Analysts have expected sales to fall in November, and recent studies have suggested trading is weak.
The increase in monthly sales was led by household goods, which were up by 3.9% in November – its largest monthly increase since July 2007.
Sales of food rose by 0.2% during the month, while those of clothing and footwear fell by 0.1%.
The level of overall retail sales via the Internet was 3.8%, up from 3.2% in October.
Analysts had been expecting retail sales to fall 0.6% in November.
“Early Christmas shopping may explain part of the force, but really not consistent with the weakness in consumer confidence or the data seen in the CBI and British Retail Consortium (BRC) surveys,” said James Knightley, economist ING.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the increase in the official figure for November was “difficult to explain.”
However, the increase to the high profile price cuts and promotions, along with recent declines in interest rates and VAT.
“Some retailers now dare to breathe a sigh of relief that the clients are just postponing their spending Christmas rather than cancel altogether,” he said.
The BRC said last week that total retail sales in the UK has declined in consecutive months for the first time in at least 13 years.
It concluded that the sales were 0.4% in November from a year earlier, following a 0.1% dip in October.
And more timely figures from Experian, which track “footfalls” or the number of people in the High Street, suggest that the number of buyers has decreased by 11.5% in the first three days this week compared with the same period last year.
Meanwhile, official data showed on Wednesday that the number of people without work in the UK rose by 137,000 to 1.86 million in the three months to October – the highest level since 1997.