Le Marais Walking Tour, Paris

Le Marais Walking Tour (Self Guided), Paris

The district known to locals as "Le Marais" used to be a bourgeois area in the past and a major center of the Paris Jewish community that still exists today. Here, you will find different bookshops specializing in Jewish books, restaurants with traditional Jewish food and a synagogue. As one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city, it also has no shortage of narrow medieval streets, unique boutiques and quirky restaurants, very much like London’s Shoreditch.

Start your trip at the Hôtel de Ville – a splendid building and quite ostentatious, acting as seat of the city government. Pay particular attention to notices for art & history exhibits, because they are excellent and free.

Further along the road, one of the oldest buildings in Paris is right out in the open for you to see with the garden in front. Hotel de Sens has been beautifully restored, but look out for the cannonball embedded into the eastern wall – one of Paris' quirky oddities from the French Revolution.

Among other highlights is the Place des Vosges – arguably the most beautiful square of Paris. Its lawns and greenery have always been a big success; just ask Victor Hugo, whose house-museum is on one corner. The best shopping, however, remains on bustling Rue des Francs Bourgeois and Rue des Rosiers, where most of the shops are open on Sundays.

Follow this self-guided walk to check out the most important Marais attractions!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Le Marais Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Le Marais Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Paris (See other walking tours in Paris)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: karen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Hotel de Ville (City Hall)
  • Hotel de Sens
  • Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis (St Paul-St Louis Church)
  • Place des Vosges (Vosges Square)
  • Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo House Museum)
  • Rue des Francs-Bourgeois (Street of the Bourgeoisie Franks)
  • Musee Carnavalet (Paris History Museum)
  • Rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rosebushes)
Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

1) Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

Paris's City Hall is the largest city hall building in Europe and one of the most prominent landmarks of the French capital. Curiously enough, the early sessions of Paris municipal council were held at the home of a city mayor – the practice continued until the 16th century when King Francis I ordered to build a dedicated Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville.

Centuries later, that first purpose-built edifice served as headquarters for the French Revolution, accommodating Robespierre and his supporters. Ironically, it was there that Robespierre himself was arrested at the end of the infamous “Rule of Terror” period, during which anyone opposing the revolution was sent to the guillotine.

Likewise, in 1871, the City Hall once again hosted headquarters, but this time for the Paris Commune. When their defeat became imminent and the French army closed in on the building, the Communards set fire to it completely destroying everything inside. The exterior was then rebuilt following the original design, but the interior had to be created anew.

Outside the building is decorated with 108 statues of famous Parisians like Voltaire, Rousseau, Charles Perrault, Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, and others. The other thirty statues there represent French cities. The clock at the central tower is also adorned with statues – several female sculptures depicting the river Seine, the city of Paris, the “Work” and the “Education”.

While public access to the City Hall is generally restricted, there are two rooms in the building constantly allocated to art exhibitions. One of them usually features photography and the other one – art in general. Also, there are almost always some cultural events or exhibitions taking place outside, in the square in front of the building. Still, the main attraction for tourists visiting the Paris City Hall is, undoubtedly, its architecture!
Hotel de Sens

2) Hotel de Sens

Built between 1474 and 1519 as a home for the bishop Tristan de Salazar, Hôtel de Sens is one of the three original medieval residences left in Paris. The building's mixed architectural design reveals transitions that had taken place between the Medieval and Renaissance epochs, primarily showing elements of a Gothic-style fortification structure. There are turrets (armored towers) for observing the surrounding area, a square tower that served as a dungeon, as well as an arched entryway with built-in slopping passages from where boiling hot oil could be poured upon would-be attackers.

On a different note, in 1605, Queen Margot, ex-wife of King Henri IV of Navarre, settled in the hotel. Eccentric by nature and with a taste for lavish lifestyle, she reportedly indulged herself with numerous love affairs here and is said to have gathered her lovers' hair to make wigs that she later sported.

Sold off in 1797, the structure was badly mutilated during the 19th century and subdivided for a multitude of uses. After the French Revolution (which left it with a cannonball still lodged in the wall), it was occupied by art students and, at some point, was turned into a jam factory. After decades of public pressure, it was finally saved by the city government, which undertook an ambitious restoration program between 1933-61.

The building as we see it today is largely a reconstitution of the original, based on drawings dating back to the 17th century. The main staircase tower, however, is original, as is the wonderfully picturesque entrance front. Despite its somewhat fanciful restoration, the Hôtel de Sens is nonetheless an evocative remnant of medieval Paris – currently, home of the Bibliothèque Forney devoted to decorative and fine arts, as well as industrial techniques.

