Cobbled lanes, medieval abodes, and some incredible foodie spots: if there’s one Parisian district that has it all, it must be Le Marais. Here’s an insider’s guide to the best things to do in Le Marais; including where to stay, what you should eat, and where to visit in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris.
Considering that Le Marais, (literal translation: the swamp), began life as a swampy mass of land not far from Île de la Cité, it can be hard to envisage how it ever became the trendiest neighbourhood in Paris. However, any misconception you may have had of the place soon fall away as you step foot in the district. Because stepping into Le Marais is like stepping back in history…
A very brief history of Le Marais Neighbourhood
Spared from the extensive renovations undertaken by Haussmann in the 1800s that saw much of the previous Parisian architecture bulldozed (this is why a lot of Paris looks the same), the maze of narrow cobbled streets that form Le Marais have managed to maintain their medieval vibe (thankfully without the medieval plumbing).
Spanning much of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, on the rive droite (right bank) of the Seine, Le Marais was originally dried out and cultivated in order to grow produce by the abbeys in the surrounding area. In the 14th century, Charles V left his original palace and took up residence in various newly built Hôtels (mansions) in Le Marais, thus rendering the district a royal one.
Nevertheless, this only lasted until the 16th century, whereupon the accidental death of Henri II in a jousting accident, the Royal Family moved back to the Louvre. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the super wealthy moved into the up and coming Marais, desperate to escape from the hustle, bustle, noise and filth of the inner city.
More and more Hôtels were built, each more extravagant than the last and were closer to resembling palaces than family homes. Today, Le Marais is the place to find chic eats and treats, boutique hotels, vintage clothing and all manner of antiques. For the history buffs, there are also plenty of museums, and if you want to see the arrondissement at your own pace, be sure to take this free and self-guided walking tour.
Best things to do in Le Marais
Stroll around Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris, France
Originally known as Place Royale, no visit to Le Marais would be complete without a visit to Place des Vosges. Built in the early 1600s, the earliest planned square in the city is enclosed by red brick houses and arcades of shops, bars and restaurants. Many a famous French people have lived here; including Cardinal Richelieu and Victor Hugo.
Visit Hôtel de Sully, 62 Rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris, France
Complete with gardens and an orangery, the Hôtel was built between 1625 and 1630, having been commissioned by wealthy financier Mesme Gallet. Constructed with the view to giving access on to Place des Vosges, today it is used as the headquarters for the management and preservation of historic buildings and monuments in France. There is a small souvenir shop on the ground floor and it is possible to meander through the gardens.
Explore the little Streets, throughout Le Marais
The roads are littered with tiny independent boutiques, cute cafés, bars and shops selling a mass of luxury goods ranging from Roman glass to limited edition prints to gelato. It’s possible to spend an entire day meandering through the little side streets, walkways and arcades that form Le Marais.
Maison de Victor Hugo, 6 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris, France
Author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo lived at #6 from 1832-1849 before his exile to Jersey and Guernsey in 1851 (due to his staunch support for Napoleon I). Hugo’s ashes are now interred in the Paris Pantheon. Although temporary exhibitions are charged, the house museum itself is free and well worth a look inside! After all, it’s easily one of the best small museums in Paris.
Admire the Hôtel de Ville de Paris, 5 Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris, France
Although the interior of this building cannot be visited, the neo-renaissance exterior is impressive to see nonetheless. Located within a stone’s throw of the Seine, in the winter an ice rink is placed in the square lying adjacent to the building, whilst in the summer open-air concerts take place here. The Hôtel de Ville is also home to one of the prettiest carousels in Paris.
For the best aerial view of the building, Le Perchoir Marais offers unparalleled views of Hotel de Ville and serves delicious cocktails all night long in the summertime. When it comes to spring in Paris, you’ll also want to visit the Hotel de Ville as it’s one of the best locations to spot the magnolia in Paris.
Visit Eglise Saint Paul Saint Louis, 99 Rue Saint-Antoine, 75004 Paris, France
Having been commissioned by Louis XIII himself, the church of Saint Paul and Saint Louis was built in 1641. He even went so far as to lay the first stone for the Jesuit church. Apart from its stunning architecture, throughout the years, it has undergone major changes in function.
From its roots as a religious place of worship throughout the 17th Century, during the French revolution, it was utilised by the Cult of Reason, an atheist organisation. When the organisation was banned in 1803, the church was returned to Catholicism.
Shop at Le Village Saint-Paul, Rue Saint-Paul, 75004 Paris, France
Located just behind the charming church of Eglise Saint Paul Saint Louis, you’ll find it. A little maze of cobbled roads and back passages that form an intricate set of antique houses and vintage stores. Village Saint-Paul is easily one of the hidden gems of Le Marais, and well worth a look if you’re interested in antique goods, or are looking to pick up a unique souvenir from your time in Paris.
Marvel at Pep’s Umbrella Repair Shop, Passage de l’Ancre, 75003 Paris, France
If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-tourist-track Paris, then you simply need to head to the oldest secret passageway in the city, Passage de l’Ancre. All leafy façades and cobbled lane, the street is mostly residential. However, in the midst of it all, you’ll find the oldest umbrella repair shop in Paris, Pep’s.
Shop at Le BHV, 52 Rue de Rivoli, 75004 Paris, France
Often hailed as one of the only stores in the centre of Paris to sell everything from pillow covers to light fittings to vintage clothing, the BHV (Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville) department store has been open since 1856. On the 5th floor, there is a sushi bar, Starbuck’s café and cafeteria.
The story goes that the founder, Xavier Ruel, had just enough money to set up a small shop named ‘Bazar Parisian’ when he moved to Paris in 1852. One day, Napoleon III’s wife, Eugenie was passing in front of his store when her horses were suddenly spooked (we don’t know what by). Ruel saved her life and was rewarded with an undisclosed sum of money (pretty convenient that all these details are unclear).
