Whether killing time or scrambling to find last-minute souvenirs, most of us are at one time or another saved by airport shopping. Yes, every airport comes with the standard magazine stands and tacky gift shops, but our top 10 airports for shopping take their retail seriously. We’re talking endless duty-free arcades, luxury boutiques galore, and, maybe most notably, small local retailers that supply homegrown items unique to the destination itself. And isn’t that what souvenir shopping is all about? These gateway hubs span the globe, from Portland to Dubai, and offer the traveler more than just a distraction before boarding – they provide a viable (not TSA-related) reason to arrive the recommended three hours before (international) departure time. Get a sneak peek at the goods with our Airports for Shopping slideshow.
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Travelers are hard-pressed to stay bored for long at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS), which claims the first-ever airport library, a full-fledged casino, and a branch of the prestigious Rijksmuseum showcasing Dutch masterpieces. Among the layover offerings are the bank of stores, many of them accessible to everyone via the pre-security Plaza Schiphol (located between all gates) and affordable enough to keep shoppers squarely within their vacation budgets. H&M, showcasing their European line (Arrivals 2), and Mexx (Arrivals 3) supply on-trend, wallet-friendly apparel, while Nike (Arrivals 3) gives road-weary travelers an excuse to change into a new pair of kicks for the ride home. Amsterdam-based Paolo Salatto supplies upscale dress shoes and heels, leather goods and accessories, and men’s apparel at its three airport locations (Paolo Salatto Luxury Leather Goods in Arrivals 2, and Paolo Salatto Menswear and Paolo Salatto Shoes in Arrivals 3). Appropriately in this city renowned for its vibrant, springtime tulips, Aviflora (Arrivals 2), BLOEM! (Arrivals 4), and Fleurtiek (Plaza Schiphol), each hawk freshly cut blooms, bouquets, and even seeds and bulbs, for souvenirs that last long after the vacation ends. Keep an eye out for seasonal markdowns on big-ticket items like electronics and designer accessories in the See Buy Fly Shop just past security (case in point, the shop recently slashed prices of Missoni poncho scarves by almost 40 percent). www.schiphol.com
Dubai Duty Free, or DDF in short, opened its shiny glass doors in Dubai's International Airport (DXB) in 1983, and is the world’s single largest duty-free operation. The 24-hour tax-free mecca houses nearly 30 superstores offering a range of quality brands at discounted rates (shoppers can expect to pay anywhere between 10 and 50 percent less here than at city retailers), while its multi-lingual staff and sleek glass-and-steel design have garnered over 70 international awards. The contemporary space is easy to navigate though it spans a whopping 193,000 square feet across three terminals (imagine an additional 86,000 square feet when the airport’s new concourse opens in late 2012). Expect the best in designer fashion – Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Hermès, Cartier – and wine by way of Emporium, a plush lounge and liquor store in Terminal 3. Although international fragrances are DDF’s top sellers, local Middle-Eastern perfumes like the woody Amouage, packaged in ornate bottles, are climbing the ranks as hot-ticket items. Gold is also extremely popular with airport shoppers who take advantage of the value pricing for pieces like 20-karat chain necklaces and bracelets. Lucky spenders may also leave with up to $2 million or a pricey sports car, thanks to the airport's famous monthly drawings and giveaways. The more travelers spend airport shopping, the more raffle tickets they receive (raffle tickets may also be purchased individually). DDF stores accept Euros, United States Dollars, British Pounds, GCC Dinars, and Arab Emirates Dirhams. www.dubaiairport.com
— Trips Reddy
Frankfurt International Airport is the largest airport in continental Europe and with 250 businesses and 60 different stores (many with multiple airport locations) boasts the shopping to match. Most flights from the U.S. arrive at the airport’s larger Terminal 1, which is where you’ll find the broadest selection of stores, from luxury brands like Etro and Hermès to American favorites like Levi’s and Timberland. Look out for SØR, a Germany-based high-end chain stocking brands like Lacoste and Gant; Pfüller Kidskonzept, for upscale clothes and toys for kids; and Porsche Design, a subsidiary of the car company that offers design-centric briefcases, watches, and even cell phones. Once past security, take advantage of duty-free shopping on the likes of Burberry, Ferragamo, and Swarovski. And if your layover in Frankfurt doesn’t leave sufficient time for retail therapy, you can purchase any item from duty-free online up to 12 hours before your flight then pick it up at the airport. www.frankfurt-airport.com
