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Few Parisian neighbourhoods are better suited to curious young travellers than Le Marais. Located on the Right Bank, this former French aristocratic reserve is now a melting pot of Jewish, Chinese and LGBT cultures. Kosher bakeries, noodle joints and gay bars line its narrow streets, where you’ll also find high-end fashion boutiques and fascinating art collections.
For such a small neighbourhood, Le Marais has an amazing array of museums, including the Musée Carnavalet (closed for renovations until the end of 2019), the Maison de Victor Hugo, the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, but if you haven’t got the time (or the inclination) to visit all of these, the Musée National Picasso-Paris and the Maison Européene de la Photographie are the ones to prioritise.
Two other places to consider adding to your itinerary are the Carreau du Temple, which hosts events, fairs and short exhibitions in everything from art, fashion and design to sports and politics, and the Institut Suédois (Swedish Institute), whose exhibitions trace the cultural links between the two nations and whose cakes are some of the best around.
Le Marais offers one of the capital’s best shopping experiences. The two main retail streets are the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and the Rue Vieille du Temple, which run perpendicular to each other and have all the luxury boutiques and high-street flagships you could wish for.
The number of innovative concept stores in the area is also on the rise. Merci has become one of the capital’s most desirable shopping locations in recent years, selling everything from vintage clothing and accessories to homeware, gifts and stationery. Its Used Book Café, featuring a 10,000-book library, is a huge draw. For serious fashion lovers, trips to The Broken Arm and Tom Greyhound are a must.
For style inspiration, head to 0fr, which is hands down the coolest bookstore in Paris. You’ll be sure to find a dozen avant-garde publications that you’ve never heard of before but which you suddenly find you can’t live without.
For a spot of focussed people watching, the traditional venue is the Place des Vosges. This formal square in the southeast of Le Marais gets packed on sunny days so, if it’s peace and quiet you’re after, head to the tranquil courtyards of the Jardin Anne Frank instead.
As far as festivals are concerned, Gay Pride is, naturally, one of the biggest. It’s normally held at some point during the summer, but the exact date changes each year. In 2019 it will be held on Saturday 29 June.
For a casual bite to eat, head to the Rue des Rosiers and the Rue des Écouffes for a taste of the local delicacies: falafel wraps and pastrami sandwiches. There are loads of small restaurants to choose from, and a decision is usually made on the basis of which has the longest line outside. Two sure-fire options are L’As du Fallafel and Florence Kahn. Miznon is also gaining a stellar reputation for its crazy-fresh dishes from the Mediterranean.
If you’re looking to buy in some groceries or pick up a snack to eat on the go, make a beeline for the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market in Paris; or the Maison Plisson, which has pretty much everything you could ever want under one roof, including a greengrocer, bakery, butcher, cheesemonger, wine cellar, café and terrace restaurant. You could pick up your home cooking essentials at a local store, but the range and quality of the produce aren’t going to be a patch on either of these.
There are also plenty of more formal dining options in Le Marais. If you’re in the mood for Italian, then it’s Baffo you should be calling for a reservation, and if you want to keep it French (albeit with a very modern twist), try Pamela Popo.
The area is also a base for the craft-cocktail revolution that is slowly but surely spreading across Paris. If you’re north of the Rue de Poitou, the street that marks the limit of the Haut-Marais (an ultra-trendy neighbourhood within a neighbourhood, where France’s movie stars have their Parisian apartments), call in at Le Mary Celeste for a carefully concocted beverage. Its natural wine list and locally sourced dishes are a treat, as are the oysters for which the restaurant is famous.
On the other side of Le Marais, Sherry Butt stands out from the crowd. It has a generous selection of whiskys and cocktails on the menu, including some genuinely inventive non-alcoholic options. The chilled atmosphere and shabby-chic interiors make it the perfect bar in which to get into the mood for a night on the tiles.
If there’s one thing that Le Marais has in abundance, it’s gay bars, most of them located on the Rue du Temple, the Rue des Archives and the streets that connect the two. Just east of the main drag is Les Souffleurs, the hang-out of choice for the capital’s queer hipsters. It’s open every day, with happy hour from 6pm to 9pm, and has DJ sets on Thursdays and Saturdays. Duplex Bar is further off the beaten path, but is worth the very minor trek to see its regular art exhibitions.
On the whole, hotels in Le Marais are beautiful, but expensive. While rates do fluctuate and you might be able to find a good deal, most typically charge well over €100 (£87) per night. One reasonably priced three-star hotel to look into is the MHIF Le Marais by HappyCulture, which is quiet and comfortable and holds nightly cheese and wine tasting sessions. If you prefer to have a little more space and independence, check out the chic pads available to rent on Airbnb.
The easiest way to get to Le Marias is on the Métro. The M11 and M8 helpfully mark its eastern and western borders respectively and meet in the north at République, where the M3, M5 and M9 also stop. The M1 and M7 run along its southern tip. The 29, 75 and 96 buses will drop you off in the centre of Le Marais and the area is served by numerous Vélib’ stations, the hubs of the city’s bike rental system. The RATP interactive map can help you plan your journey.
It’s a compact area, and you’ll easily be able to walk along every street in a day or two, but you’ll want to come back many more times to discover everything Le Marais has to offer.