Put some sparkle into your festive Christmas shopping with our guide to the best cities around the world
It’s the end of the year, and true globetrotters will leave their hometown in search of the best Christmas shopping cities worldwide. With reckless abandon, these travelers empty their frequent flyer miles in search of the best shopping destinations in the world. Find some great suggestions for your Christmas shopping cities below:
1. Hong Kong
Whenever a former communist state transfers from a centralised economy to something that resembles an open market, things tend to get a little crazy. When Russia opened up economically, the “Newly rich” quickly excelled in conspicuous consumption, while the old money in the rest of the world scoffed. This trend has sustained up to this day, with Russian billionaires competing on who has the biggest yachts or the best football club(s). On a more common level, Russian citizens who make some money immediately buy into western brands to express themselves.
But the Chinese are catching up fast. Numerous reports of Chinese billionaires and their quirks have surfaced, and the Chinese in general love shopping. But with a 30% luxury tax, buying into Western goods is still prohibitively expensive. Hong Kong is a welcome exception though, and because of the tax exemption the city state was granted, it is considered one of the best shopping destinations in the world: all of the big brands have one or more flagship store in Hong Kong.
Whatever it is you are looking for, if it is expensive and branded, rest assured that you will be able to buy it in Hong Kong. In fact, brands from the old world will go out of their way to accommodate Chinese buyers with special editions that are unique to the Chinese market. Ferrari made headlines when they issued a Ferrari 458 Italia China Limited Edition for a cool 870.000 USD. Keep in mind that was over 200k more expensive than the regular 358, but at least you’d get a Dragon hood decal (I think you can get one of those “made to order” at 20 USD).
The same goes for some of the most exclusive watch manufacturers, who have long since realized that the Chinese market has an incredible potential. Wearing the most exclusive watch in the board room means “face”, and nobody cares that ostentatious not always equals beauty let alone class.
The more dragons and diamonds a luxury watchmaker can cram on their bezels, the more money their products demand. Or, as a store owner described it to CNN in a recent report: “When a European beer looks at our watches, they usually ask us how much the watch costs. Chinese buyers will want to know how many we have.”
So if you want to do some serious damage to your credit rating, dress the part (a lot of boutiques are either invitation only or refuse entrance to customers who are not dressed appropriately), and head on over to Hong Kong Central. The swankiest designer brands who keep a shop in New York, London or Paris can be found over here including China’s only Harvey Nichols. Foreign shoppers tend to get an 11% rebate on goods purchased at designated tax free shops at the ports of of departure, and that can amount to a respectable amount for someone who does his/her entire Christmas shopping in Hong Kong, so keep an eye out for that.
I know I am putting an enormous emphasis on how exclusivity reigns Hong Kong, but what this means is that if you have the money, pretty much anything is available for you and your loved ones. It’s just going to cost you. Which maybe applies even more so to our next destination:
Built from nothing in the middle of the desert, Dubai is the largest and most populous city in the entire emirates. Featuring an impressive amount of skyscrapers and high-end shopping malls, it’s any shopper’s dream. Don’t expect anything authentic or traditional, but nothing of the very best, accessible to some of the most privileged and wealthy people in the world.
As a result, this is the city with the highest number of personal shopping assistants per capita. And with a clientele that expect availability 24/7 and failure is not an option, the job can be quite stressful. Remember the scene in “Zero Dark Thirty” where Jason Clarke takes a Kuwaiti prince Lamborghini shopping in the middle of the night? That’s about as ridiculous as shopping can get in the emirates.
For shoppers who are demoted to regular opening times, 10 am is magic time as most shops open around that time. The Dubai Shopping Festival is famous for the discounts and raffle prizes being offered (including entire cars), and the good thing is it coincides with the end of the year. The bad news is that it starts too late to offer any effective Christmas incentives, but then again, there is always next year.
For regular souvenir style shopping in Dubai, make sure to hit Karama and explore two or three shops there. Most venues carry a collection of the exact same items so you have seen everything available by the time you venture into the third shop.
Gold buyers who want nothing more than buying some jewellery are in luck as well.
For both precious gold craftsmanship and tacky bracelets, Dubai is one of the best shopping destinations in the world. Head for the Dubai Gold Souk, where you can find almost anything made from gold, including football shoes (soccer) and bikinis. Feel free to haggle things down to a knife’s edge and in case of doubt, just walk out of the shop and tell the merchant you have to think about it. If price is an issue, take into account there is no VAT refund either; the emirates don’t’ “do” Value Added Tax yet. This will change in January 2018 but no exact percentage has been made official so far.
Note that in Dubai, there is another echelon of special shops and contacts for those who are chasing down hard-to get luxury items. Maybe you are looking for something that went out of production, or it was made in very limited quantities? Dubai employs a small army of people specialized in procuring these. I will admit that contacts like these are not readily available to casual shoppers, but then again, someone who looks for Christmas shopping cities and ends up in Dubai is probably connected enough to have one or two contacts in the Emirates.
These people take commission, preferring to work for several people at once and thus maximizing their profits. Part socialite, part entrepreneur, these procurers know all about one or two special product groups and whenever a prized item becomes available, these guys immediately notify potential buyers. Most articles never even make it to a public website, they are traded under hand immediately.