On your tour of Paris, make sure to stop by and admire this medieval residence's elegant formal gardens and dramatic design. Sit down on one of the garden benches and relax, detached from the nearby hectic city. It's a lovely place to take a little picnic lunch before continuing your Marais exploring.
Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis (St Paul-St Louis Church)

3) Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis (St Paul-St Louis Church)

The Saint Paul-Saint Louis Church is one of the oldest Jesuit sites in Paris. Completed in 1641, it boasts an abundance of classical elements, such as Corinthian pillars and heavy ornamentation, and was greatly influenced by Baroque architecture, introduced by the Romans. The salient feature of the church is a 195-foot dome, which is best viewed from the inside because the columns of the three-tiered church’s front elevation hide the dome. The church is designed marvelously with clean classical architectural lines that run through the nave and side aisles. Arches have been embellished with astounding Baroque decorations, while sculptures have been posted and paintings been drawn in the style liked by the Jesuits in the 17th century.

Louis XIII laid the foundation of the church in 1627. In 1641, Cardinal Richelieu served the first mass here in the presence of the royal family. The church was badly damaged during the French Revolution, with invaders stealing most artifacts and collectibles. The not-stolen items were brutally broken, largely depriving the establishment of its precious assets. A handful of works, that have survived unharmed, can now be seen near the entrance; also, fortunately enough, the church has retained its abundant internal carvings.

The St Paul-St Louis also briefly served as a "Temple of Reason" under the Revolutionary government, which had banned traditional religion. Nearly 250 years after its construction, in 1872, it was finally re-consecrated and has served since as one of the local community churches. The massive red doors and asymmetrical clock face give it a burst of whimsy that makes it worth a quick stop as you wander through the streets of Le Marais.
Place des Vosges (Vosges Square)

4) Place des Vosges (Vosges Square) (must see)

Originally known as Place Royale, this classy corner of Paris was built by King Henri IV in the 17th century. Situated in Le Marais district, it is the oldest planned square in the city, featuring a unique, perfectly symmetrical layout of houses with red brick facades and slate roofs constructed over vaulted arcades. On the southern side is a King's pavilion overlooking Queen's pavilion on the opposite, northern side. Of a special note here are the balconies, the first extended ones ever built in Paris.

Previously reserved for the royals, today Place des Vosges is a public square, quiet and peaceful, with a nice well-manicured park complete with shady trees, refreshing fountains, and sandy walkways. Classically elegant and very French in style, it represents a perfect example of an early 17th-century garden. Boxed in by the buildings, this park is invisible to the outsiders, but locals know it all too well and come here regularly on weekends, especially in summer. The surrounding homes are quite expensive properties. Having an apartment overlooking the square is the luxury very few can afford.

Apart from the lovely architecture, much of the area's appeal is associated with the historic figures that once resided here. One of them is Victor Hugo whose house stands on the corner. Today, it is the museum with the interior caringly preserved just the way it was back when Hugo was alive.

At the ground floors of the buildings are the art shops, designer clothing boutiques, and outlets selling handicrafts, musical instruments and other pleasant things. There are also plenty of small Parisian-style bars and restaurants in the vicinity, somewhat bohemian yet with a casual touch and leisurely attitude that is hard to find anywhere else in the city center. They make a perfect landing space for those keen on a small round table for a quick snack with a glass of beer or wine. Apart from the typically French restaurants, there are also those serving kosher and ethnic cuisine nearby.

Why You Should Visit:
Whether you are a history buff or an art-minded shopaholic, or a connoisseur looking for fine dining, or just a casual someone in need of relaxation, you may rest assured to find it all here, at Place des Vosges.
Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo House Museum)

5) Maison de Victor Hugo (Victor Hugo House Museum)

The museum of Victor Hugo in Paris, at Rohan-Guéménée Hotel in Place des Vosges, is actually just an apartment on the 2nd floor that the writer rented for 16 years, from 1832 to 1848, in which he wrote the bulk of his "Les Miserables" and other major works.

Apart from being a writer, Hugo is recognized as one of the greatest French poets who also made significant impact on classical music – based on his books are several operas including "Lucrezia Borgia" by Donizetti, "Rigoletto" and "Ernani" by Verdi, and "La Gioconda" by Ponchielli. Hugo was also a grand political figure, which together with his creative talents, had earned him much love and admiration of the Parisians during his lifetime.

