A walk in the Marais

Paris’s Marais district is perfect for exploring on foot

The Marais, a former marshland drained through the work of various religious orders (Saint-Martin, the Knights Templar, Sainte-Catherine and others), became an aristocratic quarter in the late Middle Ages. The kings of France lived at the hôtel Saint Pol (no longer standing), and then at the hôtel des Tournelles (also no longer standing), very close to the current place des Vosges. The golden age of private mansions in the Marais reached its peak during the 17th century before the district was overshadowed as other areas of the city became fashionable.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the private mansions became tailors’ and goldsmiths’ workshops, and most of the people who lived in the area were workers. A Jewish quarter formed around rue des Rosiers, and in the 1980s and 90s, a thriving gay scene grew up around rue des Archives and rue de Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie. This rich history and great diversity make the Marais one of Paris’s most exciting districts, and a must-see for anyone visiting the city.

1/ Hôtel de Ville building and square

This square was originally called place de Grève. It was a port and the site of notoriously gruesome public executions. In 1357, the provost of the merchants (forerunner to the mayor) bought the maison aux Piliers, which stood on the site of the current Hôtel de Ville. The maison aux Piliers was demolished in the 16th century and replace by the Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville. That building was badly damaged by fire during the Paris Commune uprising of 1871. It was later rebuilt with an identical facade. Today, it is home to the Paris city council. The site also hosts major free exhibitions. In addition, you can find the Paris Rendez-Vous shop and the main Paris Tourist Office visitors’ centre here. Place de l’Hôtel de Ville is a wide, bustling esplanade, and there is always something going on: concerts and a whole range of activities as part of ‘Paris Plages’ in the summer, fairs, big screens during major sporting events, and much more.

Hôtel de Ville de Paris - Mairie de Paris - Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, Paris 4th

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Office du Tourisme de Paris - Hôtel de Ville - 29 rue de Rivoli, Paris 4th

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BHV Marais - 52 rue de Rivoli, Paris 4th

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2/ Billettes Church and Cloister

You will find Billettes Church at 24, rue des Archives. It was built in the classic style by Mansart de Sagonne between 1754 and 1758. It then became a Protestant Lutheran parish. The adjoining Gothic style cloister dating from 1427 is particularly impressive. It regularly serves as a venue for exhibitions.

Église des Billettes - 24 rue des Archives, Paris 4th

3/ Musée des Archives Nationales - Hôtel de Soubise

First to catch your eye will be the two turrets dating from 1371, vestiges of the fortified gatehouse of the hôtel de Clisson. The hôtel de Soubise, a private mansion, was successively owned by the high-profile Guise and Rohan-Soubise families. Today, it houses the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions of the musée des Archives Nationales (national archives museum). Inside, you can walk through the ornate Rococo style rooms, including the Salon du Prince and Salon de la Princesse. The beautiful gardens are also well worth a visit.

Musée des Archives Nationales - Hôtels de Soubise et de Rohan - 60 rue des Francs Bourgeois, Paris 3rd

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4/ Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

The musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (museum of hunting and nature) occupies two mansions, the hôtel de Guénégaud and the hôtel de Mongelas. In a stunning setting, this unusual museum with its unique museography focuses on the relationship between people and animals throughout history. Two or three times a year, the museum invites contemporary artists to take part in exhibitions that create a dialogue between the works of the guest artist and those in the permanent collections. Fascinating!

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature - 62 rue des Archives, Paris 3rd

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5/ Le square du Temple - Elie-Wiesel

Square du Temple, as it appears today, was created by Adolphe Alphand, Paris’s director of public works during Haussmann’s renovation of the city. He lived in part of maison du Temple, which is no longer standing. The house was the headquarters of the powerful Knights Templar during the 13th century. In 1312, after the Knights Templar were disbanded, it was assigned to the Knights Hospitaller. The tower of maison du Temple was used as a prison during the French Revolution. It was here that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were held before they were executed. Today, the 7,700m² square is laid out as a beautiful English garden, with exotic trees, one of which is listed as ‘remarkable’, abundant wildlife and an artificial waterfall built with rocks from Fontainebleau forest. Elie Wiesel, who is honoured in the name of the square, was an American writer, philosopher and university professor.

