Arrondissement 4, also known as Hôtel-de-Ville, is truly the heart of Paris: Point Zéro, the official center of both the city as well as the entire country of France, is located here — the country’s national highways are measured from it. This district also houses the Notre Dame Cathedral, which lies on the eastern part of Île de la Cité (the oldest part of Paris), as well as the Île St-Louis and a bit of Le Marais.
The most romantic part of the City of Lights
Île de la Cité is what is usually meant when people refer to the “Notre Dame district”, and this picturesque island is full of charm and history, often considered the most romantic part of Paris. Gargoyles keep an eye on those visiting, and immaculate gardens and stone bridges help create a dreamlike feel. Although Baron Haussmann, who worked under Napoleon III, removed many of this island’s characteristic narrow streets, he was fortunately let go in 1869 before he could finish the job, so the “old world charm” that has become so ubiquitous when one talks of Paris thankfully still permeates everything here.
The oldest part of Paris
The Gallic Parisii were the original inhabitants of this island. Conquered by and eventually assimilating into Roman culture, their city, Lutetia, eventually became Paris in 360 AD. It was used as a place of refuge through several invasions, and in the Middle Ages, construction began on many places that still stand today such as Notre-Dame de Paris, Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie, which was at one time a prison, and at another, a royal palace. It was at the Conciergerie that Marie Antoinette awaited her execution, which occurred at the nearby Place de la Concorde.
Scenic Stone Bridges Across the Siene
The views of the Seine are pretty spectacular from the Île de la Cité, and you will always be within a couple hundred feet of the river. Some of the city’s best vantage points of the Seine are from the bridges that connect this island with the Left Bank, Right Bank and Île Saint-Louis, some of which are amongst the first built in Paris, and the longest-standing of which is Pont Neuf, located at the western end of the island. It dates to 1607. Interestingly, the Pont Neuf was also the first stone bridge to be built in Paris that did not support houses as well. This was done to ensure that a view of the Louvre was not impeded and more than likely contributed to its longevity.
Where to Eat on Île de la Cité
This quaint and historic island is also home to some quintessentially French places to dine.
La Rose de France, a small, elegant restaurant near the Pont Neuf is highly regarded for its gourmet food and exquisite views from the terrace. It also overlooks the charming Place Dauphine, the island’s public square.
Au Bougnat, a small bistro in the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral, is often frequented by locals. People have reviewed it as “small, beautiful, and peaceful”, a place of respite after touring the cathedral and surrounds.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole, which is located in the vicinity of Au Bougnat, and is housed in a building that was once used as a residence for priests during the construction of Notre Dame. It just may be the island’s most romantic place to relax with a meal and a bottle of wine. It offers typically French gourmet cuisine in an an “old Opera” setting. Diners are sometimes sent to the wine cellars themselves to select their own bottles.
Île de la Cité Attractions
As far as popular attractions go on Île de la Cité, the cathedral tops the list, .and for good reason: this historic structure has served as a spiritual home for Parisians and others alike for centuries, and served as the inspiration for countless authors and writers, including Victor Hugo, whose book , “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” was centered here. The cathedral's crypt, stained glass windows, Gothic architecture, sculptures, gargoyles and picturesque views of Paris that are accessible after you climb its stairs will leave lifelong lasting impressions.
Mass is held at least four times a day and Vespers service, which is held at 5:45 p.m. CET from Monday to Saturday, and Sunday mass at 6:30pm are available to view online at KTO-Catholic Television.
Otherwise, you may enter this amazing building at any point from its opening at 8 a.m. until it closes at 6:45 p.m. during the week or 7:15 p.m. on the weekends. Note that even though there may be long lines at times, they usually move relatively quickly.
Once you have finished taking in the cathedral, make sure to visit the pristine gardens that lie immediately to the southeast of it, Square Jean-XXIII. If you walk from Notre-Dame to the Île Saint-Louis, these will be on your right. Movie buffs will be interested to know that several shots of “Midnight in Paris” were taken here.
While not generally recognized as a tourist attraction, it has historic value: not only is it the city’s oldest hospital, but it is the oldest hospital in the world that is still operating. This hospital and hotel, just steps from Notre Dame,was founded in 651 and was the city’s only hospital for the first 900 years of its existence. Today, it is the local center for Paris’ first four arrondissements and the emergency center for its first nine. Visiting its inner courtyard and halls is allowed, and a 14-room hotel is located on the hospital’s sixth floor.
Point Zéro – a plaque that denotes the center of France as all French roads are measured from here
Pont Neuf – scenic bridge located near the island’s western tip that offers stunning views; also the oldest-standing bridge in Paris.
Sainte-Chapelle – medieval Gothic chapel with over 1100 stained glass windows; considered “a jewel” of the Gothic period
Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation – memorial to the 200,000 French citizens who were sent to German labor camps.
Vacation rentals around Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite