Le Marais, Paris – a walking & shopping guide

I enjoy Paris more when I rent an apartment than when I stay in hotels. Not only because it costs less, but because being in my own place allows me to live like Parisians do – buy fresh ingredients at local shops and cook meals at home, or enjoy a fresh baguette for breakfast with the smell of fresh coffee coming from the kitchen…

I guess I’m not alone, judging by the many agencies now specialized in short term rentals in Paris. I’ve tried many, good and bad. I once got such a poorly equipped place, that I had to buy bed linens and a coffee maker. But after trial and error, I now know the reputable agencies, and believe I have eliminated potential disasters.

Having my own place also allows me to explore Paris the way I like – in a relaxed pace, walking, really getting to know a neighborhood. Paris must be seen by foot, and nowhere this is more true than in Le Marais. 

Part of the 4th Arrondissement (4th district), Le Marais is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Paris. With narrow, pedestrian-only streets, and small specialty stores, it’s known worldwide for its charm and uniqueness. The restaurants, boutiques and cafés of the Marais all have a distinctive character; it’s also the gay district of Paris, where all  trends start. Even food looks better there.

Some of the shops in the Marais are so ahead of the pack that they deserve a visit. Like L’Eclaireur, an impressive avant-garde style store-cum-gallery that no self respecting fashion editor could ignore. Places like this are all over, they make sure Paris will remain the fashion capital of the world for a long time.

I rented an apartment in the Marais for the New Year of 2007, and took time to retrace my favorite walking route in the neighborhood. I would start in the morning at ‘my’ apartment, on Rue des Tournelles – just around the corner from excellent Brasserie Bofinger –  and go on to Rue du Pas de la Mule, passing on the way by a small restaurant always full with locals – Bistro de L’Oulette.

Next, I would turn left and go to Café Hugo, on magnificent Place des Vosges. Named after French writer Victor Hugo, who lived next door in what is now a museum with his name, Café Hugo is not famous for its food, but it’s always crowded. Perhaps because even in the winter it’s possible to seat outside, under gas heaters, a great spot to watch people passing.

Place des Vosges is the center of Le Marais

After Café Hugo, I would visit antique shops and art galleries under the arches of Place des Vosges, where all art styles are represented. There is a charming hotel right there, the Pavillion de la Reine, easy to bypass because it’s hidden from the street, but worth a visit.

Moving on to Rue des Francs Bourgeois, leaving Place des Vosges behind, I would pass Rue de Turenne, where I always do serious window shopping. This is an area for chic locals and well-heeled tourists, all sporting the latest fashion styles and the newest iPhones. Lots of Americans visiting in December; no one would suspect that the dollar was so low – $1.44 for one Euro – the weakest it had been in a long time.

I sometimes do a little shopping. For white shirts, I go to Anne Fontaine or Rayure; for the latest in fun designer pieces at reasonable prices there is La Piscine, on 13 rue des Francs-Bourgeois. Last time I bought a nice dress for myself there, but my daughter just had to have it.

I would continued on to Rue des Francs Bourgeois, passing Rue Sevigné, then would turn left on Rue Pavée towards Rue des Rosiers, the heart of Jewish Marais, where the best delis and boulangers (bakeries) are. If you like falafel, look no further. If you are a shoe lover like me, there is Miguel Lobato, on 6 Rue Malher, right beyond Rue des Rosiers. Many elegant Parisian women shop there.

I find Rue des Rosiers one of the most charming in Paris, and love to spend time there. Mid-way through it, there is a deli called Chez Marianne, a perfect spot for a mid-afternoon break. From there I would walk to Rue du Vieille du Temple, home to many gay bars and trendy boutiques. After browsing the shops, I would turn left at Rue du Roi de Sicile. Sometimes I go to a creperie called Page 35, on Rue du Parc Royal. It’s a small place removed from the crowded area of the Marais, but the crepes are excellent and the service very pleasant.

I sometimes alter my route a bit, to explore new niches in the Marais. There is a lot to see: the Carnavalet Museum – on the history of Paris – or  the Picasso Museum, covering his earlier (and my favorite) period – just to name a few. But to see the whole Marais one needs time and curiosity – everything else is right there.

As I never have that much time, I usually return to New York before the end of my “to see” list. Next time, hopefully. The Marais has been there for centuries, it will be there next time for me.


Practical info:

Le Marais, the 3rd arrondissement (district), is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Paris. It’s the heart of the Jewish community and the gay area of the city, full of bars, restaurants and trendy boutiques.

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