In French, window-shopping translates as lèche-vitrine, or window licking, which is exactly how I spend most of my time in the Marais. The narrow, cobbled streets are lined with vintage treasure troves, delectable patisseries, and high-end concept stores. But the neighborhood, which comprises the third and fourth arrondissements of Paris, has much more to offer than retail therapy.
Smack in the center of the city, it’s where I tell all first-time visitors to stay: Many of the major tourist attractions are walkable from here, there are several fabulous hotels in the area, and the picturesque backstreets are brimming with endless cafes ideal for people-watching.
The neighborhood’s history is fascinating — before its time as the primary home of the city’s Jewish population and later, its LGBTQ+ community, it was all marshland (hence its name — marais is French for swamp). The area was drained in the 12th century and later attracted the noble class and the likes of King Henry IV, who began building their private town houses, known as hôtels particuliers, in the 17th century.
These mansions — many of which have since been turned into museums, like the marvelous Musée Picasso — later fell into disrepair, and less than a century ago, the Marais was up for demolition. Luckily, a cultural preservation law passed in the 1960s and spared it, in turn sparking restorations that have safeguarded the art and architectural haven that we know today.
Relics of centuries past — like the city’s oldest covered food market, which now houses fruit and flower vendors alongside a buzzy natural wine bar — and signs of its ever-changing present, like the opulent, newly opened Le Grand Mazarin hotel, are what draw me back to the Marais on each and every trip. Here, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite places in the neighborhood, from can’t-miss museums to late-night oyster bars and the best souvenir shops in town.
Opulent tapestries, an Instagram-famous subterranean pool, and an emphasis on highlighting local artists sets Le Grand Mazarin apart. The 61-room boutique hotel is a luxurious new hot spot in the Marais. Les Enfants du Marché offers a few hard-to-nab bar stools, hidden among food stalls and fruit vendors in Paris’ oldest food market; go for the seasonal crudos and natural wine.
The Musée Picasso is housed in one of the neighborhood’s most beautiful hôtels particuliers, formerly a private mansion. Channel your inner Parisian at lauded vintage stores like En Voiture Simone. Sip on a salty, herbaceous, tomato-infused cocktail at Little Red Door, one of the city’s top speakeasies.
Best Things to Do
A longtime epicenter of arts and culture, the Marais is home to several of the city’s finest museums. At Musée Picasso, you’ll find a mind-boggling collection dedicated to the Spanish painter, all within the walls of a 17th-century mansion that’s a work of art in itself.
Another one of my favorite museums in the city is Musée Carnavalet, which showcases the history of Paris from the B.C. era to the present day. Occupying two neighboring mansions, it’s a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture; inside, it’s filled with fascinating relics of the city’s past, like a collection of hanging signs and symbols that were once used in place of street numbers to indicate a business address. In warmer months, the elegant courtyard is a fabulous place to grab lunch.
The Centre Pompidou, Paris’ inside-out architectural marvel that’s home to the city’s prestigious modern and contemporary art museum, has bowled me over on every visit. There’s such a thrill in seeing Paris spread out before you as you ride the glass-enclosed escalators up to the top floor. Every season brings new exhibits — 2024 will see a spectacular retrospective of Hungarian artist Vera Molnár. The museum is set to close for a major five-year renovation in 2025, so I highly recommend going while you still can.
Eat your way through Marché Couvert des Enfants Rouges… Paris’ oldest food market dates back to 1615 and retains much of its old-school charm today. Wandering this densely packed labyrinth, you’ll be hit with a new smell every few feet: wafts of aromatic couscous, fresh flowers, and smoked ham are what make this bustling market such a joy on every visit. Among the ample stands, tried-and-true favorites include Le Traiteur Marocain for merguez-laden tagine and thick pita bread, and famed sandwich shop Chez Alain Miam Miam (whose perennially long lines have prompted the opening of another shop around the corner on Rue Charlot). For a sit-down lunch, try to snag a seat at the tiny bar circling the open kitchen of Les Enfants du Marché, a beloved seafood-focused spot dishing up seasonal small plates alongside excellent natural wines from both popular and little-known producers.
Visit the Place des Vosges. The Marais’ fashionable history hinges on the early 17th-century construction of Place des Vosges, an elegant square of chestnut trees, burbling fountains, and grassy lawns, hemmed in by brick-red arcades that first drew the noble class to the neighborhood. Now a favorite picnic destination for Parisians and visitors alike, it’s a wonderful spot for people-watching with a warm baguette in hand. While you’re here, you might as well take the time to stroll through writer Victor Hugo’s house — now a museum that is full of magnificent artworks and free of charge. Afterward, duck under the square’s southwestern arch to discover the manicured gardens and Renaissance facade of Hôtel de Sully.
Indulge your sweet tooth. The French have mastered the art of dessert, and I’ve found the best way to honor their achievements is to familiarize myself with as much of their work as possible. Rarely do I go more than a day in Paris without indulging in some sort of sweet, whether a jewel-sized macaron, an éclair, or a plump and perfectly petite cream puff. For the former, head to Pierre Hermé, where flavors like Ispahan (rose, lychee, and raspberry) and Agra (praline and mild curry) will absolutely ruin you for the mediocre macarons peddled elsewhere in the city. L’Éclair de Génie boasts colorful, over-the-top creations — think caramelized apple éclairs flecked with gold leaf — while Popelini rolls out chic choux, or cream puffs, in an array of classic and seasonal flavors.
