World’s Most Spectacular Department Stores
Unless you’re a platinum credit card holder, you probably don’t think about going shopping in department stores on your travels. The commerce centers can, however, make excellent places to explore architecture, window-shop, enjoy a spa treatment, or people-watch from the café. At London’s Liberty, its quirky décor and signature fabrics attract artistic types. Tokyo’s Isetan draws hungry shoppers to its basement food hall, teeming with expensive delicacies from around the world. The rooftop terrace at Galeries Lafayette gives a heart-stopping view of Paris.
Details like these are what lure millions of customers through the doors of department stores everywhere, and inspire a sense of wonderment around them, like the kind felt by the author Kate Zambreno. “When I lived in London I was totally obsessed with the luxury department stores, how grand and impeccable they were,” she told Kirkus Reviews in an interview. “I […] would spend my time being caught in the crowds on Oxford and Tottenham Court [Road], just walking, getting lost, straining my neck to gaze at the horns on the top of Selfridges, saving up to have tea upstairs at Liberty, buying one little thing at the food hall at Harrods.”
In Zambreno’s novel Green Girl, the heroine Ruth—a listless American expat in London who works on the perfume counter at a store she calls Horrids—inherits her author’s love of department stores: in particular, Liberty. To Ruth, Liberty is a pleasure-filled emporium of beautiful objects and people; a small world of possibilities that offers her the freedom suggested by its name. When a date buys her a dress from the store, Ruth savors the moment as the shopgirls “carefully wrapped the dress up in the black tissue paper, and laid it gently in the deep purple bag.”
Taking a cue from Zambreno, the allure of these 15 department stores makes them well worth visiting.
Le Bon Marché: Paris
Le Bon Marché is a temple of classic and contemporary design. Built in 1852 by Gustave Eiffel—the architect behind Paris’ defining monument, which shares his surname—the store features an Art Deco glass ceiling and sleek escalators that whisk shoppers between its four floors. When not perusing the beauty, fashion, furniture, and children’s sections, customers can snack on culinary delights from croissants to camembert at the famed food hall, Le Grande Épicerie de Paris.
Bergdorf Goodman: New York City
Occupying a grand Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, Bergdorf Goodman’s is perhaps the most iconic shopping address in New York City. This nine-floor midtown landmark attracts big spenders with its ample range of couture fashion, furs, accessories, and designer shoes, with enough Manolo Blahniks to satisfy Sex and the City fans. Among Bergdorf’s most beautiful parts, the Art Deco-styled bridal suite carries dresses by the likes of Vera Wang, Jenny Packham, and Oscar de la Renta. If you have an appointment, the John Barrett Salon on the top floor is another gorgeous spot, with extraordinary views of Central Park.
Shinsegae: Busan, South Korea
Busan’s Shinsegae is registered as the world’s largest department store in the Guinness World Records; covering a colossal 3,163,567 square-feet, the port city’s outpost of the popular Korean department store chain took the title from New York’s Macy’s on opening in 2009. The gigantic building complex houses 60 designer boutiques carrying fashion from Louis Vuitton and Chanel, 10 restaurants with everything from Chinese to Italian cuisine, and boasts its own ice rink, spa, indoor golf space, multiplex cinema, and a rooftop garden with views of the city.
Fortnum & Mason: London
Now one of London’s most prestigious department stores, Fortnum & Mason began in 1705 as a shop in St. James’ Market and a spare room in Hugh Mason’s house. But that’s just the start of the Piccadilly landmark’s fascinating history: it claims to have invented the Scotch Egg in 1738; introduced Heinz’s baked beans to Britain; and once sent its signature hampers to suffragettes who were jailed for breaking their windows. Its hampers—which were once written about by Charles Dickens—remain popular today, while the Food Hall is packed with delicious teas, jams, cheeses, chocolates, and confectionery. Dining is decidedly the store’s forte, with multiple restaurants, a wine bar, tea rooms, an ice cream parlour, and four private dining rooms for elite guests.
One of Japan’s most exclusive department store chains, Isetan originated as a kimono fabric shop; today, the store has several outposts across the country and abroad. True to the store’s heritage, its flagship Isetan Shinjuku sells kimonos of various colors and patterns on the seventh floor, as well as a wide selection of national and international women’s fashion brands; the store even offers visitors tours of its Japanese labels including Sacai, Kenzo, and Toga. Meanwhile, hungry shoppers can sample the ultimate depachika (department store basement) cuisine in an upscale food hall filled with treats from all over the world, from intricate Japanese cakes to French macarons.
La Rinascente: Milan
If you like shoes and handbags, you’ll love La Rinascente’s Milan flagship store. The entire balcony/mezzanine area of the eight-floor building is handbag heaven, with arm candy by the likes of Burberry, Moschino, and Mulberry on display; next, head up to the third floor, where you’re sure to find a pair of shoes to match your purse in the 8,600 square-feet footwear section. The Design Supermarket, on the store’s underground floor, is also worth visiting, with an extensive home ware collection including lighting, gadgets, kitchen furnishings, books, and more.
Don’t miss the Food Hall on the seventh floor, where you can choose between a sushi bar, lobster bar, mozzarella bar, and steakhouse among other dining options—all of which come served with a gorgeous vista of the nearby Duomo.
