A shopper’s dream, Paris, and the holidays can make even the steeliest of natives all giddy with delight. The lights, the decorations, the delicate wrappings and colorful parcels, Paris decorated is Paris at its best. You won’t mind at all when the cold evenings arrive at just five o’clock, because you can wrap yourself in a ball of this season’s fuzzy coats and parkas, and stroll along the extraordinarily illuminated Grands Boulevards, peering into the windows of the Grands Magasins, Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. There are even little wooden platforms erected before these holiday windows so that children can get a glimpse of the magical worlds depicted inside.
The Grandes Magasins The Bon Marché on the left bank and the Samaritaine at Pont Neuf are always wonderful places to browse for the kind of petits bijoux that you can’t find back home, and the shop keepers will wrap it up so beautifully for you that it won’t matter what’s inside! Between shopping for holiday gifts for others, treat yourself to some window shopping on Avenue Montaigne. Just don’t look at those price tags!
Christmas Crafts For me, nothing makes the holidays like a good Christmas Market, and this year I’ve got my eyes on the Quartier Montorgueil. On the weekends between now and Christmas there will be an outdoor market on rue Montorgueil, and another market in the covered Passage du Grand Cerf. In the 5th arrondissement, rue Mouffetard usually throws a good annual “Fête à la Mouff” with its tiny market street strung with lights and decorations and sidewalk vendors.
Holiday Spirit Don’t forget to stop and admire the City of Paris’ flocked white pine trees in front of all the government buildings. Even better, rent a pair of skates for 30ff and you can melt away the holiday stress with some graceful pirouettes on the ice-skating rink at the Hôtel de Ville. After all, shopping isn’t the only highlight of the Christmas season.
What to Buy People always ask me what they should take home from France for their friends. There’s the obvious: perfume, scarves, little Eiffel Tower statues and a bottle of wine. But I think there are little things that you can’t get anywhere else but here, and they aren’t (always) expensive: free sugar packets that say “Daddy Sucre” (at any café), Kindersurprise chocolate eggs with the toy inside (at any supermarché), a can of Fauchon soup (at the Bon Marché epicerie), cool French advertising postcards (free in bars and tabacs), Bourjois cosmetics (inexpensive brand of Chanel’s, at any Monoprix), and, my favorite, the free new year calendars from your local commerçants (they pile up around your building’s mailboxes). In any case, if you’re looking for something you can’t find in Idaho or Manchester, stay off the Champs Elysées. If you’re brave, explore Paris’ newer hip neighborhoods like at Belleville and Abbesses, or even Paris’s Chinatown in the 13th. As an added bonus, the further from the Louvre and Notre Dame you are, the less expensive that little snow dome will be.
Where to start? If you’re anything like Mr. Hall, you won’t just want to wander around town without a clear sense of direction and purpose. Check out The Timeout Guide, Smart Web and Paris-Anglo also give some general shopping ideas by neighborhood and taste. Paris Trendy has a few shops, restaurants, and hotel listings, as well as the latest must-have gifts. For an idea of what the buzz is on the street, read Suzy Gershman’s holiday shopping tips at Bonjour Paris.
Cybershops Not planning on going anywhere near the holiday crazed crowds? There are quite a few French shops popping up on-line. Did you miss out on Tickle Me Elmo? Well never fear, because at Galleries Lafayette you can get a French-speaking one. Printemps also has their own website, but unless you know French you’ll have to settle on gazing at the pretty pictures. Other French shops include the young clothing store Promod, the catalog 3Suisses, and ELLE magazine’s own fashion boutique.
Paris Deluxe Shopping for someone who already has it all? Browse the painfully cool Colette shop, the number one address for all hip Parisians. Upscale gifts for mom and your boss can be found at the Boutique du Musée du Louvre (in French) and the Galleries de Versailles. Then, just for the fun of it, or if you expect a hefty Christmas bonus, don’t miss the haute couture sites of Jean-Paul Gautier, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, and Louis Vuitton.
Yummy! And if Christmas means stuffing your face shamelessly with all sorts of goodies, Paris has much to offer. Check out the article I wrote about the Salon du Chocolate for links to the gourmet goodies. Joyeux Nöel and happy shopping!
November 2019 Update
What makes me laugh the most reading this shopping article from 20 years ago is how there were so few shops in Paris with websites in 1999 that I was able to list them here (all links have been removed because almost none of them are still working). With few exceptions, almost every shop in Paris has a website or Facebook page these days (not that it means they sell online, deliver outside the EU, or have an English version of the text). But it seems a shame to come to Paris to shop when you can do that anywhere. It’s still a beautiful city when all lit up for the holidays, try and the open-air Christmas markets can be a nice alternative to stuffy department stores if it’s not raining outside. Enjoy the atmosphere, the food, the vin chaud…whatever you take home in your stomach doesn’t have to fit in your suitcase!
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’m publishing them all here, one by one, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris”