For many travellers, Paris is synonymous with gastronomy. The French, always appreciative of the finer things in life, have a unique tradition of famous restaurants and great chefs. Anyone with a love of good food and deep pockets will find true happiness in this city. The style of cooking known as 'la Grande Cuisine' comes from Paris and it's hard to walk the streets without being tempted into every restaurant by its delectable aroma.
Paris is home to thousands of restaurants, with traditional French bistros being the best value for money for those on a budget. Cafes and dive bars are an almost obligatory stop on the way to or from work for most Parisians, where an ordinary lunch can be enjoyed at a reasonable price. Travellers can grab a newspaper, order a glass of fine French wine and observe the city passing by while soaking up the picturesque surroundings.
From classic French cooking to Nouvelle Cuisine and French regional styles (as well as many other international cuisines), there is something to satisfy every palate in Paris.
Paris is a shopper's paradise. Jet-setters will feel at home with the famous names of the haute couture boutiques found on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, such as Dior, Chanel, Givenchy and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Trend-setting fashions can be found in Rue Etienne Marcel shops. Sadly, the Champs-Elysées is not what it used to be, with banks, fast-food chains and malls strategically placed to trap tourists. However, some good stores remain, and perfume from Guerlain Parfumerie is a classic Paris souvenir.
Galeries Lafayette is a famous French department store. The flagship store is located on Boulevard Haussmann and has been a Paris icon since its creation in 1894. Beneath the decorative Art Nouveau dome lies 65,000 square metres of floor space hosting more than 3,500 brands from around the world. The energy, architecture, layout, restaurants and views over the city have turned Galeries Lafayette into a prime tourist attraction for shoppers and browsers alike.
Les Halles is a subterranean shopping mall with more than 150 stores where bargain hunters will be able to find cheap knock-offs and other trendy clothes. Just outside the city, La Vallée Village offers designer goods at great discounts.
Bargains closer to town can be sniffed out in abundance at the three main flea markets situated around the old gates of the city. They are, however, teeming with pickpockets and shoppers should be on their guard. Les Bouquinistes, which consists of rows of bookstalls perched against the walls of the Seine River, is a great place for bookworms to browse and barter.
Those determined to buy a plastic Eiffel Tower or other kitschy souvenir, will find tourist tat plentiful along rue de Rivoli. Those looking for something a bit different to take home should visit the La Plaque Emaillées in Filles-du-Calvaire for a taste of turn-of-the-century Parisian Art Nouveau.
Parisians buy most of their food from speciality stores such as bakeries and butcheries, which stock pastries, cheeses or pâtés to die for. The open-air markets are a fantastic place to find flowers, produce and clothing. These are frequented by most of the locals. Paris also offers a wealth of window-shopping opportunities, making it the ultimate destination for the discerning consumer.
Most shops open between 9 and 10am, and close at 7 or 8pm. France levies a sales tax of between 5.5 percent and 33 percent, depending on the merchandise. There is a VAT refund scheme for non-EU visitors, but conditions apply.
Paris' nightlife has a reputation extending back for hundreds of years. While most tourists won't venture beyond the crowded and overpriced bars of the Champs Elysées, there are many bustling nightlife districts in Paris worth exploring.
Bastille has a mixture of noisy nightclubs and bars best suited to twenty-somethings. Oberkampf was the place to be in the 1990s, and still buzzes with hipster-filled cafes. The area around the Louvre is home to some of the most upmarket, and expensive bars in Paris, including the Ritz's Hemingway Bar in Place Vendome, a piano bar frequented by the writer in the 1940s.
Montmartre is the home of the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret, which still presents glittering extravaganzas on a nightly basis, though the price tag is a bit higher than when it started in 1889. Nearby Pigalle offers some good rock music venues. Marais also boasts a good selection of bars and cafes, with a thriving gay and lesbian scene.
There is no end to the live music possibilities in Paris. Nouveau Casino hosts a variety of bands on most nights, and La Flèche d'Or is known as an indie-rock venue. Belleville's La Java hosts an eclectic mix of artists in the venue where Edith Piaf debuted.
For a more sedate music experience, the Cité de la Musique hosts classical, jazz and traditional concerts in a network of concert halls. And, of course, Paris is an opera paradise. Travellers will find symphonies and operas at the Opéra Bastille, lighter opera at the Opéra Comique, and they might even spot the phantom of the opera at the grand Opéra Garnier, the home of the Ballet de l'Opera National de Paris.
Cafes and bars are generally open from late afternoon to 1am with some variation, and clubs don't open until 11pm on the weekends, staying open until 5 or 6am. It's not fashionable to arrive at a Paris club until well after midnight.