Set in a magnificent historic building on Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s Grieder department store outdoes its Geneva flagship with its unique architecture. The 32,000 square-feet store offers a wide range of high fashion from international designers like Gucci, Armani, and Roberto Cavalli, among others, as well as a home section, and accessories department stocked with fine lingerie, furs, scarves, leather goods, and more. When you’re done shopping, the rooftop terrace’s Griederbar is perfect for drinks or a light lunch with a view of the bustling Paradeplatz, bustling with people and trams below.
For a truly extravagant shopping experience, Moscow’s millionaires head to TsUM (Tsentralny Universalny Magazin; in English, Central Department Store), housed in a stunning Gothic Revival building on Teatralnaya Square. Originally built in 1909, and named Muir & Merrilees (after the two Scotsmen who founded it), eastern Europe’s largest department store covers over 645,000 square-feet with luxury fashion (including labels such as Balenciaga, Lanvin, and more), footwear, accessories, makeup, jewelry, and home ware. While foodies flock to Globus Gourmet, the store’s upscale delicatessen, health-conscious shoppers can take a break in the first-floor juice bar, or enjoy seasonal menus at the fourth floor’s TsUM Café.
Kaufhaus des Westens: Berlin
The king of department stores, Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe)—which translates to “the department store of the West”—is the largest in continental Europe, with highlights including its impressive fashion selection, with designers like Prada, Fendi, and Balmain in stock, and a luxury spa for mani/pedi appointments to take away shoppers’ stress.
Opening its doors in 1907, the original building designed by architect Johann Emil Schaudt suffered damage during the Second World War; in the years that followed, KaDeWe was redeveloped and expanded a number of times. Today’s 645,834 square-foot giant is poised to undergo yet another overhaul, with Dutch firm OMA to divide the store into four independently designed sections centered around an atrium, each accessible via the street. The store’s signature glass-topped roof will also change, replaced by a larger glass fixture that will include an open courtyard to offer visitors spectacular views of Berlin.
From its Tudoresque façade covered with timber from ships to the fireplaces dotted about the rooms inside, Liberty is unlike most other department stores. Even its infrastructure—a series of homely rooms arranged around three light wells—flouts convention. Built in 1924, Liberty is, as Oscar Wilde once put it, “the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.” Indeed, it’s a creative type’s paradise, with its famously quirky range of scarves, jewelry, haberdashery (including delightful sewing boxes and handkerchiefs), stationery, and more. For further inspiration, there’s a literary lounge on the ground floor, where shoppers can pause to browse books on art and fashion.
Galeries Lafayette: Paris
Since opening on the Boulevard Haussmann in 1912, the Galeries Lafayette has proved itself to be much more than a place to shop. A spectacle in its own right, the building is an Art Nouveau masterpiece, from its wrought-iron balconies and elaborate staircase banister (which borrowed its design from the Paris Opera House) to its pièce de résistance stained-glass dome.
It’s not just a place to look at, but also one to look from. The Galerie des Galeries, an aptly-named space on the first floor, holds quarterly exhibitions showcasing the work of emerging artists. For those more interested in the latest trends, there are free weekly fashion shows in-store. And then there’s the unforgettable panoramic view of the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur, and more from the rooftop terrace.
Saks Fifth Avenue: New York City
Well-heeled shoe addicts know Saks Fifth Avenue as the home of New York City’s largest shoe department. Stacked with heels designed by the likes of Manolo Blahnik, Diane von Furstenberg, and Giuseppe Zanotti, the shoe haven spans the eighth floor of the flagship store and even has its own zip code: 10022-SHOE. Another store highlight is John Allan’s grooming club in the men’s department, offering dapper types everything from a haircut to a shoeshine.
Not one to stay stuck in the past, Saks is currently undergoing a three-year renovation, with the addition of dining areas created in partnership with the Parisian restaurant L’Avenue—one of which will be on the grand terrace with a view of the Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s expected to be complete in mid-2018.
This tourist favorite attracts over 15 million visitors a year, but it hasn’t lost its charm. Harrods began its life in 1849, as a grocer and tea merchant in the East End; it’s fitting then that shoppers today are drawn to the Knightsbridge landmark for food and drink—at the store’s infamous food hall, as well as dining options including an oyster bar, steakhouse, tearoom, and a Ladurée café. For when you want to get away from tourists, a visit to the Urban Retreat Spa for a massage or facial, is sure to help you zone out.
De Bijenkorf: Amsterdam
Housed in a stately old building opposite the Royal Palace on Dam Square, de Bijenkorf (the Beehive) is a beautiful place to shop, eat, and relax. Though the store’s central location means it’s usually swarming with tourists, the fourth-floor Tax-Free Lounge—which offers tax refunds to shoppers visiting from outside the E.U—is a nice bonus, especially if you’ve just splurged on new designer wear. Alternatively, you can avoid the crowds by treating yourself to a manicure at the third-floor nail salon or tucking into international cuisine at the Bijenkorf Kitchen on the fifth floor, where dinner on the terrace comes with fantastic views.
This gorgeously designed department store features a large atrium that fills the space with light, and escalators covered in wood, in-keeping with the store’s Scandinavian vibe. In the midst of an extensive renovation, Illum will continue evolving with a revamped men’s floor, home section, and cosmetics department expected to be completed by 2017. The recently reopened accessories department stocks a large selection of designer handbags, scarves, and other trimmings by the likes of Balenciaga and Marni in a space that covers more than 9,000 square-feet. The fourth-floor restaurant area is also worth a stop, serving everything from Danish cuisine to sushi, lobster, and steaks—all with a view over Copenhagen’s rooftops.