Square du Temple - Elie Wiesel - 64 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3rd

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6/ Carreau du Temple

You can’t miss the Carreau du Temple! It was built in the late 19th century out of cast iron in an industrial style that certainly splits opinion. It is now a culture and sports centre, and serves as a venue for over 230 events every year.

Le Carreau du Temple - 4 rue Eugène Spuller, Paris 3rd

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7/ Marché des Enfants Rouges

This market dates back to 1615, which makes it the oldest covered market in Paris, and possibly in France! It takes its name from the Enfants Rouge children’s home (where the children were dressed in red), founded in 1536 by Margaret of Valois and closed in 1772. The market is located in the Haut Marais, just off of rue de Bretagne. It is popular among locals and tourists for its fresh produce. It has a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere and is a great place to seek out an impromptu lunch. Stalls include an Italian deli, organic produce, Lebanese street food and light Japanese meals. For brunch on Sunday, head to L’Estaminet, the restaurant inside the market, or La Petite Fabrique.

Marché couvert les Enfants Rouges - 39 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3rd

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8/ Musée National Paris-Picasso and the Institut Suédois

The majestic hôtel Salé, or ‘salted mansion’, owes its name to its first owner Pierre Aubert de Fontenay, a salt-tax collector. Today, it houses the musée national Paris-Picasso. The museum’s collection, dedicated to leading 20th century artist Pablo Picasso, includes more than 5,000 works (primarily paintings, sculptures and drawings) and 200,000 archived pieces.  Major exhibitions are organized regularly. The hôtel de Marle, which houses the Institut Suédois, is just around the corner. It is an attractive private mansion with a roof designed in the shape of a ship’s hull.

Musée national Picasso-Paris - 5 rue de Thorigny, Paris 3rd

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Institut suédois - Hôtel de Marle - 11 rue Payenne, Paris 3rd

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9/ Musée Cognacq-Jay

The hôtel de Donon, built in 1575, provides the backdrop for the collections at the musée Cognacq-Jay, an attractive museum belonging to the city of Paris. It displays works collected by Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay, the couple that founded the Samaritaine department store. In the museum, you will find furniture, porcelain, paintings and exquisite pastels by Quentin Delatour – a taste of life in 18th century France.

Musée Cognacq-Jay - Le goût du XVIIIe - 8 rue Elzévir, Paris 3rd

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10/ Musée Carnavalet - Histoire de Paris

The reopening of the musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris was one of the major events of 2021’s cultural calendar. The museum is spread across two 16th and 17th century private mansions – the former home of Madame de Sévigné, among others. Its outstanding collections focus on the history of Paris, from prehistoric times through to the 20th century.  Inside, you can see signs, models, sculptures, paintings, interior décor, furniture from mansions and reconstructions of indoor scenes including an art nouveau boutique. Admission to the permanent collections is free for all visitors.

Musée Carnavalet - Histoire de Paris - 23 rue de Sévigné, Paris 3rd

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11/ Place du marché Sainte-Catherine

This pretty little square lined with cafe and restaurant terraces is in practice almost pedestrianized, with only the occasional car. It takes its name from the market hall opened in 1789, which is no longer standing. The square itself was also created in the 18th century, and the buildings date from that period. People come here for the village atmosphere, the peace and quiet and the great places to eat.

Place du marché Sainte-Catherine, Paris 4th

12/ Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges is the jewel of the Marais. It is highly distinctive with its stunning facades, its 36 red-brick houses and its arcades, all set around a green space. No visit to Paris is complete without a stroll in this square, one of the city’s oldest. Buildings to look out for include the pavillon du Roi and pavillon de la Reine, the hôtel de Sully (headquarters of the National Monuments Centre) which has an inconspicuous, almost secret entrance on the square, and the hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée. French writer Victor Hugo lived on the second floor of this mansion from 1832 until 1848. The Maison de Victor Hugo is a museum dedicated to his life. Inside, you will find furniture, a range of souvenirs and a striking Chinese salon. Admission to the permanent collections is free for all visitors.

