Last Updated on 5th September 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Île de la Cité lies in the very heart of Paris, separated from the rest of the city by the Seine on its own private island. Home to world-famous sites such as Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, it also houses a former prison… And you definitely can’t go wrong by spending at least a few hours of your time in Paris getting to know the area. Here’s a quick guide to Ile de la Cite:
Why you must visit Ile de la Cite on your next Parisian adventure
Ile de la Cité is not only the physical heart of the city but also its historic one. After all, it was here several millennia ago where people first chose to put down roots, leading to the city we all know and love today. During Roman Times, the Romans set up camp close by, in the district that is now known as the Latin Quarter. Today, you can follow in the footsteps of the Romans in Paris, if only you know where to look.
Otherwise, back at Île de la Cité, it’s worth noting that there are a plethora of hidden gems worth uncovering, not to mention some of the best-preserved medieval architecture that the city has to offer. Next, some this arrondissement of Paris offers some excellent foodie experiences, including plenty of quaint Parisian cafés!
Things to do in Île de la Cité (that you certainly won’t want to miss!)
Notre Dame, 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
Notre Dame is not only one of the most iconic sites the city has to offer but also at the very heart of Paris itself. Its world-famous flying buttresses and French Gothic architecture may be what make the building so famous, but it’s definitely worth taking a peek inside the Cathedral too.
A trip inside is free, and it usually takes no more than twenty minutes to queue. There are also free daily tours in various languages, signposted outside the front of the cathedral. Please note that due to the terrible fire at Notre Dame, the cathedral is closed until further notice. However, the ecclesiastical building can still be admired from afar, especially from along the banks of the River Seine.
Read more: Spring blossoms at Notre Dame.
Paris Point Zero, Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
Paris Point Zero is the city’s true centre. Its location in the middle of the Parvis Notre Dame means that many tourists pass by, oblivious as to what lies under their feet. However, this is the point of Paris from which all other signs in France are measured. People often leave their change here, hoping it may bring them good luck…
Sainte Chapelle, 8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
Originally built to house some of France’s most treasured Saint relics, today Sainte Chapelle remains one of the finest preserved examples of stained glass medieval windows and architecture that France, and indeed Europe, has to offer.
Having the relics in his possession made the already Powerful French Monarchy the head of Christianity in Western Europe. This made Sainte Chapelle not just a pretty place to look at, but of vital strategic importance in the history of France.
Though the remaining French relics may now be housed in Notre Dame (notably the Crown of Thorns- though other relics were lost during the French Revolution), the two-tiered chapel is still well worth a visit. There are 15 windows in the Upper Chapel, each 15 meters high and altogether depicting 1,113 scenes from the Old and New biblical Testaments.
Though the lower Chapel (the one you first enter) was originally intended for servants, it is still more luxurious and sumptuous than most French Châteaux! If you want to visit for yourself, then you may well consider booking a ticket in advance like this one.
Conciergerie, 2 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
The Conciergerie sits proud and imposing above the Seine. With turreted towers and a fancy façade, you would never guess that this building was once a former prison. In actual fact, it even housed Marie Antoinette before her execution.
Sat right next to Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie sits on the site of a former Merovingian Palace, and was once known as ‘Palais de la Cité’. The palace was a space for Royals right up until the 14th Century when King Charles V abandoned the Royal Residence in favour of the nearby Louvre Palace (now the largest art museum in the world).
Today, the Conciergerie contains the Hall of the Guards, the largest Gothic Hall in Europe. Visit during opening hours and you can learn all about the history of Île de la Cité, as well as the wider city of Paris, including everything there is to know about the French Revolution. Purchase your Sainte Chapelle and Conciergerie combined tickets here in advance.
Oldest Clock in Paris, 2 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
Of all the places and points of interest in this guide to Ile de la Cite, this may well be the one most missed. Affixed to the street facing side of the Conciergerie, you’ll find the oldest clock in Paris. Shining with gold embellishments, it’s hard to believe that this clock has stood in the very same place since the 14th-Century.
Though it was admittedly cleaned up a little and restored in 2012, making it once again shine brilliantly. The clock even escaped unscathed through the French Revolution, when many sumptuous sites and places across the city were dismantled for their scrap value.
The adjacent road, lying by the Seine, ‘Quai de l’Horloge‘ is even so-called because of this iconic clock. So next time you’re walking along Boulevard du Paris, make sure to look up as you might just spot this 1370s masterpiece…
Read more: A self-guided walk of Vintage Paris.
Flower Market (Marche aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux), Allée Célestin Hennion, 75004 Paris, France
A little over the road, close to the Conciergerie and the Oldest Clock in Paris, you’ll find the iconic Île de la Cité flower market. Here you can pick up whatever flowers happen to be in bloom during your visit to Paris (my personal favourite are all of the varying types of peonies that look like paper and smell simply divine…)
The market has enthralled amateur flower lovers and green-fingered gardeners alike since 1830. Today, many of the stalls are held in Green Pavillions which were first installed in 1900. The Flower market is free to visit and open every day asides from Monday.
Read more: When is the best time to visit Paris?
Rue Chanoinesse, Rue Chanoinesse, 75004 Paris, France
If you’re looking for a glimpse of medieval Paris, then look no further than Rue Chanoinesse. With fewer tourists than the rest of the area, views onto Notre Dame and some of the best eateries the area has to offer, it’s definitely worth leaving the beaten track of Parvis de Notre Dame to check out this wonderfully preserved street.
The street was once home to an order of Monks, who are partially responsible for the preservation of this medieval Snapshot. Rue Chanoinesse is also home to sights such as the Gravestone Courtyard of Paris, the cutest Café in the city and a passage to one of the narrowest streets the city has to offer.
Gravestone Courtyard, 26 Rue Chanoinesse, 75004 Paris, France
It would seem that you are never far from the macabre in Paris. And even the quaint street of Rue Chanoinesse has its own dark past. Situated between two bars, you’ll find a lovely maroon door. However enter it (the courtyard is private and its hard to gain access unless you’re ‘in the know’), and you’ll find another side of Paris. For, lying on the floor, you’ll find the remains of gravestones.
Slightly worn, you can barely make out much of the gothic script which must have once covered the entire floor. The Gravestone Courtyard is paved with grave markings taken from an 18th-century church which was demolished during the grand Haussmann architectural reforms in the 19th- century.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, 24 Rue Chanoinesse, 75004 Paris, France
Quite possibly the cutest café in Paris, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole is covered in wisteria and Oh so Parisian. Stop here to enjoy a coffee (or even a glass of French wine). I’m told the food here is particularly good (one of my closest friends even chose this spot for her Valentine’s Day meal).
Read more: Cute cafés in Paris you won’t want to miss!
Hôtel Dieu, 1 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004 Paris, France
The oldest hospital in Paris can be found steps away from Notre Dame Cathedral and dates back many centuries. But what many visitors to the 4th arrondissement of the city don’t know is that you can actually visit the interior courtyard of this building for free! Filled with beautiful arches and a secret garden, it’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the nearby Parvis Notre Dame.
Read more: How to visit the oldest hospital in Paris