Holiday shopping frenzy season is about to be upon us. But, for some people, shopping really is retail therapy, and Paris has lots to offer.
Going to the huge department store, the Galeries Lafayette, is an event in itself, a tourist attraction in its own right. Built in 1898, it sprawls over three buildings and takes up whole city blocks. In the heart of Paris on Boulevard Haussmann, this flagship store is considered by many to be the second most visited attraction after the Louvre. Some say it’s also one of the world’s leading department stores, with more than 100,000 visitors each day and 70,000 square meters of sales area.
Go there to do shopping, as thousands do, or just to gawk at the throngs of shoppers, and at all the merchandise in every segment from fashion to accessories, from beauty to home decoration, and fine food. I’m not really a shopper, and very soon the crowds get too much for me. But, we also go there to look especially at the lovely architecture with the gorgeous neo-byzantine dome built in 1912, which caps the huge central atrium. You can get a good look at the dome from any of the lower floors, and in the December holiday season there’s always some gorgeous or extravagant tree and other decorations.
Last December (2014) they had the world’s largest upside-down Christmas tree, supposedly. Biggest or not, it was pretty and an unusual concept, for its positioning and as the colors kept changing depending on the lighting.
You can also go up onto the roof (walk up stairs from the 6th floor) for a wonderful view out towards Opera Garnier and over the city or for a meal at the café up there, or a snack from the cart (in season). Many people sit and enjoy the sun and fresh air, and bring a sack lunch or a sandwich.
It’s also fun to eat at one of the café-restaurants on the 6th floor, which we usually do at least once each visit to the city. We especially like the self-service Lafayette Café, with a bank of windows facing the Opera. They have a very large selection, from pastas, a salad bar, cooked food, a dessert bar, pre-prepared plates, breads, and plenty of drinks. It’s a good, easy system, as you take a tray, choose what you want, pay and find a seat. It’s perfect if you’re shopping, but also great just to go there to eat, as we do. Even though it’s cafeteria-style, the food is excellent and always fresh, and it’s very well used by tourists and locals alike. It’s a similar style to the upper-floor cafeteria in BHV (Bazaar Hotel de Ville), another big department store next to the Hotel de Ville (we’ve eaten there a couple of times too, and enjoy sitting with a view of the massive Eglise de St-Gervais).