Must Do Things in The Marais

For a one-stop shop of all the things you need to do in Paris' historic Marais district, look no further

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Known primarily as being the colourful gay district of Paris, the Marais is the oldest section of the city and is spread across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements.

The 3rd is the Haut Marais (or the upper Marais). It's where King Charles V held court in the 14th century and where, on Rue de Sévigné, French nobility decided to build their extravagant mansions.

The 4th is the lower Marais and contains gallery-upon-gallery as well as portions of Île de la Cité such as Notre Dame.

"You can't escape the past in Paris, and yet what's so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn't seem to burden." - Allen Ginsberg

Le Haut-Marais

Le Haut Marais has grown immensely in the last few years. Celebrities flock there faster than they do the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. It isn't rare to leave your apartment for a groggy morning grocery shop and run into one of French cinema's best talents. Unsurprisingly, because of its attraction, real estate prices have begun to soar.

However many people move to the area, the upper Marais is still a neighbourhood that's charged by its history. If you're staying in the upper Marais, it’s down to you to make your mark.

Place des Vosges: The Places des Vosges is one of the highlights of the Quarter. It's the oldest planned square in the city too. One of Paris's greats, Victor Hugo, lived in one of the red brick buildings that was once a hotel and is now a museum dedicated to his memory.

Address: Place des Vosges (5 minutes from the Chemin Vert métro station)

Maison Européenne de la Photographie: There are several museums around both sections of the Marais. Each one has its own charm and its own function. The MEP is the beating heart of contemporary photography and its mission is to make the art of photography available to all. Previous exhibitions have included the works of Annie Leibovitz, David Hockney, and Irving Penn.

Address: 5/7 Rue de Fourcy

Other spots in the Marais that are worth checking out: Musée Picasso (5 Rue de Thorigny), La Gaîté Lyrique (3bis Rue Papin), Musée Carnavalet (16 Rue des Francs Bourgeois), Musée Cognacq-Jay (8 Rue Elzevir), Maison de Victor Hugo (6 Place des Vosges)

Le Bas-Marais

Also known as the south Marais, the 3rd district is seedier and more artistic. Think of it as the actual Soho to the 4th's Notting Hill. This Marais has larger streets of interesting bistros as well as smaller lanes full of the works. Galleries, hidden fountains, vintage shops, and fetish shops.

This Marais is where the artists live; yet another realm for creatives. One of the best things you can do when staying in the lower part of the Marais is to exist. Find yourself a spot at a backstreet café and people watch while you watch the sky change over the rooftops. Get yourself a glass of wine while you do it. (Or if you're feeling really Parisian, go for the carafe).

The Centre Pompidou: The post-modern building surrounded by sculptures, is known locally as Beaubourg. Designed as a multi-cultural complex to bring all kinds of art into one place, le Musée National d'Art Moderne, which is the biggest museum of modern art in Europe can be found here. It's a must-see for anyone who's into modern art. The centre also hosts debates, exhibitions, concerts, and screenings.

Address: Place Georges-Pompidou

Insider Tip: If you're not feeling particularly "arty", pop inside just to check out the view - some of the best views in Paris can be seen from the top levels

Place Igor Stravinsky: The area around the Stravinsky Fountain is one of our favourite places to people-watch. Tourists can be fascinating and when you're staying as a local, it's nigh on mandatory to observe them. There are plenty of small establishments to choose from that do a set menu and great wine that are open 'til late.

You won't be able to miss the square as it's just around the corner from Centre Pompidou. Enter from rue Renard and you'll see three pieces of art history merge. Beside a church (Église Saint-Merry), a huge stencil piece by street art pioneer Jef Aérosol covers the side of one of the buildings. In front of both is the surrealist fountain itself, which even the locals can't decide on whether it's an eyesore or not. (Hint: it is, and yet…)

Address: 2 Rue Brisemiche

Insider Tip: Seriously, take a seat outside of one of the restaurants while you’re getting lunch and tourist-watch - it's fascinating!

ÎLE DE LA CITÉ

One thing you may not realise before you go to the Marais is how close it is to some of the most iconic of Paris sights. Notre Dame is technically part of the Marais and at a walkable distance to get to the Seine before anyone else in the city wakes up. For a city that is as lit up as Paris, there are times in which you can still see the stars over the warm yellow light on the buildings.

Notre Dame puts on regular classical concerts that are always worth a look. For an incredible value for money, you can hear trained sopranos tackle Handel and Bach or hear music from the era of Louis VIII, all within the confines of this iconic and legendary building. See what's on here.

The best places to eat in Le Marais

The Marais is so full of brilliant choice when it comes to food and drink. It'll be harder to choose where you're going than to find somewhere decent. Happy hours in the Marais seemingly last forever and it sure makes up for some of the late openings. Here are some of our personal (vetted) faves:

Breakfast or Petit Dejeuner

Le Sarah Bernhardt: You'll find this brasserie between the Pont au Change and the Square of Saint-Jacques Tower. It's a quaint, glass-front little place. Breakfast here is incredible value, particularly considering if you sit outside, on a fine day, you can look over and see Notre Dame. (By the way, the escargots are très bon).

Address: 2 Place du Châtelet

Vibe: Cozy and traditional with a fab location

Where to Lunch (or Dejeuner)

Le Renard: Le Renard also do fab cocktails, but it's a great place to pop by for a nice lunch. 3 egg omelette with lots of mustard and frites? Proper French onion soup? Don't mind if we do!

Address: 6 Rue du Renard

Vibe: Atmospheric and informal, giving you the real feel of Paris

La Bise Miche: Competition for better people-watching brasseries may not apply. La Bise Miche is just feet away from the Stravinsky Fountain. Several eateries line the row, but this one does fantastic cheese boards.

Address: 10 Rue Brisemiche (Place Igor Stravinsky)

Vibe: Traditional French cuisine, great wine, and a crazily interesting view…

Evening meal, or Le Dîner

Le Restaurant des Poètes: We won't lie to you, what landed us here was its location in Molière's passage, but we'd never been more thankful to follow our instincts. Sitting outside of this restaurant, surrounded by locals having a good time, will make your day. The wine's good too.

Address: 12 Passage Molière

Vibe: Cozy-casual, with a little chutzpah, quite busy during the after-work hours

La Verre Luisant: Located in a side street and opposite a magic shop (no really), La Verre is one of the best cafés in Paris. With a happy hour that runs until 10pm and free fried potatoes, you couldn't go wrong even if you were trying to.

Address: 64 Rue de la Verrerie

Vibe: Evening to late-night casual, perfect location for people watching

Other cool eateries to check out: Le Komptoir (27 Rue Quincampoix), Bréizh Café (109 Rue Vieille du Temple), Dans le noir ? (51 Rue Quincampoix), Bistrot de l'Oulette (38 Rue des Tournelles)

Gay Bars in Le Marais

As the primary gay district in the city, the Marais is flooded with LGBTQ-friendly establishments. For the LGBTQ traveller, these two districts are the most divine of spots to be yourself in Paris.

LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly restaurants and bars: Le Curieux (12 Rue du Plâtre), Le Petit Prince de Paris (12 Rue de Lanneau), 4 Pat (4 Rue Saint-Merri), Pain Vin Fromage (3 Rue Geoffroy l'Angevin).

Shopping in Le Marais

Le Marais is a vintage shopping heaven. There are many high street staples around the Les Halles area, but it’s the vintage stores and boutiques where the area really shines. Here are a few of our highlights:

ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE

Serge Lutens eat your heart out (or not), Etat Libre d’Orange is a happening new fragrance store in the Marais. Their range of scents are purely and completely Marais and definitely worth a look.

Address: 69 Rue des Archives

SANDRO

If you’ve ever wondered how Parisian women dress so well, Sandro has the answer in being itself. Sandro is high-end fashion for the everyday Parisian girl and is worth a look-see.

Address: 14 Rue Vieille du Temple

FREE’P’STAR

Insider Tip: The place can get crowded and its lack of organisation may frustrate you, so try to go when it first opens

One of the best fripe (vintage) stores in the area, if not the city, Free’p’star is the thrift store for the young Parisian. It’s packed tightly with clothes, which can be a pain if you’re not a thrifter. If you like stumbling upon a €10 Burberry coat, then Free’p’star was made for you.

Address: 61 Rue de la Verrerie

MERCI

Name an item and we guarantee you’ll be able to find a version of what you’re looking for at Merci! Primarily a home decor store, there’s also fashion and two cafés. Make a day to say, “Merci”!

Address: 11 Boulevard Beaumarchais

Insider Tip: When staying in the Marais, don’t hesitate to check out le Marché des Enfants Rouges (39 Rue de Bretagne). This is the oldest covered market in Paris, dating back to the 17th century, and you can pick up the freshest, most amazing of food.

Other honourable mentions: Pretty Box (46 Rue de Saintonge), Mad Vintage (139 Rue Saint-Martin), Isabel Marant (47 Rue de Saintonge), Hod (104 Rue Vieille du Temple), Mamz'Elle Swing (35 bis Rue du Roi de Sicile)

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