Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis – The Oldest Part of Paris

As I mentioned in my previous blog (One Month In), instead of constantly flapping on about working as an au pair and studying French, I have decided to use my blog as a motivation to see and enjoy as much of Paris as possible in the short time that I have here, starting with the the very beginnings of Paris on two little islands; Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis.

View of the island from the Pont des Arts

Everyone who has been to Paris will know Île de la Cité and if not, well frankly I think you’ve missed my favourite building in the entire world and you’ve not done Paris right, but I’m going to start with the less-known Île Saint-Louis. This small island is an elegant residential area with tree-lined quays and it’s main street is full of little bakeries, shops and galleries. It is a lovely little walk and the ideal place for a rest if you’ve done a lot of walking around Paris.  All of the buildings on these islands are so beautiful and most have plaques proudly saying who the architect was or who lived there. Notably on the main street you will find Berthillon and rumour has it, this place has the best ice cream in the whole of Paris… if you have the patience to queue!

On the west side of the island there are a few little restaurants that look out towards Île de la Cité where you can sit outside and enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine whilst listening to the musicians playing typical French music on Pont St-Louis.

Cross the bridge and you won’t be able to miss the back of my favourite building in the world – The Notre Dame de Paris. Way back in 1163, Pope Alexander III laid the first stone and marked the beginning of 170 years of toil to create this Gothic masterpiece. It now stands at 69m (228ft) high and still has all of it’s most iconic features; the rose windows (many of which date back to the 13th century), the Galerie des Chimières (featuring the legendary gargoyles), the spire, the flying buttresses, the Kings’ Gallery (28 Kings of Judah along the front of the building) and the Treasury that houses religious treasures. Around the Notre-Dame you will find the Musée de Notre Dame de Paris and Esmeralda Cafe. Behind it is Square Jean XXIII which is lovely. The Notre Dame is also is home to France’s largest organ. Make all the innuendos you want.

The reason that this building is my favourite is not just because of the way it looks but also the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.  The Disney film was released in 1996 which was just before I went to Disneyland Paris for the first time and therefore it became one of my favourite films as a child. Victor Hugo originally wrote the book in 1831 to raise awareness of the beauty of Gothic buildings as they were slowly being transformed into a more modern look.  The book is incredibly long and apparently contains much more description than normal to show his appreciation of the cathedral. It paid off and now the Notre Dame is the most visited building in all of France. Yep, even tops the Eiffel Tower!

It is also possible to go up to the top of the Notre Dame but you have to have to buy a ticket separately and queue to the side (as opposed to the normal queue that goes in front – don’t be deceived, it moves quicker than you would think). For youngsters under 26 it is free and for real adults it is 10. I haven’t done this yet but I will update this blog when I do!

Île de la Cité has 2 metro stations on it (Cité and San Michel) and as you come out of either of them you shouldn’t miss the flower market that happens every weekend. This is the most well known flower market in Paris so avoid going with a blocked up nose or hayfever! If you are suffering from one of those then I would recommend crossing the river and looking at all of the art markets. You will find old newspapers, posters and original paintings and artwork from around Paris.

The final few buildings as you head west are some of the most important buildings in Paris; Sainte-Chappelle (I underestimated it), Palais de Justice and the Conciergerie. These beautiful old buildings keep the country ticking and even if you just see the outside it’s something to tick off your list!  The Palais de Justice still functions as Paris’s Law Courts but luckily the Conciergerie no longer has it’s original purpose – it used to be a prison and held famous names like Marie-Antoinette before she was guillotined. Just past these buildings you will find Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris and the first stone bridge to be built without houses on it.

Square du Vert-Galant

And finally…

How to make the most of it: have a picnic along the Seine with a view of the island or the Square du Vert-Galant with a view of the Pont des Arts and the Louvre. There won’t be a bakery far away!

How to be a twit: graffiti your name onto one of the bridges because you couldn’t get hold of a lock or take pictures inside the cathedral with your flash on. Extra twit points if you have the sound on your phone/camera too!

Notable things nearby: France has many wonderful bookshops but by far the most beautiful one I’ve found so far is The Shakespeare Company which is just South of the river from the Notre Dame. There’s also a cafe which is cute.

A final anecdote: in 1804 Napoleon invited Pope Pius VII to come to Paris to crown him emperor in Notre Dame. At the last minute Napoleon seized the crown from the pope’s hands and crowned himself. Classic Napoleon.


Until next time!

Annalise x