A shopping guide to Heathrow Terminal 5 ….

Duty Free Shops Terminal 5Terminal 5 (T5) has been the salvation of London Heathrow. Before the £4.2 billion building opened in 2008 the UK’s biggest airport was routinely criticised for its ageing infrastructure and terrible congestion during peak travel periods. Heathrow, long the busiest international airport in the world, was in danger of losing out to European rivals such as Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol.

T5, which boasts an annual passenger capacity of 35 million and is reckoned to be the largest freestanding building in the UK, has undoubtedly changed all that. Admittedly, the British Airways-dedicated terminal got off to a dreadful start back in 2008. There were IT glitches and car parking problems aplenty, but anyone who has travelled through T5 of late can’t help but concede flying from Heathrow has got a whole lot more pleasurable.

The check-in process is swift, efficient and high-tech, but what really stands out is the quality of the award-winning shopping offer, which oozes class and luxury. Mass-market it most certainly is not. The roll call of luxury brands present with either standalone boutiques or shop-in-shops reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of luxury retail: Burberry, Cartier, Mulberry, Thomas Pink, Kurt Geiger and Christian Dior are just some of the names present.

We could go on, but you get the picture. This is world-class shopping to grab the attention of wealthy business travellers more used to spending their time relaxing in well-appointed airline lounges than browsing crowded duty-free shops. It’s also been put together to woo the cash-rich influx of Russian, Chinese and Asian travellers, who flock to the English capital in greater numbers each year.

So let’s start our T5 shopping tour at the massive World Duty Free store, which is effectively the anchor retail tenant for the entire terminal. What catches the eye here is the enormous beauty offer with features you rarely see at other airport stores. Take Clinique’s skin consultation unit, for instance, where travellers can put their hand on an interactive digital screen, which will then assess their skin type and recommended specific products.

And if you have time, why not nip over the MAC cosmetic boutique within World Duty Free for a Hollywood-style makeover? Other hot beauty brands stocked include Jo Malone and Victoria’s Secret and for a full line-up of the latest fragrances and special promotions, be sure to visit the retailer’s excellent website, worlddutyfree.com.

For a superb range of mainly high-end French wines and Champagnes, visit the Wine Collection: Rare & Vintage outlet, which is also located with the main World Duty Free store. With over 180 wines and Champagnes ranging in price from around £15 to £2,000, you are bound to find something to your taste, and if you are unsure about what to choose, don’t hesitate to quiz the knowledgeable, but friendly sales staff.

We particularly like the fact that thanks to a temperature-controlled Enomatic machine travellers can try a selection quite expensive wines and Champagnes by the glass before they buy. If you are going to spend a substantial sum on a bottle of wine, it is only sensible to try it first!

Malt whisky is a real strength of World Duty Free, but while the selection at T5 is fantastic and includes some exclusive bottles, we don’t like the way it has been confusingly laid with the mini-World of Whiskies situated in the main store, and a smaller range in the main liquor and tobacco shop opposite. Our advice to travellers seeking a specific brand or wanting to know the latest arrivals, is to log on to the retailer’s website, www.worldofwhiskies.com, before they set off for the airport.

We can’t leave the liquor and tobacco store without mentioning the circular, candelabra-lit cocktail bar, which is staffed by bona fide mixologists. The range of drinks on offer is usually great, but whether a duty-free shop is really a place where people want to linger over a vodka martini is debatable.

Thousands of sports fans will of course be descending on London for this year’s Olympic Games and many of them will want to take a souvenir of their trip back home with them. If they are passing through T5, they should make a beeline for the 2,300 square metre official London 2012 Shop, the largest anywhere in the country. It stocks a wide of official merchandise including books, jewellery, exclusive Olympic coins from the Royal Mint, as well as Team GB sports clothing designed by Stella McCartney for adidas.

Elsewhere, but still on the souvenir trail, travellers should head for the Union Jack-bedecked Glorious Britain store. There they will find all sorts of above-average London tourist fare from black cabs and Big Bens to Beefeaters and London Underground maps, as well as popular lines such as toffee, tea, shortbread biscuits and all manner of Beatles memorabilia. Take a look at the company’s website, www.gloriousbritain.co.uk, for more gift ideas.

In our view Harrods has always had a lacklustre presence at British airports (think sad-looking shelves of biscuits, tea and tartan picnic rugs next to umpteen teddy bears), but the famous department store’s T5 store is clearly a cut above the rest. It has a dazzlingly clean design and boasts some A-list fashion brands such as Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, Hugo Boss and Zegna.

Electronics retailer Dixons was once a familiar High Street name up and down the length of the UK, but the rise of online shopping ultimately led to its demise. The chain’s airport shops, which had always performed exceptionally well, were spared the axe. The T5 Dixons store is a great place to try out the latest tablet computers, MP3 players, digital cameras and other gadgets. Current top sellers include the Apple 8GB iPod Touch, Bose Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, Kindle e-readers and the Panasonic TZ20 digital camera. For more details of what Dixons has to offer see www.dixonstravel.co.uk.

Those of techy disposition should also like Add+, which specialises in accessories for electronics. Other stores at T5, which definitely merit a mention, are Tiffany & Co., the jeweller’s only European airport shop, Prada, another European travel-retail exclusive, the wonderfully quirky Paul Smith Globe fashion store and the Fortnum & Mason shop-in-shop, which you will find inside World Duty Free.

To sum up, T5 lays a strong claim to being the best European airport shopping mall, but we do have a couple of grumbles. It is not the easiest place to find your way around. If you are either travelling with kids or looking to buy a gift for a child, you will be sorely disappointed. Also, if your flight leaves from any of the terminal three satellite piers (5A, 5B or 5C), be aware you will have less time to spend in the main shopping area.

These quibbles aside T5 is a great place to shop or (if you are watching the pennies) just to browse. New shops, bars and restaurants are opening all the time so it is well worth checking out the airport’s website at www.heathrowairport.com before you fly. You will find that there is a free online Heathrow magazine to download with details of seasonal sales, promotion, competitions and terminal events. Happy shopping!