There are no other stores quite like these 25 amazing shops, writes Lee Tulloch, globe-trotting shopper extraordinaire.
Most travellers can't resist a purchase or two (or three) when they travel abroad. And then there are those of us who just travel to shop. If you're the kind of person who brings along an empty suitcase to load up with bargains, or if you're less extravagant but love the bustle of the world's most colourful retail streets, markets and stores, this guide to the world's best shopping experiences is designed for you.
We've uncovered the places you can't go past, from flea markets and discount stores to gleaming malls and the world's most fabulous fashion boutiques, from secret addresses in dingy Hong Kong buildings to the world-renowned shop where you can pick up a strand of the Maharaja's jewels.
Discover where insiders shop for the best prices on toys, electronics, cosmetics, hardware, homewares, fashion, shoes and even Christmas decorations. If you're just window-shopping, that's OK. It's all about the experience.
DUBAI Dubai Mall
Dubai has become a popular stopover, thanks to Qantas's partnership with Emirates. When it's searing heat outside, the locals flee to the malls, of which the Dubai Mall is the shiniest and best. Children will love the ice-skating rink, the cinema, the rides at Sega Republic, or the massive aquarium. The fashion stores are organised by districts and there's plenty of gawking to be done at high-end stores, all set under beautiful atriums. Take a ride to see the sunset from the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, or sip coffee with the veiled ladies at Fauchon Cafe. thedubaimall.com.
HONG KONG Horizon Plaza
You have to get a taxi and give the driver clear instructions to find this unprepossessing building in Hong Kong island's Ap Lei Chau residential district, but it's worth the effort. The building is crammed with outlets, high- and low-end, from the warehouses of top local retailers Joyce and Lane Crawford, to little shops full of ex-factory fashion items from the Chinese mainland. The elevators are slow, so it's wise to head straight for Joyce, where some phenomenal discounts on designer clothing and homewares can be found. Work your way down from there. Bonus: the Prada outlet is just around the corner.
HONOLULU Ala MoanaCenter
In recent years, flocks of Australians have discovered the delights of this mostly outdoor mall in the Hawaiian capital. With the Australian dollar still trading well against the US, visitors can have a beach holiday in Waikiki, then walk or catch the bus a few blocks to the world's largest open-air shopping centre. All the familiar US apparel brands are here, from Banana Republic to J. Crew, as well as big name department stores Macy's, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
There are plenty of places to pick up a burger or pizza or even a delicious mai tai if the bargain hunting gets too exhausting. alamoanacenter.com.
PARIS Galeries Lafayette
It's probably the most spectacular department store in the world, with its enormous stained glass cupola and 10 storeys of galleries circling a bustling first floor. In fact, Galeries Lafayette is more than a shop - it's a Belle Epoque landmark and a tourist attraction in itself, with a dedicated tax-free shopping office. Even if all you can manage to buy is a lipstick in the cacophonous cosmetics department, you'll feel tres Parisienne. galerieslafayette.com.
ISTANBUL Grand Bazaar
This 15th-century bazaar, which consists of 61 streets and more than 3000 shops and is visited by up to 400,000 shoppers a day, sounds daunting. In reality, it's tremendous fun, with fewer hawkers and hassle than you might expect. Take it slowly, as the locals do, and stop frequently for tea (which is often offered by vendors when you sit down to do a deal). Types of shops tend to be clustered together - there's a carpet district, a textile district and so on. The best buys are carpets, traditional ceramics (check they're food safe) and textiles such as hammam towels. grandbazaaristanbul.org.
NEW YORK ABC Carpet & Home
This landmark store on Lower Broadway near Union Square has long been a favourite with New Yorkers on the hunt for cushions, carpets, lighting and anything relating to the home, but it's also a fabulous experience for those who just wish to gawk. A dazzling Aladdin's cave of homewares spread over several floors, it not only showcases the opulent, but also the environmentally conscious, through special events at the Deepak Homebase, inspired by mindfulness guru Deepak Chopra. ABC Kitchen, by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is the hot ticket for brunch, lunch and dinner. We dare you to leave without a trinket or two. abchome.com.
LONDON The Denim Studio, Selfridges
Fond of the blues, faded or inky, baggy or stretch? This 24,000 square metre ode to everything denim stocks 60 denim brands from basic Levi's to Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. Find your perfect style with the help of one of 50 denim "experts"' and then have your jeans altered to fit you snugly by the on-site denim tailor. A personalised shopping service is free with no minimum spend but appointments need to be reserved. While you're waiting, there's an interactive Jeanius Bar, where you can educate yourself about the crazy world of jeans. selfridges.com.
It's Cosmetic Nirvana. There are more than 1300 Sephora stores in 27 countries, but the Champs-Elysees store is the mothership. More than 6 million people visit a year, more than visit the Eiffel Tower. The concept is simple and appealing - wander through the aisles packed with perfume, skin care and makeup brands and freely try everything yourself, without a sales assistant breathing down your neck. Sephora's own collection of makeup is very affordable if the high-end brands are too costly. Hard to resist dropping something in the shopping basket you're handed at the door. sephora.com.
