Those who include shopping in their list of hobbies can rejoice this month. Ireland, Denmark, England, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea are offering inexpensive tours that skim over the local museums and cathedrals and focus on the department stores and craft shops. These offers top the list: Ireland. An excellent deal is Aer Lingus's ``long weekend'' -- Wednesday night to Sunday for $429. That includes round-trip air fare, all meals, and first-class hotels, plus extras -- a dinner at Bunratty Castle near Shannon Airport, a stop at a Galway crystal outlet, and a private fashion show by designer Vonnie Reynolds. Irish fishermen's sweaters, Waterford crystal, Donegal tweeds, linen, and lace are among the offerings, and prices can be at quite a saving. A Waterford crystal goblet t hat sells for $20 in Dublin is $33.50 in the States. Thick, white hand-knit Aran sweaters are only $55 in Dublin; and they tend to be even cheaper in Galway and Limerick. Visitors can get the VAT (value-added tax), often a hefty percentage of the cost, returned. The best shopping area in Dublin is on Grafton Street and all the little streets off it. Irish designers are beginning to gain international respect, and they all have shops here. You can buy designer originals for low prices and maybe, on a good day, even get to meet the designer himself. Wool suits in the $100-to-$200 range can be found. A block off of Grafton is Powerscourt Townhouse, a renovated block of brownstones with an atrium roof and lots of little shops. Departures for the Irish Shopping Spree are from Oct. 30 through next April. Available through Matterhorn Travel, Annapolis, Md.,
(301) 841-6544. Sign up quickly, as these tours are very popular.
Denmark. Northwest Orient and Passage Tours of Minneapolis, (612) 338-7100, are offering a one-week Copenhagen ``shopping spree'' tour. For $359, you get first-class hotel accommodations for six nights, breakfast and a few other meals, a city tour, and an escort. You visit a porcelain factory and get a fashion show at an Illum department store. A $389 tour focuses on Stockholm. For $479 you get both cities. Air fare from New York is from $395 to $545 extra, depending on when you fly. There are also departures from Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Some bargains are available on this trip. Your guide can direct you to outlets for Copenhagen porcelain and Swedish crystal, and also to stores that are most cooperative in returning the VAT -- up to 19 percent -- to visitors.
England. A number of tours are headed toward London. Passages Unlimited, Stamford, Conn., 800-472-7724, has a weekly tour that right now is called the London Pre-Holiday Shopping Spree. Nine days for $699 includes air fare (on Pan Am), accommodations in a studio apartment, ground transfers, and Passages Unlimited representatives on the premises. TLC Travel, Bryn Mawr, Pa., (215) 527-6550, is offering a bargain-hunter's tour of London for $599 from New York via Air India, with inexpensive su pplements to 15 different cities. Trips, which leave beginning Dec. 28 and on nine subsequent Saturdays, are mostly aimed at the after-Christmas clearance sales. Examples of the sort of bargains promised: silk neckties for $2.50, women's cashmere sweaters for $15, mink coats under $2,000. Fare includes flight, hotel, breakfasts, transfers, a ticket to a London show, and daily briefings on how and where to find the best bargains. Those who are shopping in London may want to call the British Tourist Authority 's bookstore to ask about shopping guides; the BTA puts out one called ``Shopping in London'' for $2.75; (212) 765-0898.
Hong Kong. China Express, San Francisco, (415) 397-8811, takes would-be shoppers to the other side of the globe Oct. 25 on an eight-day tour of Hong Kong, which costs $954 per person double occupancy. The price includes round-trip air fare from San Francisco or Los Angeles, hotel, transfers, sightseeing, and a hot line travelers can call to get advice on bargains. Peggy Ho, who will be escorting the tour, says that you can get anything you want in Hong Kong, and that stereos and cameras are
especially good buys.
Hong Kong and Korea. Japan & Orient Tours, Los Angeles, (213) 624-2866, is offering nine-day tours to Hong Kong and Seoul from L.A. for $1,028. For $1,186, you get Taipei as well. This includes air fare (on Korean Air), first-class accommodations near major shopping areas, transfers, and some sightseeing. Seoul has many bargain shopping areas: One of the best known is Itaewon.
Your travel agent can arrange these tours for you, but be sure to give him the name of the tour operator.