Place des Vosges, Paris 4th

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Maison de Victor Hugo - Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée - 6 place des Vosges, Paris 4th

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13/ Hôtel de Sully

This splendid mansion was built between 1624 and 1630. One of its most notable occupants was Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, a famous advisor to King Henry IV of France. Today, it is the headquarters of the French National Monuments Centre, which manages some of Paris’s top attractions, including the Arc de Triomphe, the hôtel de la Marine, the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle and the domaine du Palais Royal. The inside of the hôtel de Sully is only open to the public for specially organized tours. You can however admire the Orangerie, walk across the garden and visit the bookshop on the ground floor of the mansion.

Hôtel de Béthune-Sully - 62 rue Saint-Antoine, Paris 4th

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14/ Saint-Paul Saint-Louis Church

The name Saint-Paul is that of an earlier church built in 632 and demolished in 1797. All that remains of it is a section of the bell-tower wall at 32, rue Saint-Paul. The name Saint-Louis belongs to the current church, built between 1627 and 1641. Don’t miss the attractive facade, the dome and the lantern tower. The clock on the facade, the bell and the two reliquaries in the Saint-Louis choir were taken from the original Saint-Paul Church. A short walk away, on the corner of rue Charlemagne and rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, you can see the longest remaining portion of the Philip Augustus city wall, 60 metres long and 7.6 metres high. It dates back to the 12th century and now runs alongside a sports ground. Close by stands Village Saint-Paul, a district where you will find over 80 galleries run by designers and antique dealers, as well as the musée de la Magie, one of Paris’s quirkiest museums.

Église Saint-Paul Saint-Louis du Marais - 99 rue Saint-Antoine, Paris 4th

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Le Village Saint-Paul - Le Marais - Rue Saint-Paul, Paris 4th

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Musée de la magie - Musée des automates - 11 rue Saint-Paul, Paris 4th

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15/ Bibliothèque Forney - Hôtel de Sens

This building was constructed between 1475 and 1507 for the archbishops of Sens, who oversaw the Paris diocese. It is one of few examples in Paris of a civil dwelling dating from the Middle Ages. From the outside, you can see the turrets, mullioned windows and other architectural details that mark the coming of the Renaissance. It was at one time occupied by Queen Margaret of France, who is known as Queen Margot. Today, it houses the bibliothèque Forney, a library specializing in fine arts and decorative arts. Just opposite, the jardin des Arts - Albert Schweitzer is a lovely green space, the ideal place to take a break in the heart of the city.

Bibliothèque Forney - Hôtel de Sens - 1 rue du Figuier, Paris 4th 

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Jardin des Arts - Albert Schweitzer - 10 rue de l'Hôtel de Ville, Paris 4th

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16/ Maison européenne de la photographie and mémorial de la Shoah

The Maison européenne de la photographie, or MEP, a centre for contemporary photographic art, is located in the majestic hôtel Hénault de Cantobre (built in the 18th century). It presents exhibitions on themes, movements and major artists from the worldwide history of photography during the second half of the 20th century. Heading back towards the Seine, you will see a concrete building, the facade marked by a plain star of David. This is the mémorial de la Shoah (holocaust memorial), a moving depiction of the deportation of the Jews during the Second World War. It echoes two other sites of remembrance: the mémorial de la Shoah de Drancy in Seine-Saint-Denis and the superb musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme (museum of the art and history of Judaism), also in the Marais (71, rue du Temple).

Maison européenne de la photographie - MEP - 5-7 rue de Fourcy, Paris 4th

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Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris - 17 rue Geoffroy-l'Asnier, Paris 4th

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17/ Saint-Gervais Saint-Protais Church

The walk finishes in front of the stately facade of Saint-Gervais Saint-Protais Church. This church, built in the flamboyant Gothic style, is bathed with light. Inside, you can see beautiful 16th century stained glass windows, 16th and 17th century carved choir stalls and Paris’s oldest organ (1601).

Église Saint-Gervais Saint-Protais - 13 rue des Barres, Paris 4th

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