She gave him so much money that he was able to set up the larger store that has grown on to become BHV. Whatever the actual origins of the store were, it is clear that Ruel was a great entrepreneur. He invested in unheard of advertisements and offered promotional deals and fixed rates to undercut his competitors.
Where to eat and drink in Le Marais
Whether you’re looking for a vegan meal, the chance to sample a French treat, or simply looking for a chic bar in which to enjoy happy hour, Le Marais offers all of this and more. Here’s your ultimate guide on where to eat and drink in Le Marais.
L’As Du Fallafel, 32-34 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France
Situated along the ever-so-pretty Rue des Rosiers, head to L’As du Fallafel for the very best falafel in Paris. It’s hard to miss this busy store as there’s almost always a fairly long queue of people wishing to purchase the tasty sandwiches. However, I promise you that the food is worth the wait and makes for a particularly tasty meal (or snack!)
Carette, 25 Place des Vosges, 75003 Paris, France
For the very best macarons in Paris, you simply must head to Carrette. One of their stores can be found in Place des Vosges and once there, you’ll soon discover a delightful selection of sweet treats, all worth tasting! Among some of the best flavours of macarons are salted caramel and strawberry.
HANK Burger, 55 Rue des Archives, 75003 Paris, France
Over the past few years, the vegan and vegetarian scene in Paris has simply exploded, with incredible new meat-free hotspots springing up on a regular basis. Among some of the best places to eat vegan in Paris is HANK Burger (HANK meaning ‘have a nice karma’).
Enjoy a coffee at The Broken Arm, 12 Rue Perrée, 75003 Paris, France
Looking for a place where you can shop and stop to eat cake simultaneously? Well, the Broken Arm Concept Store in the heart of Le Marais, close to the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement, is home to a great coffee shop selling delicious brews. Open from Tuesday through to Saturday, the café offers indoor and outdoor seating while serving a variety of homemade cakes, sandwiches, salads, and soups.
Where to stay in Le Marais
Thanks to its central location (i.e. close to the banks of the River Seine) and wealth of attractions in the area, during your stay in Paris, you’d be hard pressed to find a better arrondissement to make your base. Here’s your guide to the best places to stay in Le Marais (based on location and online reviews).
Hôtel Duo: Beautiful and situated in the historic centre of Le Marais, this four-star hotel is well-reviewed and can be found in the 4th arrondissement. Offering free Wi-Fi, on-site you’ll also find a bar, sauna, and fitness area. Check prices and availability here.
Le Pavillon de la Reine: For a true taste of luxury during your stay in Le Marais be sure to check yourself into Le Pavillon de la Reine. Situated in the heart of the district, this five-star hotel is covered in ivy during the summer and can be found in Place des Vosges. Check prices and availability here.
Guided tours of Le Marais
From vintage-inspired photo walks to exploring Paris on a Citroen 2 CV, there’s no shortage of activities in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement of the city. And so, if you’re looking for a guided tour of Le Marais, then here are some of the best suggestions in the area:
Le Marais Street Art: 2-Hour Polaroid Photo Tour: This two-hour photo walk is all about discovering some of the best art in Le Marais. Vintage-inspired, en-route you’ll have the chance to snap photos with a Polaroid camera. Check prices and availability here.
Entrance to the Pompidou Centre: Truth be told one of the quirkiest buildings in Le Marais is the Georges Pompidou Centre. A museum dedicated to modern art, it’s here where you’ll find the likes of Bracques, Picasso, and the like, all in one place. Check prices and availability here.
Gourmet Marais 3-Hour Food Tour: For those who are looking to experience Paris through a culinary perspective, this 3-hour food tour of the area provides the perfect inside into the best gastronomic experiences the district has to offer. Check prices and availability here.
Charming Nooks and Crannies Bike Tour: If you prefer to cycle around the city rather than exploring on foot or via public transport, then be sure to book this cycling tour. Encompassing the Latin Quarter, Le Marais, and Saint Germain dés Pres, the tour lasts for three hours. Check prices and availability here.
2-Hour Vintage 2CV Tour: A couple of years ago, I explored Paris in a 2CV for the first time and couldn’t recommend it more. This tour will take you along the wide boulevards, as well as hidden corners of the city, including several spots in Le Marais. Check prices and availability here.
How to get around Le Marais
The best way to explore the 3rd and 4th arrondissements is on your own two feet. After all, the easiest way to stumble upon a hidden gem or Parisian treasure is by wandering around, seeing where your feet lead you. Truth be told, you won’t want to rent a car in Paris. This is especially true considering how good the public transport system is!
The 29, 75, and 96 buses all make several stops in the heart of the Parisian arrondissement, while plenty of metro stops can be found scattered across the district. When leaving the metro at Arts et Metiers, take a minute to visit the 11th line of the metro underground station. It’s here where you’ll find a steampunk Jules Verne inspired waiting area!
What to pack for Paris
Comfortable shoes: When visiting any European capital city, comfortable shoes are a must. And Le Marais arrondissement of Paris is no exception. Be sure to leave your high heels at home as there are plenty of cobbled streets. I personally recommend these shoes as they go well with both jeans and dresses. I would also add that any kind of tennis shoes, i.e. ones like these, are really practical for wandering around the city.
A Paris guidebook: If you want to go truly old-school when exploring Le Marais (and I highly recommend you do), then be sure to bring along a Parisian guidebook to the best of the city. I personally recommend this one.
A travel adaptor: Paris, like much of mainland Europe, uses type C and E. This means that if you’re travelling from the US, Canada, the UK, and many other countries, then you’ll need to purchase a travel adaptor. This all in one adaptor contains USB ports and works with several different plugs.