After numerous trips to Paris, we have enjoyed deeply exploring many districts, or arrondissement, in Paris. By far, we enjoy the Marais District more than any other. The Marais Museums, the Marias Restaurants, and the shopping in the Marais District make Marais Paris endlessly fascinating. Here’s my recommendations for the best things to do in the Marais Paris.
The Marais Paris: A History
In 1240, the Order of the Temple, a subset of the Knights Templar, built a church just outside the walls of Paris, in the northern part of the Marais, which actually means “swamp” in French. The Marais District became a desirable area for many people, and was also known as the Temple Quarter, and many religious institutions were built nearby.
During the mid-13th century, Charles I of Anjou, who was the brother of King Louis IX of France, built his residence in the Marais near the current n°7 rue de Sévigné. And, one-hundred years later, in 1361, King Charles V built a mansion known as the Hôtel Saint-Pol in which the Royal Court settled.
French nobility continued to enjoy the Marais Paris, especially after the Place des Vosages was constructed, which served as a Royal Palace in the 16th and 17th centuries, until Versailles became a thing (that’s a historical term, by the way).
What’s good for the King, is good for the nobles, and French nobles built their urban mansions there—hôtels particuliers, in French—such as the Hôtel de Sens, the Hôtel de Sully, the Hôtel de Beauvais, the Hôtel Carnavalet, the Hôtel de Guénégaud and the Hôtel de Soubise.
During the late 18th century, the district was no longer the most fashionable district for the nobility, yet it still kept its reputation of being an aristocratic area, as the Place des Vosges remained a place for nobles to meet. The district fell into despair after the French Revolution, and was abandoned by the nobility completely.
And then, the Hip Cats moved in!
The Marais District Today
Straddling the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, I think Le Marais is one of Paris’ coolest districts – so cool, in fact, that French writer Victor Hugo, author of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Misérables” called it home. The cobblestone streets, stately mansions and lovely tucked away courtyards, make it easy to feel as if you’re strolling through medieval Paris. Minus The Plague. Bonus!
Since the 13th century, Le Marais has been the city’s Jewish quarter. The quarter’s history can be most felt along rue des Rosiers, which feature some old-school delis and bakeries. Today, Le Marais is the epicenter of the city’s gay community, with chic boutiques and vibrant nightlife options (which I’m never going to cover for y’all because 9:00…10:00 if I’m feeling really crazy…is my bedtime.)
Marais District Museums
It would be impossible to list every single museum in Le Marais…so I’m going to detail my personal favorites….and if you have visited others that I don’t mention, please let me know in the comments. I’m back every year, and would love to check out YOUR recommendations!
- Musee Carnavalet: The Carnavalet is one of the oldest hotels in the Marais, built between 1548 and 1560 for Jacques des Ligneris, president of the Paris parliament. Today, it is devoted to the history of Paris and its inhabitants, holds collections that illustrate the evolution of the city from prehistoric times to the present. It presents in a hundred rooms a vast choice of works of art, souvenirs and models showing the appearance of the capital at various times and evoking its daily and intellectual life. There are many magnificent reconstructed historic rooms and decors which give visitors a setting for a stroll over the centuries. This museum has been closed for a few years, undergoing massive restoration, and is set to reopen in the Spring of 2020. My absolute favorite museum in Paris!
- The Picasso Museum: From the museum’s website, “The decision to install the Picasso works, donated in lieu of estate taxes, in the Hôtel Salé was made very quickly, in 1974, just one year following the artist’s death. With this process, which gave the State permission to acquire the bulk of Picasso’s works, enriched by donations from his heirs, it was important to find a place to preserve and exhibit them. Supported by the artist’s family, Michel Guy, French Secretary of State for Culture, chose the Hôtel Salé, a private mansion at 5 rue de Thorigny in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement, to house Picasso’s collection. Owned by the City of Paris, the building had been awarded the Historic Monument status on 29 October 1968.In March 1975, after deliberation, Paris City Council confirmed that the Hôtel Salé would indeed house the Musée National Picasso, a natural choice given that the artist’s work was produced within the walls of large private mansions and other historic buildings.” Amazing collection of Picassos, as well as works he collected from his contemporaries.
- The Centre Pompidou: A must-see if you enjoy modern art. I detailed how to visit the Pompidou in this post. Check it out!
- Musee des Arts et Metiers: Founded in 1794 by Henri Grégoire, “a store of new and useful inventions,” is a museum of technological innovation. The Musée des Arts et Métiers was refurbished in 2000, and now exhibits over 2,400 inventions. They are split into seven collections Scientific instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication and Transport.
Marais District Restaurants
Long before Will and I determined that Le Marais was our preferred neighborhood to rent an apartment, we were enjoying delicious meals in many Marais Restaurants. There is wonderful ethnic diversity in the Marais District, and the restaurants reflect that diversity. I have all of our favorites listed in my Paris Restaurant Guide, but I’ll share a couple of my favorites here:
Ma Bourgogne ($$) Typical French Bistro in a corner of the Place des Vosges. 9 Place des Vosges, 75004 Reservations not necessary.
Grand Coeur ($$$) Fabulous redefined French fare in the heart of Le Marais. 41 Rue du Temple, 75004 Reservations necessary.
One of the reasons Will and I love to rent apartments, is to enjoy local food from neighborhood markets for breakfast, and especially as a late-afternoon snack, as we rest-up from a long day on our feet exploring Paris. One of the oldest food markets in Paris is in the Marais District, the Marché des Enfants Rouges. From beautiful cut flowers, to in-season fruits and veggies, we hit this marche a number of times each trip!
Like any metropolitan city, there’s an internal struggle between the large chain stores that can afford big rents, and the local boutiques, that fight to stay open. And while I certainly enjoy shopping in the large chain stores, particularly the French brands that are hard to find in the United States, like Gerard Darel, it’s the small boutiques I try to patronize first. Shop Small and Shop Local apply in Paris, as much as any city anywhere.
The Marias has dozens and dozens of tiny boutiques. I make it my personal goal to pop in and out of all of them. Taking one for the Team. You’re welcome.
And, for my Vintage Clothing loving readers, there’s several shops in Le Marais I love. Probably my favorite is Coiffeur. It’s jam-packed, so you have to dig, but I always find a treasure or two!
There’s also dozens of art galleries sprinkled throughout the Marais. We love to gallery hop in the afternoons, and walk off the pastries we have gobbled during the day. ‘Cause we have.
We love Paris, and each neighborhood has its unique charm, but the Marais Paris is by far our favorite! Find a cafe, order cappuccino and a chocolate croissant, put on your coolest sunglass, and join the other Hip Cats! Hope you will explore it next time you are in Paris!
Tags: Centre Pompidou | Grand Coeur | Le Marais | Les Miserables | Ma Bourgogne | Marais | Marche des Enfants Rouges | Musee Carnavalet | Musee des Arts et Metiers | Picasso | Place des Vosages | Victor Hugo | Vintage Shopping