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Galeries Lafayette: Paris’ Most Famous Department Store

I think it’s safe to say that we’d all love the idea of a shopping trip to Paris – but unfortunately, the kind of shopping most of us will be able to do isn’t the high-end or flagship designer boutique kind. In fact, most budget travelers probably think they have to satisfy themselves with window-shopping, lest they feel out of place in a posh store. Well, I’ve got good news for you – if you want to check out a Paris shopping institution without feeling like you should have used the servant’s entrance, you need look no further than Paris’ most famous department store, Galeries Lafayette.

Galeries Lafayette inhabits the entirety of a beautiful 10-story building on Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. The first Galeries Lafayette shop was opened in 1893, although it didn’t yet bear that name. The first store was small, and located on the corner of a street called rue La Fayette. A short three years later, the cousins who had opened the original shop were doing well enough to purchase the entire building at rue La Fayette. In 1905, they bought four more buildings on Boulevard Haussmann to contain their ever-expanding shopping empire, and then set about reconstructing the interior of their newly-purchased buildings to suit their soon-to-be flagship location.

The Boulevard Haussmann store is more than just a shopping icon in Paris, however, it’s worth visiting for the sheer architectural beauty as well. The center of the building is open and atrium-like, and it’s capped by a gorgeous dome made of glass and steel. There’s also an art nouveau staircase inside, built in 1912, that’s worth noting. The entire building is classified as an historic monument, and it was once Europe’s largest department store before Berlin’s famous KaDeWe was expanded in the 1990s.

But what about the shopping?

Well, I can’t lie to you. The stuff you’ll find on the shelves and racks of Galeries Lafayette isn’t cheap. You’ll find designer duds here, many by up-and-coming labels, along with the requisite perfume, makeup, and home decor that department stores the world over are famous for stocking. What’s different about Galeries Lafayette is that although people staying in cheap hotels in Paris may not be able to afford to do your everyday shopping here, it’s such a tourist attraction that you can waltz in without feeling weird about what you’re wearing. And the 6th floor is, according to the folks at Galeries Lafayette, the “biggest souvenir shop in Paris,” so you may be able to get all your souvenir shopping done in one go.

What’s more, you can have a little bit of the Galeries Lafayette experience without feeling like you’ve got to walk out with an Eiffel Tower figurine, or a new pair of stilettos or cufflinks, too – one level of the store is the Lafayette Gourmet, an upscale grocery store. Pick up a foodie souvenir here, or splurge on a snack to make your Paris picnic feel a little more hoity-toity.

If you’re determined to just browse, you can still enjoy a little bit of fun with the Galeries Lafayette fashion show that takes place (usually once a day around 3pm) in the Salon Opera. Check with the friendly folks at the Welcome Desk (what other department store has a welcome desk, I ask you?) about fashion show times, or anything else you need to find in the store.

Happy shopping!

>> And if the fineries at Galeries Lafayette are tempting but the pricetags are prohibitive, then plan your vacation around one of the Paris sale periods – there’s one in winter and one in summer!

Location: 40, blvd Haussmann, 75009 PARIS 9th Arrondissement
How to Get There: Metro stops – Chaussée d’Antin, Opéra, Trinité; RER A stop – Auber; RER E stop – Haussmann St. Lazare; bus lines 20-21-22-24-26-27-29-32-43-53-66-68-91-94-95
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30am-7:30pm (on Thursdays, it’s open until 9:00pm), closed Sundays
Good to Know: The main Galeries Lafayette website is in French, but there’s an English site (that’s decidedly less pretty) as well.

second photo by cocoinzenl