NEW YORK B&H Photo
Worldwide, you can't go past this superstore on Ninth Avenue for the best prices for cameras, video, computers and audio. It also has a formidable selection of products, so do go armed with the information about what you want, as past experiences have found the staff not all that helpful. It's also best to check the store's opening hours - the owners observe Shabbat and Jewish holidays. If you find they're closed, there's always the option to shop online and have goods delivered. The international service is efficient and speedy. bhphotovideo.com.
TOKYO Tokyu Hands
If you enjoy a visit to Bunnings, you'll be knocked out by this amazing multi-storey Tokyo store devoted to things you do by hand - crafts, hobbies, home maintenance, hardware, stationery - as well as health and beauty products, travel accessories and souvenirs. There is an estimated 30,000 items stocked in each of the 20 department store branches and 10 specialty stores in Japan's urban areas. The branch connected to Takashimaya Department store in Shinjuku is immense and you'll find things you didn't even know you were looking for. tokyu-hands.co.jp.
NEW YORK AND LONDON FAO Schwarz
These two stores on different sides of the Atlantic are paradise for children - and pretty entertaining for parents, too. Hamleys on Regent Street is the oldest and largest toyshop in the world, spreading over seven floors and stocking more than 50,000 toys.Indulgent parents can book an in-store Hamleys Dream Sleepover for their child and nine friends. Pricey F.A.O. Schwarz on Fifth Avenue has a real-life toy soldier on duty at the door and a clock that sings Welcome to My World. It has been making memories for New York kids since 1862. hamleys.com; fao.com.
JAIPUR The Gem Palace
Since 1852, the Pink City's Kasliwal family has been making exquisite jewelry for India's maharajas and maharanis. Dignitaries and celebrities such as Jackie Onassis and Mick Jagger have long made a beeline for the elegant shop on Mirza Ismail Road. But you don't need to be a prince to visit. Browsing is encouraged. If you're lucky, you might be invited to try on some of the extravagant diamonds that the family has been buying back from India's royalty over recent years. The shop is as much gallery as store - the Metropolitan Museum in New York has a window devoted to the Gem Palace's work. If you do fancy a jewel, it is reliable for quality and price. gempalacejaipur.com.
MILAN 10 Corso Como
High fashion shopping doesn't get better than this store/bookshop/gallery and cafe in a converted garage. A radical "concept shop" when it was opened in 1991 by gallerist Carla Sozzani, sister of Italian Vogue editor Franca, it showcases the very best of international fashion design, edited down to the most covetable pieces. Sozzani calls it a "living magazine" incorporating art, music, food, lifestyle and design, and a meeting place between culture and commerce. Translated: a lovely place to hang out, even if you don't buy anything. There's an outlet at 3 via Tazzoli if you have an eye for a bargain. 10corsocomo.com.
SHANGHAI Dongmen Lu Fabric Market
Shanghai tailors have the reputation of being even better than those in Hong Kong, given the history of White Russian seamstresses arriving in the city after the Russian Revolution of 1917. This unprepossessing four-level fabric market is the place to go for bespoke clothing - anything from wool and velvet coats to copies of Chanel suits. It's full of little shops where you can have something made to size from a selection of styles or have good copies made of your favourite pieces. Choose your own fabric, negotiate a price (it's very cheap) and return in two days for the finished item, or have it delivered to your hotel. 168 Dongmen Lu, Huangpu District. smartshanghai.com.
NEW YORK Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, Central Valley, New York
Outlet shopping has long been the favourite activity of bargain hunters and these days outlets are sprouting up everywhere, from Las Vegas to Florence. Woodbury Common, one hour north of New York City, is one of the best known, boasting a huge range of American and international brands in women's and men's apparel, children's clothing and toys, homewares, luggage, cosmetics and accessories. It's an outdoor mall the size of a small village, with a food court, foreign currency exchange and a VIP Shopping Club for extra savings. A Gray Line bus service will take you from Manhattan or splurge on a chauffeur from your hotel. premiumoutlets.com.
It's hard to miss this store and cafe on Boulevard Beaumarchais - there's usually a cute van in front laden with blooms. A recent addition (2009) to Paris's vibrant shopping scene, the old wallpaper factory with a glass roof is a wonderful space to explore a vast collection of fashion, furniture, homewares, garden and stationery, most with an environmentally responsible twist. Traditional and modern, simple and costly, mass-produced and handcrafted are all brilliantly merchandised together, from a Swedish scrubbing brush to a linen-covered sofa. The emphasis is on natural and sustainable and proceeds go towards education projects in Madagascar. It has heart as well as style. merci-merci.com.
BEIJING Panjiayuan Flea Market
Anyone who enjoys garage sales and bric-a-brac will be over the moon at this fabulous market, also known as the a "dirt" market, in central Beijing. Although it's also open on weekdays, on weekends vendors come from all over the countryside with personal items to sell. There are antiques shops around the perimeter, but it's the stuff laid out on sheets on the ground you'll want to investigate -ancient china teacups, genuine Communist memorabilia, family photo albums, old brushes and so on. Kids will love it too. It used to be "dirt" cheap, but since the Beijing Olympics, vendors have been a bit cannier. Go early (it's open at 4.30am on weekends) and bargain hard. South East Third East Ring Road, Chaoyang District. thechinaguide.com.
TOKYO Isetan Department Store Food Hall, Shinjuku
You can't visit Tokyo without missing a subterranean adventure in one of the food halls in the city's marvellous department stores. Isetan is the most famous but you might want to check out Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi as well. The Japanese predilection for perfection and for wrapping everything, even the simplest item, exquisitely, means the fresh and packaged food on display presents mindboggling visual feasts of perfect melons, coloured sugars, French pastries, Japanese sweets, tins of tea and elaborate sushi. Stop at one of the ramen bars and small restaurants in the halls for affordable nourishment. isetan.co.jp.
NEW YORK Century 21
If you go early and avoid weekends, you'll miss the crowds at this mecca of discount designer goods opposite the new Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan. The flagship store was damaged when the World Trade Centre towers were destroyed in 2001, but recently it has concluded a facelift and extension, with added fitting rooms. Known for its fantastic prices on overstocks of designer bed linen, sunglasses, bags, lingerie and menswear as well as women's designer brands and an enormous shoe department catering to men, women and kids, this is probably the best discount store on the planet. If you time your visit to coincide with sales, there are unbelievable bargains. c21stores.com.
In November each year this famous German Christmas market really lights up when the golden angel (Christkind) appears on the balcony of the Church of Our Lady, which overlooks the old market square. This is one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets and is a feature of the itineraries of many river cruises, along with other popular Christmas markets at Dresden, Salzburg and Passau. More than 200 wooden stalls decorated with red and white candy-striped cloth fill the square and sell ornaments, crafts and Nuremberg Plum People, puppets made of plums and figs. Children will adore the stage coach that transports visitors around the square for a small fee; adults will enjoy the mulled wine and gingerbread. christkindlesmarkt.de/en.
HONG KONG Lane Crawford
This fashionista favourite might be the most enticing department store anywhere if you're in the market for high-end designer duds. More than 800 brands covering womenswear, menswear, accessories and lifestyle are gathered here, which makes it the largest collection in greater China. What's best about Lane Crawford's flagship store in the IPC building in Central is the brilliant merchandising of collections, which are laid out in gallery-like spaces. Personal styling services are available and Cafe Costa has wonderful views of Victoria Harbour. lanecrawford.com.
MARRAKESH The souk
This is hands-down the most dazzling, sensual shopping experience in the world - especially if you're looking for something handmade. Inside the fortified walls of the old city, hundreds of picturesque lanes offer a breathtaking array of tiny boutiques, stalls, artisan workshops and herboristes selling spices and medicinal herbs. Sixty per cent of the city's working population is an artisan and the standard of manufacture of lamps, leather goods, clothing, carpets and pottery is exceptionally high. There's junk here, too, but good stuff is fantastic value even if you don't bargain much. It's a little daunting - a guide helps the first time - but the best way to navigate is simply to plunge in. visitmorocco.com.
Spain is the place to go for shoes, right? This huge store stocks shoes mostly made in Spain, which means the quality is excellent, even if the prices are amazingly cheap. Much of the shop is laid out like a normal shoe store but there are also discount racks and bins, which make it all a bit frenetic. Everything from classic espadrilles to high-heeled boots are sold here but the best value are men's and women's brogues in the supplest leather and suedes.
SINGAPORE ION Orchard, Singapore
It descended on Orchard Road in 2009 like a giant spaceship, but ION Orchard is a shopping mall, albeit Singapore's most glamorous. No less than six luxury brands have their flagship stores in this building. The $2 billion structure spreads over eight floors - at last count there were 333 retailers in the complex. The Sephora flagship even includes a spa. Luke Mangan operates the Salt Grill on the 55th floor. Singapore's legendary sales in May to June mean ION is either heaven or hell at the time of year. ionorchard.com.
BANGKOK Siam Center, Bangkok
They call it the "Ideaopolis". In 2013, Bangkok's first modern shopping mall was reimagined as a meeting place for art, fashion, technology and lifestyle, with playful interactive technology at every turn, exclusive shops and collaborations, and an emphasis on shopping as a creative activity. Customers can try out clothes via a "digital closet" and there is a staircase made of LED-lit piano keys. Stores Playhound, Greyhound, Soda and Painkiller are popular with teens, who will love it so much they may want to move in.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Author and columnist Lee Tulloch has an expert eye for a bargain, honed over many years living in New York and Paris. She rarely pays full price, likes items that are unique to the destination, and isn't afraid of a little dust or grime in hunting down something really special.
FIVE SHOPPING TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Check the flea markets in every city and you can find some unique souvenirs.
In big department stores, go to the racks at the back of each display as there will often be periodic reductions.
Try to plan your trip to coincide with the big sales in cities like New York and Hong Kong - often prices are 50 to 75 per cent cheaper.
Check the local Time Out or similar weekly magazines for notices of designer sample sales or shopping events.
Plan a visit to one of the big outlet malls in Europe or America as there are some good discounts, but do your homework on regular retail prices first.