Want to explore the Ile de la Cité, Paris? This post will show you all the fun things to do, and where to stay and eat to get a deeper insight into this island!
Ile de la Cité is an island on the Seine River that sits right in the center of Paris. It houses some of Paris’s most well-known landmarks, notably the Notre Dame Cathedral making it worth spending an afternoon or even a day exploring.
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Access is made easy via a number of gorgeous bridges as well as the highly practical metro system.
But behind all its charm lies a long history where the city of Paris was born. As you take in the island’s beauty, it’s equally important to know about its history to fully appreciate everything it harbors fully.
Before You Go, Here’s How to Plan Your Visit To Paris: Practical Quick Tips
WHERE TO STAY
Best Eiffel Tower Views: Hôtel Le Walt (9.0)
Luxury stay: Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel (8.2)
Mid-range stay: Hôtel Eiffel (8.7)
Budget Stay: People – Paris Bercy (8.9)
Apartment Rental: Résidence Charles Floquet (9.1)
- Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.
- Prepare your trip extensively with this Paris Travel guidebook.
- Don’t forget a universal travel adapter, a travel neck pouch, and comfortable walking shoes.
- Consider getting either the museum pass or the Paris city pass if you plan to visit a lot of attractions. The city pass comes with free transportation and access to the hop-on-hop-off bus. You can read my Paris museum pass review to see if it’s right for you.
- Book this private transfer from CDG airport to Paris to avoid the hustle of figuring out how to get to Paris.
Ile De La Cité history
If Paris is a city steeped in history, then the Ile de la Cité is the beating heart that underpins much of that long back story and the culture behind it.
It was once a Gallic settlement called Lutetia and inhabited by a tribe called the Parisii. Conquered by the Romans, it became home to the Roman governor before being handed to the Franks in 486.
Between 1242 and 1248, both Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame de Paris were built and the island began to become more densely populated.
Though the island was an important administrative center, the smells and crowding drove royalty to move to other parts of the city.
The Conciergerie would go on to become an important prison and a point of focus during the French revolution. Even Marie Antoinette was imprisoned there before her beheading.
In 1793, that building was stormed and many royalist prisoners were massacred. Later, the revolutionary Robespierre would also be sent there prior to his appointment with the guillotine.
In the years following the most famous of revolutions, cholera outbreaks would become a reoccurring theme until Napoleon III ordered the destruction of the narrow streets and replaced them with some of the fine architecture we find there today.
Where to Stay Near Ile De La Cité
Being right in the center of Paris covering parts of the 1st and the 4th arrondissements of Paris, Ile de la Cite is the perfect place to base yourself to see all that the city offers.
But since there are no hotels on the ile de la cite, the next best thing is to stay close by. So, if you want to stay near the island, here are the ile de la cite hotels I recommend opting for.
Grand Hotel des Balcons: This hotel makes a good place to stay if you are on a limited budget. It is in the heart of the Latin quarter but you will still be within easy walking distance of Notre Dame Cathedral and all of the Ile’s other famous attractions.
Hotel Abbatial Saint Germain: This three-star hotel lies in the popular Saint Germain district. It offers modern rooms in an old building that has been converted with an eye to guarding some of its architectural pedigree. On a medium budget, this hotel allows you easy access to île de la cité and its many famous attractions.
Novotel Paris Les Halles: This four-star hotel has a pronounced chic atmosphere about it. It lies in the 1st district meaning you’ll be within easy walking distance of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre museum, and the Seine River. The hotel offers a well-equipped gym with windows overlooking the city, yoga classes on the weekend, and unusually, a space dedicated to kids. As if that weren’t luxury enough, their Jardin Privé restaurant is set in a delightful atrium allowing diners to feel like they have stepped into another world.
Roi de Sicile – Rivoli – Luxury apartment hotel: Sometimes it is just nice to have that little bit more autonomy and this apartment hotel offers just that. They offer a range of accommodations stretching from studios through to luxury suites with balconies. You will have your own equipped kitchen with a dishwasher as well as a flat screened television, so it gives a bit more freedom than a traditional hotel. The Louvre is 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) away and the Opera Bastille is 2.1 kilometres (1.3 miles). If you are arriving or departing via Paris-Orly airport, the hotel offers a paid shuttle service.
