England Shopping and nightlife

Shopping in England

Shopping is a national past time in England, and there's lots to choose whether it's food, fashion or something else whetting your appetite. The English high street is one of the most diverse in the world, with lots of international brands available nationwide. Traditional British brands such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are a byword for quality and similarly, the iconic Harrods building in Knightsbridge is not one to be missed and should feature on any keen shopper's list of to-do's.

Chic department stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols have spread their wings beyond the capital into Northern cities such as Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, while High street brands like Topshop produce on-trend fashion at accessible prices. Apart from these well-known brands, there are still lots of places where independent labels and boutiques thrive. Find vintage and retro clothes in the charming boutiques of Totnes in Devon, Birmingham's Custard Factory or the Brighton Lanes. London, it goes without saying, has shopping to suit all tastes.

On the foodie front, specialities include jams, marmalades and fruit chutneys, while legendary cakes such as Victoria sponge and gingerbread are perennial favourites, and of course tea is the national drink. Farmers' markets up and down the country are the places to buy home-grown treasures. Borough market in London, and the Bristol Farmers market on Corn Street are good hunting grounds, while Winchester farmer's market is the largest in the country.

England also has a strong bookshop culture with small and specialist shops can be found all over the country. Old university towns Oxford and Cambridge are particularly good places to find quirky bookshops home to obscure gems.

Tax-free shopping: Many shops throughout the country now operate a tax-free shopping scheme for overseas visitors. The store provides a form that should be completed at the time of purchase. Upon arrival at customs, present the goods and the forms (within three months) to be entitled to a refund of Value Added Tax (VAT) which is currently set at 20%.

Shopping hours

Mon-Sat 0900/0930-1730 but in London and other large shopping centres, shops may stay open to 2000. Most cities have at least one night a week of late night shopping until 2000, usually on Thursday. Large shops and supermarkets shops open Sun 1000/1100-1600/1700.

Nightlife in England

From cinema and concerts to theatre and ballet, visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to entertainment in England; and of course, no visit is complete without a trip to the pub.

Most cities have a theatre - London is packed to the rafters with them. Musicals and big-budget plays are the remit of the West End, while newer material is staged at the National and the Royal Court. Bristol, Bath, Manchester, Sheffield and Hull also have strong dramatic traditions and well-regarded theatres.

Going to the cinema is also popular. Most cinemas belong to popular chains but for a different experience look out for Picturehouse cinemas, which tend to show more arthouse films. Alternatively find one of the few remaining independents, which tend to be set in glorious surroundings – The UK's oldest cinema, The Electric in Birmingham, dates from 1909 and is an art deco gem.

Most big towns have a club or two for night owls who want to stay out late dancing. Musical genres vary but most clubs will play a decent variety of styles. A night out however, usually starts in the pub.

The whole country is peppered with historic pubs, and a visit is a quintessential British experience. A 'trip down the local' must include a pint of locally-brewed beer, a packet of peanuts or pork scratchings, and a long chat with the locals. Give the touristy areas a miss - the oldest part of a city is often the best bet for good, old-fashioned pubs. Try sinking a pint in the canal district of Birmingham, or visit the oldest pub in historic, medieval Norwich, the cosy Adam and Eve, built in 1248.

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