Granted this is all very technical, and for a more old-world luxury shopping experience, Paris awaits.
Where Dubai means getting from one mall to the other by (chauffeured) car, Paris has the Champs Elysees, one of the most famous shopping promenades in the world. All leading boutiques are in walking distance and for smaller present, and an overall great shopping experience, megastores like Printemps, La Fayette or the complex at Les Halles will ensure hours of uninterrupted shopping pleasure.
And while high fashion will still be expensive, take into consideration that typical French articles tend to be cheaper in the country of origin than anywhere else. So collectible wines, high-quality cheeses or Peugeot pepper mills will be available at very attractive prices. For exceptional old-world culinary quality, worldly shoppers go bargain shopping in Europe.
Paris has two annual sales but unfortunately none of them falls in the Christmas season. To still be able to score a bargain, I recommend sticking to the areas where there are no multinational flagship stores. There is a chain of stores called “Paris Affaires” (stuff from Paris) that sells all kinds of French articles, from kitschy souvenirs to some very nice kitchen utensils, so definitely have a look inside if you walk past one of them.
Pro tip: Don’t take the subways loaded with shopping bags after 10 PM
For affordable Christmas shopping in a city that still has that metropolitan flair, go for Berlin. Berlin is considerably cheaper than the rest of Germany due to its location in former Eastern Germany and yet, all shopping conveniences are blatantly present.
After the wall came down, international brands stormed the old capital, and renowned warehouses like KaDeWe have always been around, ensuring a satisfying shopping experience.
Due to fall and winter being the “low-season” in Berlin, you are also going to take advantage of great value whenever you are looking for hotels, so this really is a win-win-win situation. Eager shoppers with a penchant for weekend trips really ought to consider Berlin if they live in Europe – it is a great choice for last-minute Christmas shopping. During Christmas there is no real bargain shopping in Europe, but Berlin comes pretty close.
Where it gets really interesting, is design and independent label junkies. Shops like “The Amazing Crocodile Design Store” are unlike anything you would find in some of the bigger chains and it is at places like these where you find true treasure troves that stand out.
Plus the city features several Christmas markets all over town, where you can take in the Berlin Winter while enjoying a mug of Glühwein or some other delicacy aimed at warming the heart.
Unfortunately, the Mauerpark flea market is a sad sight in the winter, so I recommend keeping that visit tucked in your back pocket until the sun shines again. Speaking of the sun; if you are in Berlin, make sure to visit “Lunettes Selection”, a vintage shop of a different kind, specializing in retro shades and eyeglasses. With a second shop in the city, you simply find out which one is more convenient for you (Berlin Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg), and head on over to dive into several decennia of cool eyewear. The owner has evolved rom avid collector to lead designer of her own collection and reviews are overwhelmingly positive, so if you happen to have a few spare hours before your train or flight leaves – do drop by!
Okay, so lets assume there is a lot of testosterone in your household with three sons and a male dog. Your Christmas shopping will involve getting a LOT of electronics. And chances are you already bought that Playstation IV last year, so what to do?
Shen Zen that’s what! Consider it a polar opposite of the Hong Kong secton I mentioned earlier and bring an empty suitcase. Or better yet, by the empty suitcase in Shen Zen and make sure you fill it up before leaving. Most day-travellers end up in Luohu Commercial city, which is a concerted and prolonged attack on the senses for any Westerner.
Anything is one sale here, although the really good stuff is usually counterfeit so don’t expect to buy any luxury items here at bargain prices.
Electronics, which is what you really came for, can be found at the SEG Computer market. This complex houses 10 floors of smaller, independent shopkeepers offering anything from Chinese copies, originals, 2nd-hand and domestic brands. From the latest iPhones to individual microprocessors, anything is on sale here.
I recommend simply going for the gadgets that look interesting, and dropping by the new section that specializes in wearables like fitness trackers and smart watches. The local manufacturers are really on the money here and it is interesting what they come up with every time you are here.
Yuangwang Digital mall is the place to go Drone hunting, from basic entry models that will help novices to come to grips with flying, to the latest from DJI with one dedicated shop selling their latest models at very attractive prices.
Since I don’t expect any warranty to hold up of the electronics you will buy here, do check with DJI about this because they are an internationally renowned brand and I can imagine that they are eager to properly manage any recalls or malfunctions, even from their domestic market.
For Americans looking to go Christmas shopping there are two extreme possibilities. The first one has already passed, which was black Friday. It is a stressful experience, sure, but unlike any other time of the year the amount of discounts is completely insane.
So keep that in mind when you are going Christmas shopping next year. Invest in some personal training in the meantime because you are going to need if if you need to wrestle that last 52 plasma screen from someone else’s clutches in an elegant manner.
The alternative of course is convenient online shopping. Not only will you encounter better prices than most brick & mortar shops, but the fulfilment in the states is at a level that is unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. Nobody does “deliver the same day” like they do in the states.
Sure, you may not get to enjoy the beautiful Christmas decorations all these shops created for the Holidays, but keep in mind YOU are paying for that. Perhaps it is better to just play some Bing Crosby on your laptop, change your desktop to a snowy-white background and start up Amazon’s homepage altogether this season. I guess deep down inside you always know that your own living room is one of the best shopping destinations in the world, if not THE best.
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Alexander Grootmeester is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.
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