Now that you’ve found where to stay in Paris, let’s look at the best things to do on Ile de la Cité.
13 Best Things to Do on Ile De La Cité, Paris
There are so many things to do on Ile de la cite, Paris that it is harder to decide what to leave off this list than what to put on it. Below are the must-visit.
1. Take a Guided Walking Tour of Ile de la Cite
For those with limited time but a huge zeal to learn about everything in this little corner of Paris, the best thing to do is to sign up for a guided walking tour.
This guided walking tour of Ile de la cite will take you through all the famous landmarks of the island, from strolling around Notre Dame while learning about its history, to visiting Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie.
With a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, you’ll be able discover all that is famous and hidden in Paris’ famous island.
2. Take in the beauty of Sainte-Chapelle
With over 1100 stained glass windows, this building is an exquisite piece of Gothic architecture that stands out, even in a city with more than its fair share of architectural wonders.
Interestingly, this Parisian church built in the 13th century was originally a royal palace. It is now a World Heritage site and to really understand it completely, you might want to consider booking one of their guided tours.
Your tour guide will help you discover aspects of the building that you might otherwise never become aware of.
Alternatively, you can also visit independently by booking this skip-the-line ticket to Sainte Chapelle.
3. Have a Glance At the Notre Dame Cathedral
Few places are more intimately tied to the history of the Ile de la Cité than this majestic cathedral.
In what was probably one of the most famous fires in recent years (in 2019), one that brought many Parisians to tears, much of it was badly damaged.
It is still being restored but it remains such an icon that you should at least walk past and pay your respects.
But even in her damaged state, she remains an impressive sight and no visit to Paris would be complete unless you could claim to have been there.
Though you can’t enter, you can increase your knowledge about this cathedral plus the fateful day of the fire and also get a chance to enter its crypt by booking this Notre Dame Outdoor Walking Tour.
4. Experience an essential part of French history at La Conciergerie
As we have already seen, this Palais turned prison has played an important role in some of the most momentous events in French history.
While there, you can visit the museum which will open your eyes to some of the violence that this building has witnessed during its lifetime.
In the museum, you will be able to visit a replica of the cell in which Marie Antoinette was detained for the two months prior to her execution.
The Conciergerie also houses the Marie-Antoinette Chapel, and the Hall of the Men-at-Arms, on top of its striking Towers and facades.
To access the Conciergerie, you’ll need to purchase this entry ticket.
Pro tip* Since the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie are next to each other, it’s better to buy this combined ticket to visit both of them. It is faster and cheaper.
5. Chill out and savor the view from the Square du Vert Galant
This wonderful little garden sits right at the tip of the Ile de la Cité and offers an escape from the crowds combined with great views of the Seine as she merges after flowing around the island.
It is a cool tree-shaded place that is perfect for a Parisian picnic and it is often a favorite haunt for buskers playing their traditional accordions.
6. Add some color to your photos with a stroll through the Marché aux Fleurs Reine-Elizabeth-II
Beneath delightful glass pavilions, this collection of greenhouses offers a chance to explore one of the best flower markets in Paris.
You will be exposed to a visual treat and you can pick up some Parisian souvenirs and postcards as you stroll.
You could also impress a loved one by offering them anything from a bouquet to a simple long-stemmed rose. This is Paris and these sorts of romantic gestures help add to the experience in ways that are almost obligatory.
The market also turns into a bird market on Sundays selling caged birds (evident from its previous name, Marché aux fleurs et aux Oiseaux Cité) an activity that is in the process of being banned due on the basis of animal welfare.
7. Visit the oldest bridge in Paris
The Ile de la Cité is connected to the rest of Paris by a number of different bridges, all of which bear testimony to a different era in time and history.
In many ways, Paris is a city of bridges and each tells a different story about the city and its past, and one that can’t be missed is on île de la cité.
The oldest bridge confusingly goes by the name of Pont Neuf (new bridge) but it still dates back to 1578.
Many of the features of its elegant structure might be missed unless you are paying attention and despite her immense age, this bridge is still carrying vehicles across the Seine today.
Related Post: Famous Bridges of Paris
8. Step away from the madding crowd in the calm of Place Dauphine
This large square is very near to Pont Neuf and is a favorite place for boule-loving locals to enjoy a game of petanque which is a game with a long history in France.
