Image: Vienna shopping district
The most fashionable shopping street in Vienna, Austria, is Kaerntnerstrasse, a relatively quiet district that spreads out from the Vienna State Opera up to St. Stephans’ Cathedral and then continues along the Graben to the much more commercial Kohlmarkt, also a pedestrian zone.
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updated 3/30/2009 1:59:11 PM ET 2009-03-30T17:59:11

So you’re in a major international city and you want to locate the top shopping area, either because you need respite from intense sightseeing, you want to pick up gifts to take home, or you have the urge to refresh your wardrobe. Don’t we all want the scarf from Rome, the shirt from Paris, or the silk suit from Bangkok? We also want visually arresting windows to pass by, and atmospheric cafes and restaurants for breaks.

However, finding the shopping district with a combination of high quality independent stores and chic international chains can often be a challenge. As to costs, however painful the economic downturn is for many, for some it’s an opportunity to find good value at reduced prices.

Here are 16 key streets or squares right in the thick of the best shops, galleries, and restaurants.

For a hot design district with a friendlier exchange rate, check out Buenos Aires. The city mixes Parisian chic with a casual, rockier feel, and is a great place to score edgy menswear and leather goods.

Women have long flocked to Avenida Alvear in the Recoleta section. But in order to go beyond large international labels, you’ll need to wander through Palermo Soho. Although there are standout stores such as shoe-mecca Mishka or Sabater Hermanos — a designer bath goods shop decked out with cute beakers and lab flasks — the fun is in wandering the side streets.

An even friendlier exchange rate makes for guilt-free sprees in Bangkok, Thailand, where shopping is a national pastime. There is a market, boutique or mall to peruse at any hour of the day, and it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street without being tempted by small trinkets, local crafts or quirky jewelry.

If you’re feeling energetic, throw yourself into the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which has as many as 9,000 stalls organized thematically — from vintage clothes to pets to spices. However, the real finds are in the Siam neighborhood, which features everything from massive malls to minuscule boutiques. Go here to find the perfect pair of jeans at one of the all-denim stores. Find a pair you like and have them hemmed and tailored while you wait.

It's A Snap! Readers' best shotsSometimes shopping is as much about the experience as it is about your individual finds. That’s definitely the case in Morocco, where mazelike souks are an exercise in cultural immersion. Hire a guide to take you through the medina in Marrakech. Although you should steel yourself for pushy sales pitches and fevered bargaining, the payoffs can be rich. Expect to find intricate hand-crafted jewelry, rugs and woven bags.

But much like a Chanel suit, when it comes to planning a shopping trip, you can never go wrong with the classics: Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles. Although Paris used to be the destination for high-end designers, the shopping landscape changed as the dollar lost traction against the euro and prices went sky-high.

But with the economic downturn, even high fashion may now be affordable. “What Americans should really look for are the fabulous weekend markets,” In Style magazine Market Director Toby Tucker Peters says. “You can still walk the Avenue Montaigne for a look at the opulent Gucci, Prada and Chanel stores, but much of their wares are available for much less in the States.”

The exchange rate still poses an even bigger challenge in London. However, the country pioneered a trend that only recently caught on in the States: commissioning high-end designers develop lines for national chain stores. Stop at Top Shop in Covent Garden for Michael Nash and other design heavyweights.

New York City has many shopping areas, such as Fifth and Madison Avenues, but Soho has emerged as one of the most stylish. It’s a quintessentially New York, but in-the-moment contemporary. Surprise: lots of elegant shops away from the hustle and bustle of Midtown plus colorful, artsy ones too.

Take an afternoon to walk wide, tree-lined West Broadway from Grand to Houston. You’ll find many fine international and American-owned design shops and fine little eating places. Branch out into the warren of streets between West Broadway and Broadway for more of the several hundred shops, galleries and cafes in Soho.

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