For most shopaholics in Tianjin, the destination of choice is usually the same. They will tend to head for the areas surrounding the junction of Nanjing Lu and Binjiang Dao. It is here they are likely to find everything from high-end department stores to smaller independent stores and street-sellers peddling all kinds of wares. We will be looking at Tianjin's shopping options in two phases. The first will be some of the bigger department stores and the second will feature some more offbeat options.
For fans of major brands and high-end products, Isetan is by far the best option in Tianjin. The Japanese owned department store brings six floors of imported goods and stylish shopping. The most impressive of these is the first floor, which features a delightfully aromatic cosmetics and perfume section and boutiques stocking Armani, Hermes and Chanel. There are also two floors of women's clothing, one of men's and an expansive household section. The bottom floor is also taken up by a huge array of sporting including local Chinese brands such as Li-Ning and major western names like Adidas or Nike.
Isetan is also well known as much for its entertainment options as for the shopping. The seventh floor is home to two or three restaurants, including the excellent Parkway Thai. There is also Babyface on the ninth floor, which is one of Tianjin's best known, albeit most expensive, night clubs.
By far the most popular shopping complex amongst younger Tianjinren, Maigoo is a veritable maze of cheap and funky clothes outlets. It does, though, come with a bit of a warning. The majority of the brands – Armani sweaters, Nike shoes, Calvin Klein underwear – are less than 100% genuine.
For most shoppers, a trip to Maigo begins by taking the escalator to the third floor. The first and second floors feature cosmetics and lower-end women's clothing. The brands are genuine, but the styles and varieties are little to write home about. Things, therefore, begin in earnest on the third floor, which is divided up into hundreds of tiny outlets – some scarcely bigger than your bathroom – selling all manner of clothing and accessories. This ranges from the type of fake designer labels you may find at Xiu Shui (Silk Market) in Beijing to off-beat local designs. The discerning shopper can find hundreds of different styles at very low prices. There is even scope to haggle if you are buying a lot.
Tianjin International Plaza 天津国际商场
This complex, which is split into two buildings, sits directly in front of the Cathedral. However, despite such an impressive location, the shopping is a little disappointing. The major reason behind this is that Building A flatters to deceive and offers little of interest. Through the first floor window, you can see Häagen-Dazs and a series of impressive perfume logos. Sadly, the majority of the perfumes are not actually sold there and the rest of the building is filled with low-quality Chinese brands at high-end prices. The only reason to even go in is for ice-cream!
Building B, on the other hand, is much better. The first floor is dominated by Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo – a new addition to Tianjin that has proved immensely popular with locals and expats alike. The second houses several small boutiques selling high-end western brands. The third floor houses sporting goods, including major brands such as Nike and L.L.Bean.
Located at the junction of Nanjing Lu and Binjiang Dao, Lebin is always almost full to bursting. This, though, is more to do with its prime location than the shopping inside. There is plenty of variety on show with six large floors of goods. However, most of the brands on offer are local Chinese varieties all ticketed at bizarrely high prices. The only reason to battle through the crowds at Lebin is to take advantage of some of the sales it offers, with many off-season products sold at a considerable discount.
Lebin is actually more popular with most expats as a restaurant venue rather than for the shopping. The basement features a food court full of Chinese and Korean delicacies, which boasts some fantastic hot-pots. The top floor is also home to a great variety of eating options, these include fantastic Thai, some awesome Korean and three or four spicy local offerings.
The Exchange Mall 津汇广场
One of the biggest and shiniest buildings in the downtown area, the Exchange Mall is part office block, part shopping mall. It is tremendously popular with locals as it boasts one of the widest varieties of goods in the city. There are plenty of cheaper local brands as well as several big name western brands – there is a fantastic Calvin Klein store on the ground floor. The highlight of the Exchange is the bustling first floor that has thousands of shoes and a great variety of top-end watches.
The Exchange is also the perfect place to relax after a hard day of bargain hunting. The basement boasts a fantastic selection of places for the weary to rest and grab a bite. These include a great juice bar, a Starbucks, a Papa Johns, a Cold Stone Creamery and even a fantastic little sushi joint.
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