Île de la Cité is the place where France began. Once the home of Roman governors and Frankish kings, the island is packed with treasured national landmarks. Compact and richly layered, visitors are rewarded around every corner with monumental sights. Among them is the fabled Notre Dame Cathedral and the former royal palace turned courthouse, Palais de Justice. Exploring the wonderfully preserved streets is a walk among the ghosts that birthed a nation. It’s a must-see destination. Let’s take a look at what makes Île de la Cité special.
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My TOP 5 Highlights on Île de la Cité
- Marvel at the jaw-dropping stained-glass windows in Sainte-Chappelle (8 Bd du Palais, 75001): The Saint-Chapelle was the king’s personal chapel. Consecrated in the 12th century — and deconsecrated during the French Revolution — it is known for the breathtaking stained-glass windows that soar to the ceiling. They are some of the finest medieval examples in Europe and a spellbinding alternative to Notre Dame.
- Take a moment to unwind in picturesque Place Dauphine (Place Dauphine, 75001): This handsome square (in reality, a triangle) has provided a tranquil escape from city life since 1607. It’s a little busier these days, but still a charming spot to enjoy a coffee or pastis. Afterward, head to the tiny, pretty park on the tip of the island, Square du Vert-Galant, for excellent river views.
- Find the geographic point zéro of Paris (Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II, 75004): Blink and you could miss this small and largely symbolic marker. It is the geographic point used to measure the distance to Paris for road signs across France. Finding the center of Paris where the kingdom of France began is oddly satisfying. A humble but literal point of interest.
- Visit the prison where Marie Antoinette was held, the Conciergerie (2 Bd du Palais, 75001): For 600 years, France’s most notorious criminals and enemies were imprisoned under what is now the Palais de Justice. The infamous Conciergerie prison has since been restored and opened to the public.
You can see the prison as it was when infamous figures like Marie Antoinette and Robespierre stayed there before being sentenced to the guillotine. The future Napoleon III, France’s last monarch, and Marshall Ney — “the bravest of the brave,” according to Napoleon — spent time there too. A fascinating brush with French history for all who venture into the haunting prison.
- Cool down with ice cream at the iconic Berthillon glacier (31 rue Saint Louis en L’Ile, 75004): The ice cream from Berthillon is legendary. So highly regarded, their creations are sold all over Paris nowadays. But nothing beats the authentic experience at their first store. Be prepared for long lines. But I promise you won’t be disappointed as their confections are other-worldly.
General information about Île de la Cité
Île de la Cité, Island of the City, is located in the River Seine at the heart of Paris’s cultural and historic center. Connected to quartiers on the Right and Left Bank by eight bridges, it is home to the iconic Notre-Dame cathedral and the former royal palace of France’s early kings. The narrow, atmospheric streets are dripping in a history that shaped Paris and the early kingdom of France. Several leading landmarks are condensed into the walkable islands, so expect crowds any time of the day. Across another (9th) bridge is the smaller island, Île Saint-Louis, which provides a better choice of eateries, shops, and hotels than Île de la Cité.
Île de la Cité is also home to the police headquarters for Paris, the Prefecture de Police, and the nation’s highest appeal courts in the Palais de Justice. This makes for an odd mix of camera-toting tourists and serious professionals going about their business. Both islands are safe to explore, which is no surprise for one of the most security-conscious districts in Paris. You can explore the Île de la Cité day or night. But for evening entertainment, you’ll be better served heading to Île Saint-Louis or across the bridges to some of Paris’s liveliest quartiers.
How to get to Île de la Cité
If arriving by Métro, there is a single stop directly on Île de la Cité. But there are several stops close to bridges linking the island and Île Saint-Louis.
- Cité (island stop): Line 4
- Saint-Michel Notre-Dame (Pont Saint Michel crossing): Line 4 + RER Trains B, C
- Pont Neuf (most popular crossing): Line 7
- Pont Marie / Sully – Morland (crossings for Île Saint-Louis): Line 7
- Bus lines for Île de la Cité: 21, 38, 47, 75, 96, N12, N13, N14 N15, N21, N22
- Bus lines for Île Saint-Louis: 68, 86, 87
- My Tip: You can also reach the neighborhood very comfortably with one of the Hop on Hop off buses in Paris. These are also included in many Paris Sightseeing Passes, with which you can save money on sightseeing during your visit to Paris. Take a look!
Attractions, activities, and tours in Île de la Cité
As the former home of Roman governors and French kings, the historic attractions on Île de la Cité are grand and unmissable. Here’s a quick rundown of the things to do on Île de la Cité that will leave a lingering impression.
