Equally prized by locals and tourists, the Marais district is typical of an elegant, modern-day Paris. The right-bank neighborhood melds contemporary style with centuries-old history and architecture. Hip boutiques and art galleries sit alongside-- and sometimes within-- ornate mansions dating to the Renaissance period. Regal squares and medieval residences are as much a drawcard as vibrant Jewish and LGBT-friendly quarters in the area are. In a single afternoon, you can see masterpieces from Pablo Picasso, dine on singularly delicious falafel, shop for hand-made accessories or bespoke fragrance, and learn about the history of the French Revolution in a free collection. In short, this is one of the capital's most popular neighborhoods for a good reason. Keep reading for the best things to see and do in the district. And for a more in-depth guide to the area's historic sites, monuments and landmarks, see our self-guided walking tour to the Marais.
We always recommend that you learn something about the history of Paris when visiting the city. It enhances your experience on the ground by giving you a valuable perspective on how the current-day capital came to be. Enter the Musée Carnavalet. This city-operated museum has a permanent collection that's completely free to explore, and it's utterly fascinating.
Housed in a Renaissance-era hotel particulier, the museum traces the history of Paris from its prehistoric origins to the present day, bringing visitors through dozens of intimately curated rooms. Learn about the history of the French monarchy, revolutions, and empires and the immense social and political changes they brought. Get acquainted with Parisian interior design history and peruse fantastic illuminated manuscripts. Explore the lives and contributions of famous Parisians, from the writer Marcel Proust to the social commentator Madame de Sévigné. There's also a lovely courtyard garden to stroll through. When you're on a tight budget or want to engage with Parisian history more deeply, this is an essential stop.
People-Watch From a Local Bar or Café Terrace
Local life in the Marais is very much centered around café and bar terraces. You'll see these full at almost all hours of the day, whether residents partake of before-work coffee, stop in for lunch and people-watching, or wander from brasserie to brasserie after dark for an evening of revelry and gossip. On the weekends, stopping at a café for a rest between window-shopping is an essential ritual.
Head to streets like Rue de Temple, Rue Vieille du Temple, Rue des Ecouffes, and Rue du Roi de Sicile to find the terrace or warm inside seating area that pulls at your heartstrings. We recommend roaming around and giving in to the spontaneous magic of happening on a good one.
The area is also famous for its gay, lesbian, and LGBTQ-friendly nightlife scene, with plenty of bars and clubs proudly displaying rainbow flags and offering a welcome vibe. During the annual Marché des Fiertés (LGBT Pride March), many bars become sites of celebration well into the night, with patrons spilling out into the street, dancing, and drinking.
This is simply one of the most eye-catching and harmoniously designed squares in Paris, and an ideal spot for a stroll, antiques and art-gallery browsing session, or picnic (during the warmer months). Created during the 17th century, the Place des Vosges is the French capital's oldest formally planned public square. It was once called "Place Royale" and has housed numerous famous residents over the centuries, who lived in the numbered mansions in red brick that form the edge of the square. These include the French writer Victor Hugo, whose house and museum now stands in one corner of the place. It's also lined with art galleries, restaurants, and cafés whose terraces offer lovely vantages over the square and its beautiful architectural details. Whatever the season, it's an essential stop on any exploration of the Marais.
We're not exaggerating when we say that many tourists venture into the Marais with the primary goal of getting a taste of the world-famous falafel sandwiches made in the area. The generous pita sandwich brings together the satisfying crunch of deep-fried garbanzo-bean balls and raw vegetables with warm, greasy slices of eggplant, spicy sauce if desired, and creamy, nutty tahini dressing. It's an addictive and satisfying meal, and you'll see people lined up around the block to feast on some of the best ones. Even meat-eaters have come around to loving this natively vegan Middle-Eastern specialty—and Paris, luckily, has plenty of restaurants serving excellent falafel.
If you opt to tuck into your sandwich outside (as many people do), remember to watch out for aggressive pigeons and sparrows. They may just swoop in to get a taste if you're not careful.
Browse Boutiques or Window-Shop
The Marais harbors one of Paris's bustling shopping districts—one that stays open on Sundays, to the delight of many—and a treasure-trove whether you're looking for clothes, custom jewelry, accessories, rare fragrances, artworks, chocolate, tea, or just about anything else. While the area has admittedly lost some of its smaller businesses in favor of global luxury brand stores in recent years, a few streets remain havens for more niche sellers.
Even if you're not in the mood to buy, something is alluring about winding through the Marais' narrow medieval streets and ducking into shops whenever something catches your attention.
The Marais has a long history as a Jewish quarter and continues to be one of the vibrant centers of the city's present-day cultural and religious community. It stood outside the city walls at many points during the medieval period, during which French Jews were often excluded from public and political life and forced to live in ghettoes. It bears the scars of pogroms and the unthinkable human tragedy of World War II: from 1940 to 1944, Nazi forces deported more than 70,000 French Jews—including thousands of children—to concentration camps. It also remains a living testament to the enduring spirit and survival of a community that has been the periodic subject of violent attacks over many centuries.
In addition to roaming around the heart of the Jewish quarter (pletzl) around the Rue des Rosiers, stop in at the Museum of Jewish Art and History for a fascinating couple of hours. Religious artifacts, moving artworks, historical exhibitions, and manuscripts are among the treasures at this often under-appreciated collection. In total, the permanent collection comprises some 700 works of art and cultural history.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With Superb Italian Gelato
Whether it's a humid summer day or you have a craving for a cup of creamy ice cream, you won't have trouble satisfying the need while exploring the area. Pozzetto is a local favorite for its homemade, authentic Italian gelato, which is denser and richer than your run-of-the-mill ice cream and made onsite in small batches. Having earned the loyalty of gourmet types for their addictive flavors—from chocolate-hazelnut to stracciatella, pistachio, or lemon sorbet—this glacier now has two locations in the area. On a cold day, you can even opt to sit in and enjoy your gelato accompanied by an espresso or another hot drink.
Have Dusky Cocktails at This Rooftop Bar
Particularly if you're in town during the warmer months, one ideal way to polish off a long day of strolling, shopping, and sightseeing is to sip a cocktail at one of the city's most spectacular rooftop bars. Occupying the top floor of the iconic BHV department store, Le Perchoir Marais is open year-round (even during the winter) and draws in the stylishly minded from off the swarming sidewalks with laid-back beach furniture in cream and soothing green, braziers for warmth in the colder periods, miniature palm trees and views over the city. Come for a house cocktail and nibbles, preferably at dusk when the rooftop views can be spectacular.