World's best places to shop: Experts' guide to shopping

Let's get one thing straight: shopping, when indulged in overseas, is not a fickle pastime. More often than not, and particularly when you ignore mega-malls and delve into markets and specialty stores, it's a key to a city that unlocks doors to its history, craftspeople and secrets. It's a hall pass to buying unnecessary items that you're able to justify simply because you're in a different postcode. And whether you see it as an enjoyable way of injecting money back into the local economy, of discovering hot new designers who haven't made it big yet, or of indulging a passion for a particular kind of weaving or antique collecting, overseas shopping is damn fun, too.

Once you return home, your purchases become symbols of the foreign lands you've returned from, mementos that speak to the culture of that place that you'll treasure forever. The rug that reminds you of hours spent sipping tea and talking about life with that carpet shop owner in Cappadocia; the perfume that transports you back to Paris every morning when you squirt it onto your wrists. And when you wear that quirky tailored jacket you had made during that layover in Hong Kong to a party in Melbourne, you know with certainty you'll be the only person wearing it.

Here, we celebrate the art of shopping abroad, covering the best cities and neighbourhoods in the world for shopping – from the wild, chaotic markets of India, to the colourful streets of Hoi An in Vietnam, to eclectic European markets and beyond, as chosen by our panels of experts.

MIZRA ISMAIL ROAD, JAIPUR

WHY WE LOVE IT

The romantic pink city of Jaipur is India's jewellery capital. Jewellery connoisseurs make the pilgrimage to M.I. Road to visit the Gem Palace, founded in 1853 and run by the ninth generation of the Kasliwal family, once jewellers to the Mughal court.

WHAT TO BUY

The world's best gems are traded here and the city is known for traditional intricate meenakari (enamel) and kundan (foil setting) gold jewellery. It's possible to buy old tribal silver, and Maniharon ka Rasta is the lane for the traditional colourful lac bangles, made from resin produced by the female lac insect.

EXPERT SAYS

When visiting the Gem Place, don't miss the atelier of the legendary jewellery-maker Munnu Kasliwal on the first floor, now run by his son Siddharth. By appointment only.

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ESSENTIALS

gempalacejaipur.com.

Fiona Caulfield.

See: Why Jaipur is India's must-see city


​SEMINYAK, BALI

WHY WE LOVE IT

Because nothing is better than shopping in thongs and a kaftan.

WHAT TO BUY

Island luxe homewares, comfy cotton dresses, jewellery, shells, sarongs, baskets, ceramics.

EXPERT SAYS

Walk Jl. Laksamana top to bottom for a great selection of boutiques from well-known brands. Stop in at Kim Soo Bali for all things tribal luxe for your home, and The Bali Tailor for custom leather.

ESSENTIALS

Kimsoobali.com

- Beth Finckh

See: Three-minute guide to Seminyak


LES PUCES, CLIGNANCOURT

WHY WE LOVE IT

The best flea market in the world – no trip to Paris is complete without a visit. Hundreds of dealers split up into five different areas. Prices are close to retail, although dealers still shop here.

WHAT TO BUY

Architectural elements, leather furniture, statuary, lighting, furniture, paintings.

EXPERT SAYS

Go in the warmer months (July to Sept), mortgage your house and fill a container. Have lunch at Ma Cocotte, a Philippe Starck-designed restaurant.

ESSENTIALS

150 rue des Rosiers; macocotte-lespuces.com.

Philip Graham

See: Paris, where even the flea markets are high class

CAPE TOWN

WHY WE LOVE IT

Voted World Design Capital in 2014, Cape Town's streets are filled with great stores and locally designed and made homewares. There's a beautiful minimalist feel to many, still with a textural and organic African influence.

WHAT TO BUY

Furniture and homewares at Stable, Lim and Klooftique. Biscuit Mill and Woodstock Exchange are also a must for shops and restaurants.

EXPERT SAYS

Explore Kalk Bay, a short coastal train ride out of the city. It's home to artists, writers, poets and makers and it shows in the local boutique offerings. For vintage finds visit Trading Post on Main Road and have lunch at the iconic Brass Bell.

ESSENTIALS

stable.org.za; lim.co.za.

