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The Marais: my favorite Paris neighborhood.

Lots of tourists don’t go to the Marais in Paris, which is a shame.  And, in fact, when I have recommended my favorite hotel in Paris to friends, which is located on Place des Vosges in the Marais, their travel agents have pooh-poohed it as being “too far off the beaten track.”

Well, maybe that’s why I like it.  It is more local.

The word Marais, actually means swamp in French.  It was one once, back when Paris was pretty much located on the Ile de Cite, the home of Notre Dame.  The first folks to settle the Marais, the area just across the river, were the Jewish population and then other folks decided it would be a good idea to move to the outskirts of Paris and it became a “high rent” district during the 18th century.

The king decided to live there.   Elegant homes and apartments were built.

Then the King moved to the Lourve, the neighborhood went downhill and so it goes.

Somewhere around the 1970s, creative types discovered the area and many of the old apartments were restored and now….ta da….it is a lively and fun spot to hang out.

What I like about the Marais is that the old architecture still exists which is not true for Ille de Cite,  the island in middle of the Seine where you visit Notre- Dame and Sainte Chapelle.

I’ve always wondered about why these two magnificent religious structures  are surrounded by modern buildings. Well, up until the 1700s Ile de la Cite was the old and winding town known as Paris, with its churches and  a labyrinth of streets, shops and houses.

This was all torn down in the name of urban renewal. Thankfully, the Marais escaped demolition. It is the “old town” of this marvelous European city—a bounty of architecture and design.

I like the youth and energy super-imposed on the historic buildings and winding streets. I love Place des Vosges– truly the most beautiful square in Paris. Once a royal palace, it is now a square where families and lovers and old folks and young folks hang out in the graceful park complete with fountain, sandboxes, benches and trees.

I have truly enjoyed getting to know the Marais, hanging out on Place des Vosges, walking over to concerts at Sainte Chapelle, shopping on Rue des Francs Bourgeois and Rue Vieille du Temple and the side streets.  When worn out by that, I like to wander over to Ile Saint-Louis –the other island in the Seine, once a cow pasture—for ice cream.

I love exploring  the many tiny little restaurants in the Marais, sidewalk cafes, bakeries and markets but especially I love the wine bar: La Belle Hortense. You can sit at a small bar and drink a glass of wine. You can buy wine and take it back to your apartment. This little spot is also a book store so you can browse the books, and buy one as well. If you are hungry the restaurant across the street will send over a plate of something tasty.

It would be a perfect field trip destination for my book club–but alas–we wouldn’t all fit. There are 14 of us, I think, when all in attendance. This wine bar is too small  for that size group. And that’s what makes it and the Marais perfectly charming.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Georgia Gietzen
    Apr 16, 2010 Reply

    We too loved this area (thanks to your recommendation) . . . found the most fabulous little Jewish bakery and wandered to the park with our “stash” to sit, savor and “people watch”!

  2. posted by
    R. Lyle Boatman
    Apr 17, 2010 Reply

    One of the things I miss about Michigan was having a low enough cost of living to be able to travel to Europe frequently. I would often go with friends around Thankgsgiving, or shortly after. I find it is a lovely time to travel in Europe (when the US is going crazy with commercial prep for the holiday season, Europe seems doubly calm and peaceful). And any little trinket brough back “from Paris” makes a lovely gift.
    A favorite memory is of seeing the Issy Mayake Boutique in the Place des Voges. Since snow is a rarity in Paris, the window was done up with loose goose down from perhaps several down pillows. Every so often, on a timer, a fan would come on and blow the down feathers into a frenzy; then it would turn off and the down would fall like snow on the window display. It was magical; and it stopped fashion savvy Parisians in their tracks to stand and stare. I’m not sure many of them bought the couture white coat that was being promoted that day… but who knows.
    Thanks for reminding me.

  3. posted by
    Apr 17, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for sharing this Memory, Lyle. I know exactly where that shop is.

  4. posted by
    My “Favorite Five” things to do in Paris « DesignDestinations
    Jun 21, 2010 Reply

    […] The Marais It’s my fav.  Always go there…..sometimes to eat on Rue Tesor, a tiny little one block street with quiet outdoor cafes.  Most times to sit on the grass on Place des Vosges.  Shopping all the quaint shops in the area with their quirky hours and mix of merchandise.  Watching the mix of people.  It’s quite diverse.  I always take a stroll down the main street of the Ile Saint Louis as well.  I think it is charming and I love imaging what this was like decades ago.  And not too far from here is Sainte Chapelle where a new “favorite thing to do” is to attend a concert. […]

  5. posted by
    Ex-pat shares Paris Favs « DesignDestinations
    Jun 24, 2010 Reply

    […] like to wander the meandering halls of the simple Musée Carnavalet in the Marais because it is dedicated to the city and its people, and it is a very short walk from our […]

  6. posted by
    P.O.S.H: A Bit of Paris in Chicago « DesignDestinations
    Jul 13, 2010 Reply

    […] When I can’t get to Paris but need a French fix, my destination of choice is a charming little shop on State Street of Chicago called P.O.S.H. It’s a treasure trove of French Flea Market finds, a jumble of lovingly arranged vintage and new table top and home accessories. Makes me feel like I am hanging out in my favorite part of Paris—the Marais. […]

  7. posted by
    DesignDestinations: Celebrating 125 Posts | DesignDestinations
    Dec 3, 2010 Reply

    […]  The Marais in Paris.  I have written a lot about Paris and plan to do more but what I love about this part of […]

  8. posted by
    Ten Tips for Visiting Paris | DesignDestinations
    Aug 25, 2013 Reply

    […] 4. Did you know that you will pay more if you sit at an outside cafe than if you get a drink standing a bar?  You are paying for “real estate”or the opportunity to sit and savor your coffee or glass of wine without being rushed.  Never order at the bar and then take it to the table.  Do spring for the more expensive option.  You’ll never know what you will see…… like this fellow who stopped right in front of us at a cafe in the Marais. […]

  9. posted by
    Five New Discoveries in Paris | DesignDestinations
    Sep 8, 2013 Reply

    […] LIght to add to my “to do and see” list.  While I have “must dos” on every trip like the Marais, Place Vosges, Ile Sainte Louis and Saint Chapelle concerts,  it is great fun to check out some […]

  10. posted by
    Five New Discoveries in Paris | DesignDestinations
    Oct 1, 2017 Reply

    […] LIght to add to my “to do and see” list.  While I have “must dos” on every trip like the Marais, Place Vosges, Ile Sainte Louis and Saint Chapelle concerts,  it is great fun to check out some […]

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