The Curious Explorers guide to Paris: Ile de la Cite

posted in: France | 29

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.

Looking at the north side of the island (which is on the right)
The Notre-Dame with a view from Pont au Double

The Notre-Dame

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 square outside the western entrance of the Notre-Dame

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.

Inside the Notre-Dame
One of the amazing windows from inside the cathedral 
Lovely Gothic feature on the northern side of the Notre-Dame
The Notre-Dame from the south side

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

and here are some views from the balcony…….
a view out towards the Eiffel Tower overlooking the River Seine
Looking to the north with the beautiful Sacre-Coeur cathedral in the background
A close up view of the Eiffel Tower from the Notre-Dame

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.   

The Flying Buttresses on Notre-Dame’s eastern end of the cathedral. 

Point Zero
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’. 

Point Zero: (photo credited to:

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.

The bill from ‘that’ cafe! 

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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29 Responses

  1. Robin Rue

    That sounds soooo awesome. I Have always wanted to go see the sites in Paris.

  2. It is my dream to go there one day and your photos and guide makes me wish it would happen right now. I’d love to see every single place there’s to see in Paris.

  3. What a once in a lifetime experience. That photography is also outstanding! I would love to visit there one day.
    Jeanette recently posted…No-Churn Strawberry Mango Swirl Ice Cream

  4. WOW that would be a dream come true trip. I would probably walk around w/my mouth open and in awe the whole time! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Claudia Krusch

    Notre-Dame is on the top of my must see list. Paris would be so amazing to explore. I am hoping to get there in the next few years.

  6. I have always wanted to visit Paris, France is on my travel bucket list. The view from uup there must be incredible!
    valmg @ Mom Knows It All recently posted…What Is A Moving Company?

  7. I just got home from a wonderful trip from France and I will always love that country! It’s amazing how beautiful the architecture is in Paris. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful places in the world.

  8. I went to Paris with my daughter last year and we couldn’t help but fall in love with the city. The people are great, the food is amazing, and the sights —STUNNING! I would go back there any day!
    Amanda Love recently posted…Kindness grenade

  9. I went to Paris with my husband 4 years ago. We had an amazing time but we visited too many cities in 3 weeks, so exhausted.

  10. Neha Saini

    I always wanted to go Paris. Paris is a beautiful location in the world.

  11. I know there are a lot of great places to visit while in Paris. Thus, this guide is really helpful.

  12. I have never been to Europe and Paris is a dream for me but still I am hoping I could visit it someday. I love unfamiliar place and good to know about this. Thanks for the very detailed guide.

  13. Rebecca Swenor

    Paris is indeed on my bucket list and has been for so many years. Hopefully I can get there some day to see all the beauty of Paris. The cathedral is such a gorgeous place with so much history. Thanks for sharing the information.

  14. About 17 years ago I went to Paris. I cannot wait to go back. It’s such a beautiful place.
    Stephanie Pass recently posted…Evil Zombie Nerd Milkshakes

  15. Wow, such stunning architecture! That view is amazing! I went to Paris years ago, but my husband and I hope to go there together. Once the kids are a little older and we can travel easier.
    Emily recently posted…DIY decorative storage bin – cardboard box upcycle

  16. Annemarie LeBlanc

    Oh Paris. The most romantic city in the world! I wish I lived there. Haha. Seriously, there are just so many sights and places to visit it would take me a long time to explore each and every beautiful place there. The stained glass window in Notre Dame is awesome!

  17. Paris looks so lovely. I’m a bit apprehensive about going there right now but hopefully soon, I will have my first visit!

  18. Paris is one of my favorite cities – and one of the most beautiful in the world. Your gorgeous photos make me want to book another trip right now!

  19. Jenn Mitchell

    Paris looks so beautiful! I would love to be able to travel there one day and see it for myself.

  20. Your photos really reminds us of our Paris days! Great time visiting landmarks and walking around. Can’t believe I actually did it while having crutches! Great guide and photos.
    Mimi & Mitch recently posted…A walk away from the Danube @ Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna

  21. very interesting post share. That photography is also amazing! I would love to visit there one day.

  22. I hope that 20eur glass of beer was as good as the price tag. 🙂

    Everyone needs to spend a bit of time around Notre Dame. It’s also interesting after dark; lots of street people and alt music types hang out along the river banks under and near the bridges, lots of fun to hang out and chat with.
    Bob R recently posted…A Visit to the Planet’s Oldest Grapevine

  23. I loved your photos with the gargoyles looking at Eiffel Tower and Paris. Very atmospheric.

    One thing to add on the “nuisance of African immigrants” selling souvenirs: Most of them are not free agents, rather, they are probably in some horrible contract that has them pay off debt from being brought into Europe with the promise of a better life. Yes, that’s another reason to not buy anything so that this system dies. But I think, especially being in the fortunate situation of traveling to a beautiful place like Paris, it’s important to be compassionate for those that are less lucky.

    Happy travels!
    Carola recently posted…Taking the boat from Siem Reap to Battambang, Cambodia

  24. I mean, what’s not to love about Paris. It’s one of my favorite cities for many reasons and sitting on the end of the Ile de la Cite watching the world go by is one of them! I agree that this isn’t exactly a good value neighborhood – for that, head further away from the cathedral – but wow, this is the Paris of every postcard!
    Julie recently posted…The First Week of Our New Life in China

  25. Love your pictures! I’ve been a couple of times to Paris and I absolutely looove the city. It was interesting to read the info about The Notre Dame. I have to admit, there was a lot I didn’t know…

  26. Your pictures are really beautiful, and thank you for posting all of the wonderful tips. I can’t wait to go to Paris, on my next “big” vacation!

  27. I can’t believe I’ve still never been to Paris! Your photos look amazing. But, that pricey meal is a bit scary!
    Nathan recently posted…The Story BBC Travel Rejected

  28. Loved Paris. I need to go back and do some more exploring. When I went it snowed a lot!
    Holly recently posted…Things to Know Before You Go – Malaga, Spain

  29. I really love that part of Paris. Especially in the afternoon when all the street musicians gather around the bridge to pont neuf, behind the Notre Dam. Nice article!

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