The Marais – A Hip & Historic Neighborhood Of Paris

The Marais is one of the most popular quartiers of Paris. And no wonder — it's famous for old-world charm, narrow cobblestone streets, hidden courtyards & tranquil gardens, a multitude of mansions called hôtels particuliers, a vibrant Jewish community, and a thriving gallery & cafe culture. Historically, this area, built over marshland ("marais"), was the neighborhood of choice for the aristocracy from the 13th to the 17th centuries.

Untouched by Haussmann's 19th-century rebuilding (and destruction) of Paris, their hôtels still line the streets; many of them now house some of the best museums in the city. What the Marais district doesn't have are the grands boulevards or big parks found in much of the rest of the city. It's all small, maze-like streets, giving you a glimpse of what Paris looked like 200, 400, even 600 years ago.

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Top 10 Things to See in The Marais

So, for a taste of medieval Paris you'll want to visit the Marais, whose very name means "marsh" because of the silty ground it was built on. Found in the center of Paris — in the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements — it's now the second time in its long history that the Marais has been the trendiest neighborhood in Paris.

1. Musée Picasso

Musée Picasso

Opened in 1985 in the 17th-century Hôtels Sale, the Picasso Museum was closed in 2009 after a famous art theft. It only reopened (with better security, we hope) in 2015. The elegant mansion is the perfect place to peek into Picasso's monumental treasure trove of his paintings, sculptures, love letters, poetry, and photography.

2. La Maison Européenne de la Photographie

The House of European Photography is one of the most important museums of photography in Europe with exhibitions that change often. We always head here to see the new shows. The museum itself is housed in one of those fabulous mansions we mentioned; this one is the Hôtel Hénault de Cantobre, built in the 17th century. The entrance is on Rue de Fourcy just around the corner from the Saint-Paul Metro station. Website

3. Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

In the Marais you can visit the oldest place, or square, in Paris and one of the prettiest. Place des Vosges was the inspiration for hundreds of squares (it's where the name came from) around Europe and the first Paris park to be open to the public. A great location to start your walking tour of the Marais, you can explore the shops along Rue des Francs Bourgeois and stop for a Jewish pastry on Rue des Rosiers. Place des Vosges was built by Henri IV and is a true square, measuring 140 m x 140 m.

By the way, the square was renamed in 1799 when the département of the Vosges in eastern France became the first to send tax money to support the state after the French Revolution.

4. Maison Victor Hugo

After resting your feet next to one of the pretty fountains in Place des Vosges, go directly into one of the most charming, hidden museums in Paris. Explore the very rooms where Victor Hugo lived and wrote. Make sure you snag an audio guide to learn about the 1,000 love letters Hugo penned during his lifetime, many were to his long-time mistress, actress Juliette Drouet over a 50-year period. Located in the southeast corner of the square at 6 Place des Vosges, 75004. Entrance is free.

5. The Pompidou Center

The Pompidou Center

Hate it or love it, this paean to modern art is one of the busiest museums in Paris. The controversial Pompidou Center (opened in 1977) cut a swath through the medieval Marais neighborhood, destroying historic buildings in its path. But, it is the place to see the works of David Hockney, Picasso, Klee, Philippe Starck, Andy Warhol, and other great modern artists. If you like that sort of thing.

6. Musée Carnavalet – Museum of the History of Paris

This rambling mansion (actually, it's two mansions) is a great place to discover the history of Paris. It's rarely crowded and has many fascinating permanent exhibits as well as a pretty garden to relax in. Access to the permanent galleries are free. For now, you'll have to be patient while important renovation work takes place. The reopening is scheduled for 2019. 23 Rue de Sévigné, 75003. Closed For Renovation Until 2019

7. Musée Cognacq-Jay

Ernest Cognacq (a business magnate of the Belle Époque) and his wife donated their possessions to the City of Paris. It is now a beautiful collection of fine art and decorative items focusing on 18th century France. 8 Rue Elzevir, 75003. Website

8. Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature

It's a strange but fascinating little museum, one that honours the hunt and explores the relationship between man and animal. It was first opened in 1967 in the Hôtel de Guenegaud, a 17th-century mansion. Forty years later, it was expanded to include the mansion next door, the Hôtel de Mongelas. 62 rue des Archives, 75003. Metro Rambuteau. Website

9. Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme

At the Museum of Jewish Art and History you trace the evolution of Jewish artistic and cultural heritage. The museum focuses on French Jewish history since the Middle Ages. Its collection is one of the finest in the world and includes works by Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine, Michel Kikoine and Amedeo Modigliano. Hôtel de Saint-Aignan, 71 rue du Temple, 75003. Metro Rambuteau. Website

10. Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

The magnificent Paris City Hall sits on the banks of the Seine in the 4th Arrondissement. This has been the seat of city government sine 1533. The building itself was gutted by a fire during the tumultuous Paris Commune of 1871 but was rebuilt in the years that follow. The plaza in front of the building is a center of municipal life hosting concerts, a winter skating rink, and other activities.

11. Marché des Enfants Rouges

400 years and counting. It's the oldest covered market in Paris. There are better fresh food markets in Paris but this is the place to go to eat. Choose from Japanese bento boxes, hamburgers et frites, crepes, and Moroccan couscous. It's not exactly a food court, each stall is individually owned and operated. The market was created in 1615 by Louis XIII to supply food to this up-and-coming neighborhood. 39 rue de Bretagne, 75003. Metro Saint-Sébastien – Froissart. Website

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Hotels We Love in The Marais

The Marais is a smaller scale than the rest of Paris. And so you don't find hotels like the grand, luxe hotels in the Heart of Paris. But you can find smaller, even charming places to stay. There are far fewer choices in the Marais than elsewhere in Paris, so we always stay in another neighborhood. But here are our top choices in the Marais.

Hotel du Petit Moulin

Hotel du Petit Moulin

You know that a hotels designed by Christian Lacroix is going to be fabulous, and the Petit Moulin doesn't disappoint. The fun starts outside, where the hotel has retained the facade of the historic boulangerie that once occupied this space. This is our top pick in the Marais. 31 rue de Poitou 75003.

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Le Pavillon de la Reine

From the Place des Vosges you enter a tranquil courtyard that leads to the hotel, which is an oasis of calm. La Pavillon is in the heart of the Marais, close to museums and shopping. This is our runner-up in the Marais and we rate it "Superb".. 8 Place des Vosges 75003.

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Hotel Beaubourg

Clean rooms, elevator and close to everything you want in the Marais. Rooms are equipped with air-conditioning and free WiFi. Ask for a room facing the inner courtyard. 11 Rue Simon-Le-Franc, 75004.

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Hotel Caron

Just off Rue de Rivoli and a two-minute walk from Saint-Paul Metro station, this small hotel (only 18 guest rooms) is set on a side street in the Marais. Cozy, clean, even charming. We rate it "Highly Rated Plus". 3 Rue Caron 75004.

Jewish Marais

Jewish Marais

Ever since the Romans conquered the city in the 1st century BCE, Jews have lived in Paris. And as early as the 13th century they settled in the Marais, still the city's most famous Jewish neighborhood. Known as the Pletzl (Yiddish for "little place"), the Marais was once also known as La Juiverie.

Although it's one of Paris' most trendy areas, the Marais still has a strong Jewish presence. Walk along Rue des Rosiers and you will find Jewish restaurants, bookshops, boulangeries, kosher delis, and synagogues.

Stop at #10 Rue Pavee to visit Agudath Hakehilot, an orthodox synagogue designed by Hector Guimard, the Art Nouveau architect famous for his Paris Metro station entrances. Built in 1914, it's the largest synagogue in the Marais. Guimard's wife was an American Jew and with the rise of anti-semitism they left France for the United States in 1938.

On Yom Kippur in 1940, the Germans destroyed the synagogue with dynamite. After World War II, Agudath Hakehilot was restored and is now a national monument and a vital meeting center.

Dynamiting synagogues was by no means the worst of Nazi atrocities. Throughout the Marais there are plaques to remind us about the Jewish families and children who were wrested from homes and schools and sent to concentration camps to be killed. It's a painful and poignant reminder of France's treatment of Jews during World War II. Another typical plaque reads:

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To the memory of the students of this school, deported from 1942 to 1944 because they were born Jewish, innocent victims of Nazi barbarism, with the active complicity of the Vichy government. They were exterminated in the death camps. Never forget them."

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