Having just breezed through the famous “black Friday,” where shoppers in America take to the streets as early as 5AM (or earlier!) for Christmas purchases, many are left wondering if shopping online would be a better experience. But mall shopping is a relatively new phenomenon; around the world, there are plenty of shopping extravaganzas that aren’t malls, but experiences instead. Here are some of my favorites.
The Grand Bazaar, Tehran – Iran
With a maze of corridors stretching over 6 miles, the Grand bazaar in Tehran is one of the world’s largest bazaars. The structure is so huge it even has guest houses and mosques inside; traditionally, there were corridors with specific goods, like carpets or spices, but today, you’ll find clothing and souvenirs and other modern conveniences in addition to the traditional shopping.
Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt, Paris – France
This is certainly the most famous flea market in Paris, and one of the best known in the world. It’s technically a merge of around 12 individual markets that run together from saturday until Monday, giving you time to explore the thousands of stalls. French couture? Yes. French antiques? Yes. A good deal? Only if you work on your French for the best haggling!
Shilin Night Market – Taipei, Taiwan
Night markets are a traditional feature of many Asian cities, and some of my favorite experiences in both Cambodia and Hong Kong have been at the markets, because you get such a vibrant atmosphere (the neon lights), delicious food, and some great bargain shopping too. The largest and some of the oldest markets are said to be in Taiwan, with the Shilin Night Market being the oldest and most famous.
Europe’s Largest Christmas Market – Stuttgart, Germany
Europe comes alive during the dark winter nights with it’s many Christmas markets, one of the main reasons vistors come here for a Christmas shopping trip. My personal favorite would be Nuremburg’s atmospheric market, but one of the oldest and largest is the Christmas market in Stuttgart. Nearly 300 stalls await to serve up warm drinks and piping hot food, as well as selling you souvenirs that will last a lifetime. You can also enjoy the city’s year-round historic architecture and attractions.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Bangkok, Thailand
These days mostly on display for tourists, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is totally a Bangkok experience- shrill, noisy, and rambunctious. If that sounds too much for you, you might want to take one of the boat tours which can be a little more low key, or try one of the other floating markets in Bangkok, like Bang Khu Wiang. The markets used to be a way to make good use of the canals in the inner city; today they’re great for souvenir shopping, fresh fruit drinking, and tasty food prepared right in front of you.
Powell’s City of Books – Portland, Oregon
Another extravaganza is the wonder that is Powell’s, one of the largest bookstores in the world. There are others that claim more floor space, or shelf space, but Powell’s has the most atmosphere – with plenty of space to enjoy coffee, as well as a lot of shopping space, event space, and more. To boot, there are lots of cafes and breweries nearby, making this perhaps one of my favorite shopping spots in the world.
Moultonborough’s Old Country Store – Moultonborough, New Hampshire
While there are many contenders for America’s oldest retail establishment, it seemsm that Moultonborough’s ticks most of the boxes – and on top of that, they’re a shopping experience and destination. Since the late 1700s, they’ve sold fun and quirky New Hampshire souvenirs, but you’ll also find wonderful cheeses, candies, and other New England specialty foods, as well as other collectibles and gadgets. when I think Moultonborough, I think Americana.
Ponte Vecchio – Florence, Italy
Straddling one of the rivers in beautiful Florence, the Ponte Vecchio is a bridge that has also served as a shopping plaza for centuries. Now the domain of souvenir shops and jewelers (as well as the illegal salesfolk selling sunglasses and fake goods), it’s just one of the many places to shop in Venice, though the Ponte Vecchio must be the most beautiful. There are also streets filled with leather goods, souvenir goods, wooden goods, and other treats and treasures. Without a mall in sight, I think that Florence is perhaps one of the best shopping destinations in the world.