A guide to shopping overseas: Where travellers should go to shop and the best things to buy

You might know the feeling. It's a sinking sensation, a creeping panic, an urge to develop a mysterious and fast-acting illness, dash to the exits and get out of there – anywhere – before you're forced to do the thing you've spent so much time avoiding: shopping. 

For some of us, there's nothing worse. The idea of wandering aimlessly through markets and stores, of sifting through endless piles of junk in search  of that elusive bit of treasure is seriously unappealing. Some people love it, sure. And to each their own. But for every shopaholic traveller out there, there has to be at least be one who would rather spend the rest of their lives in the middle seat on a long-haul flight than haggle with vendors and dodge touts and smile at salespeople in the name of a shopping trip one more time.

For those people, however, there is good news. Shopping doesn't have to be a boring chore. It's not a universally painful inconvenience. In fact, there are some shopping experiences out there that transcend the basic buying and selling of goods, that provide something greater – markets and malls that are attractions and cultural icons in themselves, ancient centres of commerce that are often found in some of the most beautiful and atmospheric settings you could imagine.

If you think you hate shopping when you're travelling, wait until you've explored places like these.   

GRAND BAZAAR, ISTANBUL

WHY WE LOVE IT

This might just be the world's oldest shopping mall, a vast network of 61 covered streets that house more than 6000 shops. Construction on Istanbul's Grand Bazaar began more than 500 years ago, and you can feel that history in every step. 

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

You will, of course, be assaulted with buying opportunities in the Grand Bazaar, and you'll marvel at how many stores seem to be able to sell essentially the same things. However, even for non-shoppers this place is a feast for the eyes, and about as atmospheric an experience as you could ask for.

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

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Turkish carpets really are something special – though if you're going to buy one in the Grand Bazaar, make sure you know what you're looking for (and at), and what to expect to pay. Also, prepare to haggle.

DON'T MISS

Just outside the Grand Bazaar you'll find Cemberlitas Hamami, a 450-year-old bathhouse in which to scrub away any shopping-related pains.

ESSENTIALS

The Grand Bazaar is open year round, Monday to Saturday, and is easily accessible from the Sultanahmet area. Though crime is rare, don't carry too much cash, and keep it on your person, in a front pocket. See visitistanbul.org

MERCAT DE SANT ANTONI, BARCELONA

WHY WE LOVE IT

Though most visitors to Barcelona tend to head to the Boqueria market, the Mercat de Sant Antoni in nearby Eixample provides a far more local and personal experience. This is still a historic establishment, housed in a spectacular and sprawling 130-year-old building designed by Catalan architect Antoni Rovira i Trias. 

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

The Mercat de Sant Antoni reopened this year after an €80 million renovation, and is the ideal place not just to check out all the fresh produce while avoiding the tourists packing into the Boqueria, but to marvel at one of Barcelona's most impressive buildings, and pick up some delicious food at an on-site restaurant such as Bar Casa Blanca when you're finished.  

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

If you're going to walk around and take photos, you should buy something. Pick up some fresh tomatoes, bread and olive oil for a sensational Catalan snack. 

DON'T MISS

Every Sunday, the covered gallery around the market's perimeter hosts a huge book fair, where locals come to buy and trade.

ESSENTIALS

The main market is open Monday to Saturday, and the book fair runs on Sundays. Access is via the Sant Antoni metro station. Pickpockets do work markets in Barcelona, so be very aware of your belongings. See barcelonaturisme.com 

NISHIKI MARKET, KYOTO

WHY WE LOVE IT

There's history in Nishiki, the covered market that stretches five blocks in central Kyoto, and which has been a centre for food-related commerce for more than 400 years. However, that's not the sole attraction: it's the mind-boggling array of food and kitchen accessories that makes it special.

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

This isn't your standard food market. Even if you're not buying, the simple act of looking will be entertainment enough. From the vast arrays of multi-hued pickled vegetables to the fresh seafood to the snack stores with all their fried things on sticks, there's never a dull moment. 

