The fashionable and hip Marais district is a melting pot in Paris. Once the city's principal Jewish Quarter, the temples and kosher restaurants are now side by side with hipster fashion boutiques and LGBT bars. It is simply the most charming historic neighbourhoods in the capital and a great place to stroll and get lost amongst the rich heritage and unique atmosphere it commands.
There are plenty of photography and art galleries lining the streets, and it is home to the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. While you can find some of the largest brand name shopping, it is the vintage sellers, pop-up concept stores and independent labels that make the shopping experience exciting, all hidden amongst the 16th and 17th-century architecture of the district.
The quarter encompasses the area from Hôtel de Ville on the west, to the Place de la Bastille on the east. From the Seine river, all the way up to Republique in the north. But the trendy part, SoMa or South Marais lies mostly in the 4th arrondissement. Get the metro to Saint Paul and then head north and get lost as you explore the many small streets and passages that fill this vibrant quarter.
One thing that I love about getting lost in the Marais is finding all of the ivy. I don’t think I have seen so many building completely covered like this anywhere else in Paris. To the point where I don’t think people can even open their windows anymore. In summer, when it is full and green, it looks fantastic. In autumn, when it turns into shades of oranges and bright, vibrant reds, it is terrific, and in winter, when the houses are adorned with skeletons, it still is hauntingly beautiful. There are so many, you feel is you stare at them for too long, they could creep over you… and that is how most people get stuck in the Marais and never leave.
EAT: L'As du Fallafel
Tucked away in the heart of the Marais, on Rue des Rosiers, what was once Paris's most vibrant Jewish neighbourhood, lies the best falafel in Paris, if not the whole of Europe. L'As du Fallafel has indoor seating, but the true beauty of grabbing a bite here is to line up and watch as the chefs ferociously mix lightly pickled red cabbage, salted cucumbers and fried eggplant, all topped with the most delicious crispy and garlicky chickpea fritters dripping with creamy hummus, slammed into a fresh pita. I recommend picking up a fork because it can be quite a mouthful.
Instead of trying to sloppily eat it while standing on the street avoiding cars with other tourists, head to the nearby, almost hidden, Rosiers – Joseph Migneret Garden for an escape into a tranquil green space that will make you forget you are in the middle of the busiest city in Europe.
Locals tip – The shop has become so popular that they have opened an auxiliary kitchen a few doors down at number 44. It serves the exact same delicious falafel, but the queue isn't nearly half as long.
L'As du Fallafel
32 Rue des Rosiers, 4arr, Paris
Mon - Thu 12h00 - 23h00
Fri 12h00 - 16h00
Sat 18h30 - 23h00
Sun 12h00 - 23h00
SEE: Place des Vosges
The crown jewel of the Marais is the Place des Vosges. It is the oldest planned square in Paris and arguably the prettiest. The site once contained a tournament ground where King Henry II died after being wounded in a friendly jousting match. His wife, Catherine de' Medici had the gothic building demolished and moved to the Louvre, and it was the Good King Henry that created the square we see today.
The manicured laws, complete with calming fountains, is flanked by a canopy of trees and lined with an impressive red brick facade. At least some of it is red brick. Paris lacks in the clay required to create bricks, so once their stockpile was depleted, the rest of the building was made with plaster painted to look like brick. Look closely, and you can see where the two different styles meet. Regardless it is the perfect place for a picnic or just to rest and soak up the atmosphere and history of Paris.
In the corner of the complex lies the Maison du Victor Hugo, a museum dedicated to the French writer who wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame from the adorable apartment at the south-east of the square. It is currently closed, but expected to reopen in mid-2020.
Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges, 4arr. Paris
08:00 à 21:30 in summer
08:00 à 20:30 in winter
It is exceptionally open 24h this summer because of changes to heatwave policy in the city of Paris.
DRINK: Le Perchoir Marais
One of the hippest new places to open up in the Marais in the Perchoir. Originally a rooftop bar atop an industrial complex in Menilmontant, the Perchoir expanded to a more impressive location, the BHV, Bazar du Hôtel du Ville, a famous department store in the heart of the city. It takes on the vibe of a Cape Town bar, with murals adorning the walls from the Ndebele tribe, and an African braai on the menu.
You can see the intricate details of l'Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) which lies directly across the road and have sweeping views stretching from the Bastille Column to the Eiffel Tower. Naturally, you will want a seat by the rail, but to get these places you will need to arrive before they open and wait in line, perhaps 20-30 min early on weekdays, longer on weekends. Once you snap your images, you will settle into a night spent engrossed, as locals and foreigners engage in conversation around cheese and cured meat platters and perfectly created cocktails. As the sun sets over the city of light, the magical atmosphere of the bar comes alive. But be warned; expect the price tag to match the height of the bar, and the queues to be as long as Disneyland - still, for views like this, we can't complain too much.
Le Perchoir Marais
33 Rue de la Verrerie, 4arr, Paris
Daily 20h15 - 01h30
Sunday 19h15 - 01h30
If you enjoyed the images in this article and would like to get to know how to use your camera better during an outing to Marais, or any other part of Paris, join Aperture Tours Paris for a guided photo walk led by a professional photographer.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours which run photography tours in the most photogenic cities across the globe. A professional photographer for over a decade, Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.