By: Rocky Casale
Great vacation memories spring from many sources: Photographs tell the literal side of the story, but those one-of-a-kind acquisitions – an intricate Colombian rug, an antique Mexican doorknob, a one-off dress by an Israeli designer – continue to live with us, transmitting their provenance through time. Since shopping districts the world over are becoming increasingly interchangeable with big-box stores, we sought out urban neighborhoods, some emerging and others longer established, where you can still find homegrown items that impart a true sense of place.Get a peek of the goods with our Shopping Cities on the Rise slideshow.
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Central District, Hong Kong
Some of Hong Kong’s best shops and restaurants lie amid the skyscrapers in its bustling Central District, an immense pulsating commercial zone near Victoria Harbour. Tourists, who pay no sales tax and can pick up a VAT refund in this top shopping city, can have a ball browsing the boutiques from D’Aguilar Street and Connaught Place to the harbor’s promenade.
Shop: Famous Shanghai tailor Ascot Chang (www.ascotchang.com) runs a small boutique on Chater Road specializing in fine men’s business wear and accessories. Nearby, D-Mop (www.d-mop.com.hk), a unisex boutique, is stocked with casual fashions by names like Y-3 and Seal Kay. Artisans at heritage jeweler Yewn (www.yewn.com) toil away making delicate brooches, bangles, and earrings. A few streets over, the flagship lifestyle store Homeless (www.homeless.hk) sells everything from funky furniture to handsome wallpaper and sculptures by Umbra, Mathmos, Kartell, and such.
Eat: French and Chinese cuisine fuse at popular Bo Innovation (www.boinnovation.com), located in the neighboring Wan Chai district. Clad in modern artwork and slick tables, this contemporary eatery specializes in miniscule molecular nibbles – think toro with foie gras powder and sausage ice cream with crispy rice – and fresh shellfish.
Skip: Nathan Road, one of the busiest streets in Kowloon, is teeming with electronics stores and vendors hawking everything from Rolex knockoffs to tailoring services. Beware: Dubious goods and rip-off schemes abound.
Colonia Roma, Mexico City
West of Mexico City’s historic center, Colonia Roma – a quaint, leafy neighborhood where the privileged once lived in Art Deco buildings – is proving a fulcrum for creative endeavors. With contemporary art galleries and design and fashion boutiques taking up residence in its converted mansions, the area is a beacon of cultural renewal inside this shopping city’s sprawl.
Shop: In-the-know locals go nuts for NaCo Miscelánea (www.usanaco.com), a trendy athletic wear boutique co-owned by actor Diego Luna. French designer Emmanuel Picault’s perfectly curated boutique La Valise (52/555-564-9013) offers unique home furnishings, artwork, and curios, while his larger design boutique, Chic by Accident (www.chicbyaccident.com), presents fine glassware and cutlery, along with contemporary tables, chairs, and sofas. His store is favored by interior designers seeking Mexican antiques and architectural elements such as colonial wooden doors and door knobs.
Eat: Rosetta (52/555-533-7804), a celebrated Italian restaurant in a beautifully restored mansion on Avenida Colima, serves ingredient-driven delicacies like octopus carpaccio and wholesome standbys like orecchiette with sweet peas and grilled sardines with panzanella. Mexican flavors reign at Contramar (www.contramar.com.mx), a specialist in fresh seafood and soups, including caldo de camarón (shrimp in a tomato-based vegetable broth).
Skip: Lined with ultraluxe brands (Gucci, Dior, and Ferrari to name a few), Avenida Presidente Masaryk, in ritzy Polanco, is more L.A. than D.F.
HaTachana, Tel Aviv
After five years of renovations, HaTachana, comprised of Jaffa’s former train station and a set of surrounding buildings, has been transformed into an up-market shopping and leisure zone. A bevy of stores and stalls, coffee houses, and galleries have infused new life into some 49 acres of disused railway space. The revived complex, sandwiched between the old port city of Jaffa and the posh enclave of Neve Tzedek, features pedestrian spaces – for strolling and people-watching – and market stalls that host weekly design fairs and organic produce markets.
Shop: Ahava (www.ahavaus.com), lauded for its Dead Sea mineral mud body scrubs and lotions, is one of HaTachana’s flagship tenants, with a concept store and a spa. Popular Israeli women’s wear designers Charlie Paloma (www.charliepaloma.com) and Ronen Chen (www.ronenchen.com) have boutiques in the station. So does Gaya Games (www.gaya-game.com), a haven for puzzle buffs and board game lovers featuring fun, mind-bending children’s toys.
Eat: Shushka Shvili (972/351-60-008), a Mediterranean-style tapas restaurant within the HaTachana complex, serves breakfast all day. The trendy eatery draws customers from all over this top shopping city for its savory tapas, like fresh sardines and house-made hummus, and an extensive beer selection.
