Beijing's best shopping areas

Beijing's best shopping areas

From bargain markets and backstreet boutiques, here's a fashion designer's favorite shopping route in China's capital

Elisabeth KochFrom fruit to fashion, hat designer Elisabeth Koch (right) knows the shopping secrets of Beijing.

Since founding a namesake hat brand in 2007, Elisabeth Koch's designs have decorated the heads of A-listers and the pages of international fashion magazines.

The Beijing-based Dutch designer is also an obsessive scourer of far-flung markets and back-street boutiques in China's capital. 

After calling on various Beijing shops and markets for four years, Koch, 33, shares six of her favorite shopping areas in the spread-out city.

1. Nali Patio (那里花园)

beijing's best shopping areas -- NaliThis whitewashed arcade is home to Beijing's most original independent boutiques.

“There’s nowhere else quite like it in Beijing,” raves Koch about this melting pot of design talent squeezed into a whitewashed arcade in Sanlitun.

“I love Dim-Sum of All Things Asian (D-SATA) for sustainable handbags and stylish clutches, " says Koch, "and Paloma Sanchez for amazingly original handmade jewelry -- she gets her stones from all over the world."

For high-end couture, Elisabeth recommends Elysee Yang.

“She studied clothing design in Paris and her clothes are really top-notch, definitely worth a look if you have a party or wedding to go to.”

On the third floor, boutique Lu12.28 sells unique, chic clothing by Chinese born, New York-educated designer Liu Lu (刘璐).

“Oh, and my hats are stocked there too.”

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Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District 朝阳区三里屯路81号. Most shops open from noon to about 9 p.m.

2. Yashow Market (雅秀服装市场中心)

beijing's best shopping areas -- YashowFrom fakes to fingernail treatments, Yashow's got it covered.

Out-of-towners flock to this indoor market to cram cases with counterfeit couture -- but there’s more to Yashow than cheap Chanel, insists Koch.

“I shop mostly for children’s clothes, bits and pieces for hats, party items like balloons, candles and paper plates, but they have everything -- watches, pearls, jewelry, cuff-links, tailors shops, belts, suitcases, toys, sports equipment, cameras, phones.”

Koch’s a regular at the no-frills manicure and pedicure stalls, like Lily Nails on the fourth floor.

“It’s great for people watching; you sit in a row getting a face massage or your toenails clipped in view of other shoppers," adds Koch. "Lots of men go there too.”

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Yashow Market, 58 Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang District 朝阳区工体北路58号, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m., www.yashowmarket.com

3. Gulou neighborhood (鼓楼)

beijing's best shopping areas -- GulouMao kitsch and more on Nanluogu Xiang.

Best known for Nanluogu Xiang, a well-worn alley of boutiques, cafes, dive bars and souvenir shops, this historic corner of central Beijing is a hot-bed of hipster retail.

From designer T-shirts to bespoke leather ware, there’s much to discover; Elisabeth says the side streets throw up the most interesting finds.

“When you’re shopped-out, seek out Black Sesame Kitchen, a tiny cooking school and restaurant where they show you how to cook great home-style Chinese food.”

Gulou Dongdajie to the north is lined with retro fashion stores like Tiger Vintage (No. 62 Dongdajie) and Mega Mega Vintage (No. 241 Dongdajie), which also stocks bespoke Elisabeth Koch designs.

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Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District 东城区鼓楼东大街

4. Sanlitun Village (三里屯Village)

beijing's best shopping areas -- Sanlitun VillageProof that shopping malls can be cool

The Village didn’t exist when Koch first came to Beijing four years ago.

“I used to cycle by the construction site every day, and when it finally opened -- bliss.”

The southern half of this Hong Kong-designed open-plan mall is the haunt of high street brands like Mango, Reiss, Lacoste, Nike, Starbucks and the Apple store, and some of Beijing’s best Western dining.

The newer, northern half is more high-end.

“I love to roam shops like Alexander McQueen, Maison Martin Margiella and Balenciaga so I can stay on top of the latest collections.”

After a hard day’s pavement pounding, Elisabeth is all about wellness, courtesy of The Village’s Opposite House hotel.

“Kocoon Spa is the perfect wind down, and they have really unique programs like reiki sharing and crystal workshops.”

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Sanlitun Village, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District, 朝阳区三里屯路19号, +86 10 6417 6110, 9 a.m.-11 p.m., www.sanlitunvillage.com

5. Lady Street Market (女人街)

beijing's best shopping areas -- Lady Street Market Finding bargains is easy; finding your way out again isn't.

“I like this market because it’s perfectly un-touristy,” says Koch, who comes here mostly for its warehouse full of exotic flowers and plants, steamy warm even in winter.

“Whenever I explore it’s like I’m suddenly on a golf floor, and then a floor full of random things made out of porcelain.”

Koch admits she never quite knows what she’s looking for until she sees it.

“Recently I bought a giant butterfly made out of plastic and paper and turned it into a hat. And at one point, I found a taxidermist stall of stuffed birds -- I hoped this could help me with feathers for my hats, but when I returned a week later it had vanished.”

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Lady Street Market, Tianze Lu, Liangmaqiao, Chaoyang District, 朝阳区亮马桥天泽路, +86 10 6462 3377, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

6. Muxiyuan Fabric Market (木樨园纺织品市场)

Muxiyuan Fabric MarketAnything Miuccia Prada can do, you can do better at Muxiyuan.

“Don’t wear your nice shoes” is Elisabeth’s advice if you’re thinking of braving this chaotic, rough-and-ready outdoor market by the city’s south third ring road.

But whilst most come to reupholster furniture or make curtains, Elisabeth scouts for design inspiration.

“I’ve spent long day browsing endless stalls of tartan-row, cotton-area, sequins, zippers, wool, silks, leather, ribbons, elastics, labels, you name it, even a whole department just for buttons.”

Elisabeth regularly takes friends and other designers here to show them around.

“My favorite stall sells just one item -- a top quality brand of ribbon I use to line the inside of my hats.”

More on CNNGo: Video: Around, inside and underneath Beijing

Dahongmen Lu (south of Muxiyuan long-distance bus station), south of Muxiyuan Qiao on South Third Ring Road, Fengtai District 丰台区大红门路木樨园长途汽车站以南, 6 a.m.-5 p.m.

A food and travel specialist, Tom has munched his way through the capital’s best kaoyadian in search of the perfect Peking duck, journeyed along the former Silk Road to the distant sands of Kashgar, grappled a baby panda in Sichuan, and generally counted himself lucky for being witness to an era-defining period of Chinese history. He has written for The Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Fodor’s, Time Out and the South China Morning Postand blogs at www.tomfreelance.com.

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