Hong Kong (HKG)
Consistently ranked among the world’s best airports overall, Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) gets high marks for design, passenger flow, accessibility, and its superlative offerings for dining, entertainment (3-D theater or round of golf, anyone?), and, best of all, shopping. Given Hong Kong proper’s standing as a standout shopping destination, it’s only fitting that its transit hub would cater to commerce for the more than 50 million passengers who circulate here annually. Airport shoppers flock mainly to the some 160 shops and 40 restaurants of Terminal 1’s (T1’s) Skymart, considered one of the best shopping malls in the city, and a destination in its own right. Predictably, the requisite duty-free shops are on offer, as are plenty of electronics and gadgets stores, but most appealing are the big-name designer boutiques like Burberry, Chanel, Coach, and Versace that turn over in the halls of T1 like the boutiques on Fifth Avenue. In fact, the pioneering airport was the first to debut the likes of Prada and Tiffany and beauty outlets like Giorgio Armani Cosmetics and Kiehl’s. What’s more, airport shoppers can enjoy the peace of mind of a “downtown pricing guarantee,” which ensures that airport pricing remains in line with downtown Hong Kong pricing. Download the nifty iPhone app from the airport’s website to help navigate all of the airport’s shopping, dining, and entertainment venues. www.hongkongairport.com
Shopping in South Africa is a treat for craft lovers, objet d’art collectors, bargain shoppers, and souvenir junkies – and thankfully Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) has it all, with a microcosmic collection of the country’s best swag. Editors recently flying out of Jo’burg were pleasantly surprised that the airport merchandise was by and large the same quality crafts found at shops and markets throughout South Africa, and that prices were also comparable (minus the added discounts one can score by bargaining elsewhere in the country). The best airport shops for artsy hand-made goods and home décor – think wooden animal figurines, hand-tooled leather accessories, painted ceramics, and animal-skin rugs – are Indaba and Out of Africa (Terminal A, Duty Free Mall), while Big Five Duty Free (Terminal A) busts with fine jewelry, cosmetics, tobacco, and booze. Be sure to pick up a bottle of South African wine or creamy Amarula liqueur, made from South Africa’s own Marula tree fruit. Plus, ORTIA just underwent a major expansion to prepare for the 2010 FIFA World Cup so travelers can expect a gleaming new international pier with an expanded duty-free mall and new mezzanine lounges. Get the scoop on special sales and promotions before you go by checking out Airport Shopping Safari South Africa (www.airportshopping.co.za) and get a head start on duty-free shopping via the online store (www.sadutyfree.com). www.airports.co.za
Take 86 stores, from the ritzy (Gucci, Escada, Dior, Cartier) to the essential (Harrods, Dixons Travel, World Duty Free) and 67 million passing travelers annually, and what do you get? Over a billion in shopping sales per year. Well, at least that's the formula at London's Heathrow International Airport (LHR), the third busiest international airport in the world. In 2008, Heathrow welcomed iconic British department store Harrods in all five terminals – the largest is the two-floor superstore in Terminal 5. Most airport shops are located after security and big-name brands like Burberry and Montblanc have locations in several terminals so no matter where you're flying, you're bound to hit at least a few favorites (speaking of favorites, there's a Jimmy Choo store in Terminal 4). Look out for British designer shops like Kurt Geiger (Terminals 3 and 5), L.K. Bennet (Terminals 1 and 4), and Mulberry (Terminals 1, 3, 4, and 5). Weary travelers can fit in some R&R between shopping sprees in Terminal 5. There's spa Be Relax, Bar 5, a chic cocktail lounge with some 300 colorful fiber-optic tubes suspended from the ceiling, and gourmet eatery Gordon Ramsay Plane Food. www.heathrowairport.com
In many ways Portland International Airport is a reflection of the quirky city in which it is found. PDX eschews the rows of luxury boutiques and banal duty-free outlets in favor of local and regional retailers. Be sure to check out the outposts for the famous Portland-based Powell’s Books (Oregon Market, pre-security; Concourse C and D, post-security) and regional women’s-wear retailer cc McKenzie Shoes & Apparel (Oregon Market and Concourse C, pre- and post-security), as well as stores for hometown brands Nike and Columbia Sportswear (Oregon Market). A great souvenir to bring home is a bottle of beer from one of the city’s 36 breweries – pick one up at the Made in Oregon store (Oregon Market; Concourse C and D), along with regional wines and