When I say I have an apartment in Paris, most people say, “oh, where is it exactly?” They don’t necessarily know Paris well and probably won’t recognize the majority of addresses, but they ask anyway. The chance of recognition is higher when you say, “do you know the Marais?” East bank, just across the river from Notre Dame; home of Places de Vosges and the Picasso Museum; the old Jewish quarter of Paris; lots of trendy boutiques, gay bars and falafel shops. “Ah, right, got it!”
I’ve said before that anyone who knows Paris wants to stay in the Marais. You could never leave its cobbled quarters and still eat in a different restaurant each night. You might never run out of museums and galleries to visit, or shops to browse in, because something new seems to open every week. But is it somewhere you would want to live, part-time or otherwise? Here is a run-down of the pros and cons of owning an apartment in the Marais:
- The Medieval Charm
During our property search, we got the advice that it’s better to live in a new building and look onto a beautiful old one than to live in an old building with leaky taps and creaky floorboards. We weren’t convinced. Now, when I lie in bed looking up at the 500-year-old ceiling beams of my flat in a medieval building, I’m thrilled to own a place so rich in history. In the Marais, the floorboards may creak and the taps may leak but if you ask me, that’s all part of its special charm.
2. The Central Location
When you’re in the Marais, you’re in the very heart of the city. It’s perfectly located for sightseeing; within strolling distance of many of the iconic sites and its narrow, one-way streets keep it largely traffic free and accessible. One of Paris’s busiest metro stations, Chatelet Les Halles, connects the Marais to the rest of the city. It’s an easy walk almost anything you need and you’re never more than a few metres from a bus stop, metro stop or passing taxi.
3. It’s Vibrant and Happening
The thriving social and cultural scene of the Marais attracts all sorts of characters. Tourists mingle with Parisians from all walks of life, making for prime people-watching territory. Things happen so quickly in the Marais that there is always something new to discover. The galleries exhibit all of the right names to drop; the shops are full of cutting-edge fashions; up-and-coming designers, architects and restauranteurs all vie for their tiny corner of this trendy district. If a fashionable address is important to you, you can buy one in the Marais.
4. It Feels Like a Village
People who live in the Marais describe it as being like a village. Ok, maybe not like the village I come from where the arrival of a newcomer is practically front-page news, but a village by Parisian standards. After a while, you start to see the same faces out and about, you get to know the people working in the local cafés and shops and the bank manager greets you by name. The little lanes and leafy parks add to the village feel and it really is possible to forget that you are in in Europe’s largest metropolis
5. That Parisian Magic
This is something very subjective and certainly not unique to the Marais but it’s definitely something that should lead you in your search. When I’m in the Marais, I feel the magic of Paris around me. You can stroll down to the river at sunset and watch as the rooftops and the river turn a golden pink. You wake up in the morning to the smell of baking croissants as the city stirs to life. You wander through Place des Vosges and imagine Victor Hugo at his window, jotting down the words that would become his famous novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you’re looking for that quintessential Paris feeling, you can find it in abundance in the Marais.
- Old buildings
Leaky taps, rusty pipes, rotting floorboards—you never know what might be behind the newly painted walls of your 500 year old building. Old apartments come with bags of charm but also with the risk of an expensive repair project somewhere in the future. We have already had one plumbing incident. Think about how important those beamed ceilings are to you and factor in the risks.
- Little Space for Money
The Marais is one of the most expensive areas of Paris, with an average square metre price of €12,000. That puts a 40 square metre apartment at almost half a million euros. One of the first decisions you make when buying property in Paris will be whether to prioritise space or location. We chose to compromise on space.
- It’s the Quarter that Never Sleeps
There are restaurants, cafes and bars on practically every corner in the Marais. Great when you’re a tourist who has to be prized from the terrace at closing time. Less so if you need to get up for work in the morning. Even our apartment, located on a quiet side street, is not spared the noisy spill at closing time at the weekend.
- Tourists for Neighbours
It is unlikely that you will get to know your neighbours in the Marais because they will always be changing. At the moment we share our building with three American girls on the top floor, a couple of chain smoking Italians in the flat above us and a lone French student and his dog in the basement. A couple of months from now they will be gone and new neighbours will have moved in. Lodgers come and go with the seasons in the Marais.
- It’s Expensive
I live in Oslo where a pint of beer can set you back €15. While I’ve become more or less immune to sticker-shock, I still begrudge that the asparagus in the organic vegetable shop on Rue Rambuteau is four times the price of that sold at the street market in Place d’Aligre. Everything in the Marais gets the hipster mark-up making cost-of-living more expensive than in other areas of Paris.
Honestly, when I review the list, I realize that none of the cons really matter to me. I love the Marais and genuinely believe that it’s one of the best areas in Paris to be both a tourist and to own a flat. Here, I feel happy and at home in Paris. If you read this list and the pros fill you with excitement, and you can easily brush aside the cons, the Marais just might be the right place for you.