Shopping à la Parisienne

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Paris's reputation as a shopper's paradise is not exaggerated. Its endless and endlessly diverse retail opportunities live up to the hype.

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Bien sûr, there's no shortage of international chains, but what sets the city apart is its incredible array of specialist shops. Instead of stocking up at a supermarket, Parisians will buy their bread at a boulangerie, cheese at a fromagerie, meat at a charcuterie, and fruit and vegetables at the street-market stalls. It takes longer, but the food is better and fresher, and the social interaction between shopkeepers and regulars forms part of the city's village atmosphere. The website www.paris.fr lists every market in Paris, including opening hours, by arrondissement. The same site also has details of Paris' speciality markets, which include bird markets, a stamp market, craft markets, and flower markets filled with buckets of blooms.

But it's not only food shops that are specialised. There are shops that sell just hats, others that sell just umbrellas. Even Parisian dogs are in on the act, with shops selling nothing but dog outfits and accessories.

So Frenchy, so chic

Fashion shopping is Paris' forte. Numerous luxury labels that originated here are anchored by flagship stores, particularly in the 8e's Triangle d'Or (Golden Triangle), bordered by avs Georges V, Champs-Élysées and Montaigne. Discount designer outlets are found along rue Alésia. Edgier, experimental designers are also a fashion force. Rue Étienne Marcel in the 2e, the emerging 'haut Marais', and Canal St-Martin are all fertile ground for up-and-coming talent. Unless you're splashing out on made-to-measure haute couture, it pays to try before you buy, as size conversions are complex. Happy browsing? Feel free to tell any over-enthusiastic sales staff 'Je regarde' – 'I'm just looking'.

Vintage and new clothes, along with accessories, antiques and all sorts of bric-a-brac, are laid out at Paris' flea markets, which are always buzzing with activity. They're also buzzing with pickpockets – so stay alert. Cash is your best bet for haggling, and there are some genuine bargains to be had.

Undercover wonders

Paris' covered arcades are treasure chests of small, exquisite boutiques. These marble-floored, glass-roofed shopping passages, streaming with natural light, were the elegant forerunners to department stores and malls. The grande dame department stores – Le Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps, as well as La Samaritaine (closed for structural renovations until c 2011) – are filled with specialist sections, and are beautiful to wander around. If you're watching your centimes, Monoprix has branches located all around town selling well-made clothes and gourmet goods at affordable prices.

What's somewhat ironic for a city so dedicated to shopping is that Paris doesn't have a consumer culture as such. Shopping here is about style and quality, rather than status or acquisition. While a few shops are open '7 jours sur 7' (sometimes written 7j/7; seven days out of seven), most close at least one or two days a week, ensuring that shopping itself stays a luxury.

Got the Parisian retail bug? Get some insider tips from our travel community before you go - from vintage boutiques to flea markets and everything in between.