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Top UK Department Stores - A Handy Guide

Where to Find What in the Top Department Stores Around the UK

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When you have a lot of shopping to accomplish in a short time - and visitors often find themselves in that position - department stores are useful for everything from outfitting all the family or choosing a fashion wardrobe for round the clock to furnishing your home and buying gifts to take home - all in one go.

This handy guide will help you figure out what to shop for in the different department store groups around the country. Look here for what you can expect to find and what you can expect to spend.

Tell us how you shop: scroll down the page and vote in the Shoppers' Poll

Selfridges - From Moderately Priced to The Sky's The Limit

Selfridges is something of the ultimate one-stop shop for fashionable shoppers. A a small chain of enormous and comprehensive UK department stores, it's what you might get if you crossed Harvey Nichols' fashionista style with the kind of shoppers' encyclopedia of merchandise that Harrods used to be. Plus, all Selfridges stores are in architecturally extraordinary buildings.

Prices? Some moderately priced goods but a relatively pricey store. Look for good buys in the food halls and in the sales.

Harvey Nichols - Supermodel's Fave is the UK's Absolutely Fabulous Shop

Harvey Nichols, made world famous as Harvey Nicks by the BBC's classic comedy Absolutely Fabulous, is a must visit department store for supermodels, celebrities, fashionistas and Sex and the City-style shoppers. Glamorous, trendy and expensive.

Prices? If you have to ask, wait for the sales.

Fenwicks - Proof That There's More to Great Shopping than London

When Fenwicks - pronounced Fennicks - started out in Newcastle in 1882, it pioneered the concept of department store shopping in the UK. Today there are 8 branches of this privately-owned department store around the UK. One of my favorite UK department stores, it offers a very good selection of fashionable merchandise that is different from what is on offer elsewhere and, unsually in a fashion store, staff are remarkably courteous, helpful and non-sizist to everyone.

Prices? Moderate to moderately expensive

Marks and Spencer - A British Institution

All over the world, people who have heard about shopping in Britain have also heard about Marks and Spencer. This department store chain is so fully enmeshed in British life that it is hard to imagine a decent sized town or village without one.

The company specialises in budget to modestly priced, high quality clothing for men, women and children. Most Englishwomen, no matter what their social status, have at least some M&S lingerie or underwear. And separate food departments, selling M&S own label food products and prepared or ready to cook foods are very popular.

Prices? Inexpensive to moderate and invariably good value.

John Lewis - A Reliable Favorite

John Lewis is a kind of upmarket, reliable and reliably English chain of department stores that is everyone's favorite for something. The 27 John Lewis Stores would not be number one on anyone's list for cutting edge fashion. But when it comes to everyday items where long lasting quality matters, they are the first choice stop for lots of things - custom made curtains, school uniforms, good quality bedlinens and towels, stockings and tights, appliances, televisions, notions, fabrics, jewelry, smart and elegant clothing and shoes.

Prices?Moderate prices and excellent value for money. On major purchases they brag that they are "never knowingly undersold".

Debenhams - Pleasant and Omnipresent UK Department Store

Debenhams is everywhere. So it's a good thing its a pretty pleasant place to shop. Once the moderately priced mainstay of the high street, these enormous stores have updated their act while keeping prices reasonable. In recent years, Debehams department stores have adopted a distinctly youthful appeal.

Prices? Moderately priced - the Designers at Debenhams range is particularly good value.

Harrods, Liberty and Fortnum & Mason - The London Three

These three London department stores are too famous for shophounds to miss. Harrods, Liberty and Fortnum & Mason are each unique - unlike each other and unlike any other store you might be tempted to visit. If you are touring and determined to visit any of these three, don't leave it until later in your trip because each of these stores is a one-off with no branches outside of London.

Prices? Luxury goods at luxury prices but food items at Fortnum's are affordable treats and fun to take home.

Bhs - Affordable Value for The Whole Family

Bhs, the streamlined and modernized name of British Home Stores, sells basic clothing and household goods - dishes, bedlinens, pots and pans and cutlery - for the budget minded. The shop's speciality girls department, "Tammy" is aimed at fashions for tweenies and is in tune with young teen fads and fashions.

Prices? This one's for the budget minded. Cheap and cheerful as the British say.

House of Fraser - A Retailer in Search of a Raison d'Etre

With all the stylish and well targeted shops around the UK, House of Fraser stores stand out mostly because they don't stand out. Founded in 1849 in Glasgow, the once proud owner of Harrods (which was separated from the chain in 1994), seems badly in need of a personality transplant. These are big department stores (often the biggest in their community or the anchor stores of second-string malls). Shop here for a mixture of fashion and beauty, clothing for the whole family, furniture, household goods and luggage. Though merchandise can be first class, with many exclusive designer products, for its price class, House of Fraser stores range from haphazard to dull.

Prices? From moderate to high

Take the Shopper's Poll

Do you shop on vacation or holiday. What kind of shopping do you enjoy most when away from home?
Vote for your leisure shopping favorite
  1. I don't shop on vacation unless I really have to
  2. Craft shops, galleries and boutiques
  3. Fashion and designer bargains
  4. Souvenirs and gifts for friends
  5. Gourmet goodies and cookware
  6. Duty free
Find out how other people voted

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