Le Marais, home to bumpy cobblestone streets, inviting courtyards, crooked medieval streets and secret little niches, is what Paris looked like before Napoléon showed up and razed most of the city. Situated within walking distance of several of the city’s amazing attractions, this exciting neighborhood is conveniently located directly northeast of Paris’ two famous islands, the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis. Gentrification has turned Le Marais into one of the city’s most fashionable quarters, and it’s considered by many to be the dining capital of Paris: packed with fashion boutiques and artisanal eateries and pastries shops, wine bars, nightclubs, modern art galleries and chic people, Le Marais is simultaneously packed with old world charm and contemporary sensibilities.
Paris before Napoléon
Le Marais, which translates to “the marsh”, refers to the district’s dawn during the middle ages when this land was, literally, a swamp. Its development began in the 1100s and by 1240 the Knights Templar had made it their home. Its cobbled streets and tiny lanes remain, but eventually Le Marais, prior to the French Revolution, became home to French aristocracy. The area surrounding the Place des Vosges, built by Henry IV during this time, was considered one of the most exclusive places in Paris to live (eventually Victor Hugo would begin penning the historical novel, Les Misérables, here). The medieval charm of Le Marais still exists, in part, because Napoléon considered the Place des Vosges the jewel of Paris. While much of the rest of the city was razed by Baron Haussmann under Napoléon’s direction in order to insert wide avenues and large parks, Le Marais and its baroque appeal was spared. Eventually, the start of World War I also saved the district from the creation of a huge avenue that would have cut right through the neighborhood’s center.
The Jewish Quarter - history and legendary falafel
Le Marais is also home to one of Europe’s most famous Jewish quarters, the Pletzl. In fact, it used to be the continent’s largest Jewish community, and much of that history is still on show today. This area’s delis and bakeries are especially popular, and many head to Le Marais solely to pick up a tasty, mouth-watering falafel from L'As du Fallafel (note that Jewish establishments are generally closed on Saturdays due to the Sabbath. This is also why the area was among the first in Paris to have stores open on Sundays).
Chic boutiques and vintage stores
On Sundays, the district closes its streets to vehicles and opens it to pedestrians — streets are heavily crowded with people, but this puts some of the best Parisian fashion on display. With the shops on offer ranging from exquisite designer boutiques to thrift and vintage stores, one of the funnest things to do in Le Marais is explore these shops and find some of Paris’ most sought-after hidden bargains.
Chinatown in Paris
The northern portion of Le Marais is also home to a significant Chinese community that started growing during World War I when Chinese immigrants came to replace French workers away at war. The neighborhood has grown to several streets of restaurants and merchants now. Many recommend Chez Shen as a cheap, delicious local favorite, with authentic Chinese cuisine and shared tables that will find you rubbing shoulders with local Chinese residents and Parisians in the know. The Chinese New Year parade in Le Marais is considered by many to be one of the most captivating parades in Paris.
Wild & Vibrant Nightlife
Nightlife in Le Marais is renowned for its flamboyant and colorful crowds - you’ll find plenty of funky bars and cabarets, cafés and nightclubs located, mostly, in and near the southwest corner of the neighborhood. Expect lots of wine bars, dance clubs, a focus on modern design, and several venues aimed at Paris’ LGBT community.
Le Marais Attractions
Place des Vosges
Completed in 1605 under the direction of Henry IV, this place is a must-see for both historic and aesthetic reasons. The Place des Vosges, which serves as the dividing line between Le Marais and Bastille, is a true square, measuring 460 feet in both length and width, and has served as the prototype for residential squares throughout Europe. Surrounding the Place are extravagant homes that are still some of Paris’ most prestigious places to live.
One of these former homes, built the same year as the Place itself, is now the Maison de Victor Hugo; the author of Les Miserables lived in a second-floor apartment in this building from 1832 to 1848. The three major phases of his life are replicated here: before, during and after exile.
Dedicated to history of Paris from the time of Lutèce about 2,000 years ago to today, the endless rooms of the Musée Carnavalet house literally hundreds of thousands of archaeological fragments, engravings, paintings, photographs, sculptures, coins, ceramics, and pieces of furniture related to Paris’ history
The museum’s permanent collections and themed exhibitions are free to enjoy. Admission charges generally accompany its temporary exhibits. There are also plenty of inviting shops, bakeries and restaurants in the immediate area.
Musée Picasso – this collection of Picasso’s work is among the world’s most extensive
Le Point Virgule – a great place to see theatrical productions, musicals and stand-up comedy (website in French only)
Le Marché des Enfants Rouges – one of Paris’ oldest covered food markets
St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Church – a gorgeous Gothic church that is one of the city’s oldest
Maison Européenne de la Photographie – an impressive collection of photographic art is here
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature – an intriguing museum dedicated to nature
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme – a museum dedicated to Jewish art and history
Several Métro stations are situated in and along the edges of Le Marais. The most centrally located one is Saint-Paul, which is located along the Rue Saint-Antoine, one of Paris’ major thoroughfares that runs parallel to the Seine. Line 1, Métro’s busiest, stops here and takes passengers along its 10 miles of track to places such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre. Line 1 also connects travelers with other Métro lines as well as a variety of other forms of transportation.
Vacation rentals in Le Marais