Shopping in Europe can be fun, but not if you let it overwhelm your trip. Here are some tips for spending your time - and money - efficiently.
SHOP AT FLEA MARKETS The most colorful shopping in Europe is at the open-air secondhand markets. Among the best are Amsterdam's Waterlooplein, London's Portobello Market, Madrid's El Rastro and Paris' Puces St. Ouen. Flea markets anywhere have soft prices. Bargain like mad.
HIT DEPARTMENT STORES These often have a souvenir section with standard local knickknacks and postcards at prices way below the cute little tourist shops. Most are accustomed to wide-eyed foreign shoppers and have English-speaking staff.
In Paris, visit Galeries Lafayette or Printemps. Harrods is London's most famous and touristy department store, but locals prefer Liberty on Regents Street. In Italy, an upscale department chain is La Rinascente, and in Spain, El Corte Ingles is good. Berlin's mammoth Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) has a staff of 2,100 to help you sort through its vast selection of 380,000 items.
COMPARISON-SHOP ... AT HOME You often can pick up a very similar item of better quality for a cheaper price at home. Before heading off to buy a Turkish carpet in Istanbul, learn the going rate, types of material and signs of quality - if only to avoid advertising your inexperience. Unless you're a real romantic, The thrill of where you bought something usually fades long before the item's usefulness does.
CHOOSE GOOD SOUVENIRS Books are a great value all over Europe, with many editions impossible to find in the United States. Look for local crafts, such as hand-knit sweaters in Portugal or Ireland, glass in Sweden, painted beehive panels in Slovenia or lace in Belgium.
SHOP FOR FREE Shopping is an important part of most people's trips. Europe is a cultural carnival, and time after time, you'll find that its best acts are free, and the greatest seats are the cheap ones. Your most prized souvenirs are your memories.