By Liz Weiss
Tired of visiting the same designer boutiques, venerable chains, and fluorescently-lit retail centers? So are we. That's why we decided to scour the globe for unique shopping spots; in these retail heavens, you'll find an eclectic array of boutique haunts, stylish department stores, and secret discount venues.
But to be a true fashion capital, a city has to do more than just provide shoppers with a wide range of options. In compiling this list, we took a variety of characteristics into account, including versatility, culture, location, and budget-friendliness. If indoor shopping centers are more your scene, then head to Dallas, Houston, or Minneapolis; because we believe shopping is an experience meant to be savored, you won't find America's megamalls on our list. But if you would rather embark on a shopping spree to be remembered, keep reading to discover the world's top shopping cities.
[In Pictures: Best Shopping Cities]
Seattle's shopping scene is just as rich and bold as its coffee. Home to iconic national chains (like Nordstrom and R.E.I.), independent boutiques, and cozy bookstores, there's plenty to purchase in this hip city. A jumbled array of eclectic neighborhoods, Seattle boasts a diverse array of shopping haunts. The intersection of Pine Street and Fifth Avenue makes a great place to start hitting the racks, with upscale department stores like Macy's and Coach anchoring a smattering of local shops. For souvenirs, knick-knacks, and exuberant window displays, head to Pike Place Market. And for one-of-a-kind vintage items and unique crafts, visit Fremont and nearby Ballard, both hot spots for retro items, artsy galleries, and independent breweries.
Japan's epicenter features everything from cutting-edge electronics emporiums to budget-friendly designer warehouses. Just keep in mind you won't be able to take in all of Tokyo's retail institutions in one trip. So, you'll have to pick and choose where you want to go according to your shopping style. For designer labels, you'll want to follow the neon lights to Ginza. Here you'll come across recognized brands like Chanel and Cartier, as well as massive department stores like Matsuya and Hankyu. Still haven't met your label quota? Check out Omotesando, a six-story shopping complex which features a melting pot of independent boutiques and iconic brand names like Harry Winston and Yves Saint Laurent. If you would prefer to shop among a younger set, head to Harajuku, which boasts a smorgasbord of high-end retailers along with bargain shops. For Harajuku's high-fashion scene, head to Kyu Shibuya-gawa Hodo (also known as "Cat Street"). To get more for your money, head to Ameyoko Arcade, a pedestrian market filled with knock-offs, exotic spices, and discounted garments and shoes.
In winter, when most of the country is hibernating from icy temperatures, Los Angeles beckons to shoppers with its warm weather, sparkling sands, and sun-drenched boulevards. Whether you're looking to lighten your wallet at the ultra-luxurious designer retailers lining Rodeo Drive or partake in a shopping spree at chic vintage boutiques, L.A. offers an eclectic spectrum of possibilities. To pick up eccentric, retro finds at discounted prices, head to West Hollywood, where stylish stores line the Sunset Strip and West 3rd Street. To marvel at impeccably dressed mannequins sporting designs straight off the runway, venture to Melrose Avenue. For more eclectic boutiques and scantily-clad sun-seekers, head to Venice Beach. And for a mish-mash of charming boutiques and New York-style department stores, take a drive to Old Pasadena.
The City of Light is home to upscale chains, charming boutiques, and haute-couture. And while it's easy to put your pocketbook to work on the elegant Champs-Élysées--where you'll find famous designers like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dior--you'll get more bang for your buck in the budget-friendly shops found in the Sixth Arrondissement's stylish St-Germain neighborhood. Here, you'll spot fashion-forward retailers like Des Petits Hauts, André, and Cyrillus. If you're looking for a piece of vintage couture heaven, head to the Upper Marais in the Third Arrondissement, where you'll find cutting-edge garments inside chic boutiques, like Merci. And there's plenty more than the eye can see happening below Paris' uber-trendy city blocks. If you've never been before, head to Les Halles, an underground mall filled with upscale stores and cafés.
New York City
It's probably no surprise that the Big Apple--which houses more than 8 million stylish city-dwellers within its five boroughs--has made our list of shopping hotspots. Flagship stores, bustling marketplaces, funky boutiques ... Manhattan boasts versatile shopping scenes that cater to fashion-forward shopaholics and chic New Yorkers alike. For designer labels and twinkling window displays, take a stroll along Fifth Avenue, between 34th and 59th streets, where you'll find institutions like Tiffany & Co., Macy's, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks. If you would rather shop somewhere that's kinder to your wallet, head to the independent boutiques that mingle with trendy urban retailers in SoHo. Those willing to spend a little more coin should visit bohemian Nolita, where window displays showcase vintage designer goods and one-of-a-kind jewelry and accessories. And for knock-offs and knick-knacks, head down to Chinatown.
