The heart of Paris, where it all began for Europe’s most visited city is here on the island in the river Seine and is called ‘Ile de la Cite’ or in English, ‘The city on the island’. This was a typical small village on an island when Julius Caesar was passing through with his Roman Empire but eventually kings made the area the political power of France. Over the years beautiful buildings were built, no more than the Gothic masterpiece known as the Notre-Dame. The island itself is pretty small and can be explored within a few hours and here is a few things to do and see which we highly recommend.
One of France’s most famous landmarks, the Notre-Dame was first built way back in 1163 when Pope Alexander III laid the first stone. It took over 170 years to build this amazing cathedral, many of those involved were Gothic architecture and medieval craftsmen. Standing on a former Roman temple, the cathedral is around 130m long and has two 69m high towers which dominate the main entrance. Below that is the West Rose Window which is huge but more importantly depicts the Virgin in a medallion of blues and rich reds.
The cathedral can be visited when there is not a service on (if you are lucky, visitors maybe able to attend a service), and check out the amazing transept.
However most visitors will usually queue up on the northern side street (Rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame), and take the 387 steps up the north tower which leads onto the balcony. Here the famous gargoyles can be found but more truly, the views overlooking central Paris is truly amazing. I felt the view from here is better than that from the Tour Eiffel and the Sacre-Coeur cathedral, overlooking rooftops, seeing the other famous landmarks and I could see for miles and miles. Even looking down below over the river was a beautiful sight. TIP: get here before the doors open so you can get the perfect view and don’t have to queue up for long
Outside the cathedral on the eastern end, outside attached to the cathedral is a structure known as ‘The Flying Buttresses’ which have a span of 15m. Not sure why this is here but to me it’s a beautiful piece of art and gives the Notre-Dame a more spooky feel in the winter months.
On the main square outside the western entrance of the Notre Dame is a slab of stone on the ground which is known as Point Zero. It is here where all distances within France are measured from. In England (my home country) we call this ‘Mile Zero’.
Other sights to see –
Don’t forget to include a visit to nearby Sainte-Chapelle cathedral which is known for is stained glass (not as famous as the Notre-Dame but can be more beautiful in my eyes), a walk through the quaint streets of Ancien Cloitre Quartier (to the east of the island) which was once homes for students and medieval clergymen and behind the Notre Dame is the beautiful square of Jean XXIII which is so close to the river.
Unless you got a bank account which is financed by Credit Agricole with you, try avoid eating and drinking in the restaurants and cafes on this island, it is very expensive and will leave you with open wallet surgery. I stupidly made the mistake of going to a cafe on the corner of Rue d’Arcole and Palais du Parvis-Notre Dame (can’t miss it, it is the big one on the corner), ordering two hot drinks and a litre of beer and came away feeling €30 lighter.
There are two good ways to get here by metro and RER. The Metro passes underneath the island and stops at CITE (line 4) and to the south of the island (a few minutes walk), St Michel (line 4). However the RER stops at St-Michel Notre-Dame and Lines B (north to south) and C (west to east) stop here. However when leaving the island, head north over the bridges which will take visitors into the Beaubourg and Les Halles area of the city and south will lead towards the Latin Quarter. No need for the metro as its not far too walk and you will get to see some more sights.
Try and avoid all the African immigrants who are trying to sell goodies and selfie sticks at bargain prices. They are knocked off goods and don’t last long. They say ‘non-merci’ when they approach you and walk on. If they become aggressive just shout out ‘police’ or ‘au secours’ – at the major tourist sights there are police everywhere. Not trying to scare visitors off but they are becoming a nuisance over the last twenty years.
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