If your heart starts palpitating at the mere sight of “sale” sign, or if you’ve been known to elbow another shopper out of the way — if she’s getting between you and the boots you covet — or if you plan all of your vacations with retail therapy built in, this list is for you. We’ve rounded up the ten best cities in the world for your next shopping excursion — and whether you’re in the market for high fashion, fancy baubles, or even an unusual pet, we’ve got a destination for you. So pay off some credit card debt and hit the road — but don’t blame us when the bills come in.
Bangkok is renowned as one of the best shopping cities in Asia and it’s surely worth the trip, if only for some superb retail therapy on the way to the beaches of Phuket or the cultural temples of Chiang Mai. High quality silk, jewelry, and traditional crafts – everything, really, from sizeable bling to tailor-made suits – at a fraction of stateside prices draw millions to this Thai capital every year. The city’s several chaotic markets, and especially the 35-acre Chatuchak Market, are bona fide treasure troves, whether you’re scouting for clothing, home goods, or art, or live roosters, pythons, and even multi-colored chicks.
2. Buenos Aires
Besides being the most beautiful city in Latin America, Buenos Aires is also home to some of the world’s most beautiful people. And where do these gorgeous porteños shop? Much of the shopping is centered in Microcentro (downtown) along the streets of Calle Florida and Calle Lavalle, both of which teem with chain stores and boutique shops (those with more pesos to spend head to the upscale neighborhood of Recoleta, where Armani, Cartier, and their ilk maintain addresses). But no trip to Buenos Aires would be complete without the purchase of several leather items – the city is known for its abundance of high-quality leather goods that cost a fraction of what they do in the States. Head to the leather district for the biggest selection and return home with a superb handbag, pair of shoes, jacket and more at excellent value.
The fresh, modern talent of Scandinavian designers has made the Danish capital of Copenhagen synonymous with cutting-edge merchandise – whether you’re looking for a new wardrobe or sophisticated home decor. The Grønnegade area finds popular local designers like Munthe and Simonsen, while Strøget & Købmagergade – both pedestrian shopping streets – are home to international giants like Prada, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton. Mega department stores Det Ny Illum and Magasin du Nord make great one-stop shops, but if you’ve always wanted a sleek Bang & Olufsen stereo, there’s nothing like going to the source (on Østergade). Ditto if you’re keen on Georg Jensen’s sophisticated home accessories or first-rate glassware and porcelain from the likes of Holmegaard and Royal Copenhagen Porcelain; this fantastic trio is located within steps of each other, on Amagertorv.
4. Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a lot more to offer shoppers than electronic gadgets these days – and visitors will find street markets, designer boutiques, and mega malls laden with everything from jade to silk, in addition to cutting-edge technology, of course. Local designers like Vivienne Tam, William Tang, and Walter Ma are always popular, as are the vendor-rich streets of Li Yuen East and West, and the lanes of historic Stanley Market, favored for their collectibles like porcelain vases, silk garments, and Chinese artwork. The Jade Market in Yau Ma Tai is also a must – 400 stalls display the green gems that symbolize long life and good health. Each year, the Hong Kong WinterFest, a winter duty-free shopping nirvana, happens just in time for Christmas – so you can fill those holiday stockings at a discount.
Whether you choose to shop the trendy boutiques of Covent Garden, follow in the steps of princesses by visiting Sloane Street, or pick up a bespoke suit on Saville Row or tailored shirt on Jermyn Street, you’re bound to shed a few pounds (of the monetary variety) when shopping in London. That said, you’ll save a few quid by visiting the stalls of Camden Market, the shops of Oxford Street, where Selfridges and Topshop maintain addresses, and Portobello Market, a haven for antiques and hand-me-down treasures. But also don’t forget to stock up on foodie treats at Fortnum and Mason, a veritable gourmand’s delight of beautifully presented teas, biscuits, cheeses, and more, and stop at the venerable Harrods – at least to buy a shopping tote to carry everything home in.
6. Los Angeles
Ever wonder where your favorite celeb gets her to-die-for designer duds? Depending on how old she is, it’s either Melrose Avenue (Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton) or high-end Rodeo Drive (Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones). Still, you needn’t spend a fortune to get dressed in Los Angeles, as downtown’s Santee Alley is loaded with affordable knockoffs of brand-name merchandise. Otherwise, LA is one of a handful of major cities to boast popular outdoor shopping centers – The Grove, for one, is chock full of stores selling everything from fresh vegetables to iPod accessories, while the three-block, pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica has familiar brand-name stores interspersed with funky boutiques.
Shopping in the souk in Marrakesh is truly an experience of a lifetime – and one of the more challenging shopping excursions you’ll ever have. Bargaining over goods is a way of life for Moroccans, which can be a daunting but worthwhile experience, especially when you walk away with a piece of clothing, jewelry, pottery, or carpet at your chosen price – and substantially less than you’d pay for the same item back home. Even if you don’t buy anything here, this vast bazaar is easily one of the most atmospheric places in the world in which to lose yourself: its narrow cobblestone streets are suffused with such exotic sights and smells – stained-glass lanterns hang beside meat and vegetables, carpets lie next to mounds of spices – that you’re in for an altogether heady experience no matter what.
8. New York
From high-priced designer fashions to discount chic, and from electronics to rare books, New York City has it all, from the exclusive boutiques of Madison Avenue to the knock-off stalls along Canal Street. Manhattan’s mega-stores, like Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Macy's (which bills itself as the world's largest department store) offer the utmost in one-stop shopping. But more personal shopping experiences await in NoLita and SoHo, where big-name boutiques mix with one-of-a-kind shops and high-end street vendors. Chelsea, meanwhile, is the go-to spot for original art works (at a hefty sum); the Lower East Side attracts fashionable young things to its exclusive shops; and bargain-hunters fight over cut-rate designer fashions at the discount mecca of Century 21.
The creativity that goes into Parisian window displays – whether to front a high-fashion house or a neighborhood chocolatier – is unmatched anywhere in the world, and reflects the locals’ philosophy that shopping should be seen as a pleasure, not a chore. One of the best neighborhoods to experience this attitude is the Marais, where a medieval maze of streets harbors trend-setting boutiques, shops, and galleries near the Place des Vosges. But you also shouldn’t miss the 8th arrondissement, and the international haute-couture labels along two streets in particular – the famed rue du Faubourg St-Honoré and avenue Montaigne – though you’ll spend fewer euros at the city’s grand magasins (department stores); two local favorites, the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, are found side by side on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th.
10. St. Barths
The French-owned St. Barthélemy, affectionately known as St. Barths (or St. Barts – both are correct) has earned a reputation as playground for the jet-set, but also as the capital of the Caribbean shopping scene, thanks to its duty-free status and 200-plus boutiques. The delightful capital, Gustavia, is a high-end retail haven for shops like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Cartier, and Hermes (many of which stock items that aren’t available stateside) while the beach resort town of St. Jean tucks posh shops into La Savane Commercial Center and La Villa Créole. It’s not all high-fashion on this celebrated isle, mind you: Local women do peddle traditional island handiwork – hand-woven palm hats, baskets, bags, and more – from their verandas, ensuring you’ll go home with something truly Caribbean after all.