When the holiday shopping season rolls around, I think one thing: vacation. What better way to quell the aches and pains of holiday stress than some international retail therapy? Plus, not only does traveling let you have the experiences of a lifetime, you’ll return home with unique gifts from around the globe for everyone on your list.
If you, too, are looking for a reason to get on a plane, check out this list of our picks for festive yuletide shopping destinations. And even if you can’t swing an international vacation this year (sigh), check out some fun ways to channel the global shopping experience in your hometown—hey, you can always plan a trip for next year!
Why: For a wintry wonderland full of European charm, Montreal is an affordable option—where else can you shop for French fashions without paying Parisian prices or transcontinental airfare? Montreal offers a breadth of shopping experiences, from trendy fashion stores and Canadian staples like The Hudson Bay Company to touristy shops decked out in gorgeous holiday window displays.
Where To Go: Rue Sainte-Catherine is the essential stop for your trip. Montreal’s hottest commercial district adorns itself in holiday finery, and shoppers can take advantage of familiar stores like American Apparel, H&M, and Apple, along with swanky Canadian shopping centers and boutiques. When you’re ready to warm up, head one block north of Rue Sainte-Catherine and dip down to La Ville Souterraine, the largest underground district in the world, for 12 miles of inspired (and heated) shopping. After you warm your toes, surface near Old Montreal and spend the afternoon strolling along cobblestone walkways teeming with quaint shops, bistros, and old-world yuletide charm. And any Saturday night in December, end the day with some ice-skating beneath the fireworks for an unforgettable holiday trip.
At Home: If you can’t travel to the great white north, then plan a day with some French pastries, hot coffee, and shopping at the finest stores in your area. Cap the day off by donning some ice skates or perusing craft fairs for locally made sustainable goods.
Why: WinterFest turns Hong Kong into a well-lit beacon that can be seen from space, filled with Santa’s Town, lights, carolers, and giant crystal trees. Shopping is plentiful here, with sophisticated malls and quaint outdoor markets all over town. Plus, you can buy almost anything, from high-end electronics on the cheap to designer knockoffs to traditional Asian crafts. Sales of up to 70% off are common throughout December and January, and you’re free to haggle almost anywhere in the city. But beware—shopping in Hong Kong is not for the inexperienced or faint of heart—you’ll need to bring your game face to get the goods here. But, since Hong Kong is a duty-free port, at least you won’t have to pay duties on your wares.
Where To Go: To get your haggling legs underneath you, start at Stanley Market. Once you’ve snagged some treasures, head to the Golden Shopping Arcade in Sham Shui Po to test your skills—if you’re savvy, you can grab any electronic you’re looking for at a serious discount in this landmark sub-district.
At Home: Head to your nearest Chinatown and scout out some bargains. Many stores in Chinatowns offer deep discounts on top-selling electronics, folksy goods, and kitschy wares—and, just like in Hong Kong, you can usually negotiate your way to better prices.
Why: As home of St. Nicholas himself, this city is bound to put you into the giving spirit, and the tradition of bazaars and bargains will surely inspire your sharpest shopping. Although Istanbul decks its halls in tribute to the holidays, it remains the spot to go if you’re keen to avoid over-commercialized holiday traps. This centuries-old center of commerce is also teeming with history, imperial mosques, Byzantine churches, sultans, and palaces.
Where To Go: You can’t go to Istanbul to shop without wading through The Grand Bazaar, exploding with jewelry, Persian rugs, hand-painted ceramics, clothing, decadent fabrics, and spices that await the shrewd treasure seeker. From here, you can stroll down Uzunçarşı Caddesi (Longmarket Street) through the Tahtakale district for an endless array of markets, stalls, and shops not frequented by tourists. You’ll end up at the Egyptian Market, filled with food, coffee, spices, and evil eye adornments. Top off the day with a well-deserved Turkish bath and some essential sightseeing and dinner in Galatasaray Square.
At Home: Order your ethnic takeout of choice and spend an evening shopping the 21st century Grand Bazaar: the internet. Check international merchants on Copia Mall or shop at Ten Thousand Villages for affordable exotic gifts (just remember to allow time for shipping).
International Shopping Tips
Before shopping abroad, be sure to explore the country’s duties, customs, and consumer policies. Even if you’re doing your shopping online, this will help protect you against unseen expenses or fraud. Select gifts that will pack and travel well and that say something about their origin. After all, what good is shopping abroad if it doesn’t let you share a little bit of the world with someone else?