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Head directly to a store called Uchida and purchase some pickled vegetables. Kyoto chefs are known for their pickling expertise, and Uchida is the pinnacle.

DON'T MISS

The knife store Aritsugu was founded by a master swordsmith in 1560, and continues to offer incredibly high-quality (and expensive) blades.

ESSENTIALS

Most shops at Nishiki are open 9.30am to 6pm daily. If the weather is rainy, this is an ideal spot. Crime here is virtually non-existent, so no need to worry about security. See kyoto.travel

GALLERIA VITTORIO EMANUELE II, MILAN

WHY WE LOVE IT

This must be the world's most beautiful shopping mall, a crucifix-shaped set of arcades covered by vaulted, glass-and-steel ceilings and a huge, 17-metre-high central dome. The galleria was built in the 1860s, and remains one of fashion-forward Milan's most important landmarks.

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

There's no need to buy anything to appreciate the greatness of the galleria, which is a good thing, given most of the shops here carry names such as Prada, Versace and Louis Vuitton. The sheer beauty of the building is enough; just stroll the tiled arcades and marvel at the ornate shop-fronts. 

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Though it still won't be a bargain, it's worth grabbing a coffee at Pasticceria Marchesi, a classic bakery now owned by the Prada Group, for the people-watching if nothing else.

DON'T MISS

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is located right beside Milan's best-known attraction, the Duomo di Milano, or Milan Cathedral – you'd be crazy to miss it. 

ESSENTIALS

Though the galleria itself is open 24/7, most shops only operate Monday to Saturday. Crime here is rare but do keep your belongings on your front. See turismo.milano.it

WITCHES MARKET, LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

WHY WE LOVE IT

There's nowhere else like this on the planet, a hodgepodge collection of stalls and shopfronts in central La Paz selling everything you need to become a bona fide shaman. If you need to stock up on dried frogs, llama foetuses or owl feathers, this is the place to do it. 

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

Er, did you read the bit about the witches? This place is fascinating. Not only do these stalls sell products to local "brujas" seeking to appease or impress the Aymara gods, they're also quite often staffed by those who practice the dark arts, and you'll find plenty of other characters hanging around offering to tell your fortune.  

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Clearly the good folk at Australian customs will not be impressed with your dried armadillo carcasses; instead, opt for a soapstone figurine carved by a local witch.

DON'T MISS

The streets that surround the Witches Market in La Paz are filled with souvenir stores and other interesting shops – plan to spend the good part of a morning or afternoon here.

ESSENTIALS

The Witches Markets are located on Jiminez and Linares streets in central La Paz, and are open seven days. Petty crime does occur in this area, so try not to carry any non-essential valuables. See visitbolivia.org

ALBERT CUYP, AMSTERDAM

WHY WE LOVE IT

Amsterdam is a city of markets, but none captures the vitality of the city quite like the Albert Cuyp, an open-air collection of stalls and shops selling everything from local cheeses to fresh fish, cheap clothes and tacky souvenirs. The place is a hive of activity from open until close.

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

Maybe you don't like to shop, but you like to eat, right? At the Albert Cuyp you can get your hands on a pickled herring with diced onion, the traditional local snack, before grabbing buttered poffertjes, the Dutch-style mini pancakes, and fresh stroopwafels: caramel-filled waffles that are cooked to order.

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Opt for food – aside from the treats already mentioned, the local cheeses at Albert Cuyp are excellent.

DON'T MISS

Grab some snacks and drinks and head to the nearby Sarphatipark, a cute green space with plenty of spots to sit and consume your goodies.

ESSENTIALS

The Albert Cuyp Market stretches down three blocks of Albert Cuypstraat in the Pijp neighbourhood; it's open Monday to Saturday, 9am until 5pm. This is a largely safe area where you shouldn't have to take any particular security measures. See iamsterdam.com

BAZAR-E BOZORG, ESFAHAN, IRAN

WHY WE LOVE IT

For 1000 years merchants have gathered in the cool, dusty promenades of Esfahan's Bazar-e Bozorg to sell much the same things as they sell today: spices, carpets, fabrics, gold, silver, pottery, and more. There's such a sense of history to this sprawling marketplace, a feeling that nothing has changed, and it never will.  