In this neighborhood there are many attractions that you should visit. You can find the best ones here.
Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth IIMarket in Île de la CitéOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
The Queen Elizabeth II flower market in the 4th arrondissement is a riot of colour and a soothing space to while away an hour. It has only been there since 1808, so is one of the ‘modern’ attractions on the island.
Point zéro des routes de FranceSquare in Île de la CitéOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
Every road sign that points to Paris is pointing to this barely noticeable marker in the street. It is the geographic center of Paris, from which all distances to the city are measured. There’s not much to see. But it’s a nice story to take home and makes a worthy target for island explorers.
The ConciergerieMuseum in Île de la CitéOur highlightAdd to myTravel added
The Paris Conciergerie is located in the west of the Île de la Cité in the 1st arrondissement. The Conciergerie sits under a palace that generations of royalty lived in. When the monarchy moved to more salubrious surroundings in the Louvre, the building became the Palace of Justice, which it still is today. The medieval prison was used for 600 years. It is notorious for holding victims of the French Revolution. The most infamous prisoner was Marie Antoinette. Few places in Paris leave an impression like this atmospheric prison, with a jarringly handsome medieval façade masking its sinister interior.
There are many things to do on the Île de la Cité. Here you can find our TOP 5 tours.
Notre Dame's Island with Sainte Chapelle and Marie Antoinette's prisonWalking Tour in Île de la CitéAdd to myTravel added
A tour guide brings this richly layered island to life. Includes skip-the-line tickets to Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie, two of the leading attractions on the island. You can also expect sights like Notre Dame and Pont Neuf.
Languages: English, French
The Darkest Secrets of ParisWalking Tour in Île de la CitéAdd to myTravel added
Walk and discover the dark side of the City of Light with a storytelling guide. Includes Île de la Cité and Notre-Dame, home of Victor Hugo’s fictional hunchback.
The Hidden Paris: Cycling TourBike Tour in Île de la CitéAdd to myTravel added
Grab a water bottle and get ready to see hidden parts of Paris. Île de la Cité is a pivotal leg on the planned route, but expect to see many other fascinating quartiers along the way. During the bike tour you will stop at the following sights: Hotel de Ville, Le Marais, Wall of Philip II Augustus, Place des Vosges, Place de la Bastille, Jardin-des-Plantes, La Mosquee de Paris, Arenes de Lutece, Latin Quarter, Ile de la Cite, Notre Dome and Ile Saint-Louis.
Eating & Drinking on Île de la Cité
The island is small but still has a handful of restaurants and cafés cater to hungry visitors. Just across Pont Saint-Louis, on tiny Île Saint-Louis, there is an even wider choice of quality places to eat.
01 Sur le Pouce
Sur le Pouce means ‘on the go,’ and this restaurant keeps things quick and simple. Sandwiches and basic French fare dominate the menu. The setting is plain but relaxed, and the menu offers some of the best value in the 4th arrondissement.
02 Aux Anysetiers Du Roy Restaurant
Go here to immerse yourself in medieval splendor. Wooden beams, fitting wall decorations, and a nostalgic menu add to the time-capsule ambiance. You need to head over to Île Saint-Louis for this singular dining experience.
03 Brasserie Les Deux Palais
With a gleaming interior and tightly packed street tables, Brasserie Les Deux Palais in the 4th arrondissement is every inch a traditional brasserie. Sitting directly opposite the Palais de Justice, the extensive menu of French specialties makes this a convenient spot to admire this historic building.
04 Le Caveau du Palais
Sitting squarely on pretty Place Dauphine in the 1st arrondissement is a restaurant with pleasing views and a menu to match. It’s a cozy setting to enjoy French food with a touch of gastronomic flair, especially if you can snag a terrace table. The seafood here consistently receives glowing reviews.
05 Les Fous de l'Île
Staying on Île Saint-Louis, this decidedly more contemporary restaurant delights patrons by inventively playing with French classics. An impressive wine list contributes to this restaurant’s fast-growing reputation.
The most beautiful cafés
Despite so many visitors traipsing around the island and its little sibling, Île Saint- Louis, there are very few charming cafés. But there’s enough to justify taking a well-earned break in the area. Here’s my pick of the ones to make a beeline for.
The first on the list is a Parisian legend. A lauded and legendary ice cream shop in the 4th arrondissement and a big hit with foodies. You can buy their high-quality creations at venues across Paris, but nowhere beats the place where it all started. A charming café (salon de thé, to be precise) is attached if you want to grab a drink and take a moment to watch the endless queue for ice cream.
