The last time I visited Paris I was invited to see a film about an American journalist (Kristin Scott Thomas) who was investigating the 1942 Vel’d’Hiv’ Roundup of Jewish families in Paris. I had a free day with nothing scheduled so I decided to visit Le Marais Paris, the former Jewish area feature in the film.
A former marshland swamp on the Right Bank of the Seine, Le Marais is one of Paris’ trendiest quarters.
Spending the day in the 3rd and 4th arrondissement opened my eyes to a whole different aspect of Paris away from the tourist clichés of the popular landmarks in France, such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph and Notre-Dame.
A walking tour of Le Marais is the perfect way to explore with friends. Looking for inspiration? Here are some travel with friends quotes to inspire your next trip.
- Le Marais Walking Tour
- Le Marais Pletzi
- Le Marais Walking Tour – Mansions and Museums
- Le Marais Shopping
- Le Marais Walking Tour Tips
Le Marais Walking Tour
A walking tour of Le Marais is a great way to explore at any time of the year and it’s especially enjoyable as an autumn weekend in Paris, when the leaves are golden and there’s a slight chill in the air.
I easily filled my day admiring the architecture, hunting out gems of Jewish history, eating pastries, trying on shoes and clothes in hip boutiques and peeking into gay bars.
One of the highlights is discovering the Jewish history of Le Marais in the Le Marais Pletzi area, Yiddish for “little place”.
It’s one of the most interesting places to pick on your map of Paris arrondissements.
If you enjoy wandering and getting lost in Paris, Le Marais is the perfect place to do it as it’s full of surprises.
Le Marais Pletzi
A man in the black fedora with a flowing beard walked past the lunchtime queue outside L’As du Fallafel.
L’As du Fallafel
“Come and try the best falafel in Paris,” said the dark-haired boy as he pushed a paper menu in my hand.
Glancing at the leaflet I discovered it was a photocopy of a review published in the travel section of the New York Times.
People stood outside the eatery on the cobblestone street with bits of falafel spilling out of their paper wrappings.
With the help of the New York Times, the tiny shop on rue des Rosiers, located in the heart of what was once Paris’ Jewish neighbourhood, was doing a roaring trade.
Sacha Finkelstein’s Jewish Bakery
I follow the man in the black fedora further down the street into Sacha Finkelstein’s Jewish bakery where freshly baked Jewish pastries such as challah (Jewish bread), cinnamon chocolate babka and mazurka pastries were going out the door like hotcakes.
Izrael Epicerie du Monde
Izrael Epicerie du Monde (spice shop of the world) has shelves crammed with spices, jars of oil from around the globe, beans from Mexico and pickled herring from Scandinavia.
On occasion, you can even buy vegemite here.
Memorial de la Shoah
The main Jewish landmark is the Memorial de la Shoah and documentation centre, which has a collection of documents and an exhibition on the Holocaust.
The Jewish influence in the neighbourhood extends to one of Paris’ darker eras between 1942 and 1944 when 76,000 Jewish people were forcibly removed from France as part of the Nazi plan to rid Europe of the Jewish.
11,000 were children.
Most were assassinated in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps and only about 2,500 people survived.
It may be an era the French would prefer to forget but the memorials and plaques subtly dotted among hip Le Marais’ hip boutiques are a constant reminder.
Le Marais Walking Tour – Mansions and Museums
I found myself constantly stopping to admire grand mansions and peering at carvings and statues.
The neighbourhood has retained most of its pre-Revolution architecture and is home to several ancient piles including the oldest house in Paris, the 13th-century house at 3 rue Volta.
Cardinal Richelieu, Victor Hugo and the mistresses of French kings once called the area home.
The Duke of Orleans was assassinated here by his brother King Charles VI for sleeping with his wife.
Place des Vosges
Henri IV built Place des Vosges in 1612 and turned the area into a fashionable residential district for aristocrats who flocked here to build luxurious mansions known as “hotels particuliers”.
It’s the oldest public square in Paris and was built after Hôtel de Tournelles, the former palace of Henri II and Catherine de Medici was demolished.
Today, Place des Vosges is a favourite spot for locals to hang out in the green public space or in the restaurants, cafes and boutiques.
Hotel de Ville
The most famous “hotel particuliers” is the neo-Renaissance Hotel de Ville, which has an ornate façade decorated with 108 statues of notable Parisians but many other “hotel particuliers” are not as obvious.
The 14th-century building was reconstructed in the 19th-century.
The area looks across the Seine to the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her execution.
Hotel de Ville is at Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, 75004 Paris, France.
Hotel de Beauvais
After checking my bag, a security guard allowed me to enter the gated courtyard of Hotel de Beauvais, which houses government offices.
The grand mansion was a gift from Louis XIV to Catherine Bellier, lady-in-waiting to Anne of Austria.
Mozart lived here in 1763.
Hotel de Beauvais is at 68 Rue François Miron, 75004 Paris, France.
The museums in Le Marais are more than just a backup plan for a rainy day.
Hotel de Sens and Bibliothèque Forney
The building has lovely gardens and is a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the sunshine.
The cannonball lodged in the side of the building is a relic of the French Revolution and the Bibliothèque Forney, a decorative arts library, is worth visiting.
Hotel de Sens is at 1 Rue du Figuier, 75004 Paris, France.
Worth visiting are Musee Carnavalet, which displays the history of Paris in its 140 rooms, Musee des Arts et Metiers, the oldest science and technology museum in Europe, and Musee d’art et d’histoire du Judaisme, on Jewish history.
Musee Carnavalet is at 16 Rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75003 Paris, France
Maison de Victor Hugo
In a corner of the square is the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo’s former home at Hotel de Rohan-Guemenee.
It’s now Maison de Victor Hugo, a museum on the life of Victor Hugo.
Maison Victor Hugo is at 6 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris, France
Église Saint Paul Saint Louis
Église Saint Paul Saint Louis is a 17th-century church commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu.
The church combines Frenc Gothic and classic French architecture.
Église Saint Paul Saint Louis is at 99 Rue St. Antoine, 75004 Paris, France.
Looking for a boutique hotel in Paris? Check into Oscar Wilde’s room at L’Hotel Paris.
Le Marais Shopping
In Le Marais, the narrow streets are lined with cutting-edge fashion stores and home-design boutiques, with cool brands sold only in France.
Most shops are open on Sundays when shops in other parts of Paris are closed.
When Victor Hugo wrote: “As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled” he could have been referring to Le Marais in 2010.
After WWII, aristocratic mansions became warehouses that now house trendy bars, cafes and galleries.
Now, the covered walkways of Place des Vosges are a treasure trove of art galleries with colourful contemporary art hanging in the windows.
Here are some shop, galleries and boutiques to explore.
Gallery Emmanuel Perrotin
One of the best galleries in Paris is located in Le Marais, Gallery Emmanuel Perrotin on rue Turenne.
My guide is American expat, Richard Nahem, an event planner from New York City who moved to Paris five years ago.
Nahem’s tour evolved out of a demand from family and friends who eagerly came to visit, offering a peek into Nahem’s local neighbourhood with a friend.
Josephine Vannier Chocolate Shop
We visit Josephine Vannier, a chocolate shop with chocolates sculpted to resemble champagne bottles and high-heeled shoes.
The store has creative displays and runs chocolate-themed events.
Josephine Vannier is at 4 Rue du Pas de la Mule, 75003 Paris, France.
A stop at a button shop is followed by a visit to Dammann, where three generations of the Dammann family has been selling tea since 1925.
The shop is a sleek contemporary tea library with designer décor and floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked with tea tins.
Dammann Freres is at 15 Place des Vosges, 75004 Paris, France.
There are several Carette stores in Paris but the one in Place des Vosges is particularly charming.
Sipping on a hot chocolate while nibbling on a delicious macaron is treat to enjoy on a Le Marais walking tour.
I discover avant-garde fashion shops like Fashion L’Eclaireur, which has a space-age interior with tv screens installed to portray light and visual movement.
Clothes and accessories hang behind electronic sliding doors.
Other fashion gems are La Piscine, a designer outlet store offers 70% off retail prices.
Le Marais Walking Tour Tips
- Start early as Le Marais can get crowded at lunchtime, especially in summer.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes with a soft sole as the cobblestone lanes can be hard on the feet.
- Make sure to pack extra batteries for your camera or smartphone as Le Marais is very photogenic and you will want to take lots of photos.
- If you’re visiting Paris for the first time it’s a good idea to learn a few French words and have a big smile when talking to the locals.