Belinda Cendron

​See: 20 reasons to visit Cape Town

OLD DELHI

WHY WE LOVE IT

The medieval city of Old Delhi was the seat of power for the Mughal emperors, and today is a crazy, chaotic jumble of narrow lanes and wonderful specialist bazaars.

WHAT TO BUY

Spices from Khari Baoli, the largest spice market in Asia – climb up to the rooftop for spectacular views. Kinari Bazaar is the "trimmings" market, offering kilometres of gold lace, yards of netting, tonnes of sequins and pretty baubles, perfect for Indian weddings. Buy attars (essential oil fragrances) from Gulabsingh Johrimal, dating back to 1816, and in the same laneway visit Delhi's oldest jewellery store, Bhagwan Dass & Son.

EXPERT SAYS

Best navigated by foot or cycle rickshaw. The rickshaw wallahs know every inch of the old city and expertly navigate the bylanes, they work hard, so tip generously. Afterwards, escape to the nearby gracious tea salon, Aap Ki Pasand, for a cup of first flush Darjeeling tea served in fine bone china cups.

ESSENTIALS

gulabsinghjohrimal.com; aapkipasandtea.com.

Fiona Caulfield

See: 20 reasons to visit Delhi

​SILVER LAKE, LOS ANGELES

WHY WE LOVE IT

For all-American style and shopping you won't see in Australia.

WHAT TO BUY

Great fashion essentials, sophisticated gifts and home accessories.

EXPERT SAYS

Try Shinola for stylish watches, bicycles and sophisticated on-trend gifts, and Mohawk General Store for handmade homewares, leather goods and a small selection of fashion classics. Stop in at Retro Super Future for contemporary eyewear.

ESSENTIALS

shinola.com; mohawkgeneralstore.com; retrosuperfuture.com.

Beth Finckh

​See: Six of the coolest hotels in LA

​MAUERPARK MARKETS, BERLIN

WHY WE LOVE IT

German junk is not the best in the world, but I just love Berlin and Mauerpark is my pick of the city's weekend markets.

WHAT TO BUY

Anatomical models, scientific pieces, maps and charts – the German-produced science stuff is exceptional.

EXPERT SAYS

Learn a few German phrases if you want the best price, or just a fair price – they will appreciate the effort.

ESSENTIALS

Bernauer Str. 63-64.

Philip Graham

See: Why you will fall in love with Berlin

HOI AN, VIETNAM

WHY WE LOVE IT

Hoi An on the country's central coast has it all – a relaxed coastal feel, incredibly cheap and fresh food, friendly people and negotiable shop owners.

WHAT TO BUY

Although known as the place for inexpensive tailoring, there are also great homewares here, in particular bone homewares, and jewellery.

EXPERT SAYS

Visit avAna lifestyle store on Le Loi Street for soft linen dresses, crochet sandals and locally beaded jewellery. For interiors inspiration don't go past Mango Rooms, right on the canal, with its exquisitely garish teal walls, cement encaustic tiles and floor cushion seating.

ESSENTIALS

mangorooms.com.

Belinda Cendron

​See: 20 reasons to visit Hoi An

KALA GHODA, MUMBAI

WHY WE LOVE IT

This heritage area has become a hip art precinct and offers some of the coolest boutiques and cafes in the city.

WHAT TO BUY

"Slow" fashion from Obataimu in Machinery House, a boutique/cultural space where you watch the designers and tailors at work. Filter is a small shop run by an advertising agency, and features a collection of graphic paper-based products including art prints, stationery, magazines and books.

EXPERT SAYS

Mumbai shops open around 11am and stay open into the evening. Hip Kala Ghoda Cafe serves the best coffee in town, made with organic Arabica beans sourced directly from plantations in south India.

ESSENTIALS

kgcafe.in; filtershop.in.

Fiona Caulfield

See: India for beginners: What you need to know


​CHATUCHAK MARKET, BANGKOK

WHY WE LOVE IT

The energy! These markets aren't for the faint-hearted; there's a lot of touristy junk to filter through and it's hot and crowded. But it's fun, and if you dig deep enough you'll find real gems.

WHAT TO BUY

Silver jewellery, beautiful stone and semi-precious beads by the string for DIY jewellery. Also ceramic wares and silver cutlery sets at great prices.

