Walking along the banks of the river Seine, visitors come across a number of islands, both large and small, natural and manmade, crowded and deserted. An ideal place for a stroll, to experience the quintessential Parisian way of life, to practise a sport, or to enjoy some shopping. Below is a portrait of just two of these Parisian must-see sites!
The Île Saint-Louis
The Île Saint-Louis boasts a quaint, intimate atmosphere. With only eight streets and four quays, this village of 11 hectares is protected by town planning laws and abounds in centuries-old architecture.
The facades of its numerous hôtels particuliers(mansion houses) have earned the island its nickname—‘the island of palaces’—and are what first strike visitors. On many of the facades, a plaque reveals the names of the buildings’ illustrious former inhabitants: Charles Baudelaire, Marie Curie, Georges Pompidou and Camille Claudel were all seduced by the charm of the Île Saint-Louis.
The streets lead onto one or another of the four quays: Béthune, Bourbon, Anjou or Orléans, each offering a picturesque and memorable stroll down by the river. The easterly (Square Barye) and westerly points of the island (Place Louis Aragon) seem far removed from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and are a preferred spot for lovers of peace and quiet, couples, and photographers inspired by the views.
At the centre of the Île Saint-Louis, the Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’île boasts a wide variety of boutiques with something to suit all tastes. Bookshops, hat stores, souvenir shops and countless art galleries provide colour and life to the main street. Visitors should also make a stop at the Eglise Saint-Louis-en-l’île with its impressive baroque facade and ornate interior, with sublime gilded decoration, murals, stained glass and sculptures. A highlight of any visit is a treat at the legendary ice-cream shop Berthillon for an ice-cream reputed to be one of the city’s best.
The Île de la Cité
To the west of the Île Saint-Louis lies the pont Saint-Louis (bridge) connecting it to the Île de la Cité.
Twice as large as its neighbour, the Île de la Cité is one of the most memorable spots of any visit to the French capital. Its name is linked to its history: the island was the historical centre of Paris, at a time when the city was called Lutèce (Lutetia). Medieval ruins are still present and can be seen in places like the Conciergerie, Sainte Chapelle and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Near the famous cathedral is the Hôtel de la Motte-Montgaubert or the Maison des Chantres (Bards’ House), a vestige from the cloister of Notre-Dame. The building is now a historical monument and a wonderful example of the neo-Gothic style. Constructed on the site of the Palais de la Cité, the former Préfecture de Police (Police Prefecture) and former Palais de Justice boast stunning neoclassical facades, like the Tribunal de Commerce situated on the Quai de Corse. The Hôtel-Dieu bears witness to one of Haussmann’s last great urbanization projects for the city of Paris. Finally, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation (Memorial of Deported Martyrs) can be visited free of charge and is located on the Quai de l’Archevêché.
Bridges are an important part of the island’s history, particularly Pont Neuf, which crosses the two branches of the river Seine and holds the title of the city’s oldest bridge. Its remarkable ornamental mascarons add to the bridge’s unique charm and are especially admired by passers-by. The equestrian statue of Henri IV can also be found here, just off the very romantic Place Dauphine. This square is one of the five royal squares in Paris and is a spot that attracts many artists.
The island has four squares, Vert-Galant, Place Dauphine, Place Jean-Paul II and Place Jean XXIII, all lovely places to relax and admire the views after several hours of walking. Plant lovers should head to the Quai de Corse or the Place Louis-Lépine where a daily flower market has been held for the past two centuries. On Sundays, the market known as the ‘Marché aux fleurs Reine-Elizabeth-II’ (Queen Elizabeth II Flower Market) is transformed into a market selling birds.