Putting in the time to peruse stands at local markets can certainly unearth some winning on-the-road finds, though it often seems that most vendors are selling the same forgettable tchotchkes. The best place to search out memorable, quality items tied to your travels is oftentimes found in museum gift shops. Since you likely already plan to wander the halls of a local museum or two, tacking on a stop in the gift shop could easily take care of your souvenir needs in one easy shot. You’ll definitely want to spend a bit of time—and money—in our five favorite museum gift shops, outlined below.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
The MCA Store is a bona fide toy store for the art- and design-loving adult searching for interesting contemporary items to wear, play with, or display. Merchandise spans categories such as apparel, art objects, and home goods, and invites hours of fascinating playtime. Many of the objects and books for sale relate to current and past contemporary artists on exhibition, such as whimsical mobiles evocative of Alexander Calder or Frank Kozic plush toys. For good measure, other goods pay homage to the museum’s home base of Chicago, such as the Chicago baseball.
Buy It: Pick up fun statement pieces for the home and entertaining, like this Burger Coaster Set.
Design Museum Shop
Design Museum, London
The Design Museum Shop can practically be considered another section of the museum itself. The staff is thoughtful and discerning in its selection process for the merchandise they put out, and the many up-and-coming designers behind it. For those who particularly enjoyed an exhibit or featured artist, the shop always has some related merchandise, be it books, screen prints, or replicas of actual items, like this New Objectivity Stool. The museum also secures and sells a number of exclusive items, such as these sassy State of the Obvious accessories and office supplies.
Buy It: The design student or professional is likely to want to stock up on the store’s desktop and stationery goods, primed for jotting down strokes of genius.
MoMA Design Store
Museum of Modern Art, New York City
The MoMA Design Store is such a standalone attraction it has even branched off with additional storefronts throughout New York City (plus, its one international locale is located halfway across the world in Tokyo). International big-name designers and budding talent have their wares up for sale here, including New York resident and jewelry designer Alexis Bittar and Italian architect and designer Mario Bellini. For memorable and creative holiday gifts, the MoMA Store is a one-stop shop, and staff even introduce seasonal decorative items for the occasion.
Buy It: Even if you're not in town to peruse the merchandise firsthand, you can shop online and have goods shipped to your door (even internationally). So keep your luggage light during your travels and consider buying the souvenirs from your computer at home instead.
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris
This decorative arts and design museum, as well as its accompanying shop 107 Rivoli, are located in the western wing of the Louvre. "Gift shop" is an unfitting term for 107 Rivoli, which is billed instead as a proper boutique. Designer Bruno Moinard was put to work on the four-part space, which includes sections for books, jewelry, and design objects of both bygone eras and contemporary times. A little slice of French and Parisian glam are on full display and available for purchase here.
Buy It: The boutique comes off as extravagant, but souvenir seekers on a modest budget shouldn’t be intimidated, as smaller items, such as elegant stationery and napkins, are also for sale.
Museu d'Història de Catalunya’s Bookshop
Museu d'Història de Catalunya, Barcelona
Catalonia has a character entirely its own. This museum in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, chronicles the history of the unique state and has a gift shop to match that singularity. Though it might seem ho-hum and book-heavy at first glance, display cases hold delicate jewelry pieces at varying price points from local artists, and smaller items like artistic postcards featuring impressive photography, as well as other mementos that incorporate the art and style of Barcelona. To brush up on the history of the region, a multitude of books fill the shelves; varying in genre and length, they're all related to Catalonia or its capital city.
Buy It: The museum store is considered to be a bookshop and is the ideal place to pick up city-specific reading material. One of the latest bestsellers featuring Barcelona as the setting is La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind), a page-turner rich in detail about the city.
Photo Credit: courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Richard Heald; The Museum of Modern Art; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; and Museu d'Història de Catalunya