The mighty Seine River flows through Paris under 37 bridges and footbridges. Barge traffic and touring boats bustle in both directions and Parisians flock to her banks to walk, exercise, and have a drink with friends.
The Seine is central to life in Paris and so are its three islands, Ile de la Cite, Ile Saint-Louis, and Ile aux Cygnes.
Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis are two of the oldest villages in Paris brimming with treasures to explore and Ile aux Cygnes, a little further down the river, has a gem of its own.
These islands in Paris can be visited in one day or more leisurely over a few days. And as with all things Parisian, they can be returned to over and over and each time bring new, captivating discoveries.
Here are some top things to do while island hopping in Paris.
Ile De La Cite
Is it even a trip to Paris if you don’t make it to Ile de la Cite? I’ll go out on a limb and say, “No!” because Ile de la Cite, the oldest settlement in Paris, is where many of the city’s top sites are found. When fire swept through Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2019, Parisians wept at the thought that their beloved cathedral might be gone forever as here, on Ile de la Cite, is the true heartbeat of Paris.
Getting To Ile De La Cite
By Metro: Cite on Line 4 or Pont Neuf on Line 7
Visit Notre Dame Cathedral
The world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral, built between 1163 and 1345, is the number one place to see on Ile de la Cite.
Although a fire destroyed part of Notre Dame Cathedral, it is still a must to stand in front of her majestic western facade. There is a barricade on the parvis blocking the three doorways into the cathedral, but just above the barricade, you can see the Gallery of Kings with its 28 statues majestically stretching across the full width of the facade.
Above the Gallery is one of the famed rose windows and Notre Dame’s two towers. Missing is the spire that did not survive the fire.
In French style, the barricades around the construction zone are covered in a gallery of photos and articles describing the fire and restoration.
Marvel At The Stained Glass Windows Of Sainte-Chapelle
This unforgettable Gothic church, Sainte-Chapelle, with its slender spire soaring skyward and 1,113 stained glass windows, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 13th century, King Louis IX had Sainte-Chapelle built to house his religious relics. The incredible sky-high stained glass windows, including the rose window with its 87 petals, are best to admire on a sunny day or during an evening concert when you can sit back and feast your senses on the remarkable windows.
If you love visiting churches, here are some other beautiful churches to see in Paris.
Observe Life At Place Dauphine
One of the oldest squares in Paris, Place Dauphine, is over 400 years old. This square is a quiet place to sip a coffee, admire the buildings, watch a game of petanque in full swing, and observe French life unfold around you.
Stroll Across Pont Neuf
Pont Neuf, at the western edge of Ile de la Cite, connects the island to both the Left and Right Banks. Pont Neuf, which means New Bridge, is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris, hailing from 1607. Don’t forget to descend the stairs and walk under Pont Neuf to admire the stonework and the carved faces staring down at you.
Examine The Equestrian Statue Of Henry IV
The Equestrian Statue of Henry IV is in the middle of Pont Neuf. This statue from the 1800s is a replica of the original statue from the 1600s that was destroyed during the French Revolution. King Henry IV was also known as The Good King and the Vert Galant for all of his mistresses.
Just behind King Henry IV are stairs leading down to the Seine. Stop awhile in the Square du Vert-Galant for views of the Louvre and the Hotel de la Monnaie. If you want to take a boat tour of the Seine, there is a stop right here or check out these other suggested tours.
Ile Saint-Louis, once a pasture for cows in the 1600s, is tucked in behind Ile de la Cite just behind Notre Dame Cathedral. The little village on Ile Saint-Louis has remained virtually unchanged in the last 400 years. Follow the cobblestone streets, gaze at the facades of former private mansions, and never lose sight of the Seine.
Getting To Ile Saint-Louis
From Ile de la Cite: Walk behind Notre Dame Cathedral and cross Pont Saint-Louis
By Metro: Pont Marie or Sully-Morland on Line 7
Watch The Musicians And Street Performers On Pont Saint-Louis
Pont Saint-Louis, the bridge that crosses between Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis, is the perfect place to enjoy street musicians. Stand a while enjoying the music, gaze over at the back of Notre Dame with her huge crane, up to the grand dome of the Pantheon, and enjoy the barge traffic slipping down the Seine. Don’t be surprised to find a variety of performers with marionettes or competing on rollerblades.
Shop The Boutiques On Rue Saint-Louis-En-l’Ile
Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, the main street and heart of the island, is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques and galleries. Shop the unique creations of scarves, clothing, hats, and leather goods. Don’t miss La Cure Gourmande for chocolates and biscuits.
Visit The Church Saint-Louis-En-l’Ile
The clock at #21 on Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile marks the entrance to the church. The Church Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile took 62 years to complete and was finally consecrated in 1726. Inside, the Baroque-style church is luminous with its white marble and gilded accents. Admire the sculptures and works of art and the tranquility that this sacred space allows.
Savor Berthillon Ice Cream
The famous Berthillon ice cream is deemed the very best in Paris. Run by a Parisian family, this creamiest of ice creams is indeed divine and the flavors exquisite. Pear and pistachio were two flavors that I found to be delicious. Sit and enjoy your ice cream at a table or wander with your cone down by the Seine.
Ile Aux Cygnes
Ile aux Cygnes, or the Island of the Swans, is a narrow, half-mile long, man-made island in the Seine floating between two bridges, the Pont Bir-Hakeim and the Pont de Grenelle. This small island in Paris has a pathway down its center bordered by willow and chestnut trees, making it a tranquil, off-the-beaten-path place for a walk.
Getting To Ile Aux Cygnes
From the Eiffel Tower: Ile aux Cygnes is a short, flat 7-minute walk. Find the Bir-Hakeim Bridge and walk down the stairs to access the island.
By Metro: Bir-Hakeim on Line 6
Visit The Statue Of Liberty On Ile Aux Cygnes
At the very tip of Ile aux Cygnes near the Pont de Grenelle soars this island’s treasure, the Statue of Liberty or as known in French, La Statue de la Liberte. The quarter-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor was given to France in 1889 by American expats in Paris to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Steal Some Great Views Of The Eiffel Tower
Most people won’t make the special trip to this Island to see the Eiffel Tower but allow yourself some time to wander the island and walk both bridges to see surprising views of the Eiffel Tower.
Winter or summer, the islands in the Seine are popular. Find one of the many cafes on Ile Saint-Louis to enjoy a vin chaud in the winter, or a kir royale in the warmer weather as you admire the views of the Pantheon and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Alternately, find the oldest house on Ile de la Cite which is the cafe Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole at 24 Rue Chanoinesse. This facade is an Instagram favorite with its gorgeous wisteria in the springtime but take the time to have a meal inside. The luscious red velvet interior is a show-stopper.