44 The Market, Covent Garden, London
Patronized by generations of local tots—as well as the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Robert Louis Stevenson (who once said, “If you love art, folly, or the bright eyes of children, head to Pollocks”)—this rambling Victorian toy store continues to set the stage for imaginative storytelling 165 years later. Its fanciful aisles are crammed with its famed old-fashioned play theaters and shadow boxes, plus other traditional toy fare like wooden peg dolls and plush puppets, marionettes and music boxes.
Wish List: A Peter Pan shadow-play set with laser-cut card-stock puppets and a London-centric script that builds on J.M. Barrie’s original.
188-196 Regent Street, Soho, London
Dating to 1760, when it was known as “Noah’s Ark,” this granddaddy of toy shops still lures voyeurs with its wildlife menagerie, including 18-foot-tall plush giraffes. The Soho location of this now multinational chain is a one-stop motherlode—in fact, it’s the world’s largest toy store—beloved for its Cave of Wonders-grade selection and elvish customer service.
Wish List: A stuffed Steiff, such as a puckish red-brown squirrel that resembles those found scurrying around Kensington.
7 Pl. de la Virreina, Barcelona
Founded by a barcelonina and her Belgian husband after they tired of traveling to Paris for good toys, this colorful and crammed-to-the-hilt boutique caters to open-ended play with earth-friendly and ethically made juguetes, such as those from the Catalonian wooden brand Grapat.
Wish List: Irish-made Lottie Dolls for girls and boys inspired by diverse, high-achieving kids. Take Stargazer, who wears a blue velvet bomber jacket, works a telescope and was developed in conjunction with the European Space Agency.
Place Colette, 75001 Paris
The world’s largest offering of traditional tin soldiers and figurines are ready to be collected at this Parisian institution, a narrow jewel box of a shop that has been tucked inside the Palais-Royal Gardens since 1949. Rows of vitrines introduce gorgeously cast and painted figures—antiques as well as hand-painted house-mades—that hail from scenes of Napoleon’s reign to the Wild West, Alice in Wonderland to La Commedia Dell’arte.
Wish List: Tiny 19th-century tin soldiers in their original palm-size boxes.
6 Chome-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo
This toy temple opened in 1950 just outside Harajuku Station. Across four restless floors, you can find sought-after American franchises or dive deep into kawaii, Japan’s intense culture of cute, via Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon.
Wish List: Endangered species–inspired critter bots that live in your fridge and excitedly chide you to close the door and stop causing global warming.
96-98 Via dei Pastini, Rome
This family of woodcarvers started out generations back in an accordion factory in a village outside San Marino. (There is another location in Florence.) Walls drip with eternal pleasers such as puppets, puzzles, alphabets, trains, and nightlights from resin and FSC-certified Italian forests.
Wish List: An expressive Pinocchio beautifully shaped from beechwood.
70 William Street, Paddington, Sydney
Having recently moved from Double Bay to a smart street in Sydney’s leafy suburb, this lovingly (and very prettily) arranged wonderland looks past plastic and branding to focus on well-made toys from the Continent, with some local touches.
Wish List: Rainbow ribbon dancing rings made of wood from the Dandenong Ranges. (Also, the occasionally available Kösen plush koalas and wombats.)
Terminal 1, Frankfurt Airport
If you’ve traveled with small children or, shall we say, been too busy to buy a gift while away on business, you know that airport shopping options are sadly limited to die-cast airplanes and giant Toblerones. But the Frankfurt airport offers a full-fledged toy store packed with new releases — from seat-friendly games to overhead-filling stuffed animals — and time-tested goodies such as a herd of Schleich figurines, including a life-size lion. (Plus, they do on-site VAT refunds.)
Wish List: While the big cat is not for sale, you can purchase the German maker’s stable of horses, from prancing Arabians to spotted Appaloosas.
110A Store Kongensgade, Copenhagen
A toy-sized nation in the Nordic design bloc that counts both Hans Christian Andersen and Lego as its own really knows its kid culture. In a twist, Austrian former architect Michaela Weisskirchner-Barfod built this deeply Danish flagship. The sustainable boutique carries its own make of toys and is also a cozy café and craft center, all simple blonde wood and hyggelige colors like mauve, sage, and mustard.
Wish List: A modernist “dollhouse” designed by Weisskirchner-Barfod that reconfigures into various floor plans.
Chantel Tattoli is a Paris-based culture journalist who has contributed regularly to The Paris Review and The Hollywood Reporter, and written for the New York Times Style desk, Condé Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair, AD, Harper’s, and The Strategic.