The World's Most Underrated Shopping Destinations

There’s something exhilarating about shopping on vacation. One-of-a-kind finds from local artisans, designer purchases from flagship storefronts, and markets teeming with local flavor only add to the allure of frittering away your funds in far-off destinations.
For anyone who’s never shopped abroad, you should know it’s not a form of slight condescension when someone says a country name instead of a store name when you ask where they bought something. Rather, what you’re hearing is the quiet glee that comes from knowing the purchase has a story behind it. That shirt has traveled. Those shoes have seen places. This flea-market necklace has hung from the necks of untold foreigners.
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We all know London, Paris, and New York have refined destination shopping to an art form, but here are a few unexpected locales that offer amazing spending opportunities. Make sure to leave room in your suitcase if you find yourself in one of these retail hot spots.
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Photo: Courtesy of JNTO.
Tokyo

Tokyo has long been known for its upscale retail offerings, with everything from high-quality cookware at the Kappabashi-Dori market to trendy threads flooding the floors in the Harajuku district. But, the newest shopping zone is actually still a work in progress, around the newly opened Toranomon Hills towers. Once thought of as the center for business, this area is undergoing a facelift with a brand-new boutique hotel, The Andaz, towering 52 floors above a series of shops, coffee houses, and fashionable restaurants. And, it's only a five-minute walk to Ginza, one of the most luxurious shopping areas in the world.
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Photo: Courtesy of INPROTUR.
Buenos Aires

This style-infatuated city doesn’t confine itself to brick-and-mortar malls to categorize its storefronts. Instead, the districts themselves act as divisions that set the scene for any shopping mood. Recoleta is the place to shop for designer items, while Villa Crespo, along Calle Murillo, is home to some of the best (and most affordable) leather goods in the country. For a more bohemian shopping experience, head to Palermo for the latest trends or hit up the Sunday market in San Telmo, where the entire street of Defensa turns into a flea market filled with antiques, local art, and amazing food and music to add to the carefree atmosphere.
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Photo: Courtesy of Luxembourg City Tourist Office.
Luxembourg City

Although this petite city sits in the heart of one of the smallest sovereign nations in the European Union, the only word to describe the shopping scene in Luxembourg City is grand. All the big designers have subsidiary stores in le Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, but the best finds in the city are along the pedestrian streets of the city center, just a short walk from the Hotel Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal. Local fashion favorites Muse By, Honey/Mustard, and Zakka are must-visits, and it’s always worth a trip to see what the Smets are up to with their alternative fashion offerings, like the Rue de la Paix concept store, Swimming Pool, Cape Cod, and Smets BLK.
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Photo: Courtesy of Boutique 1.
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Dubai

You think you know malls, and then you visit Dubai. The shopping sanctuaries here are hardly your average collection of chain stores. They are an experience. Mixing chic shops (we love Boutique 1, pictured here) with seriously fine dining and straight-up fun (skiing inside the Mall of the Emirates, anyone?), these must-visits will make you rethink what can fit under one roof. Even at the airport, Emirates Airline — which is known for its high-flying luxuries, like onboard lounges and in-flight showers — has practically turned its terminal into a mall (and made it a no-brainer for anyone booking a trip to Dubai). With more than 100 stores, from Chanel to Hermès, airport shopping might just earn itself a new reputation.
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Photo: Courtesy of Visit Seoul.
Seoul

South Koreans take their shopping so seriously they actually passed a law mandating that shop owners accept credit cards for all purchases, regardless of price. In fact, stores in Seoul don’t have regulated hours, so many of the main malls and shopping centers are open 24 hours. Most tourists make it home with the obvious assortment of Korean pottery, ginseng, beauty products, and cosmetics, but the fashion is the real find here. The best shopping districts include Insa-dong, Myeong-dong, and the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Markets. For higher-end fashion, check out the Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Lotte, Shinsegae, and Louis Vuitton flagships near Samcheong-dong.
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Photo: Courtesy of Casa Gangotena.
Quito

Although Quito may not seem like an obvious contender for credit-depleting destinations, the authenticity of this UNESCO city will sneak up on you with its age-old art forms and passionate shopkeepers. Just down the street from the newly restored mansion Casa Gangotena Boutique Hotel, you can find the best items throughout the “Old Town” and La Ronda. For a small fee, the “Live Like a Local Team” at Metropolitan Touring (Metro) will guide you through the backstreets of the markets and introduce you to the merchants of Old Town Quito — including the man who makes his colaciones sweets using the same copper cauldron his family has used for three generations, and the family of milliners on Calle Benalcazar making world-class custom fedoras.
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Photo: Courtesy of DFW Tourism.
Dallas

Dallas is to shopping as Salt Lake City is to skiing. For residents of the Big D, shopping truly is a sport — and they have the massive arenas to prove it. From the mammoth 200+ stores in the Galleria Dallas (a mall with it’s own on-site hotel and ice skating rink) to the first planned shopping center at Highland Park Village, you can choose between deep discounts at the many suburban outlet malls, or swing for the fences at the first-ever Neiman Marcus store in downtown Dallas.
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Photo: Courtesy of Kuala Lumpur Tourism.
Kuala Lumpur

There aren’t just one or two massive shopping centers in Kuala Lumpur; there are 30. And, each mall boasts anywhere from 500 to more than 1,000 stores. A few even feature attractions like indoor roller coasters and rock climbing walls. But, despite the metropolitan composition of the city, some of Kuala Lumpur's coolest shopping can be found in the markets and bazaars along the streets. The night market at Petaling Street is great for grabbing locally made handicrafts, batik textiles, traditional instruments, local fashions, and more.
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Photo: Courtesy of Excelsior.
Milan

The shopping scene is actually changing in Milan. Yes, it’s still the “fashion capital of the world,” but as a younger market begins to emerge, they're encouraging new ways to peruse and purchase. Excelsior is a creative blend of fashion, beauty, accessories, food, and design, housed in a former cinema along the Galleria del Corso, where futuristic escalators transport you from floors containing the latest fashions to the most exclusive wines. For bargains, head to Il Salvagente for last season’s looks for less, or rummage through the designer piles at the Papiniano flea market.
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Photo: Courtesy of Tourism Toronto.
Toronto

Toronto has always been known as a great destination for shopping, whether for luxury goods along Bloor-Yorkville, quality art, or even boutique brands available only north of the U.S. border. But, that’s not why it’s on our list. Toronto is quickly gaining a reputation for its chic secondhand scene. The vintage stores along Queen West like 69 Vintage, Stella Luna, and Black Market Vintage take secondhand to a new level, with repurposed items and vintage duds cleanly displayed in a trendy setting. Even used bookstores like the Monkey’s Paw off Dundas Street West serves up fresh ideas like a rare book vending machine.
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