In the middle of the Seine River in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral lies a small pedestrian bridge that leads you from the western edge of Île de la Cité to its smaller sister island, the idyllic Île Saint-Louis.
Less than half a mile in length and full of old Paris charm, this island remains largely residential and serves as a refreshing calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of city center.
It also holds a special place in my heart, as it was the location of my first (tiny!!) Paris apartment, and I can still hear the melody of the bells of Notre Dame wafting through my windows every Sunday morning.
This gem of an island is truly a magical place that merits at least an afternoon of exploring and its central location makes it a great, though often expensive, place to stay.
Here is a day-long itinerary of how to pass a perfect day on Île Saint-Louis, complete with places to stay:
Morning coffee at Le Saint-Regis
This classy black and white bistro never seems to sleep- Le Saint-Regis welcomes weary tourists day and night, and rewards them with a great vantage point of the back of Notre Dame Cathedral. If you arrive early, you can score a small bistro table outside the cafe and sip your morning coffee while watching the sleepy island come to life: locals leaving the island to catch the train as tourists begin entering.
Tip the street performers on Pont Saint-Louis
Stand in the middle of this small footbridge and witness 360 degrees of competing Paris views: the opulent Hôtel de Ville in the Marais, the dome of the Panthéon, and the back of Notre Dame. This bustling pedestrian bridge is a popular spot for local street artists (musicians, magicians, sometimes even roller bladers) to set up shop, especially on a Friday evening or sunny Sunday afternoon. If you are lucky enough to encounter the island pianist roll out his ancient instrument, you have hit the true island jackpot.
Picnic at Place Louis Aragon
with a fresh baguette from Boulangerie Saint Louis and cheese from Guillot Fromageries
This bakery and cheese shop are situated next to each other along Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, and where many of the local islanders stop off daily when returning home from work. The selection at Guillot is excellent, and the cheesemonger will be happy to make a personal, local recommendation based on what you tell him you’re looking for (I swear by the truffled brie). Be ready to indicate how large of a chunk you want him to cut off for you, and don’t fear the cheese stink! Pick up an accoutrement of gourmet groceries for your picnic around the corner at Oliviers & Co before walking to the park on the westernmost tip of the island and keep an eye out for the family of swans that live on the island.
Order a double scoop from La Maison Berthillon
“Berthillon” is the special type of ice cream made exclusively on the island with only natural ingredients (no chemical preservatives or sweetener) and named after the family who have been producing it since 1951. Coming to the island for a scoop on a sunny day is a Paris family tradition! You can order a cup or cone directly from their storefront on rue Saint Louis, but most of the surrounding island restaurants sell it as well.
Pro tip: Authentic Berthillon ice cream vendors won’t let you sample before you choose your flavor. As the family once told me “Why would we need to? We are confident they are all the best!”
Eat said ice cream to the tune of an accordion along Pont Louis Phillippe
When living in central Paris, I repeatedly walked and ran across 20+ bridges all along the Seine, and heard more accordions on this bridge than any other, so the odds are in your favor! Trust me, listening to an accordion player’s French melodies while licking your ice cream on an idyllic island will make you fall that much more in love with the City of Love itself.
Shop for local souvenirs from Papeterie Marie-Tournelle
While you will naturally stumble across plenty of cute little shops along the main drag of Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, make sure to turn the corner at Rue des Deux Ponts to seek out one of the longest standing shops on the island. This petite vintage shop is a treasure trove of cards, stationary, and one-of-a-kind gifts and souvenirs with a little something for everyone.
Watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle from the middle of Pont de la Tournelle
This bridge connects Île Saint-Louis to the Left Bank near Marie Curie’s former residence and boasts magnificent views of the back of Notre Dame, framed by the River Seine and a distant Eiffel Tower. This Parisian view is particularly powerful at sunset, followed by an on-the-hour Eiffel Tower sparkle.
Eat dinner at L’Îlot Vache
The name “L’Îlot Vache” translates to “The Island Cow” and is a nod to the island’s history as originally serving as a cow grazing pasture and offers an excellent 3 course set menu that focuses on meat-centric French classics with a twist. Their scallops (noix de saint jacques) in pomegranate sauce is one of my favorite dishes in all of Paris! The owner and wait staff are knowledgeable and friendly and know many of the island locals, some of whom you will undoubtedly be sitting next to.
Order a night cap from Les Fous de L’Ile
A very popular spot with the locals, Les Fous de L’Ile (“the Crazies of the Island”) is a modern French bistro that maintains an extensive wine list curated by the friendly owner. Les Fous pours out a variety of selections from some of today’s most respected regional French winemakers, yet most of their top picks are very reasonably priced. Splitting a bottle is the perfect ending to your exploration of this magical little island.
Where to stay
Hotel de Lutèce
Hotel Du Jeu De Paume
With Notre Dame View