Things to Do in Ile de la Cité, Paris

You may be familiar with Ile de la Cité, the biggest island on the Seine River and today part of Paris’ first and fourth Arrondissements. This is the historical center of Paris, the site of three world-famous buildings in Paris (Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Conciergerie), and a lovely place to hang around.

Ile de la Cité has a fascinating history. It was the settlement of a Celtic tribe known as Parisii, 2,300 years ago. Under the Roman Low Empire (3rd century to 4th century AD), the island was the center of Roman Lutetia, protected by massive walls. During medieval times, it was the home to the first French Kings and the center of civil and religious power. Since then, Medieval and Renaissance architects and builders have all contributed to Ile de la Cité’s captivating mix of history and beauty.

Ile de la Cité is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Paris, and you won’t be disappointed by spending at least one full day visiting its main sights and soaking up the atmosphere. So, to help you plan your tour in this lovely neighborhood, here is a list of the best things to do in Ile de la Cité, Paris.

Ile de la Cité - Paris

Ile de la Cité Practical Information

How to Get to Ile de la Cité?

Cité (line 4) is the only metro station in Ile de la Cité. Saint-Michel Notre Dame (line 4, RER B and C) is also a good option, only a bridge away from Ile de la Cité.

Where to Eat & Sleep on Ile de la Cité?

Best Restaurants in Paris
Best Restaurants on Ile de la Cité

Ile de la Cité Things to Do

1. Take an Ile de la Cité Walking Tour

Walking tours with an expert guide are great to discover more about a specific neighborhood. They are also ideal for people with limited time in Paris, looking to visit the city’s essential sights. To discover all that Ile de la Cité has to offer, try this Ile de la Cité Walking Tour, which visits the banks of the River Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral (from the outside), and the Sainte Chapelle. It also includes a Seine River tour so you can admire Ile de la Cité from a different perspective Click here to book your Ile de la Cité Walking Tour with an expert guide

2. Visit Notre Dame Cathedral (from the outside)

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral (Our Lady of Paris) is a jewel of Gothic architecture. The cathedral is the most important monument of Medieval Paris and, without a doubt, the most important attraction on the Ile de la Cité.

The construction of the Cathedral began in the 12th century and was finally completed in the 14th century. While waiting for its reopening, you can admire its main façade, dominated by a huge rose window and the statue of the Virgin Mary. The 28 sculptures below represent the Kings of Judah and Israel, the ancestors of Christ. These sculptures lost their heads during the French Revolution and what you see today are replicas.

3. Point Zéro

Point Zéro - Paris

About 50 meters from Notre Dame Cathedral (not visible during the reconstruction works), there’s a compass rose engraved in a piece of bronze and surrounded by a stone slab on which we can read “Point Zéro des Routes de France” (Zero point of the roads of France). It is, in fact, from this point that France calculates the distances with other cities in France.

The Point Zéro has, however, a less glamorous past. In Medieval times, this was the location of the “Ladder of Justice,” a post in front of which the condemned kneeled to make amends.

King Louis XVI made it the zero point in 1769, and later, in 1786, his grandson King Louis XVI ordered its materialization by a milestone.

According to legend, if you walk on Point Zéro, your steps will bring you back to Paris, so it is well worth trying it!

4. Visit the Archaeological Crypt of Ile de la Cité

Archaeological Crypt Paris

Just in front of Notre Dame, the fascinating Archaeological Crypt of Ile de la Cité is one of our favorite sites of Paris underground. The museum was built around the Roman remains of former Lutetia, discovered during excavations between 1965 and 1972, and it includes some streets, part of Lutetia’s walls, and Roman baths.

The Crypt offers a trip back in time, allowing visitors to witness the remains of Roman Paris as it was 2,000 years ago. While the emphasis is on the archaeological ruins, the technology available is very modern: interactive maps, touch displays, and 3-D animations seek to make history fun for the whole family.

TIP: The Paris Museum Pass for 2, 4, or 6 days includes the entrance to the Crypte Archéologique

5. Admire the Stunning Glass Windows of Sainte Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle - Paris

A visit to the Sainte Chapelle, known for its dazzling medieval stained-glass windows, is one of the best things to do in Ile de la Cité. It was commissioned in the 13th century by King Louis IX of France to host his collection of Passion Relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns. The Palatine Chapel was built in Gothic style in only seven years, and it consists of a Lower Chapel, for the use of all the inhabitants of the Royal Palace, and the Higher Chapel, for the use of the Royal Family.

The transparent elegance of Sainte-Chapelle’s-stained glass windows amazed visitors in the thirteenth century, who felt themselves “introduced into one of Heaven’s most magnificent apartments.” Still today, visiting the Sainte Chapelle is one of the best things to do in Paris.

To visit the Sainte Chapelle you must book a date and time slot online in advance. The ideal time to visit Sainte Chapelle is around sunset (check out the sunset times in Paris for the days of your visit) to capture the stained-glass windows in all their beauty – Click here to buy your tickets

6. Visit the Conciergerie

The Conciergerie is the building with pointed towers that stretches along the Quai de l’Horloge on the Ile de la Cité. Located in Paris’s first arrondissement, the Conciergerie is the largest surviving remnant of the historic Palais de la Cité, which served as the house and seat of power for the Kings of France from the 10th through the 14th centuries.

The Gothic rooms and halls are magnificent and will transport you back in time. During the French Revolution, the Conciergerie hosted the Revolutionary Tribunal hearings, where almost three thousand prisoners were sentenced to death. Visitors can explore the dungeons and the chapel where Marie Antionette was held prisoner during the last days before dying under the guillotine – Click here to buy your tickets to the Conciergerie

TIP: Save time and money with this skip-the-line combo ticket Sainte Chapelle + Conciergerie!

