Place des Vosges: An insider's guide

Check out the Parisian hangouts around Paris's most sumptuous royal square...

Place des Vosges, separating Bastille from the Marais, is the perfect example of how Paris unabashedly mixes residential zones with tourist districts. Here, you're just as likely to meet a well-heeled local popping out for a baguette as you are a coachload of American teenagers. The reason, of course, is that Place des Vosges is pure eye-candy – a 17th-century peach stone beauty that was built for Henri IV, with shop-filled arcades and a stately park that  lets you lounge on the grass – a rarity in Paris. Needless to say, on sunny days the square is awash with tourists, so you might want to try our selection of authentically local attractions, cafés, restaurants and bars.

For shopping, head northwards to the boutiques around nearby Rue Charlot, Paris's hottest new shopping district, where a plethora of emerging designers flaunt their wares in stately 18th-century buildings. Click here for details.

For more information on Place des Vosges, click here.

Around Place des Vosges...

Museum: Musée Cognacq-Jay

This cosy museum north of Place des Vosges houses a collection put together in the early 1900s by La Samaritaine founder Ernest Cognacq and his wife Marie-Louise Jay. They stuck mainly to 18th-century French works, focusing on rococo artists such as Watteau, Fragonard, Boucher, Greuze and pastellist Quentin de la Tour, though some English artists (Reynolds, Romney, Lawrence) and Dutch and Flemish names (an early Rembrandt, Ruysdael, Rubens), plus Canalettos and Guardis, have managed to slip in. Pictures are displayed in panelled rooms with furniture, porcelain, tapestries and sculpture of the same period.

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The Marais

Gallery: Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP)

Walk through Place des Vosges's 'secret' door (in the west corner under the arcades) to the Hôtel de Sully garden and then rue de Rivoli (turning right towards St-Paul) to get to the MEP. Probably the capital's best photography exhibition space, it hosts retrospectives by names such as Larry Clark and Martine Barrat, along with work by emerging photographers. The building, an airy mansion with a modern extension, contains a huge permanent collection. The venue organises the biennial Mois de la Photo and the annual Art Outsiders festival of new media web art (often in September).

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The Marais

Restaurant: Chez Hanna

By noon on a Sunday there is a queue outside every falafel shop along rue des Rosiers. The long-established L'As du Fallafel, a little further up the street, still reigns supreme, whereas Hanna remains something of a locals' secret, quietly serving up falafel and shawarma sandwiches to rival any in the world. A pitta sandwich bursting with crunchy chickpea-and-herb balls, tahini sauce and vegetables costs €4 if you order from the takeaway window, €8 if you sit at one of the tables in the buzzy dining room overlooking the street. Either way, you really can't lose.

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The Marais

Restaurant: Cru

Opening a raw-food restaurant is a gamble, so the owners of Cru bend the rules here and there, offering root vegetable 'chips' and a few plancha dishes. Still, the extensive menu has plenty for the crudivore, such as some unusual carpaccios (the veal with preserved lemon is particularly good) and intriguing 'red' and 'green' plates, variations on the tomato and cucumber. The food is perfectly good, but the real reason to come here is the gorgeous courtyard terrace lurking behind this quiet Marais street.

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The Marais

Café: L'Etoile Manquante

The hippest of Xavier Denamur's merry Marais bars. Cocktails are punchy, traditional tipples just as good, and the salads and snacks are reasonably priced and tasty - but it's the design and buzz that are the main draws. The decor is trendy but comfortable, embellished with interesting art. As in all Denamur's places, no visit is complete without a trip to the toilets: here, an electric train shuttles between cubicles, starlight beams down from the ceiling, and a hidden camera films you washing your hands. Just watch the small screen on the wall behind you.

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The Marais

Wine Bar: Le Temps des Cérises

Not to be confused with several other cafés of the same name, this one-room bistro à vins has changed very little over the years. Faded net curtains, Duralex tumblers behind the zinc bar and prices that begin at €2.50 for a vin or beer are all reminiscent of a bygone age. The blackboard wine list is limited but the selection is always well chosen, and food is old-fashioned and hearty (think beef stew and blanquette de veau). The general banter is football-centred, so get ready to rumble with the natives about PSG.

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Bar: Tape Bar

To get away from the overloaded Rue de Lappe in the Bastille quarter, frequented by students and tourists, follow the Rue de la Roquette to a little bar that’s close by but a world away. Tape Bar recalls New York’s underground dive scene with its mix-tape, street-art feel, and is owned by friendly, dynamic young people who leave graffiti artists to express themselves on the walls and the DJs to mix mostly hip-hop and funk sets, with some dubstep, drum’n’bass and rock as well. The ambiance is relaxed, the drinks affordable, the hipster crowd young, and it all stays humming until late. During happy hour, cocktails and hot dogs are at €4, a real bargain.

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Bastille

Pub: Stolly's

Don’t know what to do on Paddy’s day in Paris? Stolly’s is a good bet, a full throttle Irish pub in the middle of the Marais. Here, foreigners and the French mix freely, with plenty of laughter and clinking of glasses in a cheerful, if pretty raucous atmosphere. ‘Hangovers installed here!’ is the catchphrase, they do their best to deliver: beer is served in enormous 1.5 litre pitchers, setting the room spinning from a fairly early hour. If you’re off beer, there are cocktails or whisky, with a good menu of ten-year-old Scotches. The soundtrack is rock, and the delightful micro terrace gets a special mention, as good (heated) in winter as it is in summer.

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The Marais

Theatre: Café de la Gare

If your French is up the scratch and you fancy a Gailic giggle, try the Café de la Gare. Running since 1968, the most famous fringe theatre in Paris has 300 stage-hugging seats and hosts quality French stand-up and raucous comedies.

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The Marais

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