Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (2024)

It's not every world capital that has two islands in the middle of the city. As you cross over the Seine towards Île de la Cité, the ancient heart of Paris, you journey back through the centuries to the very origins of the city. Along with Île Saint-Louis, the islands link the Right Bank to the Left Bank by a number bridges — Pont Neuf is the oldest and probably the most famous. And that's where we'll start our journey into the secrets, history, and facts about the islands of Paris.

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (1)

20 Great Things About the Islands of Paris

1. Pont Neuf & Square du Vert-Galant

Square du Vert-Galant and Pont Neuf, photo Wikimedia by Mbzt

The islands split the river Seine into two channels. The only bridge that spans both channels is located on the westernmost point of Île de la Cité. This bridge, built in 1607, is the oldest in Paris yet, paradoxically, is named Pont Neuf, "New Bridge". An equestrian statue of its builder, French king Henri IV (r. 1589 to 1610), overlooks the bridge. Next to the statue, down a few steps, is a romantic postage-stamp of a park called Square du Vert-Galant, a popular location for a romantic walk with views of the Seine.

Reasons to Visit

You're smack dab in the middle of Paris with some of the best views of the city. Relax in the shade of the trees, admire the statue of Henri IV, and think about his 50+ mistresses. In English he's known as Henry of Navarre, but in France he's most often called Le Vert Galant — The Green Gallant — referring to his many amorous affairs.

Discover Henry IV's Paris

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2. Guided Tour – Île de la Cité & La Conciergerie

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (4)The tour includes the magnificent stained glass of La Sainte Chapelle

This Insider's tour takes you on a special walk through the epicenter of Paris to learn the 2,000-year history of the island on which Notre Dame and La Conciergerie stand. As your guide leads you to the landmarks of the Paris islands — from the historic outdoor flower market, to La Conciergerie, to the Palais de Justice, to Île de la Cité's most famous building, Notre Dame — you'll discover the mystery and delights of Île de la Cité and learn the history of the enduring cathedral from its 107-year construction in the Middle Ages to its next chapter as it is restored in the 21st century.

3. Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame and its bell towers, photo by Mark Craft, 2017

Of all the great things on the Paris islands, Notre Dame Cathedral is perhaps the greatest. Famous for flying buttresses, bell towers, menacing gargoyles, and soaring spires, this historic cathedral had a close call during a devastating fire in 2019. Its history reaches back to medieval and Gothic times, even to Roman times, when you consider the remains found in and around the building. It's something every visitor to Paris must see, even if only from the outside.

4. Hotel des Deux Îles

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (6)

Location, location, location! This quiet retreat is in an amazing spot on the Ile St-Louis. Just steps out the door and you're in the hub counting the most romantic Paris restaurants, cafes, and monuments. Each of the 17 rooms has been decorated with simplicity and elegance in mind. "Comfortable, low-key, welcoming," one guest opined, and we concur.

• 59 Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Îl
• Île Saint-Louis

5. Night Bike Tour on the Islands

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (7)A scenic nighttime river cruise follows the bike tour

This energizing & fun cycling tour takes you to all the top spots on the two islands, including a stop for a scoop at Berthillon, the famous ice cream shop on Île Saint Louis. You also cycle over to the Eiffel Tower, past the Hotel de Ville, and down the narrow streets of Paris. Oh, one more thing — we almost forgot to mention that the activity also includes a nighttime Seine River boat cruise. With a glass of wine, of course.

6. Hotel du Jeu de Paume

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (8)

This elegant hotel on Île Saint-Louis is described as "a dream and one of the best hotels in Paris" by a happy customer. Relax in the open-beam library/lounge, then retreat to a beautifully-appointed room with historic finishes. Enjoy a drink in the charming garden after exploring the sights of Paris. Bonus? You're close to both the Marais and the Latin Quarter.

• 54 Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île
• Île Saint-Louis

7. La Sainte-Chapelle – A Restored Jewel

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (9)Magnificent stained-glass windows at La Sainte-Chapelle, photo Wikimedia by Gruntxiii

This stunning Gothic chapel is another Paris site you don't want to miss, especially following a serious, seven-year-long renovation that restored the stained glass, piece-by-piece using high-tech lasers. It's also one of the most popular venues in Paris to hear classical music. La Sainte-Chapelle is found inside the Palais de Justice/Conciergerie complex on Île de la Cité.

Reasons to Visit

The jewel of Gothic art and architecture — a miracle of balance — was built by French king and later saint Louis IX (r. 1226 to 1270) to house his favorite relic, the Crown of Thorns. Built in just seven years, La Sainte-Chapelle is a spectacular example of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture. Here you will marvel at 6,500 square feet of stained glass windows in glorious deep shades of red and blue.

Read Our Guide to La Sainte-Chapelle

8. Hotel de Lutece

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (10)

File this Paris hotel under "impossibly romantic". The beautiful 17th-century building retains its original fireplace & wooden beams, along with two dozen tastefully-decorated rooms. Being on Île Saint Louis, you're close to everything — the Marais, Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter. Bonus? All the rooms are sound-proofed and have air conditioning.

• 65 Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Îl
• Île Saint-Louis

9. La Conciergerie – Palace Turned Prison

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (11)La Conciergerie in the evening

Our virtual visit to Île de la Cité continues along the banks of the Seine to the place where the kings of France lived until the 14th century. La Conciergerie, although it was the first true royal palace, is today filled with souvenirs of the French Revolution. Perhaps that's no surprise, since this is where many of the parties involved in that national conflict were imprisoned before being beheaded during la terreur.

Reasons to Visit

At La Conciergerie you can visit the actual prison cell where Marie-Antoinette spent her last days before losing her head over in Place de la Concorde. It's a bit creepy, but there's also plenty of beautiful gothic architecture to admire.

Our Guide to La Conciergerie

10. The Garden of Notre Dame

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (12)The garden behind Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral is hard to miss, but here's something we think many visitors do miss. Behind the cathedral is a secluded garden that offers a welcome resting spot from the long lines. On this virtual tour, let's stop here a few moments so you can relax and reflect under the cool shade of the trees and admire the flying buttresses from another angle.

UPDATE — access to the area surrounding Notre Dame Cathedral is limited during reconstruction work.

11. Marché aux Fleurs

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (13)Marché aux Fleurs, photo Wikimedia by Alexander Baranov

Just across the street from La Sainte-Chapelle on Île de la Cité, at Place Louis Lépine (by the Cité Metro entrance) is a lively flower market that has been attracting locals and tourists since the early 1800s. The marché is housed in cast-iron n Art Nouveau pavilions built in 1900. The open-air displays are vast — seasonal flowers, exotic flowers, orchids, plants, and potted shrubs. On Sundays there is Le Marché aux Oiseaux, where you can shop for live, pet birds.

Like any beautiful flower, whose petals eventually begin to droop, the marchè is just a bit ragged around the edges. But, not to worry, a two-year renovation is slated to begin in 2023 to refresh the famous flower market.

Reasons to Visit

Stroll through the flower market before or after your visit to the Notre Dame site. While you're there, admire one of the last original Hector Guimard Art Nouveau Metro signs at Cité station. By the way, the Marché aux Fleurs added "Reine Elizabeth II" to its name after her visit in 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

12. Place Dauphine – A Paris Sanctuary

Place Dauphine, photo by Mark Craft

Opposite the equestrian statue of Le Vert Galant on Pont Neuf is our favorite oasis of tranquility in the center of Paris. Enter Place Dauphine between two houses that date back to Louis XIII (r. 1610 to 1643). The place was, in fact, built for Louis by his father Henry IV in 1609, when Louis was the Dauphin, or the heir to the throne. (Since the French word la place is feminine the modifier takes the feminine form: Dauphine. Got it?)

The place famously featured a grove of mature chestnut trees, once part of the royal orchard. However, back in 2009 the trees were attacked by a parasite and had to be removed and replanted. Luckily, the new trees are maturing nicely.

Reasons to Visit

This little piece of Paris heaven is a virtual car-free zone. Come for a glimpse of Parisian life — watch a game of pétanque and have a glass of wine at one of the charming wine bars or cafes.

Our Guide to Place Dauphine

13. Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (15)The park above the Memorial of the Deportation, photo by Mark Craft

Next to Notre Dame is this stark reminder of more-recent Paris past — a memorial dedicated to the 200,000 French Jews and others who were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps, with the active participation of collaborating French authorities, including the police.

Though just steps away from Notre Dame, the memorial goes unnoticed by most visitors. Located on the site of a former morgue, the unique design takes you down a set of stairs to what is necessarily a stark monument. It's a powerful reminder of Paris' darkest era.

Reasons to Visit

Architectural Digest has included Le Memorial Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation among its Ten Most Significant Memorial Buildings.

14. The Archeological Crypt of Notre Dame

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (16)The Archaeological Crypt of Notre-Dame, photo Wikimedia by Jean-Pierre Dalbera

On the parvis in front of Notre Dame is located what is perhaps the best-kept secret of Île de la Cité — not above ground but buried beneath. In front of the cathedral, at the far edge of the plaza, is the Crypte Archéologique, the Archeological Crypt, one of the most important ancient sites in Paris to be uncovered in recent times.

Reasons to Visit

Travel back in time to discover ancient vestiges from Gallo-Roman Paris and from mediaeval times. You'll walk away with a better understanding of how Paris has been in a continuous state of reconstruction for over 2,000 years.