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

There's no need to buy anything to enjoy the experience of exploring this winding, labyrinthine series of covered markets. Simply stroll and chat – the people of Esfahan are extremely friendly, and you'll be approached constantly by the curious and the welcoming. 

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

The Persian carpets, obviously, are beautiful, but keep an eye out for stores selling traditional hand-painted tiles as well. 

DON'T MISS

Rest your weary legs post-shop by having a cup of tea at Azadegan, a traditional old teahouse near the entrance to the bazaar at Naqsh-e Jahan Square.

ESSENTIALS

Bazar-e Bozorg links two of Esfahan's main sights, Naqsh-e Jahan Square and Masjed-e Jameh, and is open from around 9am to 8pm, Saturday to Thursday. Security here won't be a problem. See itto.org

FES EL BALI, FES 

WHY WE LOVE IT

This isn't a shopping mall; it's a time-warp. That's something of a travel writer's cliche but in the old part of Fes it's never been more appropriate. The fiendishly complex network of alleyways that makes up this ancient medina looks like it hasn't changed for centuries: there are no cars, only donkeys and carts; butchers display the lolling heads of their daily slaughter; the stink of the leather tannery permeates the sultry air. It's unique, and it's amazing.

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

For all the reasons mentioned above. You won't, for a second, feel like you're on a shopping trip in Fes – you'll feel like you're on an Indiana Jones-style adventure, right up to the challenge of finding your way out. 

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Then be ready to haggle. The local shopkeepers are champions; your main goal is just to limit the damage. Jewellery, leatherwork and carpets are common purchases.

DON'T MISS

Keep an eye out for street food vendors selling pastilla, the local snack of flakey pastry stuffed with spiced pigeon meat – delicious. 

ESSENTIALS

Fes' medina is open daily, though shop and stall hours will vary. It's best to explore for the first time with a guide, as the area is difficult to navigate. See visitmorocco.com

VASARCSARNOK, BUDAPEST

WHY WE LOVE IT

Otherwise known as the "Great Market Hall", this sprawling complex on the banks of the Danube provides one of Europe's great culinary and visual experiences, as shoppers wander from fresh-produce vendors to takeaway stands to sit-down restaurants sampling everything Hungary has to offer. 

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

This is a working market, as much a local institution as a renowned tourist attraction, and it's a great place to spend some time people watching, as well as sampling a few of the treats. For history and architecture buffs, this is a 120-year-old building that features a Zsolnay-tiled roof – impressive, if that's your thing.

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Food, glorious food. Feast on Hungarian treats such as langos (fried dough with sour cream and cheese), goulash, stuffed cabbage, and pickled vegetables.

DON'T MISS

Keep an eye out for a shop called Triffla, where everything – the chutneys, the pestos, even the honey – is infused with truffles. 

ESSENTIALS

The Great Market Hall is open Monday to Saturday from 6am. Be aware of your security as usual, but there's no need to take extra precautions. See budapestinfo.hu

TEMPLE STREET NIGHT MARKET, HONG KONG

WHY WE LOVE IT

As the sun goes down in Kowloon the action heats up on Temple Street, between Man Ming Lane and Nanking Street, as vendors lay out their wares and the crowds descend in the hunt for bargains. Temple Street Night Market is busy, chaotic and occasionally intimidating – but it's an experience.

WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT

Give the knock-off handbags and tacky souvenirs a miss and instead focus on the real attraction at Temple Street Night Markets: the people. For those who love to observe, this place is heaven, as a mass of humanity ebbs and flows through the busy marketplace. 

IF YOU MUST BUY SOMETHING …

Make it food. For anything else you'll have to haggle hard and not be 100 per cent sure of what you're buying. When it comes to street food though, the prices are fixed and the snacks are delicious.

DON'T MISS

Woo Sung Street runs parallel to Temple Street, and it's here you'll find the bulk of the "dai pai dongs", or street food stalls, selling noodles, roast meats and beer.

