Shopping Areas in Global Cities

Dec 13, 2013 8:00:02 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education. In this month's column, Colin looks at the shopping areas of CAPA's global cities.

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When in a global city, especially as a tourist, where does one go to shop? Every such city has at least one famous, historic street (and sometimes a choice of streets) with iconic stores, cafes and restaurants which are on a must visit list. These are usually not the cheapest places to shop - it is much more about style, which may come at a price. A good example is the Avenue des Champs-élysées in Paris - a fabulous experience with luxury shops. I like to walk the street and gaze at the Arc de Triomphe at the top. However, for shopping, the popular Boulevard Haussmann with the Printemps store and Galleries Lafayette was a bit easier on my wallet.

Photo: Paris by Chloe Lau

In the Big Apple, there is 5th Avenue - must go to Saks! - only a couple of blocks from my favorite spot there - New York's Times Square. Then perhaps I should go to Madison Avenue instead?

Saks Fifth Ave & St. Patrick's Cathedral
Photo: Saks 5th Avenue, NYC by jpellgen

London is equally challenging - Oxford Street has a lot of famous stores and a variety of prices, but there's also the slightly more upmarket Regent's Street, intersecting at Oxford Circus (there aren't any clowns). Yet neither of these icons contain London's most famous must see store - Harrods in Knightsbridge.

Harrods (Londres)
Photo: Harrods, London by Eva Sanagustín

Some global cities offer a very differentiated choice. When I am in San Francisco, I alternate between walking that long Market Street from the Embarcadero to Castro and strolling the fascinating haunts of Haight Ashbury.

Haight Ashbury Street Fair San Francisco 2011
Photo: Haight Ashbury by David Yu

Now in Beijing, I alternate the historic Wangfujing Street with modern and neon Sanlitun (shopping) Village. The latter dates from 2008 as it was built for the Beijing Olympics. I penned this article from Sanlitun. How authentic is that?

Photo: Sanlitun by Colin Speakman

Earlier this month, we only had time for a good look at one iconic shopping street in Shanghai with a CAPA group, so it had to be West Nanjing Road for reasons below, though we did cross the famous Huahai Road shopping mecca in the former French Concession on the way to Xintiandi.

Photo: CAPA students outside the Ferrari showroom on W Nanjing Road Shanghai by Colin Speakman

So what are my recommendations if you only have time, and perhaps resources, to shop on one famous street in CAPA's eight global cities? Read on.


No other Beijing shopping street has the history and prominence of Wangfujing Street. It was once home to princes living in mansions (In Chinese, Wangfu) and later a well (Jing) was added. - hence Wangfujing Street. The well, suitably capped, still exists in the street. It is a pedestrian street, with many large malls and the famous Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore (my reason to visit). It is surrounded by many international hotels, so it is within easy walking distance for their customers. A few years ago it started hosting the International Brands Festival each September to promote Beijing's World City status. I even have a photo from the first event!

Photo: Wangfujing Street hosts its first International Brands Festival by Colin Speakman


While there is plenty of shopping choice in this capital, there is one that stands out and I remember my visits to this day, partly because I was absorbed in watching the Tango being performed in the street. It is the famous Florida Street (Calle Florida), another pedestrian street which is full of elegant shops. There are also quite a few small vendors hawking leather goods and jewelry with opportunities to haggle. Take refuge in one of the Gallerias if you are seeking a more peaceful shopping experience in Buenos Aires.

Photo: Calle Florida, Buenos Aires by Matias Garabedian


There was only one street I did my shopping on in Dublin which is Grafton Street (though Henry Street is an alternative for visitors). The street, named after the 1st Duke of Grafton (who was actually called Henry), runs from St Stephen's Green to College Green and is mainly pedestrianized. Musicians, poets and mime artists regularly perform in the street and it featured in the 2006 film "Once". Like many of these famous streets, Grafton Street is a focal point for the holiday lights in the global city and the famous Michael Buble switched them on here a couple of years ago.

Grafton Street - Dublin
Photo: Grafton Street, Dublin by Alessandro Farese


There's no contest in Florence for me. I loved walking from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio along this street that connects these two historic sites in the center of Firenze. It changes name three times from the Via Roma to the Via Calimala and then to the Via Por Santa Maria and passes the Piazza Repubblica - where I stop for a cappuccino in the morning and perhaps shop in Rinascente, Florence's most famous large department store (the other not far away is called Coin - not Colin, but close!). I can then head on to the smaller chain stores nearer the old bridge and even enjoy an outdoor leather and souvenir goods market.

blue ice
Photo: La Rinascente in Florence by army.arch *Adam*


Shopping in Istanbul is always hectic and the bargains are in the markets, but Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) offers every kind of shopping imaginable over a three kilometer walk. Formerly called Grand Avenue, this wide, pedestrianized boulevard contains shops, art galleries, cafes, bars, restaurants, cinemas and a variety of religious buildings - churches, mosques and synagogues. A few embassies complete the picture. The side streets are also worth a visit with some cheaper items including factory seconds fashion goods.

İstiklâl Caddesi, Istanbul
Photo: Istiklal Caddesi by Rob Hyndman


Oxford Street is my first choice in London for its variety of stores including the famous Selfridges, Debenhams and John Lewis department stores all offering better prices than Harrods. Starting at Hyde Park and ending at Tottenham Court Road (electronics goods) and Charing Cross Road (books, old and new) junction, it is not a pedestrianized street, but close. Private cars were banned so that the sidewalks could be widened, and, in the narrower road, public buses and taxis help shoppers get their purchases home. It's also another global city street famous for the holiday lights and festive shop window displays.

Oxford Street London
Photo: Oxford Street, London by Nicholas Hutchinson


The West Nanjing Road (with its pedestrianized and East Nanjing Road sections) in Shanghai is the most famous and the longest shopping street in China. I have walked it end to end with students in one and a half hours without time taken to enter shops. Do not worry though, three metro stations on line 2 serve the road along with several public buses. At the start in Jing An Temple (as in the photo) the City Plaza Mall is fairly pricey but worth looking in as pretty soon after you will pass one of several Gucci stores, Louis Vuitton, Rolex and so on. There's a Ferrari car dealership, which excited our students, and a huge number of giant malls, one after the other. International hotels are scattered along the road and, thankfully, there are plenty of cafes at regular prices to rest up in.

Photo: West Nanjing Road in Shanghai by Colin Speakman


When in Sydney I like to walk along Oxford Street from Hyde Park. No, I haven't gone back to London by accident. All this is in Sydney reflecting its Commonwealth links. The Australian version is near the Central Business District and I certainly enjoyed the variety there. It is not really like London's street as it adds clubs, bars and night spots to cafes and restaurants alongside the shops. There is an upmarket shopping section east of Taylor Square (see squares in global cities), but the western section has become Sydney's primary nightclub strip more like London's Piccadilly and Leicester Square area. This is useful as after a successful day of shopping, it is time to party.

Shopping in Sydney QVB I
Photo: Shopping in Sydney by mkruesselmann

Do you have a favorite shopping street in a global city? Tell us about it in the comments.

Topics: Global Cities