It also makes a great place to sit and read, or simply to find a little peace and quiet for a few moments, or grab a coffee at one of the cafes before resuming your adventure on Ile de la cite.
9. Take in the Architectural Beauty of The Palais de Justice
It is the architecture that makes Palais de Justice, (which houses the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the country), an attraction worth stopping for.
Once a royal palace, the building located between the Conciergerie and the Sainte-Chapelle is now a functioning court, so you won’t be able to enter (unless you commit some heinous crime), but you can certainly admire it from the outside.
10. Explore the Neighboring Island of Saint-Louis
Ile de la Cité is not the only island in the center of Paris. There are two natural islands in Paris, and though not technically attached other than by a bridge, it makes sense to visit the smaller island of Saint-Louis while you are in ile de la Cité.
Ile Saint-Louis is a much smaller island but well worth exploring. Take a stroll along Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, which is the main street on the island.
11. Snap a selfie or kiss your partner at this magic marker of Point Zero
Point Zero, right in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, marks the exact center of the city of Paris and where distances from Paris to other parts of the country are measured.
It might have little by way of significance to all but the hardened tourist or keen surveyor, were it not for the fact that kissing a loved one there is believed to guarantee eternal adoration.
Quite how true this legend is will probably be down to you to test, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
12. Stop By The Memorial Des Martyrs De La Deportation
Pay your respects to a dark part of France’s more recent history at this austere memorial.
Between 1941 and 1944, thousands of people (particulary Jews) were deported from France and many of them found themselves in Nazi concentration camps from which they never returned.
The 200, 000 glass rods set into a stone wall offer a bleak reminder of that tragic period that still haunts the country today. A sombre but important place to visit and to pay your respects at the same time.
13. See the Oldest Clock in Paris
Easily overlooked on the Boulevard de Paris is a clock that was built in the 1370s. The clock, Horloge du Palais de la Cité located on the Conciergerie still functions despite its immense age and the often-violent history that it has overseen.
It is from this clock that Quai de l’Horloge, which you have probably been strolling along, draws its name.
14. Snap a Photo of Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole
That coupled with its colorful windows, doors, and chairs on the outdoor terrace have turned it into one of the most Instagrammable places in Paris and one you shouldn’t miss while exploring Ile de la cite.
You can also sit down for a meal or a refreshment if you’re up for it.
15. Stroll Along Rue Chanoinesse
Step into a world now lost when you walk along this quaintly preserved little street.
Once inhabited by an order of monks, the street still has an almost medieval feel to it. You might find yourself escaping from most tourists and you will find some great little eateries and coffee shops while you are there.
Where to Eat on the Ile De La Cité
There are many restaurants on Ile de la Cité so you won’t have trouble finding a place to grab a bite or to sit and enjoy a coffee while you watch the world go by. After all, both of these activities are an integral part of any visit to Paris.
Here are a few recommendations that might make choosing just a little bit easier.
Les Fous de l’Ille: This little restaurant is a great place to experience real French cuisine. It also offers vegetarian dishes which in many restaurants in France may cause a waiter to raise an eyebrow disapprovingly. Address: 33 Rue des Deux Ponts, 75004.
Au Bounat: A delightful little bistro in a quaint setting. Here, the owners have been preparing their traditional dishes for three generations. Address: 26 Rue Chanoinesse, 75004.
Le Rose de Paris: With a great address on Place Dauphin, this little restaurant serves a wonderful meal which will be further enhanced by the views if you can secure a table on the terrace. Address: 24 Pl. Dauphine, 75001.
Le Caveau du Palais: If you want local French food using local ingredients and recipes, then look no further than Le Caveau du Palais. In addition, you get to enjoy the atmosphere in this wonderful stone building. Address: 17-19 Pl. Dauphine, 75001.
Final Thoughts on What to Do on Ile de la Cite
This island in the middle of Paris really opens the heart of the city to any of its many visitors.
The history of the Ile de la Cité, its many sites of national importance, and its quaint restaurants make it an essential part of any visit to Paris.
It is not merely an island in the middle of one of the most famous cities in the world — the île de la cité is the corps around which the rest of Paris was created.
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