02 Café Panis
The very best views of Notre-Dame cathedral are from the riverbanks opposite in the 5th arrondissement. Café Panis is a traditional Parisian brasserie-café with enviable views across the Seine. A conventional menu covers everything from croque-monsieur to boeuf de tartare. Open from breakfast to evening, this is an ideal spot to conclude a tour of Île de la Cité.
03 La Crêperie du Cloitre
Overlooking Île de la Cité’s star attraction, Notre-Dame, this crêperie is also a bustling café in the 4th arrondissement. Nothing fancy and just a few seats outside, but a well-situated and comfortable space to enjoy a crêpe or coffee.
04 Le Dauphin
If you’re looking for a spot to unwind in the delightful Place Dauphine in the 1st arrondissement, Le Dauphin has one of the prime spots. Crêpes and salads are on the menu, along with typical café offerings. It may not be the best creperie in the quartier, but the prime location puts it on the map for casual visitors.
05 Le Scone Café
The venerable Pont Neuf is the most well-trodden route to Île de la Cité. Near the Right Bank end is this fresh and cozy café serving up super-healthy salad bowls to eat in or takeaway. Caffeine seekers will also love the decent cups of coffee to galvanize themselves before exploring the famous island opposite.
Shopping on and around Île de la Cité
There are better places in Paris to for shopping. Nearby Le Marais is a delight for gourmands, while the Champs Élysée district is better for everything else. But on Île Saint-Louis there is a handful of shops to look out for, particularly if you’re hunting for souvenirs or unusual purchases. Here’s a selection of the best.
- Pylones (funky giftshop chain, no fridge magnets): 57 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004.
- Laguiole (acclaimed cutlery and knife maker): 35 Rue des Deux Ponts, 75004.
- L’Etiquette (organic, biodynamic, natural wines): 10 Rue Jean du Bellay, 75004.
- La Ferme Saint-Aubin (well-stocked fromagerie): 76 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004.
- Imiza (boutique cosmetics): 51 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, 75004.
- Jeanne Danjou et Rousselet (jewelry): 15 Pl. du Pont Neuf, 75001.
The finest art galleries and museums
Île de la Cité is not known for its art galleries. However, a handful of intimate galleries will satisfy curious art lovers if you’re willing to head over to Île Saint- Louis or the Left Bank.
01 Galerie d'art Carré d'artistes Paris 4 Île Saint-Louis
Along the same street as Galerie DDG in the 4th arrondissementgall, this branch of Carré d’artistes showcases contemporary artists at affordable prices.
02 Galerie DDG
Back on Île Saint-Louis, this typical Parisian galerie is an intriguing diversion on a street lined with shops and restaurants. The collection showcases diverse works from a handful of artists.
03 Galerie Frédéric Got Fine Art
There are eight outposts of Galerie Got dotted across Paris and France. This agreeable gallery on Île Saint-Louis is one of them. One for contemporary art collectors and fans.
04 Le 33 Mai
This handsome gallery in the 4th arrondissement puts on ‘duo exhibitions’: photographs or paintings alongside sculptures. Plenty of new names and works to discover.
05 Mizen Fine Art Gallery
Across the Seine, close to Pont Neuf, this snug gallery displays contemporary international artists. Exhibitions change regularly, making this a well-situated stop to satisfy an insatiable art craving.
The most charming hotels
There are no hotels on Île de la Cité. But if you’re seeking a unique island experience, you will find several decent hotels on the neighboring island. A satisfying alternative is to find a hotel on the mainland that commands views over Île de la Cité. Here’s our pick of the best hotels around Île de la Cité.
01 Hôtel Du Jeu De Paume
4 Stars | This hotel, housed in a former royal tennis court, embraces its medieval heritage. Aging beams and exposed brickwork blend tastefully with the understated decoration. If you want the island experience, you can’t beat this accommodation on quaint Île Saint-Louis.
02 Hôtel de Lutece
3 Stars | If you’re looking for elegant and comfortable lodgings along the hotel-filled rue Saint Louis en l’Île in the 4th arrondissement, this hotel is a contender. It has won glowing reviews for its attentive service and good-value rooms.
03 Hôtel des Deux Iles
3 Stars | The hotel of ‘Two Islands’ caters to visitors who want to immerse themselves in the fabled islands. An inexpensive, understated, but well-appointed hotel in the heart of Île Saint-Louis’s shopping street in the 4th arrondissement.
