Home to Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and with views onto the Paris Pantheon, as well as the Eiffel Tower, you would be forgiven for thinking that all parts of Île de la Cité (one of Paris’ two islands in the centre of the Seine) have been so well walked that there’s nothing left to discover. However, if you look hard enough, then that’s certainly not the case! Here’s the best of quirky, hidden, unusual, and secret spots in Île de la Cité.
- #1 4 Rue de la Colombe
- #2 5 Rue de la Colombe
- #3 Heloïse & Abelard’s House
- #4 Rue des Chantres
- #5 Fake Medieval doorway, 1-3 Rue des Ursins
- #6 26 Rue Chaoinesse
- #7 Oldest clock in Paris
- #8 Paris Point Zero
- #9 Hôtel Dieu
- #10 Rue Massillon
- #11 Square du Vert-Galant
- #12 Île de la Cité Flower Market
- #13 Spy Wallace Fountains
- #14 Discover the gargoyles of Notre Dame
- #15 Stay in a hotel on the nearby Île Saint Louis
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#1 4 Rue de la Colombe
One of the more unusual love tales to emerge from the Middle Ages is that of the colombes, or ‘doves’ as they are known in English. The story goes that in the 13th-century, there lived two doves. At the time, one of the sculptors working at nearby Notre Dame Cathedral was residing in No. 4.
The man was originally from Brittany and he resided together with his two doves (a male and a female). That was until a Parisian flood caused the building to collapse. Although only the male dove escaped the rubble, he would return on a daily basis with food and water to feed his lover.
While she eventually managed to escape, locals were so touched by the story that the myth was carried on down the generations. Strangely enough, records show for certain that the house was rebuilt in 1297 making the tale that much more probable…
#2 5 Rue de la Colombe
Nearby, on the road by No5., you’ll find one of the few vestiges of Roman Paris (or Lutetia as it was then called) that can still be spied in the French capital today. After all, it’s here where you can see a small piece of the Roman defences that existed on Île de La Cité centuries ago. The wall was rediscovered in 1898.
#3 Heloïse & Abelard’s House
Fated lovers Abelard and Heloïse are now alleged to be resting in Père Lachaise Cemetery, the largest and oldest graveyard in the City of Light. A couple who lived during the Middle Ages, Heloïse was the niece of .a Canon of the Cathedral while Abelard was her tutor and many years her senior.
Heloise soon fell pregnant and the couple wed in private. Alas, they were forcibly separated and never saw each other again. Today, there is much debate as to the true story behind these two very real people.
Although Abelard and Heloise never saw each other again, though they corresponded through letters several times over the years. As per the legend, it’s alleged that the couple lived together in the place where a plaque can now be seen.
#4 Rue des Chantres
One of the narrowest streets in the city can be found in the form of Rue des Chantres. Narrow, dark, and leading between Rue Chanoinesse and the Seine, one highlight of this road is a little plaque at the end of the road which announces the height of the 1910 great floods of the city.
#5 Fake Medieval doorway, 1-3 Rue des Ursins
At first glance, the beautifully carved wooden door at 1-3 Rue des Ursins appears as if it wouldn’t look out of place upon one of the great medieval mansions of Le Marais. However, look at the building a little more closely, and it soon becomes apparent that the construction is much more modern. As it turns out, the placement of the door only dates back to 1958, though the materials are much older!
#6 26 Rue Chaoinesse
Close to the prettiest café in Paris, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole (you’ll know it when you see it! It’s pretty insta-famous), there’s an unsuspecting maroon door. All Haussmannian in design, it’s not until you step behind the door frame that you’ll soon discover that the paving stones are actually repurposed gravestones from a church which was demolished during the 19th-century!
#7 Oldest clock in Paris
The oldest public clock in the city is quite literally passed by millions of people on an annual basis. However, many of the tourists and residents of the city alike fail to glance up at the side of the Conciergerie, in the process missing one of the greatest hidden gems of Île de la Cité. The oldest public clock in Paris dates back to the 14th-century, though a recent renovation in 2012 has left it looking sparkling new!
#8 Paris Point Zero
Next time you’re on the Parvis of Notre Dame, either looking to queue to enter the Cathedral, visiting the annual bread market of Paris, or simply admiring the Christmas tree that adorns the square during the winter, be sure to look down. That way, you’ll clearly see ‘Paris Point Zero,’ a little plaque which indicates the point from which all distances in France are measured.
