A series of international expositions brought millions of tourists to Paris to see the latest in commerce, art and technology. Paris was the scene of the first public projection of a motion picture, and the birthplace of impressionism and Modern Art. The French public's nostalgia for the Belle Époque period was based largely on the peace and prosperity connected with it in retrospect.

Paris in the Belle Époque saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the Paris Metro and the Paris Opera, and the beginning of the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre. The Eiffel Tower, built to serve as the grand entrance to the 1889 World's Fair held in Paris, became the accustomed symbol of the city, to its inhabitants and to visitors from around the world.

Paris hosted another successful World's Fair in 1900, the Exposition Universelle. Paris had been profoundly changed by the Second Empire reforms to the city's architecture and public amenities. Haussmann's renovation changed Paris housing, street layouts, and green spaces; walkable neighbourhoods were well-established.

It was not entirely the reality of life in Paris or in France, however. France had a large economic underclass who never experienced much of the Belle Époque's wonders and entertainments. Poverty remained endemic in Paris's urban slums and rural peasantry for decades after the Belle Époque ended. Conflicts between the government and the Roman Catholic Church were regular during the period. Some of the artistic elite saw the Fin de siècle in a pessimistic light.

Those who were able to benefit from the prosperity of the era were drawn towards new forms of light entertainment during the Belle Époque, and the Parisian bourgeoisie, or the successful industrialists called nouveau-riches, became increasingly influenced by the habits and fads of the city's elite social class, known popularly as Tout-Paris ("all of Paris", or "everyone in Paris"). The Casino de Paris opened in 1890. For Paris's less affluent public, entertainment was provided by cabarets, bistros and music halls.

The Moulin Rouge cabaret is a Paris landmark still open for business today. The Folies Bergère was another landmark venue. Burlesque performance styles were more mainstream in Belle Époque Paris than in more staid cities of Europe and America. Liane de Pougy, dancer, socialite and courtesan, was well known in Paris as a headline performer at top cabarets. Belle Époque dancers such as La Goulue and Jane Avril were Paris celebrities, who modelled for Toulouse-Lautrec's iconic poster art. The Can-can dance was a popular 19th-century cabaret style that appears in Toulouse-Lautrec's posters from the era.

Cheap coal and cheap labor contributed to the cult of the orchid and made possible the perfection of fruits grown under glass, as the apparatus of state dinners extended to the upper classes. Exotic feathers and furs were more prominently featured in fashion than ever before, as haute couture was invented in Paris, the center of the Belle Époque, where fashion began to move in a yearly cycle. In Paris, restaurants such as Maxim's Paris achieved a new splendor and cachet as places for the rich to parade. Maxim's Paris was arguably the city's most exclusive restaurant. Bohemian lifestyles gained a different glamour, pursued in the cabarets of Montmartre.

French cuisine continued to climb in the esteem of European gourmets during the Belle Époque. The word "ritzy" was invented during this era, referring to the posh atmosphere and clientele of the Hôtel Ritz Paris. The head chef and co-owner of the Ritz, Auguste Escoffier, was the pre-eminent French chef during the Belle Époque. Escoffier modernized French haute cuisine, also doing much work to spread its reputation abroad with business projects in London in addition to Paris. Champagne was perfected during the Belle Époque. The alcoholic spirit absinthe was cited by many Art Nouveau artists as a muse and inspiration and can be seen in much of the artwork of the time.

Large public buildings such as the Opéra Garnier devoted enormous spaces to interior designs as Art Nouveau show places. After the mid-19th century, railways linked all the major cities of Europe to spa towns like Biarritz, Deauville, Vichy, Arcachon and the French Riviera. Their carriages were rigorously divided into first-class and second-class, but the super-rich now began to commission private railway coaches, as exclusivity as well as display was a hallmark of opulent luxury.

Art Nouveau is the most popularly recognized art movement to emerge from the period. This largely decorative style (Jugendstil in central Europe), characterized by its curvilinear forms, became prominent from the mid-1890s and dominated progressive design throughout much of Europe. Its use in public art in Paris, such as the Paris Métro stations, has made it synonymous with the city.

Prominent artists in Paris during the Belle Époque included post-Impressionists such as Odilon Redon, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Émile Bernard, Henri Rousseau, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (whose reputation improved substantially after his death), and a young Pablo Picasso. More modern forms in sculpture also began to dominate as in the works of Paris-native Auguste Rodin.

Belle Époque Paris appears to have had exactly the right climate for succès de scandale (which is probably also the reason why this is where the term originated): in all examples regarding famous artists kicking off their career with some sort of scandal, there are at least some connections with turn of the 20th century Paris. In other cities, provoking a scandal appeared more risky, as Oscar Wilde found out shortly after his relatively "successful" Parisian scandal (Salomé -- 1894, portraying the main character as a necrophile): Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet, presented at the Salon des refusés, 1863: Even the Emperor was scandalised -- but Manet had a nice start to his career.

A new group of artists, labelled disrespectfully "Les Fauves" ("The Wild Beasts") by an art critic, had their successful debut in 1905 Paris (and kept the name). Richard Strauss had had little success with his first two operas, which today are no longer performed. Consequently, he tried something different: he set music to Wilde's Salomé in 1905, and racketed quite some scandal with this opera, including in the New York Met, where the production had to be closed after one night. But Strauss wanted more: his next opera (Elektra, 1909) was so "noisy" that cartoons appeared with Strauss directing an orchestra of animals. Then Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the text-writer of this second "successful" production, seems to have taken the right decision, in restraining Strauss from getting even bolder: Strauss's success was guaranteed without any further scandal, so Hofmannsthal wrote a bittersweet scenario with a theme of resigning to the fact of getting older, for Strauss's next (and after all most successful) opera. Only two world wars later, Strauss became involved in scandal again, for his way of realising what was then considered as the highest ambition: directing the Bayreuther Festspiele *). Here, however, scandal came after the success. [* The Bayreuth Festival (German: Bayreuther Festspiele) is a music festival held annually in Bayreuth, Germany.]
L'après-midi d'un faune (1912): [Afternoon of a Faun (Nijinsky)].
The Rite of Spring (1913)
Parade production of 1917: [Parade (ballet)].
George Antheil's 1923 performance of futurist piano music at the Champs-Élysées theater.

Paul Chabas had won a most prestigious prize with his "September Morn" in Paris in 1912. Nudity as portrayed in this painting was however far from being able to shock a Parisian public, half a century after the Déjeuner. So, notwithstanding the "official" prize, market value of the painting remained low. Then, Chabas put it on show in a New York shop window in 1913. There, for the first time in history, it appears a succès de scandale scheme was set up by a publicity agent (Harry Reichenbach), who "accidentally" coached a morality crusader along the picture. The scandal that evolved brought financial success and secured Chabas's place in art history books. Although later deemed kitsch *, the painting ended up in one of the most prestigious museums of New York. [* Considered to be in poor taste but appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.]