Trendy Paris

The place des Vosges, the Centre Pompidou, the Musée Picasso, the Marais district ... History and art on a walk

Take a gentle stroll between the place du Châtelet and place des Vosges to enjoy a spot of shopping, or discover local heritage … in fact, everything is possible as long as you know how to juggle with different styles.
 
The medieval Jean-sans-Peur Tower surges out from amongst Haussmanian buildings, while the flamboyant Gothic architecture of the Saint-Jacques Tower is just a stone’s throw from the fountain at Châtelet, built in praise of Napoleon I. The square in front of the neo-Renaissance Paris City Hall is also an impromptu venue for beach-volleyball.
 
The church of Saint-Eustache, where Molière was christened, stands next to the metallic footbridges of the Les Halles gardens. A few steps away from the Renaissance bas-reliefs of the Fountain of the Innocents is the Pompidou Centre, symbol of 20th-century architecture and home to modern and contemporary art collections.
 
The Marais district combines a whirl of creative design with the delights of the Jewish Quarter, around rue des Rosiers, and a magnificently preserved historic centre. Busy streets give way to tiny enclosed squares, gardens and numerous museums, including the Carnavalet, Picasso and the National Archives, housed in mansion houses that rival each other in splendour.

1 Place du Châtelet

Place du Châtelet, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Don’t come here looking for tranquillity – this is one of the busiest crossroads in Paris. There are however many lovely things to see: the Châtelet or ‘Palm’ Fountain, the Théâtre du Châtelet, the Théâtre de la Ville ...

2 Tour Saint-Jacques

Tour Saint Jacques, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

What a history! This curious Gothic belfry is the only remaining vestige of the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la- Boucherie, a meeting point for pilgrims journeying to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in the Middle Ages. In the 17th century, Pascal experimented here with gravity. The tower escaped demolition in 1797 and was converted into a meteorological station in 1891, where air quality is measured. In the last few years, the tower has been beautifully restored … Stop to admire it!

3 Forum des Halles et son jardin

Forum des Halles, la Canopée vue de la place des Innocents, Paris © Jean-Baptiste Gurliat - Mairie de Paris

From the 12th century until 1969, the “belly of Paris” and its colourful population, so well depicted in the novels of Émile Zola, supplied the capital with food. Transferred to Rungis, the covered market was replaced by galleries including a shopping centre, a swimming pool, a tropical hothouse, numerous cinema auditoriums … On the garden side, there are lawns, fountains, and children’s play areas. In 2016, the Forum des Halles got a whole new look – a new architectural identity thanks to its monumental and impressively aesthetic roof, the ‘Canopy’– and offers an even more extensive cultural offering making it a veritable creative hub.

4 Église Saint-Eustache

Eglise Saint Eustache, Paris © Thinkstock

Built over a century, this church features Gothic and Renaissance influences combined with an 18th-century classical facade, along with traces of a questionable restoration after 1840. Nevertheless, Saint-Eustache is truly beautiful and houses treasures like a Rubens painting and a statue of Pigalle. And it has an impressive celebrity line-up, including the baptism of Richelieu, Molière and Madame de Pompadour, Louis XIV’s first communion, the mariage of Lulli, the funeral of La Fontaine and Mirabeau as well as Colbert, Marivaux and Rameau, who found their final resting places here. It was even a 'Temple of Agriculture' between 1797 and 1803!

5 Tour Jean-sans-Peur

Tour Jean-sans-Peur, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

A 27-metre-high medieval tower on rue Étienne- Marcel? It’s true! Let’s step back in time for a moment. During an interlude in the One Hundred Years War, Jean, Duke of Burgundy, took advantage of the situation to order the assassination of his cousin Louis d’Orléans and seize power. He ruled from his Parisian mansion, in which, in 1409, he had the tower built – the only remaining vestige of the building today. A magnificent spiral staircase with a vault sculpted in oak, hop, and hawthorn leads to the meeting rooms. Today, a permanent exhibition in the six rooms of the tower portrays the history of early-15th-century society and architecture.

6 Musée des Arts et Métiers

Musée des arts et métiers, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

The metro station sets the tone. Since the bicentenary of the museum, in 1994, the Arts et Métiers metro station has taken on the appearance of Jules Verne’s submarine the ‘Nautilus’, complete with copper walls and portholes. In this faithfullyrenovated abbey, the history of technology from the 16th century onwards is split into seven domains: communication, construction, energy, scientific instruments, materials, mechanical engineering, and transport. Visitors will learn all about great inventions and stand in wonder before the automatons and velocipedes, Lavoisier’s late-18th-century laboratory or Clément Ader’s airplane, just a century older.

7 The Centre Pompidou, a modern classic

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris © Thinkstock

In the heart of Paris, in the Marais district, the Centre Pompidou, which opened in 1977, is one of the best examples of modern architecture in Paris. Very (or too much) ahead of its time, its construction caused a scandal in the 1970s! Breaking with the museum aesthetics of the time, ‘Beaubourg’ marks a turning point in the history of traditional museums. Here, the architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano wanted to break with the solemnity of cultural institutions of the time. Features include: bright colours, visible exterior structures (large external pipes: green for water, blue for aeration, yellow for electricity) and transparent surfaces that show what is happening inside. The Centre Pompidou seeks to be a vibrant open place with a playful vibe, where art is not sacred.

8 Musée de la Poupée

Musée de la Poupée, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

First, came dolls dressed like perfect little Parisian ladies in the elegant outfits of a marchioness. In 1878 after the Exposition Universelle, came the porcelain doll. In the twentieth century, baby dolls in celluloid were all the fashion… until a certain blonde-haired doll with the svelte figure of a model appeared on the scene. Happy daydreaming in the world of little girls!

9 Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme

Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Paris © OTCP - Marc Bertrand

The culture and traditions of the Jewish community come to life in this 17th-century town house, with its rich collection of stunning, popular, religious, everyday, humble, precious, ancestral and nearcontemporary objects, such as paintings by Chagall, Modigliani and Soutine.

10 Centre historique des Archives nationales

Jardin des Archives Nationales, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

As their name suggests, the National Archives preserve the records of France, from the Merovingians to 1958, and house the Musée de l’Histoire de France. Located in the Palais de Soubise since 1808, with its extravagant rocaille-style decoration behind a fine classical facade, the National Archives have continued to grow, and now extend into the superb Hôtel de Rohan.

11 Musée Picasso

Hôtel Salé, Musée Picasso, Paris

Completed in 1659, the mansion which houses the museum has retained the cheeky nickname 'Salé' (salty) in memory of the ostentatious tastes of its first owner who made a fortune by taxing salt. Behind the monumental facade, you’ll discover a unique collection of wonderful works by Picasso which includes his paintings, but also sculptures, engravings and drawings. A fascinating immersion into the world of the artist.

12 Hôtel de Ville

Hôtel de Ville de Paris © Thinkstock

Do you know the Maison aux Piliers? Of course you do – it’s on the place de Grève! On this square, you can ice-skate in winter, watch top match events on big screens, and take part in free activities every summer when the banks of the Seine turn into Paris-Plages. Feeling lost? Well actually, that’s understandable. In the 12th century, the administration of Paris was entrusted to the corporation of water merchants, who controlled navigation on the Seine. Etienne Marcel, the provost of the merchants, transferred the seat of the municipality to the Maison aux Piliers – the current site of the Paris City Hall – in 1357.

13 Mémorial de la Shoah

Memorial de la Shoah, Paris © DR

Opened on the site of the tomb of the Unknown Jewish Martyr, the Memorial is a place of remembrance and documentation about the Shoah and also a 'museum of vigilance', designed for teaching, learning and experiencing. A bastion against oblivion, the Wall of Names, perpetuates the memory of the 76,000 Jewish victims deported from France with the cooperation of the Vichy government.

14 Musée Cognacq-Jay

Musée Cognacq Jay, Paris  © OTCP - Clémence Raunet

The couple Cognacq-Jay, founders of the Samaritaine department stores, devoted part of their great wealth to buying works and objects of art (paintings, sculptures, furniture, etc.) with a preference for those of the French 18th century.

15 Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges, Paris © OTCP - Amélie Dupont

Formerly known as the 'place Royale', this square has remained intact – miraculously so – since it was commissioned by Henri IV in 1604. The thirty-six townhouses have constituted a perfect symmetry from the day they were built, with their brick facades, deep-pitched slate roofs and the ground floor made up of a gallery of arcades for walking. Add a few musketeers and you’d think you were in a swashbuckling adventure film … or back to the splendid carrousel that inaugurated the square in 1612 to celebrate the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.

16 Maison Victor Hugo

Maison Victor Hugo, Paris © OTCP - Henri Garat

Victor Hugo lived on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée from 1832 to 1848. He wrote some of his major works there (Marie Tudor, Ruy Blas, Les Burgraves, Les Chants du crépuscule, Les Voix intérieures, a large part of Les Misérables) and Lamartine, Vigny, Dumas and Gautier visited him there.