One of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in Paris, Le Marais is fascinating to explore. Rebecca Rhys-Evans reveals the local favourites in this contemporary cultural district
American writer Henry Miller once said that ‘to know Paris is to know a great deal.’ We think that to know Paris is to know your way around Le Marais, the city’s cultural hub and one of its most on-trend neighbourhoods. Encompassing both the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, and located on the city’s Right Bank, Le Marais is home to cool concept stores and hip restaurants, very much like New York’s Greenwich Village or London’s Shoreditch. A melting pot of different cultures, with galleries, museums, kosher bakeries and LGBT-friendly bars and bookshops, Le Marais is also one of Paris’s most historic districts and contains numerous buildings of architectural importance. Whether this is your first or your 51st visit to Paris, there’s always something new to discover. Away from the leading landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tour, Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur, there’s so much more to Paris if you venture off the beaten track and do Paris like a local.
Le Marais is home to cool concept stores and hip restaurants – the Parisian version of New York’s Greenwich Village or London’s Shoreditch
Often referred to as Old Paris, Le Marais has an old-world charm that contrasts with the young and contemporary crowd it attracts. Cobbled streets, hidden courtyards and leafy alleyways give the picturesque area a village-like feel. For those in Paris to shop, Le Marais has a great selection of vintage and designer boutiques offering fashion for all budgets. Merci is one of the area’s most-loved concept stores and showcases a superb edit of clothing, accessories, homeware, stationery, vintage fashion and gifts. If you fancy a quick bite, head next door to the Used Book Café, Merci’s undeniably trendy eatery, where the walls are lined with 10,000 books.
The area offers boutiques from international brands including APC, Paul & Joe and streetwear favourite Études, but, on the whole, independents rule here. The two main streets to browse are rue des Francs-Bourgeois and rue des Rosiers, and don’t be afraid to take detours to discover some hidden gems on side streets and walkways. For designer labels, there’s a good range of concept stores, with highlights including The Broken Arm, Tom Greyhound and uber-cool womenswear boutique The Frankie Shop, which stocks designers such as Rachel Comey, LOQ and Ganni alongside hard-to-find labels from Australia, Korea and beyond.
Another major attraction for visitors to France is, of course, the food. Not only can you get fantastic French steak and coq au vin, there’s also no beating the calibre of Middle Eastern food in Le Marais. L’As du Fallafel on rue des Rosiers is one of the district’s most popular casual eateries for a generously filled pita sandwich, as well as Miznon, another authentic lunch spot that originally hails from Tel Aviv. If Japanese delicacies are your thing, Soma has successfully bridged the gap between traditional Japanese food and haute cuisine.
Marché des Enfants Rouge is Paris’s oldest covered market and boasts some spectacular international food stalls as well as fresh vegetables, bread and flowers. If you need to refuel during your day of shopping and are in need of a pick-me-up, Wild & The Moon is the perfect place to stop. The juice bar offers nutritious snacks and healthy sweet treats, and we challenge you to find a better matcha latte in the city.
If you have come to Paris for traditional French food, La Maison Plisson’s menu has all the classic dishes you would expect, made with seasonal ingredients. Order a glass of wine, or why not order a bottle – you are in Paris, after all! The stylish outside seating area is ideal for an afternoon of people watching and, once you’ve finished, head inside to the superb store, which features deli-style food, an in-house butcher and a boulangerie – an artisan supermarket that is a haven for hipsters. Although making dinner reservations in Paris is always recommended, Le Marais is perfect for those looking to wander around the area, browsing the menus of the many pretty eateries before deciding where to eat.
After lunch, head to one of the many galleries in the neighbourhood, including the unmissable Musée Picasso Paris. Housed in a stunning mid-17th-century building, this is one of the largest collections of Picasso’s work in the world, with over 5,000 paintings, sculptures and drawings. If you’re a photography lover, check out what’s on at Maison Européene de la Photographie, which hosts a wide range of photography exhibitions from up-and-coming photographers and legends of the genre.
Paris can be scorching in the summer, so if you’re visiting during the height of the warmer months, seek out some shade in the leafy place des Vosges, one of the most famous gardens in the area. Jardin Anne-Frank is a great alternative for those looking for somewhere quieter and, if you forgot to bring a book with you, why not pick one up from one of the city’s most celebrated book stores, Ofr?
A 10-minute walk from the gardens, Le Carreau du Temple is an innovative cultural space for sports, events, fairs, shows and all kinds of community projects. It’s housed in a spectacular 19th-century building, made from cast iron and glass, which is hugely impressive.
Although you’ll be keen to drink in all that Le Marais has to offer by day, be sure to save some energy for a night out. When the restaurants start to close in Paris, the party is far from over. From hidden speakeasies to wild and wonderful gay bars, Le Marais has quite the selection of after-hours haunts to keep you dancing till sunrise. If it’s live music you’re after, Le China is a popular choice, or for cocktails made by mixologists and a lively crowd head to Sherry Butt or La Mary Celeste, which also offers oysters.
Brimming with boutiques to browse, art to appreciate and history to take in, Le Marais should be on everyone’s radar. It’s a must-visit destination in Paris for foodies and the truly fashionable, and exploring the area will unlock a whole new side of this vibrant European capital.