EXPERT SAYS

Go first thing; it becomes extremely hot later. Tackle the market in a grid as best you can, and try to avoid the areas selling fake, cheap fashion. Finish with a fresh coconut in the food section.

ESSENTIALS

587/10 Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road, Chatuchak.

Beth Finckh

​See: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to Thailand

​HELL'S KITCHEN FLEA MARKET, NEW YORK

WHY WE LOVE IT

NYC has so many secondhand, antique and flea markets to choose from, but I particularly like Hell's Kitchen Flea – it's relatively small in a closed off street with dealers lining each side.

WHAT TO BUY

Beautiful old flags up to 100 years old, books, paintings, posters, watches, clocks, lamps.

EXPERT SAYS

If you want a bargain the colder months might help – the dealers will be keener to get home, you'll have less competition and you might strike it lucky.

ESSENTIALS

annexmarkets.com.

Philip Graham

See: The 20 things you must do in New York

SAN ISIDRO TRAIN STATION, BUENOS AIRES

WHY WE LOVE IT

Just an hour out of town, the charming cobblestoned suburb of San Isidro hosts a fantastic market right on the train station platform. Hundreds of stalls of antiques, crafts and jewellery. Good quality and cheaper than the city markets.

WHAT TO BUY

Big old shells, old riding boots, rugs, furniture and loads of vintage equestrian paraphernalia.

EXPERT SAYS

While it's quite a sight to see the trains rolling through, go on a Sunday to avoid weekday commuters, when the best artisan stallholders are there. Only buy what you can bring home yourself; international shipping can be hairy.

ESSENTIALS

Av. Pueyrreddn, Cdad.

Belinda Cendron

​See: Why markets are Buenos Aires' best-kept secrets

SATURDAY NIGHT MARKET, ARPORA, NORTH GOA

WHY WE LOVE IT

Many designers and boutiques come to this iconic outdoor market to sell their wares, and local restaurants close and work the market instead. More than a third of the 500 stalls are taken by foreigners selling designer clothes, accessories and jewellery; the balance are stalls from across India selling craft, textiles and even the latest DVDs.

WHAT TO BUY

DADAblui peace bags made by Danish designer Katja Grew at the Mermaids Boutique; soft leather sandals and designer shoes from Goan designer Edwin Pinto of the Janota Studio; vintage Bollywood posters from Colonial Photo and fine shawls from Italian designer Akal.

EXPERT SAYS

The market operates only during the "season", November to March. Go by 6pm to avoid the worst; most of the stalls are cash only.

ESSENTIALS

snmgoa.com.

Fiona Caulfield


THE GRAND BAZAAR, ISTANBUL

WHY WE LOVE IT

One of the oldest covered markets in the world, a bargain hunter's dream. Past the touristy areas you can find incredible antiques for great prices, if you're willing to fight for them.

WHAT TO BUY

Inexpensive silver chains, Middle Eastern wrist cuffs and turquoise rings. Beautiful antique textiles; dig through piles to pick a weave you love and frame for your home or turn into cushion covers.

EXPERT SAYS

Look elsewhere for Turkish spices, tea and sweets; the Grand Bazaar sells stale, overpriced versions. Never accept the asking price right away; nearly all stallholders speak English and prices are set with room to negotiate. Join the locals for lunch at Aynen Durum inside the bazaar, a tiny charcoal grill that does a Turkish wrap like no other.

ESSENTIALS

Aynen Durum: Muhafazacilar Sokak No. 33.

Beth Finckh

​See: The three-minute guide to Istanbul


​JINGU GAIEN FLEA MARKET, TOKYO

WHY WE LOVE IT

Tokyo has lots of weekend markets to choose from – some quite small, but there is always something interesting to look at and buy. Jingu Gaien Jumbo Flea Market is a good one.

WHAT TO BUY

Anything old Japanese – beautiful small shrines, Buddhas, fabric, toys and nautical items.

EXPERT SAYS

Japanese is a difficult language so just smile a lot and be respectful, this will help with everything. And always arrive earlier than advertised.

ESSENTIALS

Meiji Park, Shibuya.

