As long as there has been a Paris (or Lutetia as it was called during the Roman era), there has been life on the Ile de la Cité. Though many of the buildings on the Ile de la Cité were demolished during the Haussmann era, vestiges of the foundations and walls from homes dating back 2,000 years can be found in the crypte just near the Notre Dame Cathedral. Much of the island now houses administrative buildings like the Palais de Justice, but it still offers so much for you to enjoy.
The most impressive sight on the Ile de la Cité is Notre Dame, of course. But here are some other Parisian marvels to check out:
Built by Louis IX, known as St. Louis, to house his collection of holy relics, the Sainte-Chapelle is a stunning example of French High Gothic and one of the finest achievements in religious architecture. From the outset of the Gothic movement, the goal had been to create the impression of height and light, so that sunlight can play off the stained glass windows for parishioners to appreciate. The Sainte-Chapelle is the pinnacle of this goal, with structural masonry reduced to the minimum and the rest of the structure being taken up by the most magical stained glass windows in Paris.
Even though it’s an immensely popular and crowded sight, you just cannot pass it up. Only in seeing the magnificent interplay of light and colors may you finally understand the religious fervor that resulted in the construction of so many cathedrals throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Once Paris’s oldest prison, the Conciergerie is now part of the Palace of Justice and a popular tourist attraction. Along with many figures from the Revolution, the Conciergerie held King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and the royal family until their lives were cut short by the guillotine. Marie-Antoinette’s prison cell and numerous macabre mementos of the guillotine’s victims are the main sights, along with the torture chamber and the two towers.
Marché aux Fleurs and Marché aux Oiseaux
The daily flower market held on the island year-round lends a needed splash of color and life to the neighborhood. Sadly, it’s one of the few left in the city and certainly offers a wide range of flora, including exotics like orchids, to spruce up your apartment. Don’t hesitate to stop by on Sundays when the bird market takes place, though we suggest you bring earplugs (the cacophony can be a bit unbearable!).
Square du Vert-Galant and Square Jean XXIII
On opposite tips of the island, these two squares offer a little oasis and a perfect picnic spot. From the Square du Vert-Galant, you will have a wonderful view of the Louvre and the Right Bank as well as seeing Parisian couples finding romance. The Square Jean XXIII is nestled between Notre-Dame’s southern façade and the Seine, offering great views of the South Rose window and the superb flying buttresses.
Arguably the most romantic part of Paris, l’Ile St-Louis is perfect for wandering, having no Métro station, no real monuments and one tiny museum. One of the most desirable addresses in Paris since the 17th century, this collection of elegant mansions, restaurants and tiny shops is all about atmosphere (not cheap either).
During the warmer months, l’Ile St-Louis is always the best crossing point between the two banks of the Seine since it’s where the famous sorbets and ice creams of chez M. Berthillon can be found. Once you have your dessert in hand, a stroll along the tree-lined quays is your best bet.
Details: Îles de la Cité holds some of Paris’s most desired addresses. If you are staying in Paris for a week, consider renting an apartment in an exclusive area like this. Private Access Journeys has keys to the best addresses.