ESSENTIALS

The markets are on every night from 6pm to 11pm; for access, take the subway to Jordan station. Temple Street may seem intimidating but it's largely safe; still, try not to carry unnecessary valuables. See discoverhongkong.com

FIVE MORE MARKETS YOU MUST VISIT

The colourful spots where shopping is only a secondary attraction

1. BAZURTO MARKET, CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

Bazurto is a little intimidating, undoubtedly. Set outside touristy Cartagena, the sprawling, open-air market is pretty much a locals-only affair, though it's endlessly interesting for those who take a chance on it. With everything from fresh seafood to local vegetables to a mind-boggling array of tropical and Amazonian fruits, Bazurto is a feast in every sense. See colombia.travel

2. YAOWARAT MARKET, BANGKOK

If you like street food, you're going to love Yaowarat; and even if you don't fancy the spicy, tangy, delicious eats on sale at Bangkok's most famous night market, you'll surely appreciate the sight of about a million local Thais who do. Yaowarat feels like the centre of the Thai universe on any given night, and it's a spectacle you can't ignore. See tourismthailand.org

3. DJEMAA EL FNA, MARRAKECH

Marrakech's central square has been named a "Masterpiece of World Heritage" by UNESCO, and it's easy to see why: as the sun sets here and the temperature cools, Djemaa el Fna explodes into life, with meat sizzling on open grills, musicians and dance troupes performing, snake-charmers hustling for cash, and thousands of hungry, curious onlookers making their way through the melange. See visitmorocco.com

4. SAN TELMO ANTIQUES MARKET, BUENOS AIRES

Every Sunday morning the cobblestone pavements of Defensa Street in the Buenos Aires suburb of San Telmo play host to a huge street market where all sorts of trash-or-treasure bric-a-brac is up for grabs. For those who don't want to shop, there are plenty of cafes to hang out in, or just grab a choripan – a chorizo in a crusty roll – from a street vendor. See argentina.travel

5. KHAN EL-KHALILI, CAIRO

You haven't seen Cairo until you've spent several hours getting lost in Khan el-Khalili, the 600-year-old souk in the centre of the city. Here you can pick up everything from silver and brassware to gold jewellery, leather goods and traditional water pipes; or, you can just sit back with an Arabic coffee and watch (most of) the world go by. egypt.travel 

FIVE PLACES TO AVOID

Malls and markets even shopaholics would hate.

NEW SOUTH CHINA MALL, DONGGUAN, CHINA

There was a major problem with the New South China Mall near Guangzhou: for the first 10 years of its existence, one of the world's biggest shopping centres was a "ghost mall", with less than 10 per cent occupancy, and almost no visitors. These days it's picked up somewhat, but it's still an odd place to want to go.

TIMES SQUARE, NEW YORK, USA

Officially, this is a place that tourists would want to visit because it's really famous and there are shops here such as a Disney Store, a Hard Rock Cafe and an "M&Ms World". Unofficially, Times Square is insanely busy and the shops are tourist traps – there's no good reason anyone should waste their time here. 

PIAZZA SAN MARCO, VENICE, ITALY

Sure, you could go shopping at one of the world's most famous squares, if you really wanted to. If you wanted to buy high-end Murano glassware at marked-up prices or spend almost €12 for a coffee (which is the standard charge at Caffe Lavena), then Piazza San Marco would be ideal. Everyone else would be better off avoiding it.

SILK STREET MARKET, BEIJING, CHINA

You can buy almost anything from the 1700 vendors packed into Beijing's Silk Street Market, particularly knock-off handbags with high-end labels; however, you better be prepared to haggle, and haggle hard. Salespeople here are notoriously aggressive, and even if you visited just to sight see, you'd probably walk out having spent far too much on an unwanted Prada clutch. 

PIKE PLACE MARKET, SEATTLE, USA

Yes, the fishmongers still throw salmon at each other, as they've always done – these days, however, it's purely for show, and this whole place feels like it's being tightly stage-managed for the benefit of tourists. Seattle has a lot of great places to hang out and explore; maybe give this, one of its most famous landmarks, a miss.

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