Exploring the Marais

The Marais – a trendy district with a village feel – has become a Paris must-see.

A romantic, festive and trendy district, the charm of the Marais lies in its cobblestone streets, historic spots and quirky boutiques. Straddling the Paris Centre arrondissement, this district with a village feel was built on marshland (‘marais’ in French), hence its name. Parisians and visitors alike love to come here for a leisurely stroll, as it is a great place to spend time and/or go shopping. A closer look at this many-faceted must-see district.

A historic district

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Located in the heart of Paris, the Marais owes much of its charm to its magnificent architecture and rich history.

The district has many 17th-century private mansions, typically built with white freestone and featuring a large entrance through which a horse-drawn carriage could easily pass. Some of the houses are now listed monuments. Among the most beautiful mansions are the hôtels de Sully and de Soubise, not to mention the Hôtel Salé, a magnificent building once frequented by the writer Honoré de Balzac and now home to the famous Picasso museum.

A Paris landmark that one cannot possibly fail to notice is the Hôtel de Ville. This imposing building housing the Paris city council has a huge courtyard where many events are held all year round. A short distance from here is the romantic Place des Vosges dating to the Renaissance: Paris’s oldest square. This charming oasis of greenery is surrounded by red-brick buildings where such illustrious names as Victor Hugo, Madame de Sévigné and Colette once lived. Then there is the Baroque-style church Église Saint-Paul Saint-Louis du Marais with its beautiful pastel-coloured clock and a painting by Eugène Delacroix. There are many treasures to be spotted at every corner as you stroll around this area.

In Rue François Miron, passers-by stop to look up at two half-timbered houses. Although they are often identified as the oldest houses in Paris, they actually date to the 16th century. The oldest is in fact the house of Nicolas Flamel, built in 1407 and also located in the Marais, on Rue Montmorency.

Stretching from the Haut Marais to the banks of the Seine, this delightful district with its village atmosphere offers visitors a journey into the history of Paris.

A district rich in culture

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The museums in the Marais have much to offer the culture enthusiast, whatever your area of interest – be it contemporary art, 18th-century romanticism and classicism or lesser-known details of Paris history.

The area’s unmissable museum is of course the Pompidou Centre, easily spotted because of its sheer size and the brightly coloured tubes making up its exterior. It houses France’s biggest collection of modern and contemporary art. While you’re there, do go up to the top floor to admire one of the most breath-taking views over Paris.

At the Musée Cognacq-Jay, visitors can browse artworks, sculptures, furniture bearing the maker’s mark and precious objects inside a beautiful Parisian mansion dating to the Enlightenment. The Musée Carnavalet displays mementoes of the French Revolution as well as items relating to the history of Paris. The Maison de Victor Hugo has been preserved exactly as the author of Les Misérables left it. The Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme is also situated in a fine private mansion, the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan. And the Musée Picasso showcases some of the Spanish painter’s best artworks alongside a number of temporary exhibitions.

Art lovers and collectors of all kinds of art will enjoy a browse in the numerous art galleries dotting the district, such as the Galerie Perrotin, Thaddaeus Ropac, Daniel Templon, Karsten Greve and Eric Dupont. Galerie Wawi also offers the chance to paint with the accompaniment of an artist in a musical setting, for a memorable evening.

The perfect shopping district

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Fashion fans take note – the Marais is definitely one of the best places in Paris to go shopping!

With its beautiful cupola and bird’s-eye view of the Hôtel de Ville, BHV MARAIS is a Paris retail icon. This department store built in 1856 in the heart of the Marais has all the top ready-to-wear brands under one roof. It also stocks a wide range of leisure and design items and has a variety of dining options.

The neighbouring streets are filled with shops of every description, notably Rue Vieille-du-Temple, Rue du Temple and Rue Charlot. Major brands have stores in the district, including Uniqlo, COS, The Kooples and Scotch & Soda. And the Marais is a paradise for vintage shopping – there are plenty of shops selling pre-loved clothing.

A number of concept stores have also cropped up in the Marais, like Bring France Home stocks French-made souvenirs of the City of Lights, while Front de mode specializes in eco-friendly clothing.

