With each trip I take, I look for cultural souvenirs — experiences and memories are the gold nuggets of travel. Shopping is never my priority, but when I do bring mementos home I find the best souvenirs come from local entrepreneurs and craftspeople. These days, Europe’s modern shopping arenas are also fun spots to witness a slice of contemporary life. In moderation, it can be fun to immerse yourself in the retail culture of Europe’s grandest cities.
Here are some suggestions for smart shopping, where you can focus on experiencing culture rather than collecting things:
The most colorful shopping in Europe — and a fun way to feel the local vibe — is at its lively open-air markets. A stroll along Portobello Road, one of London’s many lively street markets, has you rubbing elbows with people who brake for garage sales. In Florence, the sprawling San Lorenzo Market has stalls of garments, accessories and leather jackets ranging from real to vinyl. Even a place as overrun with visitors as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has tourist-free nooks and crannies that offer a glimpse into the real Turkey. Jump into the human rivers that flow through these venues.
Try to experience some “creative” tourism when you travel. Seek out and appreciate a local craftsperson. In the Tuscan town of Volterra, visit Roberto and Giorgio’s powdery workshop and watch as they carve alabaster into exquisite, translucent sculptures. In Rothenburg, Germany, appreciate the printmakers selling etchings made with the same copper-plate techniques that artist Albrecht Dürer used 500 years ago. And the narrow streets near Vienna’s cathedral are sprinkled with old-fashioned shops that seem to belong to another era — just the place to pick out an elegant dirndl.
Before these local businesses are pushed out by the rising tide of cookie-cutter chains and synthetic conformity, seek out Europe’s true artisans, who are committed to doing things the old-fashioned way. Engaging with these craftspeople is an exciting way to bring local history and culture to life (and you can return home with a memorable souvenir).