Do you long for that wonderful Christmas shopping moment when you turn inadvertently off the high street to find yourself in one of the UK’s wonderful independent shopping streets? Suddenly you find yourself saying ‘goodbye’ to hyped-up high street hassle, and ‘hello’ to peaceful wandering. You stroll past window after window of beautifully collated independent gift possibilities, stopping only to sample the wares from specialist cafes and one-off bistros. What better way to get yourself in the mood for Christmas?
But finding independent shops in the UK can be tricky. Especially if you’re busy and only have a couple of days set aside for your Christmas shopping. On top of that, during the build-up to Christmas, just getting to the high street can be a hassle. And we all know that feeling stressed is the last thing you need just before buying Christmas presents.
With traffic jams and parking queues at their worst in December, Christmas shopping by train can be a far more relaxing experience than attempting it by car. Especially if you know exactly where to find those elusive independent shops.
Keep reading to find out our favourite ideas for independent Christmas shopping streets you can easily get to by train. We'll start in the South and work our way north.
For the most part, independent shopkeepers have taken over from smugglers along Penzance’s historic Chapel Street but there’s still one eager chap keeping an eye on things from the roof of the Admiral Benbow Inn.
Penzance (8-minute walk to Chapel Street)
Christmas gift perfection
Eastofhere for oriental rugs, quilts and curios
Pure Nuff Stuff for toiletries handmade in Penzance
Fishboy PZ for screen-printed clothing that has been hand printed on site
Bakehouse Restaurant is a dog-friendly, family-run local gem specialising in the best of Cornish produce and ingredients, all lovingly cooked in their tiny kitchen.
At over 800 years old, the Turk's Head is one of the oldest pubs in Cornwall, which gives it the perfect atmosphere for weary Christmas shoppers. Venture down to the cellar and you’ll discover a door that once led to a smugglers’ tunnel.
YHA Penzance offers private rooms as well as beds in shared dormitories. It’s a 30-minute walk with some hill from the train station, but buses are available. The Landmark Trust have three apartments available to rent within Chapel Street’s flamboyant Egyptian House. If you don’t stay here, you’ll definitely want to go and admire the outside.
If it’s luxury you’re after, make Bath your Christmas shopping destination. Even if you can’t afford to make a purchase, just wandering across Georgian Pulteney Bridge is an experience. With its narrow road and tiny shops, viewing this architectural beauty from Parade Gardens is a must.
Bath Spa (9-minute walk to Pulteney Bridge)
Christmas gift perfection
Found for stunning hair decorations, colourful scarves and those all-important Christmas socks.
The Antique Map Shop for authentic ancient maps from all over the world.
Up to Seven for adorable and unusual children’s clothes and accessories.
Perk up your Christmas shopping with a taste of the Caribbean from Turtle Bay. We all know jerk chicken but how about crispy skin-on jerk salmon or even jerk tofu to go with your lunchtime cocktail? Or you could relax in style while you watch countryside food become art at the Hive Bar and Kitchen.
It's downhill to the shops from YHA Bath, and you won’t mind a little climb to reach your great value budget room and unlimited breakfast. Or how about a stylish boutique room at Harington’s Hotel, which you’ll find tucked away from Bath's Christmas frenzy on a cobbled side street.
Shrewsbury will delight even the most seasoned of independent shopping aficionados. With cobbled streets, a market house and square, and even a castle, it has everything a Christmas visit requires, and that’s before you even start shopping. This traditional market town is packed with options when it comes to boutiques and surprises but start with the curving hill of Wyle Cop, and you won’t be disappointed.
Shrewsbury (10-minute walk to Wyle Cop)
Christmas gift perfection
Wyle Blue World for travel-inspired homeware, accessories and jewellery.
Uniiq for design-led gifts, homeware and furniture.
Christmas Perks for everything you never previously associated with Christmas.
If the contemporary vibe and refreshingly different décor of Shrewsbury’s Dough and Oil doesn’t thrill you, their sourdough pizzas will. Hide away with Miles Davies and Margo (both pizzas) for an hour or so, and you’ll come out feeling like you’ve been on a European city break.
If burgers are more your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice at The Beefy Boys. With enough meat options to satisfy the most ardent of carnivores, the vegetarians in your party will perhaps be relieved to hear all Beefy Boys burgers are also available with vegetarian patties or delicious truffled field mushrooms.
Premier Inn Shrewsbury Town Centre makes a convenient base for weary shoppers and is only a 3-minute walk from the train station. For a touch of 16th-Century atmosphere and fine-dining luxury, right in the heart of town, you might like to try the Lion Hotel.
