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As a flight attendant, I’ve spent tons of time in airports all over the world. Now, just in time for all that last-minute holiday shopping, here’s a guide to my favorite duty-free shops so you can pick up some presents for your friends and family back home.
1. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)
AMS is an absolute gem when it comes to shopping, and very much a cabin crew favorite. The one-terminal design means you’ll have access to every shop without having to switch terminals — you also won’t be restricted by which concourse or terminal your flight’s leaving from. The airport is simply divided between EU and non-EU departures, with the same shops offered on either side.
Shopping at AMS is great for a few reasons. First of all, you can browse through its special offers catalogue ahead of time online and decide what you want before you even get there, which is super handy if you have a quick connection and not a lot of time to shop. Then, as you stroll through the concourse, all the shops are clearly marked according to what’s being sold — so you’ll see signs like “Liquor/Tobacco,” “Fragrances” and “Watches and Jewelry,” among other things — making navigating the shops easier and saving you time as you try to squeeze it all in before a flight. Lastly, AMS has a few shops that sell very unique Dutch gifts if you’re looking for something on the cultural side — everything from a whole wheel of Gouda to tulip bulbs and Delft Blue China can be bought at Schiphol.
Favorite find: Without a doubt, the Gouda’s Gilde stroopwaffels from the delicatessen or Gifts from Holland shop. These caramel-filled waffley pieces of goodness make great stocking stuffers, but be sure to save a box or two for yourself as well.
2. Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)
Asia’s number one airport is also high on everyone’s list, cabin crew and passengers alike, when it comes to duty-free shopping. The airport has three terminals, but like Schiphol, they’re all technically under one roof so you have access to the whole airport once you’ve cleared immigration.
Designer brands and bargain prices? Changi’s got it. From fantastic Asian designers like Shanghai Tang to international brands such as Burberry and Lacoste, you’ll find it here. Better yet, enroll in the Changi Rewards program and get up to 3% back on all your purchases, plus access to exclusive offers. (We like exclusive, don’t we?) And the best part about Changi? Its iShopChangi program, which lets you place an order for everything before you even get to the airport — all you have to do is pick up your purchases when you arrive. Sounds like shopping heaven to me! (I use the iShopChangi service every time I swing through Singapore and it’s a dream come true!)
Favorite find: Pretty much everything from Shanghai Tang. I love how the products mix modern style with Asian design.
3. Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST)
Despite its distinctly overcrowded feel, I love shopping at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul. Turkish Airlines’ hub has a host of shopping opportunities for travelers and they’re mostly crammed into the main departures concourse area, making it easy to survey all of your shopping options before you buy. You’ll find everything from delicious Turkish delight candies to carpets and designer brands at IST — and the prices are very reasonable.
Carrie’s Favorite Find: Turkish delight, of course! It comes in a myriad of flavors and sizes, making it the perfect in-flight snack while you’re sipping Champagne and catching up on the latest movies.
4. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK)
Like Changi, you can find anything from local designers such as Jim Thompson to international luxury brands like Bulgari and Dior — or naughties at Victoria’s Secret! — all for the same bargain prices that you’d expect to find in Thailand.
What I really like about BKK is that in addition to all of the usual shops selling the usual things, there are so many unique Thai gifts that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. Not only that, fantastic food options in the terminal mean you can fuel up on Pad Thai and load up on goodies to take home with you. For a real treat, head to the in-airport spa for a post-shopping-spree massage.
Carrie’s Favorite Find: I absolutely love the silks at Jim Thompson! Bonus tip: if you have a long enough layover and are able to pop into downtown Bangkok, the Jim Thompson House is well worth a visit — and you can see how silks are made.
5. Copenhagen Airport (CPH)
Definitely the dark horse in this race, but also one that shouldn’t be overlooked, Copenhagen Airport has a distinctly Nordic feel with sleek wooden surfaces, a modern design and relatively noise-free atmosphere since no boarding announcements are made at CPH. Its relatively small size, unique design and quiet atmosphere make it one of my favorite airports to fly in and out of — and of course, to shop in.
Like the others on this list, there are no separate terminals so you have access to all the shopping there is to be had. Yes, prices may be a little higher than you’d pay elsewhere in Europe, but as with everywhere else in Denmark, the quality is second to none. What I really love is that you can find products by so many great, local Scandinavian designers here, whether they’re internationally recognized names like Björn Borg, Marimekko and Georg Jensen, or lesser-known designers like Ole Lyngaard and Tiger. And yes, there’s even a Lego store here, so you can stock up on goodies for the kids as well.
Carrie’s Favorite Find: Anton Berg chocolates, and anything from Danish design superpower Illums Bolighus.
What are some of your favorite shops in airports around the world? Tell us about them below.
Featured image courtesy of Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek via Getty Images.
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