Foreign travellers spend up to £4.5 billion shopping in the UK, according to research out today (Wednesdsay).

This means that a quarter of all expenditure by overseas visitors is on the UK’s high streets and department stores.

The VisitBritain survey reveals that the majority of money spent by 18 million tourists a year is on clothes, worth an estimated £2.3 billion.

Many visitors also buy souvenirs, gifts and household goods, accounting for around £1.6 billion.

Further analysis of the research found that a ‘shopping’ tourist spends more – an average of £680 per trip – than an ‘ordinary’ overseas visitor who typically spends £580.

The French are the most prolific shoppers with over two million trips, followed closely by 1.63 million Germans, 1.63 million Americans, 1.3 million Irish and 1.1 million Spanish. The Dutch, Australians, Italians, Belgians and Swedes complete the top ten.

Brazilians (73%), Russians (68%) and Chinese (65%) all have a higher-than-average appetite for shopping. Indians are about average, with 58% inclined to go shopping, the study shows.

Tourists from the Gulf states (£442 per head), Nigeria (£432) and China (£405) lead the way in terms of the amount spent.

Russians were just out of the top three, spending £362 on average. Brazilians came lower down the table at £273 a visit.

Shopping in Britain was rated above France and the same as Italy in terms of value.

Those travelling long haul were especially positive about the value for money of shopping in London compared to Paris.

Analysis of respondents from 19 countries found ‘Shopping in Harrods’ was chosen as a top activity by almost one in five respondents (19%) when asked to select their top three ‘only in Britain’ dream holiday activities. This was a more popular choice than visiting Harry Potter locations and taking in the theatre.

VisitBritain chief executive Sandie Dawe said: “Shopping in Britain is seen around the world as a positive and welcoming experience, and one of the things VisitBritain promotes to encourage visitors.

“It’s not just purchasing designer goods at Harrods, or rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous on Chelsea’s King’s Road that lures visitors to the UK – a huge number also make the trip to seek out bargains, whether it’s finding the best deals on designer goods at Bicester Village and the McArthurGlen Retail Outlets, or hitting the high street in Edinburgh or Manchester.

“Our shopping experience is world class, with high quality, desirable British brands enticing international visitors at all times of the year and providing real value for money against our competitors.”