Few areas of Paris bring together the old and the new as well as the Romantic Marais, precisely the North Marais, or NoMa for short, occupiying the surface of the 3rd arrondissement of Paris. Within the city blocks south of Place de la Republique and east of the Sentier/Montorgueil area is a maze of narrow streets where historic private mansions rub shoulders with hipster coffee shops. Popularized by Parisian bobos over the last 15 years or so, this is the trendiest neighborhood in central Paris and home to some of the most romantic places in Paris, which you can discover with me below.
Most Romantic Historic Site
Sure, the Hotel de Salé, now home to the Picasso Museum, might be the biggest of the historic former private mansions of the 3rd district, however, its beauty pales in comparison to the exquisite Hôtel de Soubise. Built in the early 1700s for one of Louis XIV’s mistresses, Anne de Rohan-Chabot, it was the last major hotel particulier constructed in the Marais. The oohs and ahhhs start as soon as you enter into its marvellous courtyard, featuring a rare oval colonnade. You can easily envisage the crème de la crème of the era’s elite zooming around it in their carriages to attend a ball in the fancy interior. Indeed, the palace’s interior is even more divine, although, since being converted by Napoleon into the National Archives, it isn’t quite like as extravagant as it used to be. It’s still well worth paying the small entrance fee to peek through the apartments of the Prince and Princess, daintily decorated in murals of frolicking deities and gilded mirrors. The hidden gardens, accessible to the right of the entrance, are also a lovers’ must with their cozy alcoves, pergolas and romantic benches.
Most Romantic Garden
Like the one’s mentioned above, the Marais is dotted with many secret gardens, though the Square Saint-Gilles Grand Veneur is probably the area’s most romantic green space. Concealed from the street, you’ll be able to wow your sweetheart as your turn off of rue Hesse (between Turenne and Blvd Beaumarchais) and into this splendid courtyard. Once the private gardens of the Hotel du Grand-Veneur, the public gardens are embellished with small lawns and trellises of climbing roses. The ideal place for a mid afternoon sunny break or casual picnic on one of lovers’ benches.
Most Romantic Secret Place
Hidden between Rue de Turbigo and Rue St Martin, Le Passage de l’Ancre is one of the oldest and most charming passageways of Paris. Pre-1792 it was called Passage de l’Ancre Royale owing to an anchor shaped sign found in the laneway, yet, not surprisingly, during the Revolution the Royale became “Nationale,” though its name subsequently … guillotined down to simply Passage de l’Ancre. Lined with plants and the colorful facades, it’s a delightful oasis of calm. One intriguing shop remains, Pep’s, a whimsical shop specialized in selling and repairing umbrellas and parasols for over 35 years.
Most Romantic Quirky Place
While the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature has become somewhat “cult”, it’s still never crowded and is definitely among the most peculiar places in Paris and oddly romantic for several reasons. Distributed throughout the classy rooms of two 17th-century private mansions is an eclectic collection of artwork on the themes of hunting and nature, historic hunting weapons and a Noah’s Arc of stuffed animals from the four corners of the globe. All of this is presented in a sophisticated way, like you’re wandering through an intriguing cabinet of curiosities, or are lost in a West Anderson movie.
Most Romantic “Cool” Place
If you’re seeking out some cool shopping or browsing experience in the area, then look no further than Merci. The fun starts with the courtyard and its vintage Fiat, which changes colour every so often. Inside you could start with a fun couple’s game, like separate and buy a small under 5 euro gift for the other, or perhaps have a fantasy game of “furniture” shopping for your dream house in their chic yet at times pricey housewares section or simply help each other pick out a hip Parisian outfit. Afterwards retreat to their cozy cafe for a drink or grab a healthy lunch in its café.
Most Romantic Café
The 3rd arrondissement probably has the largest concentration of excellent and uber cool coffee shops in Paris, however, few can match the magical charm of Lily of the Valley. Alright, I might also be fond of its name, but really, its a tiny bijou. Squished between the other cool cafes and shops that line rue Dupetit-Thouars (another great street in the area…), is this itsy-bitsy tea and coffee shop. Stepping through the door is like entering an enchanting world with a floral “valley” cascading from the ceiling. They have a vast range of teas, served in mismatch china, good quality coffee and excellent cakes. With only three “tables” inside, it’s advisable to come mid morning or afternoon if you want to soak up its ambiance as you sip, alternatively, they have more tables outside or you can take your treats to the nearby pretty Square du Temple park.
Most Romantic Bar
If you want a serious cocktail date in the upper Marais with a dash of sensuality, then come knocking at the Little Red Door. Entering via its small red door, you’ll find a stylish yet relaxing decor, romantic low lighting and cozy seating either on intimate sofas and armchairs or at the bar to watch the talented bartenders at work creating their award-winning cocktails. Best to come earlier or on a weeknight for a quieter tête-à-tête, possibly before heading off to dinner at one of the below recommendations.
Most Romantic “Hip” Restaurant
There are lots of “trendy” restaurants in the Upper Marais, but not all of these could be classified as romantic. And as I would “love” to include the appropriately named Biglove Caffè, part of the chain of trendy Big Mamma Italian restaurants, however, waiting in line for ages is hardly romantic. So I’ve chosen two restaurants in the district, with two different vibes. Firstly, if you want to go for cool and quirky with an element of surprise, then don’t tell your partner where you’re going and lead them to Derrière. Yes, it does mean “behind” in French, and there is indeed a bit of tongue and “cheek” (hee hee), in this funky restaurant hidden behind the Andy Wahoo Bar and Restaurant 404 (all same owner). Once you find the entrance, you can park your derrieres on the modern restaurant’s with a hipster homey feel, scattered with a hodgepodge of furniture, including a bed. An ideal setting to get those romantic juices flowing…
Photo Courtesy of Istr
Most Romantic “Seductive” Restaurant
If you’re looking for a more fashionable setting, with the added bonus aphrodisiacal properties, then reserve a table for two at Istr. Meaning oyster in the Breton language, this stylish restaurant prides itself on providing the finest of this pearls of the sea. It’s not the first trendy oyster bar in Paris, but the possibly the most attractive with contemporary crab and floral print wall paper, mismatch mirrors and intimate candlelit two-person tables, it’s perfect for wooing. The changing menu also features other fresh catches in small and larger plate form paired with excellent wine and themed cocktails.
Most Romantic “Place with it All”
While my chosen place could have gone into the category of “most romantic street,” Rue Payenne is much more than a mere street. This historic one block rue is chock full of delights. Dating back to the 16th and 17th century golden age of the Marais, the narrow street is lined with historic private mansions and parks. Of its many mansions is the l’Hôtel de Marle, built in the 1550-60s and now home to the Institut Suédois. The Swedish Cultural Center is a range of exhibits and events open to the open, however, its lovely courtyard café is what draws many here. Down the street is one of my favorite private mansions in the area, the Hôtel de Châtillon. Unlike many of the other former mansions of the area which have been converted into museums and cultural centers, it has a mysterious quality. Ot was once inhabited by the famous Mme de Maintenon, one of Louis XIV’s mistresses, then seems to have been used as a workshop in the 19th century before being converted into apartments. Midway down the street is the lovely tiny garden of the Square Georges-Cain adorned with a sensual statue by Aristide Maillol. A little further along the street is the entrance to the Leopold Achille Square, another beautiful park which adds to the streets romantic allure! Happy strolling!
Discover these sports via my Google Map (available here and below). Plus if you want to do more romantic wandering in Paris, check out my romantic guides of the various districts below or find further inspiration for an original romantic outing in my large collection of Paris date ideas.