Galleries and good times in the heart of Gay Paree
For the last two decades the Marais (sandwiched between St-Paul and République) has been one of the hippest parts of the city, packed with modish hotels, vintage boutiques, restaurants and bars – in no small part due to its popularity with the gay crowd (this is the only part of Paris where the blokes get winked at more than the ladies). But it’s also prime territory for art lovers, with a vast concentration of art galleries (both small and important) and museums, more often than not set in aristocratic 18th-century mansions spared by Haussmann. Two of the most sumptuous hôtels particuliers, Hôtel Guénégaud and Hôtel Carnavalet, contain (respectively) the wonderful Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (hunting museum) and fascinating Musée Carnavalet, which retraces Paris’s history. The Marais has also long been the focus of the Jewish community: amble along rue des Rosiers, rue des Ecouffes and rue Pavée (where there’s a synagogue designed by Guimard, the brain behind Paris’s iconic Métro stations) and the air fills with the scent of falafels and sizzling shawarmas, sold in their hundreds from stalwarts Chez Hanna and L’As du Fallafel.
The Marais’s western neighbour is Beaubourg, whose focal point is the Centre Pompidou modern art museum, a benchmark of inside-out high-tech design signed Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. This is also where you’ll find the Atelier Brancusi, the sculptor’s former workshop left to the state, and moved here from the 15th. Wander north of here for two of Paris’s lesser-known gems: The first, the Gaïté Lyrique (set in Offenbach’s former theatre) is a temple to digital arts, with streams of digital installations and live electro concerts; the second is the Musée des Arts et Métiers – a fabulous science museum with early flying machines displayed in a 12th-century chapel.