It’s really simple- If I have to fly to Paris, I’m flying with a half-empty suitcase. Why, you may ask? Well, for me, a visit to Paris combined with retail therapy is a potent combination, one that almost always leaves me with an overflowing pile of beautiful purchases, a majority of them made while strolling in the heart of Marais. A dainty mug that still holds my strong brewed coffee, a piece of jewellery that has travelled with me to different parts of the world, or an oversized grey scarf that has managed to keep me warm even when a chocolat chaud hasn’t.
The Marais is undoubtedly one of my favourite neighbourhoods to visit, not only for its shopping scene, but also for its bustling restaurants, stunning structures and secret alleyways.
Here’s what you should do while exploring the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris-
Take a walk around Place des Vosges
For a late-afternoon break, I head to Place des Vosges. As soon as I get on the square, I notice the uniformity in composition and height of the buildings surrounding it. Place des Vosges, built by Henry IV of France, is the oldest planned square in Paris, originally known as Place Royale. It stands today, as one of the most exclusive residential areas in the city. In the centre of Place des Vosges is a formal public garden Square Louis XIII. Here, you can spot chatty teenagers and families enjoying an al-fresco picnic. You can relax in the garden, or choose to admire the elegant brickwork and arcaded buildings that surround the square, like I did. Its arcades are lined with up-market, independent shops filled with original works of art and restaurants. You can even visit Victor Hugo's former home, now a museum.
Step into a world of antiques
Now this is one place only a local can tell you about! Tucked away in the unlikeliest of locations is the Saint Paul village , an antique market or a “charming labyrinth of open-air spaces and covered passageways,” as I like to describe it. It was after a phone call with a long-lost friend who happened to be studying in Paris at that time, did I stumble upon Marais’ secret pedestrian village. Getting here on your own is a bit of a challenge, but ask any friendly passer-by, “Où est le village de Saint Paul?” and you’ll receive directions sans hésitation!
Between browsing through ancient artefacts, medieval trinkets and retro pieces from the 60s and 70s to overhearing friendly conversations among locals, I would sneak into residential courtyards to go from one passage to another, on my quest to find that perfect souvenir. Another good thing about this place? The noise from the street traffic is completely muted here- so you can walk around leisurely. This is one rabbit hole you wouldn’t want to come out of!
Eating and drinking in the Marais
It’s a known fact that Paris is best explored on foot, and all that walking sure does make a girl hungry! For a healthy fare, Wild & the Moon is the perfect spot to enjoy organic, gluten-free, plant-based food. For the very best falafel, head to L’As du Fallafel, an obligatory stop when you enter Rue des Rosiers, the epicentre of the Jewish quarter in Paris. There’s a fairly long queue, but I promise it’s worth all the wait.
If you’d like to try some French comfort food, then add buckwheat crêpes with a cider or galettes from Breizh Café to your list! The lively square of Place Sainte-Catherine serves traditional French food (few names to remember are BDJ Café, Chez Joséphine, Le Marché). I have broken all my dietary rules in Paris (here’s looking at you, dairy products!) and so, I would suggest you do too, by indulging, without any guilt, in desserts! If you prefer something light, head to boutiques like Edwart, Jacques Genin, and Éclair de Genie. For something more decadent, Carette happens to serve one of the finest hot chocolates in town.
A shopper’s delight
If you love keeping an eye out for cool emerging designers, and purchasing “Made in Paris” labels, then Le Marais is THE neighbourhood to be in. It’s hard for me to walk down the streets without coming across a cute boutique and going inside for a peek. Whether it’s the big chain stores (Sandro, Maje), famous designers (Isabel Marant, John Galliano) or various concept stores, you’re sure to find something to take back home. Parisian monument coasters, postcards, tote bags – the Bring France Home store is my go-to place to buy authentic French souvenirs of quality.
If you’re someone who buys things not out of necessity, but out of want (guilty!), then you’ll wish to buy everything at the Parisian concept store Fleux! From dining ware to travel essentials- the objects here are quirky, and bring out the fun side of your personality! For feminine blouses and dresses in eye-catchy prints, Soi Paris will help you imitate the effortless look of Parisiennes. If you want to give off a more insouciant vibe but still appear put-together at work, then shop for classic striped shirts from Leon & Harper .
The beauty of the 3rd and 4th arrondissement is that, each time you visit the district, you’ll always find a way to go back to your regular haunts, but also happen to come across new ones! Maybe it’s time to buy a bigger suitcase after all…