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Shopping in Washington

African masks that could have inspired Picasso; kitchenware as objets d'art; bargains on Christian Dior, Hugo Boss and Burberry; paisley scarves from India; American and European antiques; books of every description; handicrafts from almost two dozen Native American tribes; music boxes by the thousands; busts of US presidents; textiles by the armful; fine leather goods – all this and more can be found in tWashington DC.

One place to find particularly unique goods is in the many museum gift shops, both on the Mall and elsewhere. Not only can you buy postcards and books about the artists whose works are on display in the National Gallery of Art or the Corcoran, but you can often find clothing and jewellery – from sweaters to silk scarves – inspired by these artists. And dinosaur puzzles, astronaut food, and field guides are just some of the other items you can find in the science museums.

If it's art you're seeking, keep in mind that Washington has three main gallery districts, though small art galleries can be found all over the city in converted houses and storefronts. Whatever their location, many close on Sunday and Monday or keep unusual hours. For a comprehensive review of current and future exhibits, pick up a copy of Galleries magazine (, available in some galleries. The ever-dependable Washington Post 'Weekend' section and Washington CityPaper (published on Thursday) are also excellent sources.

In other parts of town, discriminating shoppers can find satisfaction at Filene's Basement (the Boston-based fashion discounter) or at upscale malls on the city's outskirts. Many of the smaller one-of-a-kind shops have survived urban renewal, the number of designer boutiques is on the rise, and interesting specialty shops and new shopping areas are springing up all over town. Weekdays, downtown street vendors offer a funky mix of jewellery; brightly patterned ties; buyer-beware watches; sunglasses; and African-inspired clothing, accessories and art. Of course, T-shirts and Capitol City souvenirs are always in plentiful supply, especially on the streets ringing the Mall.

Store hours vary greatly. In general, Georgetown stores are open late and on Sunday; stores downtown that cater to office workers close at 6 PM and may not open at all on weekends. Some stores extend their hours on Thursday. Sales tax is 5.75%, and major credit cards and traveler's checks are accepted virtually everywhere.

Shopping Areas

Union Station

It's a railroad station, a historic landmark, an architectural marvel, a Metro stop and a shopping mall. Union Station offers some fine shopping opportunities and certainly the best on Capitol Hill, with more than 100 clothes and specialty shops, and more than 40 eateries.

Penn Quarter

The area bounded east and west by 7th and 14th streets NW, and north and south by New York and Pennsylvania avenues NW, is in a frenzy of development. The latest buzz comes from the opening of a multiuse complex, Gallery Place, at 7th and H streets, in the heart of Chinatown, backing up to the Verizon Center and overtopping the Chinatown/Gallery Place Metro stop. Gallery Place combines condominiums, offices, a bowling alley/bar, a 14-screen theatre, stores that range from Urban Outfitters to Aveda, and several restaurants. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, you'll find a long list of branded stores, such as Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, H&M, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, and Filene's Basement; and one-of-a-kind places, such as Apartment Zero and Olsson's Books. Look out for the huge Borders bookstore at 14th and F streets NW, in the grand old Garfinckel's Building. Macy's, at 12th and G streets, continues as the sole department store downtown.

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