Discovering the islands of Paris

From the Île de la Cité to the Île Saint-Louis… Paris’s islands are gems just waiting to be explored.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris - Gargouille regardant Paris, Paris

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

Ile Saint-Louis, rue Jean du Bellay, Paris © Paris Tourist Office - Photographe : Fabian Charaffi

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

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris - contreplongé avec lampadaire © DR

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.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris et son trésor

Place of worship
6 parvis Notre-Dame - Place Jean-Paul II, Paris, 75004

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, is the most visited monument in France. It was built......

Tours de Notre-Dame de Paris

Monument
1 rue du cloître Notre-Dame, Paris, 75004

After climbing the 422 steps of the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral, visitors are rewarded with one of the most stunning panoramic......

Conciergerie

Monument
2 boulevard du Palais, Paris, 75001
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Explore the exceptional Gothic rooms of this medieval Royal palace, later a Revolutionary court and the prison of......

Sainte-Chapelle

Monument
8 boulevard du Palais, Paris, 75001
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Let yourself be dazzled by the 1,113 stained glass windows in this gem of Rayonnant Gothic architecture. The Sainte-Chapelle is......

Île Saint-Louis

Street, area of interest
Île Saint-Louis, Paris, 75004

Île Saint-Louis is the smaller of the two islands in the centre of Paris. It is located in the historical centre of the city and......

Île de la Cité

Street, area of interest
Île de la Cité, Paris, 75004

Ile de la Cité, once known as Lutetia, is the oldest settlement in Paris, and boasts more than its fair share of Paris sights:......

Marché aux fleurs

Specialist markets
Place Louis Lépine - Quai de la Corse, Paris, 75004

The Île de la Cité is full of surprises! Located on Place Louis Lépine between the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle......

Marché aux oiseaux

Specialist markets
Place Louis Lépine - Quai de la Corse, Paris, 75004

On Sundays, the tweets of thousands of birds fill the flower market on Place Louis Lépine on Île de la Cité. Welcome to the bird......

Crypte archéologique de l'Ile de la Cité

Museum
7 parvis de Notre-Dame - Place Jean-Paul II, Paris, 75004

Beneath the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral square is the most important archaeological crypt in Europe, offering a unique look at......

Hôpital Hôtel-Dieu

Hospitals
1 place du Parvis de Notre-Dame, Paris, 75004

Situé sur l'Île de la Cité, à quelques mètres de la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, l'Hôtel-Dieu est fondé en 651 en face de son......

Pont de l'Archevêché

Street, area of interest
Quai de la Tournelle - Quai de l'Archevêché, Paris, 75005

Welcome to the bridge of loving couples! The Pont de l'Archevêché, one of the narrowest bridges in Paris, is the spot for couples......

Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation

Monument
Square de l'Île de France - 7 quai de l'Archevêché, Paris, 75004

Haut-lieu de la mémoire nationale. Monument dédié à la mémoire des 200 000 déportés de France pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale......

Pont de Sully

Street, area of interest
Quai de la Tournelle - Boulevard Henri IV, Paris, 75005

Rebuilt by Baron Haussmann in 1876 after the French Revolution, this bridge stands at the far end of the Ile Saint-Louis. Built......

Flo Sortelle Photographe

Marketing (E-communication/publication/telecommunications, etc.)
NC, Paris, 75000
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Flo Sortelle Photographe is specialized in family, couple, solo photo shoots and family events. "A photo shoot in Paris" offers......

Glacier Berthillon

Ice-cream shop
29-31 rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile, Paris, 75004

Berthillon is a family-run business making a wonderful range of ice creams in tempting colours, with lush textures and......

Pont Saint Louis

Street, area of interest
Quai d’Orléans - Quai aux Fleurs, Paris, 75004

The Pont Saint-Louis is the only bridge in Paris linking Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis. For pedestrians only, it is used......

Pont Marie

Street, area of interest
Quai des Célestins - Quai de Bourbon, Paris, 75004

Louis XIII laid the first stone of this small bridge in the 4th arrondissement in 1604. Around 50 houses lined the bridge in the......