7. Take a Seine Boat Cruise 

Batobus Hop-On Hop-Off

A Seine River Cruise is a popular way to view the city. As you float along the Seine River, you can see many of the city’s sights, including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, and Notre Dame Cathedral.

A Seine Boat Cruise is an excellent opportunity to experience Ile de la Cité from a unique viewpoint, from the water! The offer of boat cruises in Paris is large and varied and includes cruises with or without a meal, private cruises, and even a hop-on hop-off Seine cruise! To find the best cruise for each type of traveler, visit our article on the best Seine Cruises in Paris.

8. Visit the Pont Neuf 

Pont Neuf - Paris

The Pont Neuf is one of the most famous bridges on the Seine River in Paris. Despite its name, The Pont-Neuf, or ‘New Bridge,’ is Paris’s oldest bridge, originating from the early 16th century.

The Pont Neuf in Paris connects the first to sixth arrondissements, and it is a Parisian institution, both for its history and stunning architecture. Take the time to admire some of the macarons (grimacing stone faces) that decorate the bridge moldings: there are a total of 385, and they are all different!

Since 1889, the Pont Neuf has been listed as a Historical Monument, a unique status in France that ensures its preservation. Together with the Seine River banks, the bridge has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991.

9. Picnic on Square du Vert Galant

Square du Vert Galant - Paris

Located on the western tip of Ile de la Cité, the Square du Vert-Galant was named after King Henri IV, also known as “Vert Galant” (Old Galant) because of his liking for women. You can see the equestrian statue Henri iv on Pont Neuf, watching over the Place Dauphine. The level of this square corresponds to the former level of the Ile de la Cité, which has been raised by 7 meters.

This lovely square is one of our favorite spots for a picnic in Paris, especially in the evening. As the sun sets over the roofs, you may catch the last rays of light here on Ile de la Cité’s western point. You can also observe the tourist boats sailing up and down the Seine River while dangling your feet in the water.

The square also offers impressive fauna and flora for a park in the capital’s center. For this reason, the Square du Vert Galant obtained the “Ecological Green Space” label in 2007.

10. Coffee Break at Place Dauphine

Place Dauphine - Paris

Located in the center of the Ile de la Cité, just steps away from Square du Vert Galant and Pont Neuf, the Place Dauphine, is perhaps one of the lesser-known Royal Squares in Paris.

Place Dauphine was commissioned by King Henri IV, whose equestrian statue still watches over the square. He gave the lands to the President of the Parliament Achille de Harlay to create a set of houses in the spirit of the Place Royale (current Place des Vosges). Harlay thus built 32 identical houses in white stone and brick with slate roofs around a triangular and closed square and named it Place Dauphine in honor of the Dauphin (the heir to the French throne), the future King Louis XIII.

Place Dauphine is an excellent place to have a coffee break and unwind after a day of touring. Aside from the lovely park space, a few quaint cafés and eateries border the plaza, providing great settings for a leisurely meal or a café au lait. It is also common to see locals playing pétanque here.

11. Visit the Marché Aux Fleurs (Flower Market Queen Elizabeth II)

Marché aux Fleurs - Ile de la Cité

A stroll around the Marché aux Fleurs (Flower Market) is one of the most picturesque things to do in Ile de la Cité. This Market has been hosted on Place Lépine since 1808 and its name honors Queen Elizabeth II, who visited this market several times in the past and was particularly fond of it.

This charming and colorful market is housed in a series of Art Nouveau metal pavilions erected in 1900 along the U-shaped Allée Célestion Hennion. The market has an outstanding selection of flowers, plants, and shrubs native to Western Europe and some tropical plants. The market is open from 8 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., from Monday to Saturday.

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12. Admire the Oldest Clock in Paris

The Horloge du Palais de la Cité is the oldest public clock in Paris. This gem in Paris was commissioned by King Charles V in 1370 and it has been giving time to Parisians since then.

Fabulous mechanism and watchmaking masterpiece, this 47-meter-long clock overlooks the Quai de l’Horloge, facing the Seine. Despite this privileged location, you can pass by without noticing it if you don’t look up, which would be a pity!

Badly damaged during the French Revolution, the clock was restored according to how it looked under the reign of King Louis XIV. Take the time to admire the mechanism and decoration, all the Kings of France after Charles V added some details. The dial is surrounded by two allegorical figures representing the law (left) and justice (right). Above, there’s a Latin inscription meaning “The one who has already given him two crowns will give him a third one,” topped by the crowns of France and Poland, kingdoms of King Henri III.

13. Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole

Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole (24 Rue Chanoinesse) is one of the most photogenic cafés in Paris. It is located in a superb 16th century house over which runs a wisteria that attracts all eyes.

This beautiful building behind Notre Dame Cathedral was built in 1512. At the time, it was the home of the Canon of Notre Dame. One of the canons who lived here was future Clément VIII, Pope of Avignon! This house was sold in 1723, and then became a wine bar. You can still notice it thanks to its entrance gate, which was formerly obligatory for alcohol sellers. Today, it is listed as Historical Monument.

Many people stop here for a cofee – it is so nice here when the wisteria is in full bloom, – but the restaurant inside (and its menu) is also worth the detour! Seven cozy rooms feature an atypical medieval style, with exposed beams, velvet sofas, and red hangings. The restaurant is now run by a couple from Aveyron, Odette and Georges, who offer a menu of delicious local food with mains from 17€ to 33€.


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Quirky Parisian explorer with a preference for lesser-known sights, I am continuously looking for new ideas and tips to bring you the best of the City of Light! Read more about me.