Most major tourist destinations are teeming with gift shops full of cheap souvenirs. Unfortunately, these items don’t usually succeed at capturing the essence of a destination for you. On the lookout for a meaningful souvenir? Try pairing your purchase with a unique experience that you’re bound to remember long after your trip ends. For starters, here are some suggestions for fun and interesting experiences and souvenirs to be had in three of Europe’s most visited capitals: Paris, London, and Rome.
The Experience: Spend a Saturday afternoon hour chatting up the friendly English-speaking staff at La Dernière Goutte, an inviting cave (wine cellar) in the 6th.
The Souvenir: Pick up a bottle of the classic Vielle Prune (plum brandy)
The Experience: Browse cookware like Julia Child once did at E. Dehillerin in the 1st.
The Souvenir: A small copper sauce pan to whip up your own beurre blanc on your return.
For more Julia see: Julia’s Paris: 8 Essential Stops for Your Next Visit
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The Experience: Take your sophisticate-in-training teen to Dary’s, an Ali Baba-ish cavern teeming with artists, actors, models, and jewelry lovers.
The Souvenir: Splurge on a vintage one-of-a-kind piece or head to Agatha for something more moderately priced.
The Experience: Get a whiff of Paris’s sweetest scents at Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. At the Rue de Grenelle store, individual scents are puffed into glass column enclosures; stick your head in and sniff.
The Souvenir: Take home a small bottle of your favorite, and be transported back to Paris every time you use it.
The Experience: Feeling poetic in Paris? Indulge your introspective side and attend a poetry reading (Mondays, 8 p.m.) at Shakespeare & Company. Like staying up late to read? Head to La Hune.
The Souvenir: Give yourself plenty of time to explore every nook and cranny before selecting a special title. At Shakespeare and Company, don’t forget to ask for the store’s stamp on the inside cover.
The Experience:Browse the stalls and people-watch at the Portobello Road Market, London’s most dynamic market. Some say it’s a tourist trap, but if you acknowledge that it’s a circus and get into the spirit, it’s a lot of fun.
The Souvenir: Purchase a piece by a young designer; they can be found hawking their wares near the Portobello Green arcade.
The Experience:Rest and grab a bite to eat at the food hall at the Queen’s grocer, Fortnum & Mason.
The Souvenir: Their packaged luxury foods, stamped with the gold BY APPOINTMENT crest, are less than £5 and make ideal gifts. Try the teas or preserves (like rose-petal jelly).
The Experience:Visit the small but perfect Courtauld Institute Gallery in Covent Garden on the grounds of the restored 18th-century classical Somerset House.
The Souvenir:Purchase items to beautify your own house; stop at Freud for simple housewares designed in-house or Grosvenor Prints for a print of a classic London view.
The Experience:Walk the side streets stemming off of Knightbridge’s Belgrave Square to see some of London’s grandest homes; the porticoed mansions lining these streets were created as town residences for couriers, since Buckingham Palace is conveniently close by.
The Souvenir:Select a box of correspondence cards from Smythson, Britain’s most elegant stationer, at Harvey Nicks. Write a letter home over lunch at Wagamama on the department store’s lower ground floor.
The Experience:Devote several hours to the Tates–the Tate Boat ships visitors back and forth between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain.
The Souvenir:You’re bound to see something unique and wonderful at one of the two museum gift shops, like a Cristian Zuzunaga Scarf, Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant, or the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms.
The Experience:People-watch from an outdoor table in Piazza Navona, gazing at the coral- and rust-colored houses above, most lined with wrought-iron balconies.
The Souvenir:With the help of its attentive staff, pick out an 18th-century engraving of a city landmark at Nardecchia, a stone’s throw away from the Bernini Fountain of the Four Rivers at the center of the piazza.
The Experience: Did you bring the kids? Head over to the city zoo or to Rome’s BioParco, both set in the massive Villa Borghese park.
The Souvenir: Remember Rome (and the zoo) with an animal pendulum clock from the pine-filled family-run Bartolucci.
The Experience: Devote an afternoon to experiencing the Vatican. Arrive around 1:00 to gape at St. Peter’s Basilica, then hit the Vatican Museums around 1:45, when the crowds thin out for lunch.
The Souvenir: Whether you’re looking for a unique Holy Communion gift or just want a memento to personalize your Vatican experience, stop into Canova. The store stands out among the religious souvenir shops that line Via della Conciliazione, which leads to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Experience: In the late afternoon and early evening, join couples, families, and packs of teenagers in a favorite Roman pastime, passegiata (literally, the promenade). It’s a ritual of exchanging news and gossip, window-shopping, flirting, and gelato eating that adds up to a uniquely Italian experience.
The Souvenir: When the temperature turns chilly, you can take your stroll in the comfort of a new Italian leather jacket. Returning to your frenzied “normal” life, sporting this splurge of a souvenir will remind you to take it easy. Viroel, which occupies an entire corner of the busy intersection with Via Francesco Crispi, has leather garments in a range of budgets.
The Experience:Take a tour of the gardens at Villa Medici and walk in the footsteps of Velázquez, Fragonard, and Ingres, who all worked at the French Academy that still calls the villa home. The gardens are only occasionally open for guided tours on Sunday mornings (otherwise they’re not open to the public at all); call the academy directly or check with the tourist office in advance of your trip. No luck? There’s always Rome’s “Central Park,” Villa Borghese.
The Souvenir: Find a new Roman treasure for your garden back home at Il Giardino di Domenico Persiani, a refreshing open-air terra-cotta shop in Repubblica.