You can’t go wrong by dedicating at least a couple of hours of your precious time in Paris to exploring the neighbourhood of Le Marais. Although the area is known as a little bit of a tourist hotspot, it also happens to be where the locals hang out too! And if the Parisians deem it one of the coolest place in town to hang out, then you know it can’t be a bad place to wander around.
So how did Le Marais come to be the go-to place in town? Well, the chicest neighbourhood in Paris wasn’t always so trendy. In fact, in French ‘Le Marais’ literally means ‘the marsh’, a little bit of an indication of the area’s former state. When Paris was expanding, the rapidly growing population was running out of space. As a result, the marshy district to the North of Île de la Cité was transformed into habitable land.
By the turn of the 15th century, this former swampland had turned into the place to be. When the rest of Paris was being ‘refurbished’ and ‘rebuilt’ under the direction of Napoleon and Haussmann during the 19th Century, le Marais was largely left untouched. While the rest of Paris was being torn down to make way for the iconic big boulevards that the city is known for today, le Marais was spared.
Today, stepping into Le Marais is like stepping back in time; here you can expect to find the closest resemblance of what living in medieval Paris must have been like (minus the raw sewage!).
So what should you see and do when visiting Le Marais?
Check out a café.
Ah, that old Parisian pastime. As with the rest of Paris, you’ll easily find a café on each street corner when wandering around Le Marais. There’s no better Parisian activity to do than sit down with an expresso, newspaper and spend an hour or two people watching – especially if you do it all with a Parisian pastry in hand!
Pick up a falafel.
And if we’re talking about food, make sure you don’t miss out on the number of falafel shops around the district. The best falafel in the city is easily L’As du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers and there’s a queue out the door to prove it! Falafels are priced at €6 – a pretty good deal for a filling lunch in the centre of Paris. Grab your falafel and explore the rest of Rue des Rosiers, a postcard perfect street in the very heart of Le Marais (pictured below).
Check out the chic hôtels.
No, these aren’t hotels that you can book to spend a night in, but rather former family mansions. Some time in the 14th century, Charles V abandoned his old palace to move to Le Marais, thus sparking a mass move by the well-to-do of Parisian society. Le Marais became the place to be. If there’s one tip I could give you about wandering around Le Marais it’s this: peek around doorways and down side streets – you’ll be surprised as to what you’ll find – architectural gems really are around every corner.
Pay a visit to Place des Vosges.
The first official planned public square in Paris, Place des Vosges is a stunning green square filled with large trees and surrounded by red bricked houses. It’s the perfect place to sit back and relax with your friends. Maybe even with your very own D.I.Y Parisian picnic! The museum happens to be home to a dozen or so museums: from the doll’s museum to the Picasso museum, to the Maison de Victor Hugo, there’s plenty of quirky museums to see explore and discover.
Visit Victor Hugo’s House.
Before his exile by Napoleon, Hugo (author of the famous The Hunchback of Notre Dame) lived in the very heart of Place des Vosges at number 6. Today, the writer’s former house has been turned into a museum; the permanent collections are free to visit and open Tuesday-Sunday.
Marvel at the Musée de Picasso art.
Like many of the now-public buildings in the district, Musée de Picasso is housed in one of the former hôtels (mansion houses). Interestingly, the museum doesn’t only display pieces of Picasso’s work but also the work of the many cartoonists and artists who mocked or created caricatures of him.
Discover Paris’ history at Musée Carnavalet.
Ah, if there’s any museum that has it all, then it’s Musée Carnavalet. With its perfectly manicured shrubs and location in two former ‘hôtels’ the history of Paris unfolds beautifully within its walls. Grab your camera and spend a few hours getting completely and utterly lost wandering down the little cobblestoned streets that litter the area.
And if all this doesn’t convince you to explore Le Marais, maybe the fantastic architecture and cute little cobblestoned roads will…
What’s your favourite spot in Le Marais?