The fashion nexus of Australia, Melbourne appeals to world-class shoppers and bargain-hunters alike. Rows upon rows of upscale designer storefronts line the eastern side of Collins Street, often called the "Paris End" by Melbournians for its high-end retailers. To continue draining your souvenir budget, venture to Chapel Street in South Yarra-Prahran, where posh boutiques rub elbows with charming cafés and exquisite art galleries. For a more bohemian selection, head to Fitzroy, just north City Center, which teems with eclectic, funky boutiques, cozy cafés, and art galleries by the dozen. Or make a trip to Flinders Lane and Swanton Street, both of which house chic venues filled with Australian designer labels and fanciful accessories.
No, you won't stumble upon the exquisite designer stores like those featured on Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive. However, you will find Santa Fe's cobbled streets teeming with eccentric shops specializing in locally crafted items like silver jewelry, turquoise, and pottery. If you came here to gallery-hop, head to Canyon Road, where more than 100 galleries and studios display contemporary and abstract works from distinguished local artists. Along this premiere shopping street, you'll also spot hand-woven Navajo rugs and wood carvings galore. Afterwards, check out the vibrant Santa Fe Arcade, which oozes Southwestern charm from its rich array of silver souvenirs and festive eateries.
London's diverse mix of sprawling department stores, antiques-filled markets, and cutting-edge boutiques offer a pleasant experience for all. Whether you're looking for extravagant must-have items or marked-down merchandise, London has it. There's Harrods, the Knightsbridge landmark that teems with designer labels and elaborate window displays. And then there's Oxford Street, the vibrant shopping strip filled with popular clothing chains like Selfridges and TopShop. Prefer something a little more unique? Head to posh Soho, where eccentric (and high-fashion) pieces dangle from clothing racks. If you happen to be visiting over the weekend, make sure to stop at Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill: The usually peaceful street sees a flurry of activity on Sundays, when the area fills with vendors selling everything from antique silver teapots to retro vinyl.
As its name aptly suggests, Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" features a brilliant mile-long stretch filled with top-notch boutiques and designer chains like Neiman Marcus, Chanel, Nordstrom, and more. For those of you looking for bargain-basement finds, you'll find less costly chains, like H&M, Filene's Basement, and Gap perched on the north end of Michigan Avenue. Prefer meandering through less-packed shopping enclaves? Venture to Bucktown and Wicker Park for antique-filled furniture shops, funky boutiques, and trendy art galleries. (Begin your journey on Damen Avenue and stroll north to Armitage Avenue for the top shops.) Just be prepared to leave with significantly depleted funds after hitting the racks here--the West Side may boast more bohemian shops than the Mag Mile, but the prices are just as steep.
This cosmopolitan city offers plenty in the way of supreme shopping blocks. For example, this is where you'll find Europe's longest pedestrian shopping street, Strøget, brimming with stylish boutiques and cafés. If you're planning on spending most of your time near the intersection of Kongens Nytorv and Nyhavn (the eastern end of Strøget's vast shopping network), pack a thick pocketbook: Here, high-end international brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel occupy a large portion of the sidewalks. Looking for bargains? Stroll toward City Hall Square, where you'll have access to numerous European chains, including Bik Bok and Vero Moda. Another bonus of shopping in Copenhagen: the sights. As you hit the racks, be sure to stop and look around every once in awhile to marvel at the majestic Stork Fountain (Storkespringvandet), Royal Danish Theater, and Christiansborg Palace.
If your ideal shopping spree involves strolling along quaint streets peppered with antique shops, art galleries, and cutting-edge boutiques, then make a bee-line for Charleston. King Street stands as the artery of the city's retail scene, boasting a rich assortment of local high-end home décor stores (as well as larger chains, such as Pottery Barn). For the best antique outlets, head to lower King Street, between Broad and Market. Looking for fashion-forward brands? Take a stroll to middle King Street where national chains, like Banana Republic, reside. Looking to stretch your dollar further? Visit the Charleston City Market on South Market Street, which sells everything from hand-crafted pottery to paintings to woven sweetgrass baskets.
Move over Las Vegas. In Dubai, everything is bigger and better, from the massive Dubai Mall to the bustling Gold and Spice Souks. In this Emirati metropolis (and major trading hub), you can find designer labels without the sticker-shock of American stores, thanks to tax-free price tags. Start your jaunt through the bustling bazaars for precious gems, Oriental silks, and savory spices--all for a much lower rate than they go for other parts of the world. Afterwards, work your way back to the world's largest shopping center, where more than 1,000 stores reside at the foot of the towering Burj Khalifa. And when you need a break for all the retail therapy, unwind by the Dubai Fountains, which feature an immense 900-foot-long pool.
[In Pictures: Best Shopping Cities]