It almost doesn’t matter where you stay in Paris; you’re in Paris after all.
But with a little homework, you can enhance the experience of being in the world’s most loved city just that little bit more.
Of the 20 arrondissements, or districts that make up the Left and Right Banks traversed by some of the world’s most spectacular bridges (which you will soon come to know very well as you explore the city), you’ll find distinct personality differences between each precinct.
Arguably the hippest and most diverse of them all, the area split by the 3rd and 4th arrondissements is definitely among the liveliest after dark.
Known as ‘Le Marais’, it’s a wonderfully eclectic area that mixes immersive local experiences, bustling nightlife, marvellously evocative narrow cobblestone streets and laneways, vintage clothing stores, groovy bars and restaurants, beautiful Baroque architecture and trendy hotels and art galleries all within a few blocks of each other.
It’s also the city’s Jewish quarter and the centre of its gay community so expect to discover plenty of colour and wonderful people-watching opportunities unmatched in Paris when you occupy a kerbside seat at the many cafes that line the streets of the Marais.
Its showpiece is an impeccably manicured, tree-lined central square that is the geographic heart of the area.
The square has a fascinating history and one that deserves a little explanation.
Marais actually translates to “marsh” which indicates a little about the transformation that took place in this area after the 12th century when the former farmland was initially reclaimed for human habitation.
Four centuries later, Henry IV ordered construction of the Royal Palace in the square known today as Place des Vosges which is characterised by its bullet straight rows of lime trees.
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The oldest square in the city, and that is saying something, the district has had a long association with French aristocracy.
It’s also had connections to some of the greats of French culture including Victor Hugo who lived in a hotel on the edge of Place des Vosges from 1832 to 1848 and these days his former residence has been lovingly restored as a public museum (Maison de Victor Hugo, 6 Place des Vosges).
Also nearby is the unmistakeably flamboyant and much-loved Centre Pompidou (Place Georges-Pompidou) which showcases modern French art in a spectacular building while Musée Carnavalet (16 Rue des Francs Bourgeois) provides enthralling visual displays of how Paris emerged through the centuries to become the gem it is today.
The Picasso Museum (5 Rue de Thorigny) is also in the Marais and it houses most of the Great Master’s works which he bequeathed to the State in exchange for relief from payment of his estate’s death duties.
Along a short walk east of the square, you’ll enter one of the city’s famously wide thoroughfares, Boulevard Beaumarchais. Turn right and you will run into Place de la Bastille – site of the Bastille prison stormed during the French Revolution.
Nothing of the prison remains today but the appeal for visitors – and locals mostly – is gourmet shopping.
It’s here every Thursday and Sunday you’ll find the Marché Richard Lenoir – one of Paris’ best ‘pop-up’ markets – or as the French call them, “marché volant” meaning ‘flying market’.
Seemingly out of nowhere, 1000 metres of stalls spring up from underneath the July Column (Colonne de Juillet) and head up Boulevard Richard Lenoir from the Bastille intersection. Make sure you visit if you’re staying in the area which also borders the 11th arrondissement.
Food, music, clubs, bars, culture, history … if you’re looking for a great place to base yourself for an unforgettable Paris holiday, The Marais has to be right up there.
YOUR FRENCH ADVENTURE STARTS HERE
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