During my free time, I did a number of things, from tasting the food from France’s overseas departments and territories such as “la cuisine antillaise,” to revisiting Notre Dame on a Sunday to listen to Gregorian chants. I had time to explore the ins-and-outs of Ile-Saint-Louis, Ile de la Cité, and Montparnasse (including attempting to explore the Catacombs, which was unfortunately closed for renovation since November) and run around with Alona to try out the amazing chocolates and macarons at Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, Fauchon, and other chocolatiers. With all that there is to do in Paris, there was never a moment to spare.
I did, however, make time to visit the grands magasins (department stores) to take advantage of “Les Soldes.” These one-stop shops are quite convenient for shoppers who don’t have the patience to shop at independent boutiques. For future JSF folks, here is a useful guide to the top grands magasins in Paris:
Les Galeries Lafayette
Les Galeries Lafayette is the largest department store in France and in Europe. There are over 65 locations throughout France, and in Paris, there are two well-known branches, the largest store in the 9ème arrondissement on boulevard Haussmann (M: Chausée d’Antin- la-Fayette or Havre-Caumartin) and a smaller branch at Montparnasse (M: Montparnasse). The main store is like an art gallery with the most famous designer brands on display. Walking through Les Galeries Lafayette is like a maze with over 90 designers spread throughout the first and second floors and a third floor dedicated mostly to lingerie and accessories. On the first floor, the Lafayette Gourmet offers exotic foods, spices, and a large wine cellar. There is also a rooftop café and for the guys, no worries, there is a whole building dedicated for “les hommes” as well. For fashion buffs, there is a fashion show on the 7th floor every Tuesday at 11 am which presents the latest trends from famous designers from around the world.
The main branch of Le Printemps is located right next to Les Galeries Lafayette (M: Havre-Caumartin). Le Printemps boasts three buildings and a total of 43,000 sq. m of shopping space. It originally specialized in fashion brands but now it offers a wide variety of products from men’s fashionwear to lingerie, home furnishings and accessories. Le Printemps has long been in competition with Les Galeries Lafayette, and today it is home to some of the largest shopping departments in the world. Its beauty and shoe departments are the largest in the world, and there are 6 floors of fashion for both men and women! On the ninth floor there is a terrace restaurant with a beautiful art nouveau cupola. After visiting, it won’t be difficult to see why people can spend a whole day here.
BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville)
BHV is found in the heart of historical Paris, on the rue de Rivoli right in front of l’Hôtel de Ville (M: Hôtel-de-Ville). BHV houses eight stories of merchandise, including fashion, home décor, linens, furniture, appliances, and every type of storage utility you can imagine. However, BHV is most known for its hardware department, the place to go if you’re in need of supplies for faire du bricolage. There is even a Bricolage Café with internet access here!
Le Bon Marché
Le Bon Marché is Paris’ first grand magasin. It was founded in the early 1800s in the 7ème arrondissement (M: Sèvres-Babylone) but it was not until 1852 that it was transformed to the concept of the “grand magasin” we have today. Le Bon Marché is the most chic and expensive of all the grands magasins in Paris, housing a large selection of luxury boutiques and designer labels from around the world. Here you can also find La Grande Épicerie, which is made up of a supermarket, a food hall, café and restaurant—a must see for food lovers.
If you like shopping and don’t want to spend too much, Tati is where to go. There are many branches around Paris, at La République and at the Opéra, for example, but the largest is located in (M: Barbès Rochechouart). Expect anything from T-shirts to wedding dresses, from bargain prices for children’s clothes to discounted household goods. The place is unbelievably cheap, a discount heaven for many, but don’t come with expectations of high quality. And a warning for women, don’t go to Barbès after 5 pm unless you want some unwanted attention from strange burly men.
On trouve tout à la Samaritaine. This is the slogan of La Samaritaine. Located in the 1er arrondissement along the Seine (M: Pont Neuf), this mall got its name from the old water pump near the Pont Neuf decorated with the image of the woman of Sameria, the good Samaritan, offering water to Jesus. La Samaritaine is made of four buildings and is not as expensive as the other grands magasins. La Samaritaine’s specialty has long been in its selection of chic furniture, and at the top (10th floor), there is also café with a 360 degree view of Paris. Unfortunately, La Samaritaine has been closed since 2005. Work is currently being done to improve the mall’s security system and renovations are taking place as well. There is no word yet on when La Samaritaine will reopen, but I included in this guide just in case.
If that’s not enough to sate those shopping jitters, here is a list of other shopping centers, either within Paris or along the outskirts of the city. All are conveniently found along the RER A: Les Quatre Temps at La Défense, the Forum les Halles at Châtelet, and shopping centers at Val de Fontenay, Neuilly Plaisance, Noisy le Grand, Torcy, and Val d’Europe. (-Carmel)