In the first guide of our Mini-Guide Series we head to Paris to discover one of its oldest areas. Unpretentious charm, hidden courtyards, a lively night scene, provocative art everywhere and the best falafel you’ll ever taste: welcome to Le Marais, the French capital’s hippest neighbourhood.
"Le Marais" (CC BY 2.0) by summer park
Le Marais is a beautiful explosion of character. It’s made of pre-revolutionary buildings and tight cobblestone alleys, vintage boutiques and trendy art galleries. The old-world charm of its medieval streets, its 16th-century mansions (like the Hotel du Sully) and the fact that, here, you won’t find any of Haussmann’s grand boulevards, have attracted a bohemian community of art students, writers and philosophers in the 60s. More recently, the area became popular among the gay crowd, who made it a hotspot for anyone looking for a gay-friendly night out and one of the trendiest areas. If your heart has a hipster beat, Le Marais won’t disappoint.
Reasons to explore Le Marais
Le Marais is on the right bank, rive droite, of the Seine river and is sandwiched between St-Paul and République.
Le Marais by day
I hope you love to walk, because there’s no better way to explore Le Marais than by foot. If the weather is nice, you will be joined by locals sunbathing and spending their lunch break in the beautiful green spaces, like Jardin des Rosiers in the Jewish area or the stunning Place des Vosges where you can see Victor Hugo’s home (now a museum).
"Le Marais" (CC BY 2.0) by Martin_Bishop
There will be plenty of walking and shopping, so start with coffee and croissant in one of the many cafés with outdoor sitting. (I like Café Charlot, in Rue de Bretagne, for its ideal location for people watching, just at the north edge of Le Marais)
Browsing the various vintage shops should top your priority list. One-of-a-kind-treasures are waiting for you; just arrive full of patience and find your way through endless second-hand pieces. In a hurry? Head straight to the tiny Coiffeur Vintage in Rue de Rosiers; it’s considered to be the best one in the city. Free’P’Star in rue Ste-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie is open until late for some late-night shopping fun.
"Le Marais" (CC BY 2.0) by limitsios
A visit to Le Marais is not complete without lunch at the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the city’s oldest market. Be ready for the quintessential food experience: Japanese, African, Lebanese are to name a few of the takeaway stalls, but you can also find artisanal cheese shops and organic eateries.
Le Marais has a huge concentration of art galleries and museums. Search for the street art, corner after corner, and don’t be afraid to stop and pay a visit the to the numerous independent galleries. Among the more famous museums, don’t miss Musée Picasso and Musée Carnavalet. The latter will uncover all about the history of Paris, but be aware it’s all in French.
Need a break? You will probably do, at some point. Unwind and chill in quite arguably the most beautiful square in Paris, Place des Vosges. Lay down on the park in the middle and observe the architecture of the buildings surrounding you. But watch out for signs reading pelouse en repos, the lawn is resting!
Le Marais by night
Asking where the party is? But in the Marais, bien sûre! Whether you are looking for the trendiest bar or a café where you can sip a drink surrounded by books until late (La Belle Hortense), expect nothing but a choice for everyone’s taste.
Immerse yourself in the local spirit by stopping at Chez Marianne for dinner and enjoy Marianne’s delicious middle-eastern small dishes (great choice of veggie plates). For a more regional experience, look no farther than Breizh Café, where you will find the best Breton crêpe.
Le Marais by night is not just the hotspot for the gay nightlife scene, but also for anyone looking for amazing cocktails, unusual venues and friendly crowds. It’s up to you how you make the most of it. Our suggestion? Do it like the Parisians do it: drink in hand, join the crowds on one of the many popular terraces and put your French to test with your neighbour.
Alessia is co-founder and CEO here at Grumgo.
She is a travel fanatic, expert food taster and collector of every edition of The Little Prince.