Christmas shoppers have hit the nation's high streets in their thousands in the last dash for gifts.

Despite the dismal weather, retailers are expecting this weekend to be "the big one" as consumers spend up to £5 billion, the British Retail Consortium predicts, with Saturday being the busier of the two days because of longer opening hours.

Visa Europe also expects Saturday to be the year's busiest shopping day, with customers set to spend £1.26 billion on their Visa cards alone.

Some 275,000 shoppers are expected to descend on Bluewater in Kent over the two days. That will add to the more than 600,000 visitors who have already been at the shopping centre - which extended its opening hours until 11pm - over the past five days.

Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre is expecting about 220,000 visitors as they take advantage of the final weekend before Christmas.

By 10am on Saturday at the Westfield Derby shopping complex, a spokesman said it was already "extremely busy", and about 50 people had queued outside the Pandora jewellery store before it had even opened.

Glasgow's Braehead shopping centre said Saturday was expected to be its busiest day of the year, with huge crowds also anticipated for Sunday.

General manager Peter Beagley said shoppers had been queuing outside stores before they opened at 9am, and by 10am the car parks were full and staff were put on duty to direct cars to spaces when they became available.

A spokesman at Sheffield's Meadowhall shopping centre predicted that 120,000 to 130,000 shoppers will pass through the doors on Saturday.

"Meadowhall, as expected, is busy," a spokesman said. "It's not mayhem but it is very busy."