How to buy perfume in Duty Free

If you’re heading through a Duty Free perfume section at some point soon you may be lucky for it to be Heathrow’s tempting Terminal Five, with its gloriously well stocked World Duty Free perfume hall, or even if it’s not, the smaller airports have a good choice and since three bottles of perfume are sold every five seconds in UK WDF airside stores, we are clearly up for buying.

But selecting fragrance is not always compatible with travelling, particularly if you have small children or grumpy partners in tow and you’re purchasing window is around three minutes. Also, there’s a kind of perfume fug-of-confusion that can overwhelm you when faced with huge choice and too many smells. Jet lag and travel weariness don’t help.

The answer is to plan ahead and follow our advice. It’s really worth buying perfume airside, as there will be no VAT (currently 20%) where ever you are flying to and increasingly perfumes are launched exclusively in departure lounges – currently Lancome’s La Nuit Tresor is exclusive to World Duty Free stores until September, which adds cachet to gift buying. And if you are super organised you can even plan to Shop & Collect, where all your purchase at departure will be kept until your return, when you can pick them all up after you’ve cleared baggage pick up and customs. This also applies to alcohol. Handy huh?

Here’s our fast and furious list for Duty Free buying. Unless otherwise noted, all selections are unisex. To find out what fragrances on our list are available from your departure airport, check here.


Best for classics
If you are unsure of what you want or are buying someone a gift, stick to classics. There’s always a good supply and no one is ever unhappy with a bottle of Chanel No 5 (£43.90 50 ml). We suggest you consider Mitsouko (£64.40, 75ml), rated in Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s best selling Perfumes, The Guide as a masterpiece and the best fragrance ever made. If you want to be a bit more original, look for Chanel 19 (£54.35, 50 ml), the lesser known green-fresh floral, or Diorella, a melon-tinged, bohemian-soft woody citrus.
Best for the manly man
The whole concept that scent is either masculine of feminine is nonsense, florals smell gorgeous on men and those supposedly manly colognes are the staple of many a woman’s fragrance wardrobe. However, we appreciate that not all men are comfortable with this notion yet (give them time) so for the more traditional chap, try Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver (£40.00, 50 ml), a quality herby-fresh number, or Chanel’s Pour Monsieur (£51.90, 100 ml), possibly the classiest of all classic men’s smells or the beautiful and slightly more contemporary Dior Homme (£44.00, 75 ml).
Best for memory-scenting your holiday
One of the huge joys of buying in Duty Free is treating yourself to a small bottle of new fragrance to scent your holidays with. The part of the brain that holds memory is close to the part that processes smell, which is why certain smells can triggers such strong memories. For the cost of a round of cocktails you can scent your holiday, so whenever you smell that fragrance it will be linked to the experiences you have. Obviously it helps if the holidays a good one. Try Estée Lauder’s Bronze Goddess (£37.60, 100 ml), absolutely the smell of the beach in a bottle, or anything from Jo Malone’s well-priced smaller 30ml bottle collection, We love Wood Sage & Sea Salt (£32.00, 30ml), a great unisex, upbeat and breezy cologne.

Best for gifts -particularly for teenagers and embryonic perfumistas
As with beauty, there are lots of great gift sets available in Duty Free you can’t buy elsewhere. We love the miniature scent bottle sets done by fragrance brands to offer a selection of fragrances to try. They look adorable on dressing tables and have a high ‘cute-factor’ when present buying. Be warned, they can become highly collectible. The Chloe Les Parfums and Nina Ricci sets have a slightly girlier edge to the bottle design, whereas both the La Collection Voyage from Miller Harris or the Calvin Klein mens sets would work for boys.

Best for personal shopping.
Who knew? At the World Duty Stores, you can book a free personal fragrance shopper, who will help you select your perfect perfume from across all brands. It can be tailored to your time schedule but might be best planned (details here). it sounds like a very good way to start your holidays to us.
For more details on Duty Free prices, see here. Fragrances linked here are to non-airside retailers.

(please note, where all prices included above are what you can expect at WDF stores, all weblinks to product here are to non airside retailers, obviously! )


  • Dior Homme

    A beautiful lightly fruity powdery floral with tobacco overtones. Elegantly manly

    From £49.00

    Buy now
  • Dior Diorella

    A gorgeous and sophisticated citrus with a hint of melon and twiggy earthiness. A star

    From around £82.00

    Buy now
  • Guerlain Mitsouko

    Warm and golden with a powdery-fruity undertone. Considered by some the best fragrance ever made

    From around £55.00

    Buy now
  • Tom Ford Grey Vetiver

    A fresh, bright sparky cologne with citrus, woody and mineral notes. Classy

    From around £55.00

    Buy now
  • Jo Malone Wood Sage & Sea Salt

    bright salty and mineral-tinged opener cools down to a warm sage-green scent that is easy to wear for all

    From £42.00

    Buy now