#9 Hôtel Dieu
The oldest hospital in Paris can be found steps away from Notre Dame and is called ‘Hôtel Dieu’ (Hospital in English). While many walk past on a daily basis, what you may not realise is that you can actually enter the courtyard of the hospital for free and admire the stunning architecture and well-manicured borders to be found there.
I first visited a couple of years ago with a now-ex-boyfriend in tow and was pretty impressed with what I discovered inside!. At the time, it was unclear as to whether you were allowed to visit or not. However, a large plaque on the grand entrance’s exterior now declares that visitors are welcome!
Once inside, there’s plenty of Italianate Gardens and 19th-century architecture to admire. From twisting staircases to long galleries, there are countless photo angles to capture and it’s a great escape from the crowds which inevitably flock to the area to see Notre Dame.
#10 Rue Massillon
For the very best view of Notre Dame without the crowds, you need to head just a few metres off the beaten tourist track. For, Rue Massillon connects massively popular Rue Cloître du Notre Dame (i.e. one of the avenues which run alongside the ecclesiastical building) and Rue Chaoinesse.
Once part of the long-destroyed cloisters of Notre Dame, this road was created in the 19th-century, although several buildings date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. However, what is particularly notable about this secret spot on Île de la Cité is its particularly impressive view of Notre Dame!
#11 Square du Vert-Galant
Situated directly below Pont Neuf, the pretty Parisian park of Square du Vert-Galant was actually derived from the quays which were needed to anchor the stone bridge in place. Named ‘green gallant’ for Henry IV, the space is perfect for a picnic during the summer months.
My girlfriends and I often joke that the weeping willow which presides over the park is the ‘perfect spot for a first kiss’. The park itself can be found on the most westerly tip of Île de la Cité and offers views of the Pont des Arts, Louvre Museum, and Hotel de la Monnaie, among other iconic Parisian landmarks. Of all the secret spots in Île de la Cité, this little Parisian park is easily one of my favourites.
#12 Île de la Cité Flower Market
If you’re looking for an unusual activity that’s free to visit and is outdoors, then you should head to the Île de la Cité Flower Market which is held on a daily basis and is directly outside of the Cité metro station.
Founded as early as 1808, the market has attracted visitors ever since with its colourful displays and dazzling array of plants and flowers. In times gone by, the market would have sold plants and birds, meaning that it was once called the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux. Today, this quiet and beautiful market is well worth a wander through if you happen to be in the area.
#13 Spy Wallace Fountains
The Wallace Fountains of Paris are as essential to the landscape of Parisian architecture as the Arc de Triomphe but are often not thought of as such. These fountains date back to the latter half of the 19th-century and were originally installed so as to ensure that all inhabitants of the city had access to fresh water.
Though some water fountains are located in parks which have open and closing hours, other fountains can be found along the side of the street, including in several spots across Île de la Cité. Today, over there are still over a hundred Wallace Fountains still in existence in Paris.
#14 Discover the gargoyles of Notre Dame
Setting the striking two towers and flying buttresses aside, there is perhaps no architectural feature quite as synonymous with Notre Dame Cathedral, in the heart of Île de la Cité in Paris as those of the gargoyles.
The French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc oversaw a mid 19th-century refurbishment of the Cathedral over a period of 25 years and wanted to emanate medieval architecture. This is when the great spire was added, as well as some of the most dramatic grotesques (another term for gargoyles). To discover more about this period of history for Île de la Cité, check out our guide to the Notre Dame Gargoyles.
#15 Stay in a hotel on the nearby Île Saint Louis
Though Île de la Cité itself has limited options for places to stay, you can instead opt to stay on the other natural Seine Island that overlooks Île de la Cité and is a light stroll away over a small bridge. One of the more luxurious options on Île Saint Louis is that of the Hôtel du Jeu de Paume, which is a four-star well-reviewed hotel.
Amenities of the hotel include perks such as free Wifi, air-conditioned rooms, and hardwood floors. What’s more is that this hotel also offers apartment rooms which boast their own kitchenette and seating areas, giving you the opportunity to enjoy more of a local’s experience while in the city. Check prices and availability here.
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