The home of the earliest settlement in Paris and the original site of the Parisi tribes of the Sequana river, the Île de la Cité is one of the two remaining natural islands in the Seine…
The Paris metro system is one of the oldest and most extensive in the world. If there’s a place you’re trying to find in Paris, the metro will get you to within 5 minutes walk. If you’re not a fan of mile high staircases, or have a disability for which the metro system isn’t exactly friendly towards, the bus is also available and will take you to most major attractions, just taking a little longer to get there.
The good news is that both accept the same ticket. At 1,90 € each, tickets can be purchased from machines located at the entrance to most metros, and you can buy one at a time or booklets of ten.
There are turnstiles at the entrance and exit of the metro where you insert your ticket, and so as long as you don’t leave the station, you can switch across multiple metro lines with only one ticket. The buses, however, require a new ticket every time your transfer. Make sure to validate when you step onboard, and then hold onto the ticket as there are sometimes inspectors on the bus.
On the morning of our second day, we stocked up on transport tickets, and then took the metro straight to the island.
On your right as you come up the steps is the Palais de Justice, a building of stunning architecture and great prestige. Guided tours are offered of its interior, which I hear surpasses the view from outside.
Our first stop was the Conciergerie, a royal residence until it was abandoned by the Kings of France at the end of the 14th century to then take on a judicial role. Part of the palace was converted into prison cells, and during the French Revolution, the Revolutionary Court was installed.
The most famous prisoner of this jailhouse was Marie-Antoinette, well known for the misattributed quote, “Let them eat cake.” During the Restoration, a commemorative chapel was erected on the site of her cell, and the Conciergerie is now open for tourists to visit.
The tickets are free for under 26 year olds (children and EU students) and 9 € for adults, or 15 € if you’d like to combine with a trip to the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle next door.
While at first the church seems unimpressive, wait and climb the stairs to the top before making your judgement. Admire the 15 stained glass windows, each 15m high, depicting 1,113 scenes from both the Old and New Testament, and tell me it isn’t worth the entrance fee.
Our last stop on the island was the world famous Catholic cathedral, the place where Joan the Arc was beatified, the Notre-Dame de Paris. Known as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, the Cathedral has undergone several restoration programmes. During the 1793 French Revolution, many of its treasures were destroyed or plundered, the spire was torn down, and its statues were beheaded. After a twenty five year restoration in 1845, the Second World War caused even more damage to the building, shattering the stained glass windows. They were remade after the war, but with modern geometrical patterns, instead of the traditional scenes from the Bible.
But this historic attraction is still standing, and in 2013, celebrated the 850th anniversary of the laying of the first brick of the foundation. It’s free to enter, and I highly recommend you do so. If you intend to visit the bell tower, for a glimpse of the city of Paris or the magnificent bell, be prepared for a long climb. Or head in the opposite direction, down beneath the streets of the city, the Crypte Archéologique is a time capsule that explores the lives of tribes from long ago. For only 6.00 € for adults and 2,50 € for children, don’t miss the recreated settlement of the Parisi, the Celtic tribe that first settled on the site 2000 years ago.
After the morning exploring the history of Paris, it was time to explore the sights of the city in the present. Anyone who’s followed this blog knows that I’m a huge fan of sightseeing tours as a way to orientate yourself on your first day or see the major attractions in a short space of time. Our mode of transport this time round was by boat.
We went with the Vedettes du Pont Neuf river cruise for a 10 € open ticket that lets you ride at any time on any day subject to seat availability. Their boats leave every 45 minutes and do a circuit of the river, taking you up to the Eiffel Tower, and then down to Île Saint-Louis, the second island of Paris. Departing from Paris’ oldest bridge, lasting an hour, and providing commentary in both French and English, this tour was a nice way to relax and snap a few photographs. Feel free to combine the boat with a hop on hop off bus ticket with Foxity, or find your own cruise company to go with – there are plenty of options on offer.
Our final stop of the day was the Eiffel Tower. Having already completed the obligatory photoshoot from the ground, it was time to take the ride to the top and see Paris in all its glory. It’s possible to buy tickets on the day, but to avoid the huge queues and the stress, I highly recommend you book ahead for a specific time slot. The lift costs almost double the stairs, so the choice is yours, but with 704 steps to climb, don’t take the decision lightly.
In the end, whether you choose to go all the way to the summit, or stop at the 2nd floor, nothing can beat these panoramic views of Paris.