Exotic Christmas Shopping Destinations

If the novelty of shopping at European Christmas markets has well and truly worn off, and you’re starting to feel that all the stalls just sell the same things year in, year out, there are plenty of alternative Christmas shopping destinations to choose from where you can pick up some more exotic gifts that would be pretty hard (or expensive) to shop for back home.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Turkey

Top of our list of alternative places to buy Christmas presents is the incredibly colourful bazaar in central Istanbul. Just a short distance from the city’s most famous attractions – including the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the immense Hagia Sofia – the Grand Bazaar is a sprawling collection of shops housed in a beautiful, domed building, each packed to the rafters with exciting present ideas. Hone your haggling skills before you step foot inside, then with some savvy negotiations you can get your hands on some lovely presents at a reasonable price – from leather shoes and bags to rugs, wooden backgammon boards, jewellery, antiques and ceramics. Elsewhere, contemporary high street shops and emerging Turkish designers offer modern present alternatives.

Malls and markets in Bangkok, Thailand

If you’re feeling flush and fancy a holiday in Thailand at its most pleasant time of year, you could add a few days in Bangkok on to the start or end of a holiday in December – giving you time to get all your Christmas shopping sorted in one hit. Central Bangkok is packed with huge shopping malls where it’s easy to pick up contemporary presents and genuine designer goods. The city’s night markets, on the other hand, are full of cheaper bargains – particularly clothes and accessories – but just be aware that ‘branded’ goods at these markets are unlikely to be genuine.

Souk in Marrakech, Morocco

If it was safe to travel to Damascus in Syria, I’d be recommending that as a superb pre-Christmas getaway, but Marrakech offers a good alternative for some serious souk shopping. Head for Djemaa el fna, a vast public square and the city’s main hub of activity, and from there you can explore the mass of narrow alleyways housing the old souk. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos, but really that’s half the fun. Look out for unusual presents such as traditional lamps; colourful rugs, hats and slippers; leatherwork; exotic spices; basketry; jewellery; and Moroccan tea sets or tagines (though these can be tricky to transport home in one piece!).