Skip: Also recently renovated, Namal (the Old Port) is essentially an upscale mall by the sea, with international brands (Levi’s, Steve Madden) and overpriced restaurants specializing in mostly non-Israeli fare.
La Candelaria, Bogotá
Artists, designers, and restaurateurs flock to this shopping city’s historic (and formerly run-down) La Candelaria neighborhood to open galleries, design shops, and trendy cafés amid newly restored colonial buildings. The district boasts some of Bogotá’s top cultural sites (such as the Botero Museum and the Cristóbal Colón Theater), and visitors can find traditional Colombian wares for sale along the sidewalks and narrow alleys.
Shop: Artesanías de Colombia (www.artesaniasdecolombia.com.co) carries an array of expertly created Colombian crafts and furnishings: intricate woven rugs, handmade vases, colorful ceramic bowls, braided hammocks. Travelers will get a feel for the country’s contemporary art scene at the Nueveochenta gallery (www.nueveochenta.com), showcasing local artists’ works, including painted wood and graphite installations by Natalia Castañeda and collages by Jaime Tarazona; the small outdoor patio doubles as an installation space and a venue for lively exhibition parties.
Eat: Colombian fare rises to high art at Leo Cocina y Cava (57/12-86-7091) where the intriguing – and sometimes unusual – dishes include rabbit empanadas and tuna sashimi encrusted with Santanderean ants, a Colombian specialty.
Skip: Plaza de San Victorino, a bustling square north of La Candelaria, is full of cheap shops, illegal vendors (hawking everything from knockoff designer bags to llamas), and pickpockets.
Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires
With neighboring Palermo Soho reaching a stylish crescendo in the last five years, art galleries, design hotels, and quaint boutiques have spilled over into Palermo Hollywood, so named for its many movie and TV studios.
Shop: Housed inside an old livestock market, the Mercado de las Pulgas is a critical shopping point for antiques gurus. Dozens of vendors display rare items (along with a fair share of bric-a-brac), from Venetian glass chandeliers to vintage Argentine furnishings. At Braga Menéndez Arte Contemporáneo (www.galeriabm.com), a collective of 39 Latin American artists produces wildly original furnishings, sculptures, paintings, photography, and installations. The members’ work – on view and for sale – has made this gallery the neighborhood’s hub for contemporary art and creative types.
Eat: Locals will direct a steak-weary visitor to Jangada (www.restaurantejangada.com), a seafood spot dishing up platters of local grilled fish like dorado and white croaker. Or a shopper can recharge with a quick bite – say, café con leche and perfectly flaky pastries – at the boho-chic Oui Oui (www.ouioui.com.ar).
Skip: Puerto Madera, an ultra mod new business district created from a stretch of abandoned warehouses along the Río de la Plata, has plenty of flash (pricey boutiques and hotels) but none of this shopping city’s old-world charm.
Once the home of gladiators and courtesans, Monti features historic attractions like the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (not to mention the Colosseum), and draws shop owners and chefs eager to leave their creative marks. Boutiques, bespoke bakeries, and contemporary Italian eateries are moving here in droves, making this urban enclave – still populated with old-school furniture makers – a nexus of Rome’s glorious artisan past.
Shop: Unisex clothing boutique Super (www.super-space.com) specializes in casual street apparel by hot designers like La Fabrique and Majaco. Hydra II Leather and More (39/06-48-90-7773) offers kitschy T-shirts and vintage items like leather boots, dresses, and men’s flannels. A few blocks away is Misty Beethoven (www.mistybeethoven.it), a sensual boutique filled with shoes, jewelry, and clothes (by both small Italian designers and glittery names like Vivienne Westwood), in addition to lingerie and other unmentionables.
Eat: Urbana 47 (www.urbana47.it) blends rustic brick interiors and cozy furnishings – all of which happen to be for sale – with contemporary Italian fare like pumpkin carpaccio with ricotta, thyme, and lemon oil. Wine and antipasti steal the show at Ai Tre Scalini (www.aitrescalini.org). The phenomenally popular enoteca has been entrenched in neighborhood life since 1895.
Skip: Via del Corso, a major shopping artery running through the center of this shopping city, is unbearably crowded on the weekends, and many of its shops (Zara, Adidas, Disney) can be found (almost) everywhere.
Fashion showrooms and artists’ studios populate the bosky streets and river banks of Nakameguro, a trendy neighborhood in south central Tokyo, which has become a spiritual epicenter for hipsters who flock here to shop and be seen. After decades of decline, the now-revitalized hood has become a magnet for emerging art galleries, vintage thrift stores, and boho cafés, attracting both trend-setting locals and in-the-know travelers.
Shop: Contemporary gallery Mizuma Art (www.mizuma-art.co.jp) shows both budding and well-established Japanese artists like Shinsuke Tsutsui and Sachie Noda. Exhibition openings rank high on the social calendars of creative types and businessmen alike. Vase (81/354-58-0337) presents rare vintage clothes and accessories, while Mansion of Owls (81/354-59-4181) sports high-end men’s clothing like couture-cut leather jackets and wool trousers.