04 Hôtel Notre Dame
3 Stars | If you can’t stay on Île de la Cité, then opt for a hotel that enjoys fantastic views of the island. Looking directly over Notre Dame Cathedral, this venerable hotel mixes Renaissance stylings with modern comfort. The traffic down below might be off-putting, but the winning views from the rooms may compensate.
05 Hôtel Saint-Louis en l'Île
3 Stars | Back on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île in the 4th arrondissement, this hotel is housed in a characterful 17th-century townhouse that checks all the boxes for an affordable and comfortable hotel in a great location. Crisply decorated with plenty of charm.
Historical Highlights on Île de la Cité
Aside from epoch-shaping events, the island is also known for its landmark buildings. Clovis I built Paris’s first cathedral on the island. There is little trace of the Basilica and Cathedral of Saint-Étienne today. Instead, the soaring Notre Dame de Paris stands in its place. The magnificent gothic cathedral took two centuries to finish, 1163-1345. Despite the catastrophic fire of 2019, Notre Dame remains a preeminent national symbol. Restoration to its original state is slated to finish for a grand unveiling before the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. It was a period of extraordinary religious zeal when Notre Dame was built.
Just 15 years before construction started on Notre Dame, the resplendent royal chapel, Sainte Chappelle, was completed. They remain two of the most remarkable buildings in Paris. Also, on the island is the world’s oldest continuously functioning hospital. The Hôtel-Dieu was founded in 651 AD and still cares for patients today. You can visit the courtyard if you want a better view of this ancient institution. Underlining Île de la Cité’s historical status, Paris’s oldest standing bridge, the Pont Neuf, is just one of eight bridges connecting the island to the mainland.
History & Facts
Île de la Cité (Island of the City) is where the history of Paris begins. Steeped in history and home to one of the nation’s most cherished landmarks, it is the heart of France itself. Entire books have been written about the island. But just a few revealing snippets of history provide a feel for the grand sweep of history on the island. The first people to settle the island were likely a Gallic tribe, the Parisii. The very first Parisians.
After Gaul was conquered by Julius Caesar, the island became a fortress for the Roman governors overseeing the province of Lutetia, the Gallo-Roman settlement that became Paris. After the Romans left, the first king of the Franks, Clovis I made Paris his capital and Île de la Cité the monarchical seat. Successive generations of rulers would live on the island as the kingdom of France expanded its borders and influence. The kings stayed there until 1358. When a rebellion revealed their vulnerability on the island and Charles V of France hotfooted to new residences, eventually settling for the beguiling charms of the Louvre.
The island’s importance was only marginally diminished as it became the center of France’s legal system. It remained home to France’s Parlement and, effectively, France’s highest court until the 18th century. After the revolution, the former royal palace would become the Palais de Justice and home to France’s highest appeal court. The Palais de Justice is located above the notorious Conciergerie prison. In use from 1380 to 1934, it was directly below a Revolutionary court during the momentous events of 1789. 2,780 prisoners were condemned to the guillotine at the hastily convened court: numbered among them were Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, and revolutionary leaders consumed by their own revolution, including Robespierre and Georges Danton.
Is Île de la Cité easy to explore on foot?
Absolutely because this island is perfect for exploring. Road traffic is light, and every must-see landmark can be reached via the cobbled streets.
Is Île de la Cité safe?
Few places in Paris are safer because the Prefecture of Police and France’s highest courts are on the island, in addition to numerous tourists day and night.
Is Île de la Cité expensive?
Eating on the island or nearby l’Île Saint-Louis can be expensive, as you might expect for a tourist magnet. But as a less-popular place to stay than nearby Le Marias and the Latin Quarter, the few hotels on l’Île Saint-Louis are surprisingly affordable.
Île de la Cité is the geographic center of Paris. It is also at the center of some of its most celebrated neighborhoods and attractions. Whichever direction you take across the island’s bridges leads to a notable address. Less than a mile away on the Right Bank is the bewitching Le Marais quartier, many people’s idea of the most charismatic neighborhood in Paris. Head to the Right Bank, via the esteemed Pont Neuf, and you’ll find yourself a short walk from the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens.
Head in the opposite direction over Paris’s oldest bridge to land right outside the old Paris mint, Monnaie de Paris. Or take another bridge to arrive at the beloved Latin Quarter, another neighborhood with a rich heritage and leading sights like the fabled Shakespeare and Company book store and the Sorbonne (France’s oldest and most prestigious university.) The only challenge you face in this part of Paris is plotting your time and route to fit in all the unmissable sights.
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