The most unusual and travel-worthy bazaars, emporia and designer boutiques on the planet aren't just about the merchandise-they're about the experience. But you might want to leave a little extra room in your luggage, just in case...
SEVERAL HOURS AFTER you’ve nodded appreciatively at the umpteenth ancient site, not long after the 27th pit stop for postcards and bottled water, a curious longing strikes you. Your feet are aching and your neck is still out of joint from those fluffy hotel pillows when you spot an alleyway that looks…interesting. You make the turn.
Suddenly, in a little out-of-the-way shop, your eye alights on something improbable glinting in a dusty corner, and a jolt of desire hits you. There it is, the the vintage toreador’s cape, the jaunty taxidermied peacock, the bespoke brass doorstop in the shape of a dragonfly that will be arduous to carry and even more arduous to fit into your overhead bin.
Oh yes, you think, it will be mine.
Thousands of miles from home, there is the familiar pressure to rush across the piazza and face the next museum tour on your itinerary. But years later, when the exhibits and the architectural wonders are long forgotten, it’s that peculiar totem, carefully wrapped and taped and carried home in spite of it all, that you will relish. Here’s where to find it.
Kapali Çarsi (Grand Bazaar)
Standing in the shadow of the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, this massive covered market has about 4,000 stalls, organized into sections based on wares—so if all you want is a Turkish rug, stick to the rug area. But we recommend you take a spin through the rest; the elaborate arched ceilings dating back to the 1460s, when the market was built, are themselves worth the trip. And with vendors selling everything from spices and tea to fine jewelry and copperware, you’ll probably pick up a trinket or two more than you’ve planned on. But that’s fine, because you’ll have haggled brilliantly. www.grandbazaaristanbul.org
Kuwait may not have the same reputation as Dubai for Middle Eastern luxury shopping, but it should. Behold Octium, a delightful jewelry shop designed by Jaime Hayón to look like something out of a dream sequence in Mad Men, with vertical purple podiums and mod display cases exhibiting the finest of fine gems. You’ll find baubles by Ivanka Trump, Hannah Martin and Pippa Small here, as well as the exclusive Octium Collection. www.octiumjewelry.com
We’ve all heard of museum stores, but Vinçon is more of a store-as-museum. The perfectly curated décor and housewares purveyor is a vital part of Barcelona’s legacy as a great design city. Each item sold is handpicked by owner and interior decorator Ferran Amat, as are the pieces in the shop’s gallery. Don’t miss out on the view of Antoni Gaudí’s La Pedrera from the window. After all, a little culture won’t hurt you. www.vincon.com
Elio Ferraro Gallery
How come you’ve never found an Arne Jacobsen chair at your local consignment shop? Because you’re not shopping at Elio Ferraro, a vintage mecca in Milan and Florence that’s chockablock with finds by the likes of Eames and Marimekko, not to mention one-of-a-kind frocks by Chanel and Dior. Founder Ferraro is himself an accessories designer, so he has the eye and connections to score limited-edition looks, home furnishings and adornments made from 1920 to the present, as well as to secure prototypes from fashion houses. While the wares are not inexpensive, at least you know they’ve stood the test of time. www.elioferraro.com
Formerly the Soviet Union’s state store, GUM, which takes up one full side of Red Square, is housed in a building that once served as Josef Stalin’s offices. Its current incarnation—an ultrachic department store, with designer boutiques such as Burberry and Hermès gathered under a giant glass dome—can’t be beat for upscale window-shopping. The joys of capitalism have rarely looked so good. www.gum.ru
Suan Lum Night Bazzar
You don’t have to stop shopping when the sun goes down. This covered market featuring authentic paintings and pottery, as well as standard souvenir fare, is a lovely spot for an evening stroll, complete with live music, the Joe Louis Puppet Theater (which performs traditional Thai shows) and a beer garden. The prices here are a bit higher than elsewhere in the city, so we recommend you start your bartering at half the asking price. Please note that there have been rumors since 2007, when new management took over, that the market would close. Pay a visit before it does. 62 Langsuan Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan; Tel: 02-6519501
This nine-story electronics store, which anchors the city’s crowded, bustling Akihabara Electric Town, goes way beyond just cameras to stock gizmos and gadgets of all sizes and functions. In the most gadget-obsessed city on the planet, this is the place for deals on the latest flat-screen TV, MP3 player, camera or digital mind reader. Okay, that last one might not really exist, but if it does, you’ll find it here. www.yodobashi.com (website in Japanese)
In business since 1997, this attentively curated haven of designer everything defined the term “concept store.” If you catch the vapors walking in, stop at the Water Bar, which serves 100 varieties of H2O. Then peruse three floors of clothing—think Miu Miu, Prada, Balmain, really too many to name— plus books and gadgets.
There’s also a gallery, which often houses collaborations between artists and designers, such as a line of Tommy Hilfiger sneakers and rain boots with Keith Haring designs on them. Talk about happy feet. www.colette.fr
Dover Street Market
Something of a high-fashion flea market, Dover Street Market is laid out over six floors in the Mayfair neighborhood. The Commes des Garçons brainchild carries lines by the coolest designers you’ve never heard of alongside pieces by well-known couturiers such as Givenchy, Azzedine Alaïa and Proenza Schouler. Commes des Garçons also offers collections exclusive to the shop. Director Rei Kawakubo describes her goal as creating an “atmosphere of beautiful chaos,” and we think that’s the best kind. www.doverstreetmarket.com
Merz Apothecary probably looks much the way it did when it was first opened by Swiss immigrant Peter Merz in 1875—despite a move to its larger flagship location on North Lincoln Avenue in 1982. The handcarved wood façade and antique medicine jars are complemented by one-on-one attention from pharmacists with extensive knowledge of homeopathic and herbal remedies—another homey holdover from Merz’s time. The store also stocks every natural cosmetic one could hope for, and a selection of personal care lines rarely found stateside. www.smallflower.com
Mc Sweeney’s Pirate Store
Do you really need a tin of mermaid repellent or a Belly of Whale Escape Kit? Probably not. But you can get them here, along with more giftable wares, such as a limited-edition print by photographer Sven Wiederholt or a spyglass. Perhaps most important, the store is part of 826 Valencia, an organization cofounded by author Dave Eggers that tutors children in writing. So how do pirates fit in? That, my friend, is a question only a landlubber would ask. www.826valencia.org
Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen
Those who worship the written word will want to make a pilgrimage to this shrine of print. Named the best bookstore in the world by The Guardian, it’s housed in a converted 13th century Dominican church. Dutch architects Merkx + Girod designed soaring bookshelves that reach up to the ornate vaulted ceilings in the nave and added a reading area at the altar, as well as the requisite coffee shop, but they left the Gothic details intact. The store has good selections of books in English and other languages, so most everyone will be able to find something appealing to curl up with. www.selexyz.nl
FIVE STEPS TO HAGGLING LIKE AN OLD HAND
1 – Decide what you want to pay. Often, multiple flea market or bazaar vendors will have the same items for sale, which makes comparison shopping easy..
2 – Always ask the price. Even if an item is marked, the salesperson may offer you a deal off the bat.
3 – Make a counteroffer. This should be less than the amount you settled on in step one, and can be as low as half the asking price. The salesperson will typically respond with a significantly higher number.
4 – Walk away… slowly. Instead of making another counteroffer, just politely thank them and move on. The salesperson is almost guaranteed to offer you a lower price.
5 – Make a decision you can live with. Sometimes that means leaving empty-handed; sometimes it means paying more than you’d hoped to for an object you just can’t live without. But so what? You’re worth it.