You know the holidays have arrived in Paris when little wooden chalets start going up around town. The city's ephemeral Christmas markets-- created in the tradition of those found in the Northeastern region of Alsace, which is historically both German and French, bring a special warmth and provide great gifts. Head here to find regional specialties from Alsace like pain d'épices (spice bread) and mulled wine, in addition to gourmet treats from other regions and traditional Christmas decorations, toys, and cozy hand-made knits.
For 2012-2013 locations: Guide to Paris Christmas Markets
The city's historical department stores are not just shopping shrines, but architectural treasures and peddlers of plenty of exclusive clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, home furnishing, and gourmet items-- making them ideal stops for holiday shopping if you can withstand the crowds. If you're looking for a gifts for a foodie or wine lover, be sure to check out the massive gourmet groceries at Galeries Lafayette and Au Bon Marché. While you're at it, enjoy the always-colorful and creative holiday window displays at Paris department stores.
Paris counts an inordinate number of trendy boutiques and concept stes. Ultra-trendy boutique Colette in particular draws crowds and celebrities for its constantly updated selection of the latest concepts in electronics, fashion, accessories, beauty products, and other items, and also boasts an extensive and edgy collection of new releases in books, DVDs, and music. Try here to find the perfect gift for a hipster or fashionista. After shopping, you can sit around looking fashionable and aloof at the downstairs "water bar".
Read More: Top Paris Boutiques and Concept Stores
Paris is one of the world's chocolate capitals, so if you know a cocoa connoisseur, be sure to stop by one of the city's best chocolate shops to take back a special gift. Also see our video on some of Paris' most talented chocolate makers.
Looking for a rare book or magazine for a bibliophile friend or family member? Paris has tons of old bookstores, especially in the Latin Quarter around the old university district. But when the sun's out, why not peruse the city's Seine-side booksellers? Paris boasts over 200 independent outdoor stalls, offering some 300,000 collectable, new and used books and magazines under open skies.
8. Les Créateurs des Abbesses (Montmartre Artisan Boutiques)
Clustered along a few small streets in the quaint Montmartre neighborhood are a series of artisanal boutiques offering unique clothing, jewelry, decorative items, and more. It's a good alternative to overcrowded department stores and a long shot from chain stores where multinational brands reign (thus guaranteeing unoriginal gifts).
Getting there: Metro Abbesses, Pigalle
Main streets (bring a city map): Rue Houdon, Rue d'Orsel, Rue des Martyrs, Rue des Abbesses, Rue Yvonne-Le-Tac.
See these neighborhood guides to find more unique artisan shops around Paris: