run by local traders. It’s an astonishing feat, which places Conwy in Britain’s top five places for independent shops. It’s also the key to why Conwy is such a great place to do your Christmas shopping.
For instance, there’s the multi-award-winning Edwards butchers, the Yesteryears toy emporium, Vinomondo for fine wine, Baravelli's for artisan chocolate… and if you want a suit of armour (you never know!), look no further than The Knight Shop. And all these treasures are wrapped neatly within the town walls of a beautifully preserved medieval town. To see it all at its festive best, head there for the Conwy Winterfest.
A whopping 92.5 per cent of shops in Conwy are proudly run by local traders. It’s an astonishing feat, which places Conwy in Britain’s top five places for independent shops."
Narberth has described itself as ‘the Bond Street of Wales’. But we know what they mean. It’s a lovely little market town, and they are justifiably proud of having Pembrokeshire’s best selection of independent shops. It’s notably strong on food, art, footwear and clothing, and there’s usually a Christmas market to get the festive season off to a flying start.
For a fairytale Christmas market experience, Portmeirion's Italianate village is surely one of the most romantic settings you could find. Their annual Christmas Food and Craft Festival takes place in early December. There are over 120 food and craft stalls showcasing local produce to mooch around, Santa's Grotto, musical entertainment and cookery demonstrations.