UPDATE — access to the area surrounding Notre Dame Cathedral is limited during reconstruction work.

7 Vestiges of Roman Paris

15. Notre Dame Saints

West facade of Notre Dame, photo Wikimedia by Benh Lieu Song

As you walk from the crypt entrance toward Notre Dame you can't miss its two famous bell towers, still standing proud after the April 2019 fire. If you can see past the restoration construction, study the the sculptures of the saints in bas-relief adorning the front of the cathedral. The one holding his own head is Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris who lived almost 2,000 years ago. Legend has it that when he was decapitated by the Romans he picked up his own head and walked to a cathedral on Montmartre. It's how Montmartre got its name — as the mount of martyr.

UPDATE — access to the area surrounding Notre Dame Cathedral is limited during reconstruction work.

Our Updated Guide to Notre Dame Cathedral

16. Brasserie de l'Île St-Louis

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (18)Brasserie de l'Île St-Louis, photo by Mark Craft

Behind Notre Dame is Le Pont St-Louis — the pedestrian bridge that connects Île de la Cité to Île St-Louis, Cross the bridge and the first building you come across is home to one of the best old-time brasseries in Paris and our favorite spot for Sunday lunch.

Lunch here is the perfect Paris experience, especially in the colder months. Expect comfort foods like frisée salad with a warm poached egg and bacon; rich, oily herring with yellow, waxy potatoes; wine served in carafes; and plenty of frites.

Reasons to Visit

This is a prime example of classic Paris — the city of Hemingway and others before him. Mousse au chocolate; juicy, plump omelettes; and homemade cassoulet served by waiters who have been there for decades. Get it before it disappears.

17. Cow Island

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (19)Place Louis Aragon on Île Saint-Louis, photo Wikimedia Commons by Moonik

Île Saint-Louis didn't exist until the 17th century. Before that time there were two smaller islands in this part of the Seine, one of them was used for grazing cattle and was called, appropriately, Île aux Vaches. In the heady days of Henri IV and Louis XIII, a period that ran from 1589 to 1643, Paris experienced unprecedented expansion and improvement. Swamps were drained, bridges were built spanning the Seine (Pont Neuf being a prime example), the Louvre palace was expanded, and Place des Vosges in the Marais was built. It was the era of Cardinal Richelieu and, of course, the era when Île Saint-Louis was created from the two islets.

18. Lafitte

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (20)On the shelves at Lafitte, photo by Mark Craft

When we're looking for foie gras in Paris, the place we head to is Lafitte, on Île Saint-Louis. Founded in 1920, Lafitte specializes in poultry products from the Landes region of France, the home of the best foie gras, pates, confits and other gourmet foods from duck and geese. It's the best, most delicious source in Paris.

20. Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (21)Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île in the early 20th century

Île Saint-Louis was named after the 13-century king of France (who was later sainted) as is this street that runs the length of the island. It's a small isle, with only this central rue and a few cross-streets. But Rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile is nicely packed with interesting shops.

Berthillon Glacier is the place to go to get the best ice cream in Paris. Oliviers & Co specializes in olives and olive oils. La Ferme St Aubin is all about classic French cheeses and some of the best charcuterie in the city. Pylones is the famous shop that creates some of the funkiest and fun products to be found. Amarillo dishes out scoops of Italian ice cream. And, for all your food shopping needs, Les Délices de Saint-Louis has got to be the best "corner" store in Paris.

The Island of Paris – Resources

Îles in the Seine

Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (22)Islands in the Seine, photo by Mark Craft

Settled about 2,000 years ago by a tribe of fishermen called the Parisii, Île de la Cité, is now home to both spiritual and temporal powers — the Palais de Justice shares the island with one of the most prestigious religious monuments in the world, Notre Dame Cathedral. Here are a few other addresses to note:

  • Les Delices de Saint-Louis, 67 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île
  • Oliviers & Co, 81 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Íle.
  • La Ferme Saint-Aubin, 76 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île
  • Pylones, 57 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île.
  • Brasserie de l'Isle Saint-Louis, 55 Quai de Bourbon, Website
  • Lafitte, 8 rue Jean du Bellay, Website
  • Archeological Crypt of the Parvis of Notre-Dame, 7 Parvis Notre-Dame, Website
  • Rue Saint-Louis en l'Ile is also the name of a 2004 recording by the avant-garde French singer, Brigitte Fontaine. Apparently it's where she lived.

View a Large Map of the Paris Arrondissem*nts

Paris Planning Guides

Skip the Tower LinesGlorious Dinner CruisesGuide to the MaraisLeft Bank Hotels
Île de la Cité & Île St-Louis | The Islands of Paris | Paris Insiders Guide (2024)

FAQs

What is Île Saint-Louis known for? ›

Along with Faubourg Saint-Germain and Le Marais, Île Saint-Louis was one of the most affluent neighborhoods in 17th and 18th century Paris. The Pont Saint-Louis entertainers (i.e., jazz bands, jugglers and mimes) perform on a small bridge that connects Île Saint-Louis with Île de la Cité.