The museum consists of several rooms, including antechamber, Chinese-decorated living room, Medieval-style dining room, and the reconstructed bedroom featuring the interior of 1885 in which Hugo passed away at the age of 83. Upon the announcement of his death, Paris mourned deeply seeing over two million people take to the streets to bid farewell to the writer at his funeral procession stretching from the Arch of Triumph to his final resting place at The Pantheon.

That procession is depicted in one of the paintings displayed at the museum alongside the sculptures, caricatures and other memorabilia collected by Hugo over the years.

On the first floor, there is a permanent exhibition of Hugo's drawings plus the iconography of his literary works. At times, there are also temporary exhibits presented there, too.

If you're a fan of Hugo and happen to be in the area, paying a quick visit to the museum is a great idea, as it is free to enter and doesn't take long to explore. For visitor's convenience, there is an audio guide in English which helps put into context all that is to see there.
Rue des Francs-Bourgeois (Street of the Bourgeoisie Franks)

6) Rue des Francs-Bourgeois (Street of the Bourgeoisie Franks)

Once a street where artisan weavers worked, today Rue des Francs-Bourgeois is a trendy shopping area of fashion and design in Paris, running along the route of Philippe Auguste's old city walls. Dotted with many designer boutiques, often housed in beautiful old townhouses (some of which are set back in courtyards), you can find numerous French clothing brands, jewelries and perfumes. There's something for everyone in just a few blocks.

The street and its surrounding area also boast many cafés, restaurants and the facades of magnificent mansion houses (Soubise, Rohan-Strasbourg, and others).

Since Rue des Francs-Bourgeois is one of the few streets which largely ignores France's strong tradition of Sunday closure, it is a popular location for weekend brunches, walks and people watching.
Musee Carnavalet (Paris History Museum)

7) Musee Carnavalet (Paris History Museum)

Immerse yourself in the French capital’s rich history at the Carnavalet Museum that occupies two neighboring mansions: the Hôtel Carnavalet and the former Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau. The former is a Renaissance jewel that was the home of writer Madame de Sévigné from 1677 to 1696.

Inside the museum's over 100 rooms, the exhibits show the transformation of the village of Lutèce, which was inhabited by the Parisii tribes, to the grand city of today with a population of more than 2 millions.

The Carnavalet houses about 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings and 150,000 photographs, 2,000 modern sculptures and 800 pieces of furniture, thousands of ceramics, many decorations, models and reliefs, signs, thousands of coins, countless items, many of them souvenirs of famous characters, and thousands of archeological fragments.

Of particular interest among the exhibits are those related to the Revolution, featuring detailed scale models of guillotines and a replica of the Bastille prison made from one of its original stones. Also featured is a reconstruction of Louis XVI's prison cell and personal mementos from his life, such as medallions containing locks of his family's hair. Additionally, visitors can marvel at impressive interior recreations spanning from the Middle Ages to the rococo period, as well as Art Nouveau, with highlights including the original furnishings of the Café de Paris and the exquisite jewelry shop Fouquet.

Why You Should Visit:
Musée Carnavalet provides the most compelling summary of the history of Paris – its politics, art, and people. No other place in Paris offers such a comprehensive insight into the city's historical development over the centuries.
Rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rosebushes)

8) Rue des Rosiers (Street of the Rosebushes)

Rue des Rosiers, or "Street of the Rosebushes", is a winding, pedestrian-only street running through the historic Jewish quarter in Marais. Jewish communities have lived in the nearby neighborhood since the 13th century and the area used to be called "The Old Jewry".

During the last two decades, Rue des Rosiers has been going through a transformation, seeing many fashion boutiques moving in. Fortunately, however, the Jewish shops and restaurants have stayed on, so you can still find the kosher restaurants with delicious kosher cuisine that follows all kosher rules.

With its yellow façade, Boutique Jaune at #27 is perhaps the most traditional Yiddish bakery you'll find. Having been family-run for three generations, it retains a delightfully old-school vibe. Since its opening in 1946, shopping at Boutique Jaune has changed very little, adding to its charm.

Similar to the nearby Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, shops on Rue de Rosier remain open on Sunday, so the street is another meeting point for Parisians who want to eat out and shop on Sunday or during any of the off days.

Walking Tours in Paris, France

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Souvenirs Shopping Walk

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 Miles
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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.3 Km or 4.5 Miles

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