Visiting Paris is a constant encounter with names and places taken from the pages of history. The Marais was once an undesirable marshy area of Paris that was transformed into a tranquil neighborhood of estates and attractive gardens.Our guide to the Marais section of Paris describes the peaceful neighborhood of the Place des Vosges (one of the oldest squares in Paris), Les Halles, the Pompidou Center, the Hotel de Ville (the ornate City Hall of Paris), the Picasso Museum, the Carnavalet Museum, and the Place de la Bastille.
The Marais remains one of the quieter areas of Paris and it requires exploration to reveal its remarkable character.
The Marais and surrounding attractions
The Marais is an area of Paris that invites you to walk and explore its museums and mansions. It is one of the most picturesque section of Paris, but but is known more as the city’s most pleasant neighborhood. We think you will enjoy an afternoon wandering the areas’ streets. If you like art, the Pompidou Center and the Picasso Museum are great places to while away the hours. If you like shopping, there are many designer boutiques in this area and a number of stores focused on decorative items for the home. (Many of these shops can be found along the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois).
Place des Vosges
The Place des Vosges, one of the most interesting locations in the Marais, is a delightful residential square created in the early 17th century. Once known as the Place Royale, the thirty-six townshomes surrounding the square have kept their original period look, one that appears unique to this section of Paris.
The compact square and the houses surrounding it are well preserved. The Place des Vosges retains the appearance of the past and implies to the observer the nuances of upper class life in historic Paris. Among other notables, Cardinal Richelieu and Victor Hugo once lived in the Place Des Vosges. The House of Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables and the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, is now a museum that you can visit for a fee (6 Place des Vosges). A covered arcade runs along the first floor of the buildings where you will find several restaurants and a few upscale shops.
We suggest you consider combining a lunch in the Marais, perhaps at the Place des Vosges, with an afternoon at the Musée Carnavalet, or the Picasso Museum. The Marais has long housed the Jewish neighborhood of Paris and if you are looking for a great delicatessen (but certainly not New York sytle), this may be the place for you.
The Musée Picasso will be closed until summer 2013 due to major renovations.
The Musée Picasso is located at De l’hôtel Salé, a historic building dating from the seventeenth century. The museum presents Picasso’s work in chronological order and includes an extensive display of Picasso’s paintings, statues (including a wonderful statue garden), ceramics, and drawings. Closed Tuesdays, the Musée National Picasso is located at De l’hôtel Salé – 5, rue de Thorigny. The Musée Picasso website , is only in French, so if you don’t read/speak it, try using Google to translate, it does a reasonable job.
(3rd arrondissement) (R) – The Carnavalet Museum (the Musée de l’Histoire de Paris) is a delightful place to visit. The museum occupies two historic mansions on Rue de Sévigné in the Marias and is named after the Hôtel de Carnavalet (the former mansion of the writer Madame de Sevigné). The Hôtel de Carnavalet was erected in the late 16th century and is a treasure. The interior houses an incredible collection of art, ranging from the fine to the decorative, that chronicles the history of Paris, although its collections are focused on the Revolution and, to a lesser extent, the 19th and 20th centuries. Closed Mondays. (Hôtel Carnavalet – 23, rue de Sévigné).
Les Halles is the modern version of the historic market district of Paris and it remains one of the most crowded areas of the city. Although the “old markets” have been replaced by a underground mall, the shopping and restaurants attract attention. This is a place to meet, watch street performers, eat and enjoy city life, but it offers little in the way of unique attractions.
Once you have tired of the Louvre, d’Orsay, the Orangerie, and the Marmottan, head for the Pompidou Center. While the Center houses an outstanding museum of modern art, the building itself is an art form that should not be missed.. The pipes along the outside of the building are color coded red for elevators, blue for air, yellow for electricity and green for water. In addition, the building provides performance spaces and a cinema.
The area surrounding the Pompidou Center, filled with skateboarders and street entertainers, is also worth seeing. For more information, see the official website. The Pompidou Center is closed on Tuesdays.
Hôtel de Ville
The City Hall of Paris was rebuilt in the 19th century after the fire of May 1871 involving the Paris Commune and anti-Commune forces. Unfortunately the fire, also, destroyed many irreplaceable documents describing the history of Paris. This location has been the seat of government in Paris for over six-hundred years.
The building houses the office of the Mayor of Paris and is often used for official receptions. Its architecture is stunning inside and out, but especially when illuminated at night. During winter you can ice skate in the square at the front of the building.
The Place de la Bastille
The Place de la Bastille was of great importance to the French Revolution and remains a name that is familiar to everyone who knows even a little history of France. Originally a fortress constructed to defend the east end of Paris from Invaders. It was then turned into a prison. The Bastille was overrun and destroyed by the Parisians in 1789 and there are no visible remnants of this infamous jail.
The Colonne de Juillet is located on the site of the former Bastille. The massive column commemorates the victims of the July Days revolution in 1830, which resulted in the exile of King Charles X. Those who gave their lives are buried at the base of the monument and their names are inscribed on the column. The column is topped with a statue representing the Génie de la Liberte (the Genius of Freedom).
Although many tourists visit the Place de la Bastille, there is actually very little to see here. If you want to see this location, consider combining the Place de la Bastille with a tour of the Marais. The Bastille area reputedly offers some of the best nightlife in Paris, so you may want to visit later in the evening.
You will find a number of exceptional places to eat in the Marais, so take your time and find the one that is right for you. Don’t settle for fast food. Remember, you are in Paris and food is considered a national treasure by the French.
If we have whetted your appetite for the Marais, you may want to visit this informative website for more detailed information on shopping and other aspects of this wonderful section of Paris.