Paris boasts some of the world's largest, most glamorous and historically rich department stores: places where visitors can browse the latest trends in designer fashion and new collections, enjoy a meal on dramatic outdoor terraces, browse tempting aisles at gourmet food shops, and even attend free fashion shows. Known as "grands magasins" in French-- literally, "grand stores"-- these are cherished institutions in the city of light, frequented by both locals and tourists. They should definitely be on your itinerary if shopping in Paris is something you want to spend some time doing.
For fans of architecture, these emporiums of classic style are also worth seeing for their gorgeous buildings, most dating to the early 20th century, or "Belle Epoque" era. Elaborate steel and glass cupolas, gilded details and vast, glamorous galleries: what better way to experience the throwback charms of old Paris than by taking a whirl at one of these hallowed spots in the French capital? Even better -- some of them even afford panoramic views over the whole city. Let yourself get lost in the old-world glamor of Paris circa 1900.
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Even if you don't intend to shop here, visiting the much-coveted Galeries Lafayette is probably worthwhile for the breathtaking setting alone. The store's unique Belle Epoque architecture which features a dramatic colored glass dome and an ornate Art Nouveau staircase offering dizzying perspectives over the store contributed to the department store being named a city heritage site.
During the winter months, Galeries Lafayette is dressed in elegant lights for the holiday season. Take the whole family along to enjoy the elaborately decorated seasonal window displays, which often feature animatronics and fantasy-inspired, imaginative Christmas scenes. From penguins and colorful dolls to Santa's elves, children will be delighted by this fun annual attraction.
If you're after good food and wine rather than clothes, Lafayette Gourmet is a vast food hall where you can stock up on fine gourmet items as well as indulge in a delicious lunch or sweet treat.
Overall, the "Galeries" is an ideal place to find unique gifts in Paris- no matter the season.
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The destination for chic on the posh left bank of the Seine, Le Bon Marche is another classic Parisian department store that definitely merits a detour. It's a great stop before or after exploring the nearby Saint-Germain-des-Pres district. The store, which features regularly renewed collections from over 40 top fashion designers, is housed in a building that was designed by Gustave Eiffel--the same engineer behind the famous tower that now bears his name-- in 1852.
Looking for a gastronomic experience before or after browsing the main store? Foodies, take note: the gourmet market at Le Bon Marche called La Grande Epicerie, stocks thousands of delicacies from around the globe. Its cheese, meat and produce section is considered one of the city's best, too. Stop here to fill your suitcase with delicious items before your plane or train ride home-- they also stock first-rate chocolate and sweets.
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Situated in the bustling heart of Paris and right across the street from Paris City Hall or "Hotel de Ville" looms BVH, perhaps the modest cousin of the classic Paris department stores. It's slightly more accessible, from a budgetary standpoint, than the high-fashion-oriented Galeries Lafayette or Bon Marche, and shades less touristy, too.
"Real" Parisians head here when they're missing a part to fix a shower head, want to browse the oh-so-kitschy pet accessories shop, or find deals on edgy urban wear during the "soldes" or annual sales in Paris. When you want to pass for a local just enjoying a weekend stroll at the city's favorite "Bazaar", head here.
Before or after visiting this hallowed temple to shopping, make sure to explore the surrounding Beaubourg and Les Halles districts. From the Centre Georges Pompidou to quiet little streets with quirky bars, it's in the city center but reserves its own village-like corners.
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With the Paris flagship on the same block as Galeries Lafayette in the 9th arrondissement's Haussmann/Grands Magasins district, Au Printemps is yet another sumptuously designed store that hails from the mid-19th century. Especially recommended is the rooftop bar, with its fantastic panoramic views. Go in the spring or summer when it's nice and warm, enjoy a drink, and take in the city from high up on the roof.
Like its rival next-door neighbor, Printemps also puts on quite a show for the holiday season. It's a good idea to visit both adjoining stores during the Christmas/Hanukkah season to take in the lights and sparkling, festive window scenes.