10 of The Most Historic Shopping Arcades in Europe
Fancier, historic versions of the malls we know and love, shopping arcades proliferated across the European continent—and beyond—in the 18th and 19th centuries. Elaborate in design and typically topped with an impressive glass roof, these arcades were the playground of the middle classes and later, anyone who wanted to escape the rain, really. No longer quite the places to see and be seen, Europe’s historic shopping arcades are ornate testaments to over-the-top design. And, of course, great shopping.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert/ Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen
Comprising three separate arcades—the Galerie du Roi, Galerie de la Reine, and the Galerie des Princes—the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert (or Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen in Dutch) deserve their regal title. Opened in 1847, these Belgium arcades are some of the oldest and most beautiful in Europe, known for being a regular haunt of European writers and intellectuals and now a place where visitors can stroll beneath the arched glass-and-wrought iron ceiling and admire the architecture.
Literally translating to “Flower Passage,” Çiçek Pasaji—originally Cité de Péra—is one of the city’s most famous arcades, and is named for the many Russian flower vendors that arrived after the Russian Revolution. Now, you’ll find upscale bars, restaurants, and shops occupy most of the L-shaped Çiçek Pasaji instead, the ideal place for a spot of afternoon people-watching.
Ukraine’s grand Odessa Passage is a 4-floor edifice flanked by sculptures, stucco detailing, and towering archways. Capped with a peaked glass roof woven together with cobwebby wrought iron frames, this 19th-century architectural highlight of Odessa is a neobaroque and Moorish mash-up of styles, now home to several independent stores. And you don’t just have to pass through and snap a few photos—the top floors of the building are part of the Passage Hotel, so you can even stay here too.
Conjure up some Harry Potter magic at London’s Leadenhall Market, the filming location for Diagon Alley and The Leaky Cauldron (which is, rather upsettingly, an opticians rather than a paranormal pub). Alongside movie memories, you can also pick up local pub grub, cheeses, fresh-cut flowers, and more at this historic Victorian covered market which has been a point of trade for more than 600 years. However, it wasn’t until 1881 that cobblestoned Leadenhall got its roof, a vaulted feat of glass panes and golden hues.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Ornate window frames, elaborate caryatids, and—of course—that sinuous glass rooftop make the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II as popular now as it was in 1877. The oldest of its kind in Italy and named for the king, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II links the Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala, offers access to the scenic roof walkways, and houses Italian institutions such as the Camparino bar and Bocca bookstore. Before you leave, spin three times atop the tiled bull’s testicles in the central octagon for good luck. Yes, really.
Now one half of the Victoria Leeds shopping complex alongside Victoria Gate, the Grade II–listed Victoria Quarter was designed by Frank Matcham and is a restored architectural masterpiece in Yorkshire. Notable for its wrought iron detailing along the domed glass ceiling, colorful tiled floors, and marble columns—not to mention the stained glass stretch of ceiling, the largest of its kind in the UK—Victoria Quarter now plays host to a wealth of Leeds’ best shops including Vivienne Westwood and Harvey Nichols.
GUM (Glavny Universalny Magazin)
GUM, or “main department store” in Russian, is one of Moscow’s premier and largest shopping destinations. Inaugurated in 1893, the impressive arched glass ceiling was designed to withstand heavy snowfall and sits atop a truly vast 3-story granite, marble, and limestone edifice on the Red Square. Moscow’s GUM has been put to many uses over the years—at one point even serving as an office space for Stalin—and while the interior is undeniably striking, the exterior is arguably more so. Think: horseshoe arches, elaborate carving, and general ostentation.
Passage des Panoramas
It’s no mean feat to be the oldest of something in Paris, but that’s exactly what the Passage des Panoramas is—the oldest covered walkway in the French capital. Built at the close of the 18th century, the Passage des Panoramas is not as grand as other European arcades but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Here, you’ll find a wealth of charming chocolatiers, fascinating stamp stores, and the historic Théâtre des Variétés, originally inaugurated in 1807.
Royal Palace & Covered Passages, audioguided tour
Known as the “City of Arcades,” the Welsh capital of Cardiff is home to no fewer than seven separate arcades in its compact center. These narrow and historic arcades that once housed apothecaries and fortune tellers are now the place to be for Portuguese baked goods, French cheeses, fancy dress stores, and independent cafés. The 19th-century Castle Arcade with its red-railing balconies is the largest of the lot, dominating Cardiff’s Castle Quarter alongside the Duke Street and High Street arcades.