Place des Vosges: What to see and do (Paris)

Learn about the Place des Vosges in Paris, from its history to famous residents like Victor Hugo. And see where you can eat, shop, and stay in this lovely part of the Marais.
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Place des Vosges is one of the oldest gardens and public squares in Paris. Originally known as Place Royale, it is widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful spots in the Marais, and indeed, in all of Paris.

Located off of Rue Saint Antoine on the border of the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, it is where the aristocracy and bourgeois used to live. And in fact still do, as house prices around here are more than double what it is in the surrounding buildings.

Here you’ll find elegant 17th-century buildings, encircling a beautiful garden with majestic fountains in the middle.

Beyond the well-heeled residents, these days the Place des Vosges is usually filled with Parisians ready to enjoy a bit of fresh air and sunshine.

The best way to explore Place des Vosges is simply to wander through its formal garden lined with trees, taking in the serenity of this place that has been described as an oasis in the middle of the madness of Paris.

So let’s hear more about how the Place des Vosges came to be and what there is to see here, shall we? Allons-y!

History and Famous Residents

Hôtel des Tournelles

Place des Vosges is built in 1605 on the site of an older complex called the Hôtel des Tournelles that was owned by the Kings of France.

The old Hôtel des Tournelles was destroyed after King Henry II of France died there in 1559 of wounds he received in a joust.

Place des Vosges: What to see and do (Paris) 2

After his death, his widow Catherine de Médici abandoned the Tournelles, by then quite derelict and old-fashioned.  Catherine at the time was busy building the Palais des Tuileries to attach to the Palais du Louvre, and so was less interested in Tournelles.

Place Royale

It would be Catherine de Médici’s son-in-law Henri IV who would construct the current building in 1605, then known as Place Royale. The occasion was the engagement of his son to Anne of Austria.

The Pavillon de la Reine which you see inscribed on the walls of Place Royale was named for her, and she would be the last French queen to live here.

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Given all the other palaces that there were in Paris, from the Palais de la Cité, Palais Royal, the Louvre, and the Tuileries, the palace at Place Royale would not become a royal palace. There was also that hot new palace just outside of Paris called the Château de Versailles.

Instead, Place des Vosges would become the home to other famous people like:

  • Cardinal Richelieu at number 21 – Chief advisor to King Louis XIII and inspiration for the villain in Alexandre Dumas’s 3 Muskateers.
  • Madame de Sévigné born at number 1bis – letter writer and icon of French 17th-century literature.
  • Victor Hugo at number 6 – French writer and politician (see more below).

This sumptuous building in the heart of Paris, however, would remain an emblematic of the divide between the rich and the poor.

French Revolution

At the time of the French Revolution in 1789, this area was surrounded by a medieval city, with buildings very close together and poor sanitation. At the time, there were no wide boulevards and Hausmannian architecture. Place des Vosges was a luxurious building where the nobility lived; the nobles who didn’t pay taxes like the commoners did.

Before the Revolution, even access to the gardens was forbidden, except on one day of the year, August 25, the feast of Saint Louis.

So you can imagine that after the storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789, the Place Royale about 1km (0.6 miles) away was one of the first places taken over by “the people”.

Place des Vosges

And with that, Place Royale was successively renamed several times in the span of a few short years:

  • Place des Fédérés – Federate square
  • Place du Parc-d’Artillerie – Artillery park square
  • Place de la Fabrication-des-Armes – Maker of weapons squre
  • Place de l’Indivisibilité – Indivisible square

In 1800, it was renamed “Place des Vosges” in honor of the Vosges regional department, which was the first to have paid tax under the French Revolution and, send volunteers to defend the “patrie” (country) in danger.

The return of the monarchy also returned “Place Royale” to its previous name from 1814 to 1830 and from 1852 to 1870. In 1830 , it also briefly bore the name “Place de la République”.

Today, Place de la République is an open square about 1 mile (1.6km) away, and Place des Vosges has returned to the name it had in honor of the Vosges department of France.

Maison de Victor Hugo

One of France’s most famous writers and poets has to be Victor Hugo. With a career spanning over 60 years, he wrote everything from poetry to satire, critical essays and historical odysseys. And he used to live at 6 Place des Vosges, right in the heart of the Marais.

His most popular works that have been translated into over 60 languages have to be Les Miserables and Hunchback of Notre Dame (which was not intended to be a children’s tale). He was also renowned for his poetry collections, such as Les Contemplations (The Contemplations) and La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Ages).

Bust of Victor Hugo
Bust of Victor Hugo

He lived in a rented apartment in Place des Vosges, with his wife for 16 years between 1832–1848. This 280 sqm apartment has now been converted into a museum called the Maison de Victor Hugo.

And that is because Victor Hugo did more than just write fictional novels. He was also a passionate supporter of republicanism after the Revolution, and served in politics as a deputy in the Assemblée Nationale, as well as a senator.

He gave several speeches to end poverty, as well as to establish universal suffrage (for women) and free education for all children. His advocacy in the 19th century to abolish the death penalty became renowned internationally.

His advocacy even had him briefly expelled from France in 1851 (he went to Belgium) before being allowed back. For his works and service to the French nation, he is buried in the Panthéon in Paris.

The museum covers the various periods of his life, including various drawings he did over the course of his life.

Place des Vosges

Art Galleries and Shops

There are several art galleries on the ground floor of the buildings surrounding the Place des Vosges. Some of the most notable ones are:

  • Modus Art Gallery – a modern art gallery featuring urban and street artists.
  • Bel Air Fine Art – Contemporary and pop art exhibiting works from a wide variety of artists that often changes.
  • Symbol Art Gallery – Featuring Figurative and abstract contemporary art usually in bright pops of color.

There are also several small souvernir shops in the surrounding square selling quirky and French-inspired items that should fit any budget. You can read more about shopping in Paris here.

Entrance to Place des Vosges in the Marais

Where to stay: Hotels

You can actually stay in Place des Vosges as there are a couple of luxury hotels ready to welcome guests:

  • €€€€ – Cours des Vosges – Classic rooms in a contemporary style overlooking the square, with facilities such as a hot tub, massages and a personal trainer.
  • €€€€€ – Le Pavillon de la Reine & Spa – Luxurious and modern rooms with separate salons, this hotel offers guests free access to the spa and fitness centre with a hot tub and hammam. 

You can find more hotels in the Marais area here.

Food and Restaurants

There are several restaurants and cafés in the buildings that surround the Place des Vosges, and it is wonderful place to have a coffee (or a beer). But if you are looking for something just a little bit more special, here are our favorite restaurants in Place des Vosges.

  • L’Ambroisie by Chef Bernard Pacaud – With three Michelin Stars, Chef Pacaud knows how to present luxury and refinement at its best.
  • La Place Royale – Reasonably priced southern French cooking served in a beautiful locale. With an exterior terrasse.
  • Carette – patisserie and teashop by the decorator Hubert de Givenchy, namesake and nephew of fashion designer Monsieur de Givenchy.

You can read more about foods and drinks to try in Paris here.

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If you enjoyed that article, you can also take guided walking tour through the area to hear about the Marais’s famous residents and how this area has changed over time. And you may want to read more about my top things to do in Paris. A bientôt!

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