You can’t visit Paris’s iconic Marais district without coming to one of the city’s best-loved squares: Place des Vosges. Listed as a historical monument, this is the oldest square in Paris, and is instantly recognizable by the elegant brick apartment buildings on all four sides. At its center is a quintessentially Parisian garden, Square Louis XIII, where you’ll find joggers, children playing, and park-bench lovers locked in amorous embrace.
Your route starts here, and you begin by strolling under the arcades. Your first stop is at No. 6, where on the second floor is the Home of Victor Hugo. You visit the apartment where the author lived from 1832 to 1848, getting to know the man behind the myth through his life story, letters, furniture, and works of art. You promise yourself that this time you really will read Les Misérables.
You continue under the arcades to No. 18—a stop at the boutique of famous perfumer Christian Louis is de rigueur. He is the nose behind more than a hundred fragrances, which he created using artisanal techniques in the tradition of the maître parfumeur. If you’re feeling a little peckish after that, just down the road on rue du Pas de la Mule is one of the best pâtisseries in Paris. Stand in front of Gérard Mulot’s shop window and you’ll soon start to salivate at the sight of all the exquisite tarts, cakes, and pastries. The fig-and-vineyard-peach tart is to die for!
Retrace your steps to No. 9, Place des Vosges and Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt. Next to the big carriage gate you see a little wooden door. Open it and step inside one of Paris’s best-kept secrets, the gardens of the Hôtel de Sully. This grand mansion is now home to the National Monuments Centre. The building is not open to the public, but you are permitted to walk through the magnificent courtyard and gardens. This hidden corner of greenery takes you from Place des Vosges to rue Saint Antoine, in the heart of the Saint Paul district.
But you’re not done with Place de Vosges yet. Follow rue de Turenne, and then rue de Jarente to Place Sainte Catherine, a quaint little square lined with restaurants and shady terraces, where you can stop for a drink. As you leave, pop into one of the square’s more curious sights, the green-fronted Vert d’Absinthe boutique, which specializes in—you guessed it—all things absinthe.
On your way to Saint Paul, make sure you stop at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie on rue de Fourcy. This major center of contemporary photography boasts a library of 24,000 works and a large video archive. Every year it holds around four exhibition cycles on different themes, movements, or artists (such as Joel Meyerowitz, Annie Leibovitz, and Henri Cartier-Bresson). On leaving the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (the MEP to the regulars), on your way to the Seine there’s one last place you have to see: the Shoah Memorial and Museum of Judaism at 17 rue Geoffroy L’Asnier. It’s impossible to not be moved by this impressive monument to history of the Holocaust.
Finally, you arrive at the Seine. Your walk ends here, on the quayside. Take a seat and watch the passing bateaux mouches (boats operating on the river). You’ve been on your feet all day, and you deserve a rest. Here, time stands still. You know you will continue your exploration of the Marais another time, since there’s still so much to see.