Île de la Cité has deep roots in Parisian history – not only is it one of the two remaining natural islands on the river Seine (the other being Île Saint-Louis), but it is also where the medieval city of Paris was refounded. It is also home to the oldest standing bridge in Paris, Pont Neuf; one of the earliest city-planning projects of Henry IV, Place Dauphine, and many others. It is the heart of Paris, with all road distances calculated from the 0km point near the Notre Dame. With quaint cafés, lush parks and gardens, and well-preserved monuments, the Île de la Cité is definitely worth a visit!
History of Île de la Cité Paris
The history of the Île de la Cité began with the Parisi Tribe around the 3rd century, who created one of the oldest settlements in Paris on the island. After being plundered by the Romans, the newly named city of Lutetia was constructed.
From the 6th to the 14th centuries, the island saw the construction of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as the Palais de la Cité, now largely occupied by the Palais de Justice. The latter made the Île de la Cité an important political center throughout the medieval ages. Today, the island is the site of some of Paris’s most important landmarks, and plays a very important role in the lives of the French people.
What to See in Île de la Cité Paris
The Notre Dame Cathedral, located on the island of Île de la Cité, is particularly famous for its stunning French Gothic design. Translated as ‘Our Lady of Paris’, it is also one of the first buildings to use a form of architecture called the flying buttress, making it a haven for architecture enthusiasts. The monument became even more popular after its central role in Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. With 13 million visitors per year, the Cathedral sees more tourists than the Eiffel Tower!
Another stunning example of French Gothic architecture, the Sainte Chapelle was originally a part of the Palais de la Cité, and it is famous for its elaborate stained-glass panels that depict the entire history of Christianity from Genesis to the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also home to the famous Rose Window. Built on the orders of Louis XVI to house religious relics, this incredible building was completed in just five years!
Palais de Justice
The Palais de Justice or Palais de la Cité is an important landmark on Île de la Cité for two reasons. Firstly, it houses the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie, and second, it was the seat of the Parlement de Paris, or the equivalent of the Supreme Court, from the 16th century to the French Revolution. It is also home to the residential quarter, or the Ancien Cloître Quartier.
La Conciergerie is the oldest part of the Palais de Justice, and is known for having housed Marie Antoinette, the infamous French queen during the weeks leading up to her execution. You can visit a recreation of her cell room and view other relics and documents from the 18th century – there are even rooms where other prisoners were held before they were led to the guillotine.
The name ‘Pont Neuf’ actually means ‘new bridge’, which is rather misleading, as Pont Neuf is actually the oldest bridge in Paris, having been built in the late 16th century. It did not have any houses on it, unlike other bridges of the time, and was also known as a hub for street performers and criminals. Today, it serves as a charming reminder of the city’s rich heritage and fascinating past.
Where to Eat in Île de la Cité Paris
How to Get There
The Île de la Cité Paris is well connected by multiple modes of transport, including metro, RER, and bus.
- Metro: Metro Station Cité on line 4, or Yellow Line 1 from The Louvre
- Bus: From the Eiffel Tower, you can take Bus 69 or 87, and from The Louvre, Bus 67 is a good option.
- RER: From CDG Airport, you can take RER B line straight to Sant-Michel Notre-Dame (RER St. Michel) which is then just a few moments walk across the bridge to the island.
- If you’re one for nature and gardens, visit the Marché aux Fleur, the flower market. You can stroll through it on your way back from the Notre Dame Cathedral.
- While visiting the Notre Dame, try to reach the cathedral early to avoid the morning crowd.
- Digital tickets to Île de la Cité attractions make visiting these spots much easier – you can find them on the attraction websites.
- If you plan on staying near the Île de la Cité, some good spots to stay include the Latin Quarter or St. Germain des Pres, both of which are at a walking distance from the island.
- Aside from the main tourist spots on the Île de la Cité mentioned in this guide, don’t miss the smaller attractions, like the oldest clock in Paris, located on street facing side of the Conciergerie – it has been there since the 14th century!