Philip Graham

See: Why Tokyo is really the world's most liveable city


​GROTTAGLIE, PUGLIA

WHY WE LOVE IT

Grottaglie, near Manduria, lives and breathe for its ceramics industry, with mini sculptures built into the centuries-old walls. A beautifully historic town, rich in tradition, craft and colour.

WHAT TO BUY

Head straight to the Quartiere delle Ceramiche. Endless workshops each with variations in their signature offering, from the pure white to my favourite splattered paint style – look out for the tableware with its wonky handmade beauty and wild colour. The most well-known family is the Fasano family who have many stores; their daughter, Enza, has a lovely store on Via Caravaggio.

EXPERT SAYS

Puglia is known for its egg-shaped ceramic totem called pumi, which appear all over Puglia on buildings, fences and table tops. Take one home in any multitude of colours or styles, it's the local good luck charm. Also, check opening hours and beware the long lunch siesta closure.

ESSENTIALS

enzafasano.it.

Belinda Cendron

​See: 10 reasons to visit southern Italy


CENTRAL, HONG KONG

WHY WE LOVE IT

A free port, no sales tax and the world's finest brands competing for the attention of the world's most enthusiastic shoppers.

WHAT TO BUY

Fine knitwear from social enterprise Love+Hope, one of the few brands actually made on the island. Taiwanese Oolong Tea from Lock Cha in a heritage building tucked into the Hong Kong Park.

EXPERT SAYS

Dress up; you can't be too over-dressed in Hong Kong. Dress like an investment banker, so you blend in.

ESSENTIALS

lplush.com; lockcha.com.

Fiona Caulfield

See: The seven best places to shop in Hong Kong


​WILLIAMSBURG, NYC

WHY WE LOVE IT

A more casual, local view of NYC; vintage flea market finds, trendy eats, local designers and a little high end fashion.

WHAT TO BUY

Irresistible locally designed jewellery at Catbird on Bedford Avenue. Antique textiles and well-priced clothing and accessories at 6th Avenue vintage stores. On-trend international women's and men's designers at Bird on Grand Street.

EXPERT SAYS

If you're staying in Manhattan, make a day of it. Catch the ferry across on a Saturday to wander the Brooklyn Flea Markets for vintage treasures and local food stalls. Plan your shopping around some of the ultra cool Williamsburg restaurants and bars.

ESSENTIALS

shopbird.com; catbirdnyc.com; brooklynflea.com.

Beth Finckh

​See: The best places to eat in Williamsburg, New York's foodie mecca


THE OLD SPITALFIELDS MARKET, EAST LONDON

WHY WE LOVE IT

Spitalfields has a fantastic variety of small objects, there's something for everyone.

WHAT TO BUY

Miniature pieces, trophies, globes, African tribal artefacts, jewellery and sculpture.

EXPERT SAYS

This covered market runs all week, but Thursday is the day for small secondhand treasures from all over Europe. Opens at 9, but get there around 8.30 as you can wander around as everyone sets up. Keep your eyes open for artist George Passmore of Gilbert & George; he attends almost every week.

ESSENTIALS

Horner Square, Spitalfields.

Philip Graham

See: 10 unusual ways to see London

​VANVES FLEA MARKETS, PARIS

WHY WE LOVE IT

Less overwhelming than the famed Clignancourt, Vanves is a more intimate local street market experience.

WHAT TO BUY

All whimsical treasures you can imagine: chandeliers, bone cutlery, dinnerware, books and postcards, small taxidermy.

EXPERT SAYS

Easy to get to by train, features mostly small and decorative items, perfect to pack in your suitcase or self post. Cash only.

ESSENTIALS

Avenue Georges Lafenestre.

Belinda Cendron

​See: 32 great reasons you should still visit Paris

EXPERT STRATEGIES + TIPS

FIONA CAULFIELD

Top two overseas shopping strategies and tips?

Buy what you love; I still regret not buying an antique globe in a small town in East Germany back in 1991. And don't bargain when buying directly from craftspeople and makers, they deserve the asking price. Save the haggling for the shop-keeping middlemen.

Your best buy ever overseas?

A portable silver altar from a Tibetan nomad on the road to Mount Kailash in Western Tibet.

And your worst buy?