In recent times, luxury brands such as Karl Lagerfeld, Gucci and John Galliano have also opened boutiques in the district.

There is something to suit all budgets!

A district for foodies

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Whatever you feel like eating and whatever the time of day, the Marais has something to suit your tastes.

Among the area’s restaurants for lunch or dinner are Glou, l'Art de la Truffe and Robert et Louise, all of which put a contemporary twist on traditional French cuisine. At Le Bel Canto, on the banks of the Seine, the staff not only serve fine French food, they also sing opera arias. The Marais has Michelin-starred restaurants such as L’Ambroisie on Place des Vosges as well as classic Parisian brasseries: Bofinger, Le petit Bofinger, Le Comptoir des Archives and Les Philosophes. If you just want a light snack or you’re short of time, there are plenty of street food stalls selling whatever takes your fancy: crêpes, noodles or bagels. The best falafel in Paris is also to be found in the Marais: head for one of the little shops on Rue des Rosiers, like L’As du Fallafel, to try these delicious chickpea patties topped with roasted aubergine, fresh veggies and homemade tahini sauce.

In the mood for something sweet? The Marais is your paradise. Traditional boulangeries selling bakery treats are everywhere, tea rooms have cropped up on many streets, and some of the big-name pastry chefs have opened up shops here, from Yann Couvreur and Pierre Hermé to Christophe Michalak. If your taste runs to exotic treats, visit one of the Yiddish bakeries on Rue des Rosiers to sample delights such as linzer torte, strüdel, baklava and vatrouchka.

In the heat of summer, what could be better than a nice cold ice cream? The most popular ice cream places in the area are Pozzetto, Amorino... Go on, give in to temptation!

A great district to go out

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Listen to live jazz in the cellar of 38’Rivoli, sip a coffee on the rooftop of the Musée Picasso, munch falafel in rue des Rosiers, spend time with friends at a rooftop bar like the Perchoir: there are plenty of places to go out in the Marais!

La Perle, Candelaria and Le Progrès are three of the trendiest and liveliest bars in the area. The many café terraces in the Marais are also popular with Parisians, who come here to have a drink with friends on summer evenings. There are bars where you can dance, speakeasies, karaoke bars … take your pick, it all depends on what you feel like doing.

What’s more, the Marais is usually at the centre of things during major Paris events such as Gay Pride, Nuit Blanche and the Nuit des Musées (the European Night of Museums). When you want to go out and a good time, the Marais never disappoints.

A historically LGBT-friendly district

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The gay community began to move to the Marais in the 1980s and a flourishing gay scene soon emerged, with the opening of LGBT-friendly bars, clubs, restaurants and bookshops. The area remains a hub of LGBT life in Paris today and you will find many gay and lesbian spaces and shops in Rue des Archives, Rue du Temple, Rue de la Verrerie and Rue des Lombards. Popular spots are COX to have a drink, Raidd Bar for live music and entertainment and Tango (La Boîte à frissons). Mutinerie and Bar’ouf are among the best lesbian bars. And do look out for the rainbow pedestrian crossings painted on the road at intersections on Rue du Temple and Rue des Archives.

A district of traditional markets and shopping streets

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The Marais is an authentic Paris neighbourhood where many French traditions remain intact. The oldest market in Paris, the Marché couvert des Enfants Rouges, is on Rue de Bretagne. With colourful stalls, fresh produce, flowers and tasty dishes prepared on the spot, it is a popular meeting place for Parisians. On market days, the stalls spread out into the neighbouring place Baudoyer and even the courtyard of the Paris Centre arrondissement town hall. On Rue de Bretagne, there are a number of shops selling regional French specialities and some choice places to stock up on food, from bakeries to cheesemongers.

The Village Saint-Paul-Le-Marais has 200 or so antiques dealers and design shops. It’s the perfect place to browse for unusual finds. If you can’t see what you’re looking for here, then there are plenty of treasures to be found at the brocantes (antiques markets) held in the Marais from early springtime into mid-autumn.

Mariages Frères is a treasure trove of quality teas, while Diptyque is the place to go for fabulous scented candles. You can also try out new fragrances at Fragonard and browse an attractive selection of home decoration and designer furniture at one of the Fleux stores on Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie.

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