Unbelievable Toy Stores (4-1)
4: Barbie Store, Buenos Aires
For fans of all-things Barbie, or those who simply like to embrace all things pink and girly, Buenos Aires offers the world's first standalone Barbie store. Stretching more than 7,000 square feet, the store sells a variety of Barbie dolls and accessories, but is more about bringing the Barbie experience to visitors than simply selling toys. Visitors can relax and enjoy a meal in the tearoom, or take in a treatment at the store's beauty salon and spa. Kids can explore the pay-by-the-hour playroom, which is chock full of Barbie dolls, clothes and play sets, or simply shop for the latest Barbie-inspired fashions in the boutique area. A private party room offers the perfect spot for a child's birthday party or a girlfriend get-together.
3: Hakuhinkan Toy Park, Tokyo
The four-story Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Tokyo's Ginza district opened in 1982, and now includes four floors of toys and fun. You'll find the latest western toys like Lego and Barbie alongside the hottest video games and electronics. There's also plenty of local Japanese flavor, including quirky snacks and crazy gadgets you won't find anywhere else. On the fourth floor, there's a model racetrack where visitors can pay by the hour to race. In the basement, you'll find the headquarters of Japan's Licca-Chan fan club – think Barbie, Japanese style [source: Time Out Tokyo]. An onsite restaurant and theater means you can make a full day of your visit. Arrive after closing? Don't worry -- a series of vending machines outside the store allow you to purchase popular toys around the clock [source: Lonely Planet].
2: Once Upon a Toy, Orlando, Fla.
The Once Upon a Toy shop at Orlando's Downtown Disney complex is truly a treat for the eyes; in fact, the decor is so impressive that you may find yourself forgetting all about the merchandise. The visual feast begins before you enter the store, which is constructed from oversized Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys; a child-sized Mr. Potato Head and Buzz Lightyear at the entrance provide the perfect photo opportunity for toy fans. Once you step through the doors, you'll notice that the store is packed floor-to-ceiling with toys and displays, including both Disney and non-Disney amusements. Visit the make-your-own-potato station to craft a custom Mr. Potato Head, or put together the perfect set of Lincoln Logs at the DIY Lincoln Log center. Play princess in the sparkly castle room, and wonder at the variety of board games, stuffed animals and countless other toys throughout the store. When you visit, don't forget to look up; in every room, you'll find truly amazing ceiling displays, from Peter Pan and Wendy soaring overhead, to giant game pieces, to model trains that travel through the rafters.
1: American Girl Place, Chicago
The American Girl franchise started as a simple mail-order catalog in the '80s, and has grown to become one of the best-loved doll brands for girls. In 1998, the company launched its first retail store, a 52,000 square foot space in Chicago. Girls who love the brand can shop for the latest in dolls, clothes and furniture, or design matching T-shirts for themselves and their favorite American Girl doll at the store's Tee-shirt bar. An onsite hair salon allows you to spoil your doll with a new 'do before you head to the store's portrait studio and get pictures taken of you and your best friend. Visit the onsite café for a quick pick-me-up, or take your doll with you for a fancy tea service. The American Girl doll hospital can repair broken limbs and other dolly ailments, while special events ensure there's always something new to do with each visit. If all those toys and attractions aren't enough, consider this: in 2014, the bathrooms at Chicago's American Girl Place were named among the 10 best restrooms in the country thanks to kid-friendly fixtures and custom doll holders in every stall [source: Black].
I'm not ashamed to admit that toy stores are my guilty pleasure when traveling, especially when I come across one that's truly wondrous, with a Willy-Wonka vibe that makes me feel like a kid again. While all the toy stores that made this list truly deserve to be there, there's one that didn't quite make the cut because it's not really a toy store per se. The toy department at Harrod's in London stopped me in my tracks when I visited a few Christmases ago. It's every bit as magical as many of the world's top toy shops, especially during the holidays, and well worth a visit, even without kids in tow.
- Travel + Leisure. "Kiddy Land." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-guide/tokyo/activities/kiddy-land
- American Girl. "American Girl Place Chicago." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.americangirl.com/stores/location_chi.php
- Black, Lisa. "American Girl Place Restrooms Among 10 Best." Chicago Tribune. Sept. 5, 2014. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-top-bathrooms-american-girl-met-20140905-story.html
- Disney. "The Lego Store." (Nov. 24, 2014) https://disneyland.disney.go.com/shops/downtown-disney-district/lego-store/
- Hamleys. "Hamleys History." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.hamleys.com/explore-life-history.irs
- Hansen, Nathan. "Day Trip: Lark Toys Features 20,000 Square Feet of Toys and Games." Winona Daily News. July 24, 2011. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.winonadailynews.com/news/connections/day-trip-lark-toys-features-square-feet-of-toys-and/article_f7fd2614-b4a7-11e0-89a1-001cc4c03286.html
- Kiddy Land. "About." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.kiddyland.co.jp/en/about.html
- Lonely Planet. "Hakuhinkan." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/tokyo/shopping/toys-childrens/hakuhinkan
- Luongo, Michael. "Frommer's Buenos Aires." John Wiley and Sons. July 5, 2011.
- Time Out Tokyo. "Hakuhinkan." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/venue/555/Hakuhinkan
- Toys R Us. "About Toys R Us Times Square." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.toysrusinc.com/about-us/times-square/
Barbie, the ultimate classic doll, turns 60 this year. HowStuffWorks goes to the party.