other local products. A double boon for airport shoppers: PDX guarantees prices are no higher than what you’d find at downtown stores, and the state has no sales tax. If you need to grab a quick bite before your flight, try Portland favorites like Rose’s Restaurant and Bakery (Concourse D), Laurelwood Brewing Co. (Concourse A and E), or the Flying Elephants Deli, featuring local Stumptown Coffee (Oregon Market). Unwind prior to takeoff at the new Dragontree Day Spa (Concourse C and D), a local full-service spa which opened in 2010. And if you plan on biking around town like a resident, stop by the airport bike assembly and repair station (lower terminal roadway), also opened in 2010, to speedily assemble and disassemble your wheels before and after your flight. www.flypdx.com
San Francisco (SFO)
San Francisco's SFO made our list for its numerous specialty shops, many of them local retailers focusing on regional (and edible!) goods like sumptuous Ghirardelli chocolates, oaky Napa Valley chardonnays, and crunchy sourdough rounds. Although the retail options in domestic Terminal 1 are a bit lackluster, shops in the other two wings (accessible by AirTrain, but know that many stores are after security) tempt every breed of shopper. Label-hounds can find handbags at Coach and duty-free, high-design items at Gucci and Burberry (International Terminal); budget shoppers will appreciate on-trend fashions at MANGO (domestic Terminal 3); and art and design connoisseurs can browse prints, stationery, and jewelry at the San Francisco Museum of Art store (International Terminal). Plus, travelers can pick up all the usual goods at four duty-free galleries located in the International Terminal. Nine new airport stores, including Kiehl’s and a second MANGO, joined the roster in April 2011, when the redeveloped domestic wing, Terminal 2, welcomed its departures. Fittingly for this wine-rich region, Marilla (Terminal 3), San Francisco Wine Gourmet (International Terminal), and Wine Wisdom (Terminal 3) each stock labels from nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys – letting oenophiles take home an acclaimed bottle or two (duty-free from San Francisco Wine Gourmet) without checking their luggage. www.flysfo.com
With 230 retail outlets, Singapore's Changi Airport (SIN) is a shopaholic’s paradise. The list of stores reads like a who’s who of the luxury market (Bvlgari, Prada, Gucci, Armani) and showcases the first airport locations for brands like Miu Miu (Terminal 2) and Chloé (Terminals 2 and 3), not to mention homegrown Singapore outlets like Charles & Keith (shoes) and Chomel (jewelry and accessories). The high-end brands are sprinkled throughout the airport’s three main terminals so you’re sure to find several swank shops no matter where you’re jetting. You’ll also find more accessible options like Nike (Terminal 2), The Body Shop (Terminal 3), and Sunglass Hut (Terminals 1, 2, and 3), a smattering of electronics stores, and, of course, the requisite duty-free shops (Terminals 1 and 2). For a memorable Singapore souvenir, head to Top Orchids (Terminals 1, 2, and 3) for exotic fresh-cut flowers and potted plants. Buyers needn't fear airport price-gouging – if you find an item you bought is less expensive at a comparable store outside Changi Airport, you are guaranteed a rebate of double the price difference (proof by receipt or advertisement is required). Once you’ve maxed out your credit cards, take a break from airport shopping and check out Changi's swimming pool, butterfly garden and koi ponds, napping areas, movie theater, or the world’s tallest airport slide (spend $10 at the airport and get a token to ride the slide). www.changiairport.com
Travelers with carry-on space to spare can stuff their suitcases with cut-rate cashmere sweaters, origami materials, and even off-kilter Kit Kat flavors at Tokyo’s 135-store Narita Airport (NRT). Among the airport shopping options are two outposts of Uniqlo (Terminals 1 and 2, which both service international and domestic departures), Japan’s sleeker – and slightly cheaper – answer to Gap, as well as Shisiedo cosmetics and Seiko Timepieces (both located in Terminal 1). Peruse more artistic wares at the Nippon Origami Museum (Terminal 1), which displays 400 traditional origami creations, each made from paper intricately folded into animals, flowers, and remarkably lifelike scenes (paper and instructional books are for sale), while Graniph (Terminal 1) showcases a less traditional brand of artwork: some hundred different types of graphic T-shirts designed by various artists from the world over. Traveling shoppers can kick back with a cold one, thanks to beer vending machines and a draught beer dispenser (which reminds us of the soda machines at 7-Eleven, but way cooler) in the NWA lounge. As for the Kit Kats, prowl Narita’s gift shops for wacky, only-in-Japan flavors like soy sauce, cheese, and green tea. www.narita-airport.jp