An after-sun moisturiser bought in the South of France which turned out to be fake tan. I was orange for days.

Market or mall?

110 per cent markets. Malls are consistently top of my "best avoided" lists for India.

BETH FINCKH

Top two overseas shopping strategies and tips?

Travel with your iPhone or a good Moleskine journal to keep a log of all the hidden gems. Go on one adventure a day and don't be strict with your travel checklist; your best memories will be in the surprises.

Your best buy ever overseas?

A delicate diamond ring I bought from a lovely young local jewellery designer in Paros, Greece. It's one of the only souvenirs of my first overseas trip and reminds me every day of all my adventures.

And your worst?

At a small antiques market in Paris I was conned into buying a fake vintage Hermes bangle. My rule when shopping vintage markets now is if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Market or mall?

I'll have to choose market. It takes a lot more patience and perseverance but if you're looking for the right things in the right places, and ask for the right price, you'll find something completely unique to that place that will be a treasure forever.

PHILIP GRAHAM

Top two overseas shopping strategies and tips?

Learn a few words of the local language; be polite, friendly, and smile. Research markets online to get a broader, more up-to-date picture.

Your best buy ever overseas?

A tribal death mask in Paris.

And your worst buy?

A mirror in NY. It had to be shipped and arrived home in too many pieces.

Market or mall?

Market. Always market.

BELINDA CENDRON

Top two overseas shopping strategies and tips?

If you see it and you like it, buy it. Don't wait, don't think you'll come back for it, because you likely won't.

Your best buy ever overseas?

Antique watches and jewellery in Buenos Aires.

And your worst buy?

No such thing. My only regret is not sending home more ceramics from Puglia.

Market or mall?

Market, always.

FIVE GLOBAL SHOPPING TOURS

Marrakech souks, Urban Adventures

This half-day tour of the Marrakech medina can be customed to suit, so you'll only visit shops you're interested in. Meet local artisans and artists in their workshops, including leather workers, jewellers and herbalists. Learn the art of bargaining – all-important whether you spend $20 on a pair of leather slippers or $700 on a Berber carpet. About $90; urbandadventures.com.

Paris brocantes, Pigeon Tours

Run by the owner of Izzi & Popo European brocante in Melbourne, this tour guides participants around Parisian flea markets, local auctions and specialty markets on the outskirts of Paris and nearby towns, teaching them how to shop for secondhand European brocante or vintage items costing anywhere from 1 to 1000 euros. Purchases can be shipped back to Australia. Seven to 10 days from $5900; bern2@pacific.net.au.

Tokyo "cosplay", Viator

Learn about the bizarre subculture of "cosplay'' – getting dressed up in wacky anime and manga comic book-inspired costumes – during this three-and-a-half-hour tour in Akihabara, a hub for Tokyo's anime and manga fans. Get kitted out in a costume, pose for a photo booth shoot, sing karaoke, have a drink in an infamous "maid cafe'', and finish up with some shopping at the Don Quijote department store. From about $130; see viator.com.

Indian textiles, Touch of Spirit Tours

The 16-day Beauty Unwound textile tour of India explores the villages of Kutch, where you can see and buy some of India's best embroidery and fabric work. You'll also see textile displays in the historic cities of Bhuj, Ahmedabad and Delhi, shop the handicrafts of Jaipur, and visit a Lucknow village to see exquisite embroideries being worked by local women. $3990 twin share; touchofspirittours.com.au.

New York shopping, Shop Gotham

Hit the independent boutiques of New York's fashion-forward neighbourhoods SoHo and NoLita, or check out six wholesale showrooms of the Garment Centre, where the department and boutique store buyers and fashion editors shop, at 50 to 70 per cent below retail. From $54; shopgotham.com.

The experts

Fiona Caulfield is the founder of Love Travel Guides, luxury handmade Indian travel guides. lovetravelguides.com.

Beth Finckh is the homewares buyer for Coco Republic. cocorepublic.com.au.

Philip Graham is co-owner of Tarlo & Graham antique store in Melbourne. tarloandgraham.com.

Belinda Cendron is an interior stylist and founder of Sourceress. sourceressthestore.com.au.

See also: How to haggle in foreign countries

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