Eat: Café Chano Ma (www.chano-ma.jp) attracts a style-conscious crowd with its cocktails, but there’s also an impressive tea selection. The raw warehouse interior is decked out with loungy white mattresses, throw pillows, and an eclectic clutch of retro tables and chairs.
Skip: Ginza may be the most famous shopping district in this top shopping city, but it’s full of generic department stores and overpriced eateries and boutiques.
Northern Liberties, Philadelphia
Close to Philadelphia’s main enclave of early American independence-era attractions is Northern Liberties. This small grid of cobblestone streets, registered as a national historic district in 1985, has seen its share of hardships over the years, but is now undergoing a revival. Tourists passing through to catch a glimpse of the Liberty Bell can comb the shopping city’s regenerated neighborhood, ripe with trendy fashion boutiques, galleries, and outdoor cafés.
Shop: Art Star (www.artstarphilly.com) showcases works for sale by local artists along with one-offs of everything from fine stationery to animal-themed coffee mugs and plates. One street over is Vagabond Boutique (www.vagabondboutique.com), a women’s clothing store stocked with wares by young Philadelphia designers and independent labels such as Moonblood, beloved for its silk-screened T-shirts.
Eat: Philadelphians are likely to mention Northern Liberties’ PYT (www.pytphilly.com), a boutique burger house and bar in the Piazza, an outdoor circus of retail shops, trendy salons, and eateries. This is where one can sample some only-in-Philadelphia specialties, like a bacon waffle burger or cheeseburger soup – not to mention the adults-only Juan Valdez shake (chocolate ice cream, Kahlúa, and Patrón XO).
Skip: Once a funky collection of independent shops and restaurants, South Street is now home to Starbucks, Gap, and McDonalds – with a few tattoo parlors and New Age bookstores for good measure.
Rue Tiquetonne, Paris
Fashion matters in Paris, and nowhere is this more evident than in the shopping city’s 2nd Arrondissement along Rue Tiquetonne, where shrewd shoppers raid newish boutiques and vintage shops for leather wear, flouncy skirts, and shiny new shoes. Hemmed into the heart of Paris, this lively little street just off the bustling (and übercool) Rue Montorgueil is close to beloved attractions like the Pompidou Center and Tuileries Gardens.
Shop: Kiliwatch (www.espacekiliwatch.fr) offers a dapper collection of men’s and women’s vintage wear, from gowns and handbags to Italian leather boots and 1940s sailor uniforms. Down the road is the women’s cobbler Maloles (www.maloles.com). Famous for its ballet slipper designs, the shop carries a vast selection of handmade shoes and bags in fine leathers and exotic materials like crocodile. For street wear, the Royal Cheese boutique (www.royalcheese.com) features groovy basics (jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers) by an international mix of men’s and women’s designers like Gloverall, Dunderdon, and Baracuta.
Eat: Also on Rue Tiquetonne, Aux Trois Petits Cochons, or the Three Little Pigs (www.auxtroispetitscochons.fr), is a 2-minute walk from the farmer’s market on Rue Montorgueil. This small bistro serves seasonal dishes like violet artichoke salad with Parmesan shavings, and rabbit stew with broad beans.
Skip: Champs-Élysées, the legendary avenue stretching from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, is packed with foreigners, chain stores, and overpriced, touristy restaurants.
Returning to London after a month away, one is likely to find yet another pocket of eastside Shoreditch reaching a climax of cool. This area is rife with old warehouses and Victorian town houses that have proved ideal locations for young artists and fashion professionals. Bisecting it is Brick Lane, a street packed with boutiques, vintage furniture dealers, bicycle garages, and cafés.
Shop: British product and industrial designer Jasper Morrison set up his eponymous housewares shop (www.jaspermorrison.com) in 2009. The store carries reworked classics like vintage-inspired ceramic doorknobs and rainbow-hued Basel chairs – all Morrison-fashioned or sourced by business partner Ruth Donaghey. Thursdays are when Spitalfields Market (www.spitalfields.co.uk) sets up stalls selling furniture, art, jewelry, and crafts. Farther afield is Beyond Retro (www.beyondretro.com), where racks and bargain bins are filled with funky throwback clothes and accessories as well as high-end vintage dresses and jackets.
Eat: Look Mum No Hands (www.lookmumnohands.com) offers vegan delights such as mushroom-celeriac pies. The café-bar is stocked with Belgian and French beers, with free Wi-Fi throughout. In a restored warehouse, Pizza East (www.pizzaeast.com) serves up brick oven-baked pies (like duck sausage with artichokes and goat cheese) and a decadent salted chocolate-caramel tart.
Skip: Known for its department stores and big-name brands, this top shopping city’s Oxford Street is always thronged with tourists – and the shops hike their prices accordingly.