Wander down Rue des Rosiers. Once the epicenter of Paris’ Jewish quarter, the picturesque Rue des Rosiers is now best known as the home of L’As du Fallafel, a popular (and delicious) falafel spot. Down the road, international clothing shops have largely crowded out the former abundance of kosher delicatessens, bakeries, and butchers, with the few remaining drawing eager crowds with their latkes, pastrami sandwiches, and baked goods — La Boutique Jaune de Sacha Finkelsztajn is a beloved mainstay, easily recognizable with its cheery yellow facade. On the corner of Rue des Rosiers and Rue des Ecouffes sits Florence Kahn, a Yiddish bakery and historic landmark with an unmissable blue mosaic facade that’s been helmed by Finkelsztajn’s protégée since 1988.
I’ve never left Merci without un petit plaisir — a little treat — to take home. The three-story concept store is souvenir mecca, with branded candles and lighters (adorable and affordable) most often taking up space in my suitcase. Anyone in need of retail therapy will find it here, among the brightly colored geometric side tables, matte ceramic tableware, and overwhelming selection of très Parisienne white button-downs.
Looking to pick up wine for a picnic along the Seine? A Lot of Wine, which, as its name suggests, stocks quite an impressive array of bottles in their small space, is the place to go. Biodynamic bottles from Alsace sit beside aged rarities from the Jura, all of which are well-priced. Most notably, the staff will gladly talk through any questions you may have. On my last visit, I watched in envy as a family tucked into heaps of cheese and finely sliced charcuterie during a private tasting they’d arranged in the stone cellar.
Kitty-corner to the breathtaking, block-spanning Hôtel de Ville (Paris’ City Hall), the BHV lures shoppers seeking everything from hardware supplies to Hermès. It’s sort of an upscale Home Depot-meets-Bloomingdales, topped off with Le Perchoir, a trendy rooftop bar offering views of the Eiffel Tower during the summer season.
Remember what I said about window licking? It’s a favorite pastime of mine at Empreintes, an airy, multilevel concept store that feels markedly under the radar compared to Merci. Founded by the French federation of craft professionals, it’s a gallery-like space that’s brimming with hundreds of exceptional handmade goods — think statement jewelry, sculptural pendant lamps, and enough ceramics to merit buying an extra suitcase.
With kilo shops and thrift stores littering every other block of the Marais, it could take une éternité to track down a silk Chanel set or an oversized Isabel Marant coat — if you didn’t know to stop by En Voiture Simone and Nice Piece, that is. The former was long a gate-kept secret of Parisian It girls, while the latter is a celebrity hot spot drawing the likes of Kim Kardashian and Janelle Monáe.
Hidden among the fruit vendors and fragrant food stalls of Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, you’ll find a gastronomic mirage of sorts: Less than a dozen stools circle a counter where dishes are plated with Michelin-level precision, and wines flow from noon onward. Local produce and fresh seafood rule the menu at Les Enfants du Marché, with recent delights including tuna crudo from the south nestled alongside scallops from the north and pears from Normandy — la belle France on a plate.
Savory Brittany-style buckwheat galettes are loaded with aged Comte, Basque chorizo, and onions caramelized in cider at this iconic crêperie. Breizh Café, whose most charming outpost in Paris remains this sun-soaked corner of the Marais, is my first stop on almost every trip. The warm, wooden space feels like a homecoming.
When it comes to classic bistro fare, few places do it as warmly and wonderfully as Bistrot des Tournelles. The menu is straightforward and superbly French: homemade foie gras, crunchy little gem salad with mustard dressing, and steak au poivre are highlights, plus a crackling crème brûlée.
This trendy Italian spot may actually be too sexy for its own good. Sure, the staff and clientele at Carboni’s are universally gorgeous, but it’s the pasta dishes that are almost unbearably seductive. Cacio e pepe is topped with a «Tampopo»-worthy marinated egg yolk, while striped squid ink spaghetti is served with cream foam and melted raclette. After dinner, dip downstairs for a negroni and live music at Bar Sotto.
When you settle into your red leather booth at Chez Janou, once you’ve taken in the posters dedicated to French filmmaker Marcel Pagnol and the platters of Provençal dishes going around, you’ll soon spot wide-eyed diners clapping in delight as waiters dollop chocolate mousse onto their plates again and again. It’s unlimited, and — along with the decor and extensive pastis selection — the real reason for coming here.
Best Time to Visit
There’s no wrong time to visit Paris — the city offers different delights in every season. I’m most enamored by Paris in the fall, during la rentrée — the period when locals return from summer vacation and the city begins to hum with energy once again. The weather crisps, green and yellow leaves sheathe the sidewalks, and the city looks more out of a film than ever.
Winter in Paris is almost unbearably charming: red lights line the Champs-Élysées, alpine-style holiday markets selling mulled wine and raclette pop up throughout the city, and department stores go all out with their holiday window displays.
The high season begins in spring and lasts into August, so flights and hotels tend to be most expensive during this time of year; booking in advance with a low-cost carrier, like French Bee or Norse Atlantic Airways, can help mitigate expenses. This summer, Paris will host the 2024 Olympics, running from July to August.