Between the Louvre and boulevards Haussmann, Montmartre, Poissonnière and Bonne-Nouvelle to the north lies the city’s main commercial and financial district. Right at its heart stand the solid institutions of the Banque de France and the Bourse, while just to the north, beyond the glittering Opéra-Garnier, are the large department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. More well-heeled shopping is concentrated on the rue St-Honoré in the west and the streets around aristocratic place Vendôme, lined with top couturiers, jewellers and art dealers. Scattered around the whole area are the delightful, secretive passages – nineteenth-century arcades that hark back to shopping from a different era.
Among the most attractive of the Opéra’s passages is the Galerie Vivienne, between rue Vivienne and rue des Petits-Champs, its decor of Grecian and marine motifs providing a suitably flamboyant backdrop for its smart shops, including a branch of Jean-Paul Gaultier. But the most stylish examples are the three-storey passage du Grand-Cerf, between rue St-Denis and rue Dussoubs, and Galerie Véro-Dodat, between rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs and rue Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, named after the two pork butchers who set it up in 1824. This last is the most homogeneous and aristocratic passage, with painted ceilings and faux marble columns. North of rue St-Marc, the several arcades making up the passage des Panoramas are more workaday, though still full of character: there’s Caffè Stern at no. 47, a former printshop with its original 1867 fittings, as well as bric-a-brac shops, stamp and secondhand postcard dealers. It’s also become a foodie destination, with a number of popular wine bistrots, such as Racines, elbowing in among the Vietnamese and Indian takeaways. Passage Jouffroy, across boulevard Montmartre, harbours a number of quirky shops, including one selling antique walking sticks and another stocking exquisite dolls’ house furniture.
Set back from the boulevard des Capucines and crowning the avenue de l’Opéra is the dazzling Opéra-Garnier, which was constructed from 1860 to 1875 as part of Napoléon III’s new vision of Paris. The architect, Charles Garnier, whose golden bust by Carpeaux can be seen on the rue Auber side of his edifice, pulled out all the stops to provide a suitably grand space in which Second Empire high society could parade and be seen. The facade is a fabulous extravaganza of white, pink and green marble, colonnades, rearing horses, winged angels and niches holding gleaming gold busts of composers. You can look round the equally sumptuous interior, including the plush auditorium – rehearsals permitting – the colourful ceiling of which is the work of Chagall, and which depicts scenes from well-known operas and ballets. The visit includes the small Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra, dedicated to the artists connected with the Opéra throughout its history, and containing model sets, paintings and temporary exhibitions on operatic themes.