Even ardent anti-consumerists and militant minimalists can’t help themselves when it comes to the travel souvenir. Whether it’s a seashell from the Seychelles or a key ring from Cairo, a tangible trinket always works like a charm to resurrect those halcyon holiday memories. Visitors to Paris will find it awfully easy to spend their euros on vacation mementos, with boutiques, malls, and flea markets at every turn, but there’s a secret to shopping in the French capital: knowing where the best buys are, whatever your budget. Here, the savvy traveler’s guide to shopping in Paris.
With at least one location in each of Paris’s 20 arrondissements, Monoprix is convenience and bon marché wrapped in one big package. Like the old Woolworths of yore, the national chain is part supermarket and part department store. Take a spin down the chocolate aisle and discover a dizzying array of bars and bonbons that make sweet gifts for friends back home. In the beauty department, you’ll find French skin care brands like La Roche-Posay and Caudalie at prices so reasonable they make the US look pricey in comparison for once. Hungry? Browse the baked goods section on your way out and leave with a tasty tarte tatin or two in hand.
That Special Something
For one-of-a-kind buys that resonate with authentic French flair, the city’s varied and multiple marchés aux puces—otherwise known as flea markets—are where you’ll want to start your sleuthing. Patience is a virtue at these weekend sporting events; come prepared to push through crowds, dig through piles of clothes, pore over crowded tabletops laden with shiny baubles, and discover treasures for mere centimes. At the Porte de Vanves market in the southern 14th arrondissement, you’ll find oodles of antiques—some even small enough to stuff into a suitcase. At the easterly Porte de Montreuil market, look for stalls vending pristine vintage clothing, brand-new and quintessentially French checkered cloth napkins for a euro a pop, and Gallic bric-a-brac galore.
Les Halles, that cobblestone hub of sidewalk cafés, musées, and quaint boutiques has a subterranean secret: a multi-level shopping mall housing nearly every trendy store your heart could hope for. Your inner teenager will go gaga for H & M, Mango and Kookaï, while the media maniac in you gets its fix inside the FNAC labyrinth of books, CDs and DVDs. Wander around and you’ll also discover boulangeries, movie theaters, and an indoor pool. Outside, scour the endless open-air gift shops for affordable Paris themed trinkets. For the best bargains, it pays to hit Les Halles during the twice-yearly soldes—generally in January and July—when prices are slashed up to 75 percent off.
Couture to Kill For
If the mere mention of Chanel, Versace, and Gucci causes your heart to skip a beat, you’ll want to make a side trip off the Champs Elysée and on to Avenue Montaigne, a two-block stretch of non-stop, top-tier fashion. You’ll not only feel like a celebrity when the doorman ushers you inside any one of the dozens of shiny designer boutiques with a warm “Bonjour, Mademoiselle,” but you might even spot a celebrity or two while you window shop.
However, if your budget is more dollar store than Dior, take Metro Line 4 south to the Alesia stop where you’ll alight from the station in a wallet-friendly fashion zone. On rue d’Alesia, scour the outlet stores selling Cacharel, Sonia Rykiel, Naf Naf, and Sinéquanone at deeply discounted prices. P.S. No one back home will know your new duds are from last season.
Learn the Lingo
The second secret to a successful shopping excursion in the City of Light is grooming your etiquette and having it ready. When you enter a shop, scan the space for the salesperson, and offer your warmest “Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur!” This will go a long way towards establishing a friendly rapport that will enhance your overall experience. You’ll also want to come armed with your cheat sheet for decoding French shopping lingo:
Cabine d’essayage–dressing room
Dépôt vente/brocante–secondhand store
Destockage or stock–outlet store
Tailleunique–one size only
Vide grenier/marché aux puces–flea market