Nestled in the steep Calder Valley but with its own distinct vibe Hebden Bridge is perfect for anyone looking for Christmas shopping with a difference. While you’re there, why not stroll along the Rochdale Canal and enjoy a water-side drink at the wonderful Stubbing Wharf Pub.
Hebden Bridge (10-minute walk to Market Street)
Christmas gift perfection
Spirals for ethically sourced, Fairtrade and handmade gifts, clothing and ceramics.
The Yorkshire Soap Co. for soaps, body lotions and general pampering.
Totally Awesome for stocking fillers and the latest trends in a whole range of toys.
Start your shopping day off right with a hearty breakfast from Mooch Café Bar. Then for lunch, sample Tibetan Kitchen’s authentic Himalayan food to find out what a ‘momo’ dumpling is and how a ‘rice and three’ curry works.
Why not support a local arts charity by staying at self-catering, vegetarian Hebden Bridge Hostel, situated on the (steep) hillside up above the town itself. Or if your Christmas demands something more traditional, how about a night in Hebden Bridge’s oldest building, the fabulous White Lion.
You might not be surprised to hear that Edinburgh does Christmas rather enthusiastically. With 360-degree views from the 60m high Star Flyer and ice skating on George Street, you’ll be well prepared for the buzzing vibe of the independent shops on Victoria Street.
Edinburgh (12-minute walk to Victoria Street)
Christmas gift perfection
The Whisky Shop for whisky baubles, tasting sets and boozy toiletries.
The Red Door Gallery for creative art, designer products and prints.
Museum Context for Harry Potter journals, wands and writing quills.
It’s taco time. Wash down your Mexican favourites with a touch of Tequila at family-run Mariachi Restaurant or tuck yourself upstairs at the Grain Store to indulge in the very best of Scottish meat, fish and seafood as well as in-house bread and pasta.
Just a 10-minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station, you’ll find Hostelling Scotland’s Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel. If you haven’t tried hostelling for a while, you might be surprised to find out that some of their private rooms even have en-suite facilities. If you’re after luxury but looking for something different, how about booking the Black Room at Tiger Lily. With a hanging chair and even a real fireplace, this one can be as romantic or relaxing as you like.
Over the last few years, our independent retailers have had a hard time. With the Covid-19 pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis, we’re at risk of losing the makers, bakers and artisan shops we all love. Christmas spending is vitally important for these smaller businesses, it helps to protect jobs as well as keeping money in the local economy but our reasons for loving independent shopping go deeper than that.
The truth is we’re all secretly proud of our creative heritage. From Scottish Whisky to Cornish Fairings, from Turkish dishes to Caribbean batik, we love to give gifts that tell a story or can be traced back to authentic roots. Of course, it is possible to do your independent shopping online, but nothing really beats a wander down an independent shopping street, or that feeling you get when you pick up the perfectly unusual gift you know someone you care about will love.
In the right location, Christmas shopping can be an experience rather than a chore, but all too often travel hassles get in the way of the fun. Our advice would be to start your day early and build in plenty of coffee and lunch breaks, but Christmas traffic and fuller car parks can often make that impossible. It’s far easier to organise your day if you travel by train. Not only will you arrive at your destination before the shoppers who are still queuing to park, but at the end of your long day, you’ll be able to sit back and relax instead of worrying about finding your way home.
With so many train stations on our rail network, there will be one to whisk you away to independent shopping heaven. Here are our five top tips for Christmas shopping by train.
One of the reasons many people give for not travelling by train is the cost. It’s important to factor in car park costs, rising fuel prices and lost queuing time when you calculate the comparison, but Christmas shopping train trips can sometimes work out more expensive. There are lots of travel cards out there to help you save money on train tickets but if you don’t regularly travel by train, a ticket splitting app like Trainsplit can make a big difference.
When you book your train ticket as a single journey, it can work out more expensive than breaking it into smaller trips. Splitting a trip yourself might sound like hard work but the Trainsplit app can do all the thinking for you. All you need to do is enter your date of travel then your origin and destination stations, and Trainsplit will check all the possible ticket options for you. If you’ve saved money, it will let you know, and you’ll be able to afford that extra gin on the way home.
Living in Devon, Fi is an outdoor writer, blogger and children’s author. She is also an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion and a keen walker and outdoor swimmer. For 2022, Fi has been trying to enjoy as many of usual outdoor activities as possible by train instead of by car.