If you’re in search of the Paris of yesteryear, then you simply must head to Le Marais, a former swampy marshland which once lay outside the city perimeters. Located on the Right Bank of the Seine and encompassing much of the area covering the 3e and 4e arrondissements of the city, you can’t go wrong by dedicating a few hours getting to know this chic Parisian district. Here’s a free and self-guided Le Marais walking tour of medieval Paris and arrondissement highlights.
Le Marais Walking Tour: Practical Advice, Tricks, and Tips
If you’re looking to partake in this self-guided Le Marais walking tour, then I highly recommend starting earlier in the day when the light is better and the crowds are fewer. The chic arrondissements of the 3e and 4e are ever popular with tourists and locals alike and can get pretty busy- especially in the summer months!
Make sure to take your camera long and wear sensible footwear. The cobbled lanes may be pretty, but I can tell you from experience that they’re hard to walk on when you get blisters or are wearing heels! The best places to eat along the way include picking up picnic supplies and enjoying a Parisian picnic in Place des Vosges, heading to one of the best vegan restaurants in the city (Hank Vegan Burger) or splurging on some French Sweets at Carette.
Walking Time: 54 minutes
Distance Covered: 4.2 km
Hotel de Ville
This walk starts in the very heart of the city, at the main Parisian town hall to be precise! First built in the 14th-century, there have been various expansions to the building over the years, as well as a near complete reconstruction of the Hôtel de Ville in the late 19th-century.
Once in the square, you’ll find that there are plenty of other things to see nearby; including views over the Seine and across the water to the Conciergerie, the place where Marie Antoinette was held prior to her execution during the French Revolution.
Some of the oldest houses in Paris (11-13 Rue François Miron)
For centuries, plenty of Parisians believed the timber-framed houses of 11-13 Rue François Miron to be the site of some of the oldest houses in Paris. However, subsequent research proved this theory incorrect, and the oldest house in the city is actually that which once belonged to Nicolas Flamel (yes, that guy from Harry Potter was a real person and he once lived in Paris)! Today, the buildings serve as the headquarter’s of a libertine’s club.
Hotel de Sens & Bibliothèque Forney
Located in the 4e arrondissement of the city and pretty close by to the Seine, the Hôtel de Sens is also known as Hôtel des archevêques de Sens and was once built to house the archbishops of Sens, a pretty town less than an hour’s drive North of Paris.
Today, the exterior of the building is home to a beautifully manicured garden which makes for the perfect spot to sit and read a book. While in the garden, make sure to look up as you’ll spot a canon ball lodged in the side of the building, a leftover relic from the French Revolution. To the inside of the building, there’s a Bibliothèque Forney, a public library specialising in the decorative arts.
Le Village Saint Paul
If you fancy doing a spot of vintage shopping while wandering around Le Marais, then you simply must head to Village Saint Paul. This small pocket of Paris feels like a tiny French village in its own right and merits a visit on any trip to the city. Once there, you’ll find a maze of lanes, alleys and covered passageways; all filled with small vintage stores and antique stores.
Église Saint Paul Saint Louis
The 17th-century church of Église Saint Paul Saint Louis was first commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu (yep, you know that guy from the Three Musketeers), although a church has been on site since at least the 12th-century, perhaps earlier. The beautiful church is open on a daily basis and is a great example of classic French architecture combined with French Gothic.
Place des Vosges
The oldest public square in Paris can be found in the form of Place des Vosges, a beautiful green space that’s perfect for soaking up some sun during the summer months. The square was first constructed following the demolition of Hôtel de Tournelles, the former palace of Catherine de Medici and her husband, King of France Henri II.
Sadly, Henri was fatally injured during a jousting tournament and in her grief, Catherine de Medici removed the royals from the area, and relocated them to what is now the Louvre Museum. Today, Place des Vosges is home to several covered arcades featuring various restaurants, boutiques and coffee shops. The green space in the centre of the square is free to visit and is where all the locals come to hang out…
For the best macarons in Paris, you simply must head to Carette, a pretty location in the heart of Place des Vosges. Though the sweet shop has several locations across Paris, there is no better place to sip on a chocolat chaud en terrace in the winter months, or nibble on a cool French treat during the summer.
Maison Victor Hugo
Writer of famous French novels such as Les Miserables and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo once lived at Number 6 Place des Vosges. There he resided until his exile by Napoleon. Today, the writer’s former home is a small, free museum dedicated to Victor Hugo and offering breathtaking views of the public square.
Although temporarily closed for the beginning of 2018 so that some essential restorations can be undertaken, the Musée Carnavalet is easily one of the best musuems in the city. Dedicated to documenting the history of Le Marais; from swampy marsh to church land to the chic area of Paris it is today, once inside you can learn all about French history.
Hank Vegan Burger
The best lunch spot in Le Marais (particularly if you’re a non-meat eater like me) is that of Hank Vegan Burger. On the menu, you’ll find plenty of delicious veggie eats; in total, there are four burgers to choose from and ‘Le Touriste’ specialty means that there’s always something new to try each time you visit. For an extra fee, burgers are served with a side of fries and an ever delicious organic cola.
Musée des Arts et Metiers
This Le Marais walking tour ends at the Musée des Arts et Metiers, a stunning cultural hub dedicated to all things related to industrial design. The nearby metro station of the same name, Arts et Metiers, is a nod to the steampunk world of Jules Verne and is also well worth a quick peek!