Are cars allowed on Île Saint-Louis? ›

Ile Saint Luis is generally a no driving/no parking District.

What are the two islands in Paris called? ›

The Seine is dotted with two natural islands, île Saint-Louis and île de la Cité, and one artificial island, île aux Cygnes. Tourists have the opportunity to see these islands during a river boat tour and to learn about their histories, essential to understanding Paris.

What is the famous island near Paris France? ›

Two islands in the heart of Paris are particularly appealing to tourists: the Île Saint-Louis and the Île de la Cité have some of the finest monuments in Paris, and their quaysides are wonderful places to stroll and enjoy a picnic.

What is the history of Île de la Cité? ›

History. Around the year 200 B.C., the Parisii Celtic tribe lived on the Île de la Cité until the Romans conquered the area and established a town called Lutetia in 52 BC. The borough grew and prospered until it became the capital of the empire of the Franks in 508 and was renamed Cité.

What is Saint-Louis of France known for? ›

Louis is known for interpreting his kingly duties in the light of faith. During his kingship, St. Louis opened hospitals, visited the sick, and cared for people with leprosy. Every day, Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace.

Is Ile Saint Louis safe? ›

Connected to the rest of Paris by six bridges, Ile Saint-Louis is in fact a peaceful place. Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city, many a political personality and celebrity resides in this area.

Can I sleep in my van in France? ›

Traffic signs

Sometimes just to avoid the potential nuisance of people camping out. Even in a converted car, you can be baffled by such a sign: "Am I allowed to sleep in my car here? In fact, there is absolutely no legal ban on sleeping in your car in France.

Can you stay in your car on a ferry to France? ›

Don't forget that, even if you're travelling with a motorhome on a cross-channel ferry, you won't be able to stay with your vehicle and will have to access the passenger deck for the duration of the journey.

Is Notre Dame on the Left Bank? ›

Starting on the Île de la Cité in Place Louis Lépine square, you'll see the Gothic masterpieces of Notre Dame de Paris and Sainte Chapelle, before strolling along the Left Bank of the Seine and past the San Severin Church.

What are the 4 French islands? ›

Did you know?
  • The Islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Atlantic Ocean)
  • Reunion island, Mayotte, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Indian Ocean)
  • French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna (Pacific Ocean)
Jan 4, 2023

What is the oldest part of Paris? ›

The Marais means the swamp. It is the oldest remaning part of Paris, outside the 2 islands on the Seine river. Its medieval and renaissance buildings escaped the great "modernisation" of the XIXth century that wiped out other sections of the old town.

Is Notre Dame built on an island? ›

Notre-Dame Cathedral, referred to as Notre Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”) or simply Notre Dame, stands as a testament to history and faith on the eastern half of Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine River within Paris, France's 4th arrondissem*nt.

What is the best French island to visit? ›

  1. Île de la Cité 5,336. Historic Walking Areas Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois. ...
  2. Ile Saint-Louis. 4,801. Islands Ile de la Cité / Ile Saint-Louis. ...
  3. Iles Lavezzi. 4,534. Nature & Wildlife Areas. ...
  4. Iles de Lerins. 2,148. Islands. ...
  5. Ile de Batz. 1,637. Islands. ...
  6. Château d'If. 1,781. ...
  7. L'Île Renote. 383. ...
  8. Île Sainte-Marguerite. 1,625.

How much does it cost to visit Notre Dame? ›

While entry into the cathedral is free you'll need a ticket to climb to the top of the cathedral's spectacular towers. You can also choose a guided tour.

What is Lle de France famous for? ›

Beyond the city limits of Paris, the region has many other important historic sites, including the palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau, as well as the most-visited tourist attraction in France, Disneyland Paris. Although it is the richest French region, a significant number of residents live in poverty.

What famous ice cream shop is found on Ile St Louis? ›

If you ask most Parisians where to get the best ice cream in Paris, they'll send you straight to Berthillon. And it's true that the long lines of hungry-looking tourists and Parisians you'll see snaking down the picturesque Île Saint-Louis street on a summer's day speak for themselves.

What is the most popular food in Île-de-France? ›

Classic French Croque Monsieur

Behold this quintessential French-bistro classic – the Croque Monsieur. This iconic French sandwich is filled with Paris ham and French hard mountain cheese, grilled to perfection, then covered with a creamy Béchamel sauce and finished under the broiler.

What is Ile St Jean known as today? ›

Isle Saint-Jean was a French colony in North America that existed from 1713 to 1763 on what is today Prince Edward Island as part of the wider colony of Acadia.

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