- December 7, 2018
- All things Paris
- Rupert Comer
Perhaps no other neighbourhood in Paris has a history as intriguing as the Marais. This charming pocket straddling the 4th and 3rd arrondissements largely survived Haussmann’s renovation of Paris and so keeps its narrow, cobbled, winding streets. Many centuries ago it was swampland (“marais” meaning swamp in French), but from the mid-14th century transformed into the prime location for France’s aristocracy, after King Charles V built his mansion there. The nobility were chased from the area following the Revolution and so the Marais became the home of Paris’ main Jewish community who called it the “Pletzl”. Nowadays, there are still plenty of Jewish bakeries around, as well as a strong LGBT community (note the rainbow-coloured zebra crossings). With its wealth of falafel vendors, thrift shops and museums, the Marais has plenty to offer; take a look at our top picks below.
Rue de la Verrerie - Le Marais thrift stores, or friperies
What you might call a “thrift shop” or “vintage store” the Parisians refer to as a “friperie”. The Marais, and specifically Rue de la Verrerie, is full of them, and is your prime destination if you’re looking to buy secondhand clothes. FREE’P’STAR has two stores along this road (and another elsewhere in the Marais) and there are also a couple of kilo shops, where clothes are colour-coded and priced by weight. Best to avoid busy periods as many of the shops are small and crammed full of rails.
Copyright Laetitia Piccarreta
See a show at the cavernous Théâtre Essaïon
Théâtre Essaïon is a small and intimate theatre in the heart of the Marais. The auditorium occupies an old medieval vaulted cave, whose stone walls and curved ceiling transport its audience into the past. Classic shows play here frequently and are often accessible to English-speaking audiences. Currently Valjean, beyond Les Misérables is playing (until January 18th 2019), a one-man show in English, telling the story of Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s famous Les Misérables. The perfect opportunity for fans of the book-turned-musical-turned-film to learn more about this iconic character, tickets can be found here.
The Best Falafel Wraps in Paris
Within the Jewish quarter in the Marais the streets are lined with shops selling falafel wraps, and the competition and rivalry runs deep. L’As du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers has long been considered the best, and is even said to be a favourite of rock musician Lenny Kravitz. The downside is that you can expect huge queues running outside the shop during peak periods. If you’re not that patient then head across the road to Mi-Va-Mi to get your falafel fix, where the difference in quality is negligible.
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme
France’s biggest museum dedicated to Jewish culture, the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme organises exhibitions, talks and film screenings, and is also home to a huge bookshop and media library. Located in the impressive Hôtel de Saint-Aignan, exhibitions celebrate both well-known and underappreciated Jewish artists and cultural figures. For example, the museum has in the past explored artist Marc Chagall, and intellectual Sigmund Freud.
Grab some international cuisine at the Marché des Enfants Rouges
The Marché des Enfants Rouges is the oldest covered market in Paris, dating back to 1628. Its name translates in English to “Market of the Red Children”, in reference to a nearby hospice where orphans wore red clothes. Alongside excellent produce typical of most markets in the capital, you can stop here to eat brunch at the Italian deli or Japanese snack bar. The market is also a great place to try some typical North African couscous to accompany a stew or tagine.
Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Inside the Hôtel Henault de Cantobre can be found the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, one of the best contemporary photography galleries in Europe. As well as temporary exhibitions, the museum offers film screenings, talks and photography workshops for young people. There is currently a JR exhibition on display (until February 2019), the first by this Parisian artist within a French gallery. Combining street art and photography, JR is known for plastering significant buildings and monuments with his anonymous portraits.
Copyright Julien Bourgeois
The only cultural centre of its kind outside of Sweden, the Institut Suédois celebrates all things Swedish within the striking building and gardens of the Hôtel de Marle. A café serves Swedish cakes and treats and a permanent exhibition reflects Franco-Swedish relations over the past few centuries. The courtyard and garden are also open to the public and in the past have been the site of an open-air cinema as well as a summer library.
Place des Vosges
Originally known as Place Royale, this square was renamed by Napoleon in honour of the Vosges department, which was the first to pay the taxes imposed to finance the revolutionary army. Surrounding the beautiful park are rows of red brick buildings and archways where you can find art galleries and shops. There is also the Maison de Victor Hugo. Now a museum, France’s most famous author lived here in the past, and wrote a large portion of Les Misérables within its walls.
Rue des Rosiers - Jewish Bakeries
Along Rue des Rosiers and the surrounding area is the “Pletzl”, or the Jewish quarter of the Marais. Many of the aforementioned falafel places can be found along this cobbled street, but as well as these there are also plenty of Jewish bakeries and patisseries. The two most famous are Murciano and Sacha Finkelsztajn, where you can taste the best strudels, pavés and blinis of the capital.
The Musée Picasso has one of the best Picasso collections in the world, showcasing the artist's entire career through paintings, sculptures, engravings and illustrations. The museum came to be through various donations from Picasso’s heirs and family to the French state. It takes up the beautiful Hôtel Salé towards the north of the Marais, the site being chosen for the museum after contentious debate and a competition. Presenting Picasso’s work chronologically, the museum also displays work by cartoonists who mocked the artist, and temporary exhibitions take place on the second floor.
An adorable Parisian treat at Popelini bakery
A local alternative to fancy macaroons, this place serves one thing only, and they do it well. The small cream-filled pastries by Popelini are a delight and a local favorite, the best thing to bring to a Parisian dinner party. Popelini treats come in a whole slew of decadent flavors from passion fruit to praline, and adorable packaging to match. With 2 locations right in the heart of the Marais, and another 2 throughout Paris, this truly is a Parisian treasure, see what flavours they have today!
That’s all in our collection of must-see locations in Paris' Le Marais neighbourhood. Care to explore some more Parisian areas? Check out our Paris Neighbourhood Guide series: