You could spend a lifetime exploring Paris — with its wide boulevards and narrow, serpentine streets — and the city would never stop surprising you. From the colorful, bohemian alleys of Montmartre to the luxurious stores and galleries of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, each neighborhood boasts its own character and quirks. But the Marais, which spans the Third and Fourth Arrondissements, is a place where you’ll always long for more time. In fact, you could easily spend your entire time in Paris there.
Historically, the Marais was Paris’ Jewish quarter, and it’s still home to a large Jewish population that has brought with it falafel bars, Judaica shops and kosher boulangeries wafting with the smells of freshly baked challah and rugelach. Today, the Marais has maintained its traditions while becoming one of the trendiest parts of Paris. It’s a place where old-world charm meets contemporary, stylish France: There are Haussmann-style buildings, with their dazzling balconies and handsomely manicured flower boxes, that date back to the French Revolution. Meanwhile, the streets are saturated with natural-wine bars, buzzy bistros, art galleries and high-end boutiques.
In almost every city, there’s that one neighborhood that draws you in and doesn’t let you go: Manhattan’s West Village, with its tree-lined streets and elegant brownstones; London’s Notting Hill, with its Crayola-colored houses and bustling markets; Rome’s Trastevere, with its windy alleyways and vine-draped trattorias. But none hold a candle to the Marais. Here’s how to spend a perfect day in Paris’ most charming neighborhood.
The Hideaway Report-recommended Pavillon de la Reine (28 Place des Vosges) is a charming escape from the energetic city. The hotel occupies a building from the 17th century, and between the ivy-covered courtyard and the oak-beamed ceilings, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve stepped into the French countryside. It’s an excellent place to stay while exploring the Marais.
Once you leave the hotel you’ll find yourself right in the middle of the Place des Vosges, one of the oldest and most beautiful parks in Paris. With charm comes the tourists, though, so for a quieter place to people watch, grab a cappuccino from any café and stroll to the picturesque Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, a cobblestone square surrounded by quaint bistros and historic buildings.
Before a long day of exploring, you’ll need some fuel. Head to Breizh Café (109 Rue Vieille du Temple) for the city’s best buckwheat crêpes. Keep it simple with scrambled eggs and ham or try one of the many adventurous options, like a crêpe topped with runny Comté cheese, seaweed butter, shaved duck breast and a sunny-side-up egg. Of course, any good meal, even breakfast, should end with something sweet, so order the classic banana-and-Nutella dessert crêpe.
Now that you’ve filled your stomach, take your pick from the Marais’ many museums. Three popular attractions nearby are the quirky Centre Pompidou, the haunting Mémorial de la Shoah (Paris’ Holocaust museum) and the grand Musée Picasso. But for something smaller and more manageable, visit the often overlooked Musée Cognacq-Jay (8 Rue Elzévir). Housed in a historic hotel, the museum showcases the private collection of the Parisian family for which it’s named. Entrance is free, and you’ll see everything from paintings by Canaletto and Rembrandt to delicate porcelain dinnerware.
By now, you’re probably itching to do some shopping. Just a short walk from Musée Cognacq-Jay is Merci (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais), one of the city’s most exciting concept shops. Even if you’re trying not to spend a lot of money, it’s enjoyable to walk around and browse the aisles, which are filled with coffee table books, stationery, beautifully packaged soaps, ceramic tableware and clothing by up-and-coming local designers. Also nearby is L’Eclaireur (40 Rue de Sévigné), a high-end concept store with several locations around the city. Serious shoppers will love the exclusive prêt-à-porter clothing by Chloé, Saint Laurent and more. You’ll also find home goods, accessories and handbags.
The Marché des Enfants Rouges is the oldest covered market in Paris, but today it’s a beloved destination for eclectic international fare. Whether or not you’re ready for lunch, it’s an exciting place to wander. Among the dozen or so vendors, look for Chez Taeko, with its bento boxes filled with rice, tempura vegetables and teriyaki chicken, and Chez Alain Miam Miam, where you’ll find baguettes piled high with prosciutto, Comté, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions.
Spend part of the afternoon exploring the Marais art scene, both indoors and outdoors.
If you’re looking for a more traditional, sit-down lunch, grab a table at Derrière (69 Rue des Gravilliers), which is a 10-minute walk from the Marché des Enfants Rouges. Enter the nondescript doorway nestled between the Moroccan restaurant 404 and the bar Andy Wahloo, through the shady courtyard, and you’ll finally stumble upon this trendy eatery. As your eyes scan a foosball table, a plush bed, eclectic art and mismatched vintage lamps, you might be convinced that you’re eating in someone’s chic Parisian apartment. But the food at Derrière is some of the best around. You’ll feast on dishes like unspeakably decadent gnocchi gratin, buttery roasted chicken that falls off the bone and paper-thin salmon gravlax dressed in chimichurri and dill.
Spend part of the afternoon exploring the Marais art scene, both indoors and outdoors. It’s one of the most happening areas for urban art in all of Paris, as evidenced by the many buildings covered in fabulous graffiti and colorful mosaic tiles. And it’s difficult to walk a few blocks in this neighborhood without passing an art gallery. Galerie Marian Goodman (79 Rue du Temple), Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (7 Rue Debelleyme) and Galerie Perrotin (76 Rue de Turenne) are great options for contemporary art and exhibitions featuring emerging international artists. The three galleries are just a stone’s throw away from one another, so you can pop into them all. For a museum you might otherwise not think of visiting, there’s the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme (71 Rue du Temple). Unlike many of Paris’ more overwhelming museums, this one is extremely manageable. The exhibits trace the history of the Jews in France, and the setting — housed in the picturesque Hôtel de Saint-Aignan — is lovely.
Walk southwest from the Marais toward the Seine, passing by the picturesque pedestrian street Rue des Barres. Then cross the Seine toward Paris’ two islands, Île Saint-Louis and Île de la Cité, home to the famous original Berthillon (29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l’île) ice cream parlor (stop for a scoop) and the Notre Dame cathedral. The cathedral is closed for entry following last April’s tragic fire, but it is still one of the city’s most impressive sites.
As you walk back toward the Marais, stop at Village Saint-Paul, which is nestled between the Seine and Rue Saint-Antoine. You’ll find yourself in a maze of courtyards dotted with antiques dealers selling everything from vintage lamps to teacups.
Any ideal day in Paris should include some wine, cheese and charcuterie, the pursuit of which should lead you to Le Barav (6 Rue Charles-François Dupuis). Grab a seat and order your wine by the glass; if you prefer a bottle, walk right next door to the cave à vin and select one from the hundreds of vintages, then take it back to enjoy with your food. As for the cheese and charcuterie, boards arrive overflowing with the likes of truffle ham, saucisson sec, creamy brie and Morbier.
The Marais is full of trendy restaurants frequented by travel bloggers and socialites where food is served to be photographed and tables are positioned for people watching. Le Gaspard de la Nuit (6 Rue des Tournelles) is not that kind of a place. Tucked away on a quiet street close to the Place des Vosges, it’s a cozy and romantic neighborhood bistro that feels like a secret. Sit down at the family-run restaurant complete with about 10 tables and order from the short but excellent menu that consists of classic dishes like escargots drowning in butter and garlic, decadent foie gras and duck confit.
For a nightcap, make your way to Le Mary Celeste (1 Rue Commines). This stylish bar dishes out oysters and small plates in the early evening before turning into a hip cocktail bar. You’ve probably never thought to mix shiso, seasoned tomato water or grapefruit oil with your spirit of choice before, but here, that’s what you’ll drink. And while you might expect such a bar to be pretentious, the relaxed and warm environment here is anything but. After a cocktail (or two or three) you might finally be ready to end your perfect day.