Little hidden away spots on the Île de la Cité, Paris

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Recently we took advantage of a beautiful sunny day to climb the towers of Notre-Dame. Once back on dry land we continued our stroll in a place of history and heritage that is little known by the millions of tourists attracted by the fame of Paris’ Gothic cathedral. Follow us on the northeastern part of Île de la Cité where Paris seems to have stood still for centuries… And let’s look out at some hidden spots on the Île de la Cité


My Hidden Spots on the Île de la Cité

Hidden spots on the Ile de la Cité. Map by French Moments

The ship-shaped island of Île de la Cité includes grand monuments and vast complexes such as Notre-Dame and the Palais de la Cité. Since Ancient Times it has been the historical heart of the city.

Today, tourists flock to the cathedral and the Sainte-Chapelle, crossing the Seine on one of the many bridges that connect the Right and Left banks to the island.

They wander from the Square du Vert Galant to the Pont-Neuf, the royal square of Place Dauphine and the beautiful Flower and Birds Market.

Haussmann’s great urban works

Since the mid-19th century, the wide boulevards have crossed the island from North to South. Bordered by imposing administrative and Haussmannian buildings, they gave Île de la Cité a completely different aspect from before.

No more medieval houses, no more slums, no more cut-throat narrow streets. Baron Haussmann seems to have done a very good job and the island as we see it today is nothing like what it used to be at the time of Quasimodo and Esmeralda… Or is it?

Hidden spots on the Ile de la Cité © French Moments

Hidden spots on the Ile de la Cité © French Moments

For as in the story of a famous Gaul, one small part of indomitable Lutetia still holds out against the invaders… (a little nod to Asterix!)

This little part of Île de la Cité which has kept its authentic atmosphere is little known by tourists who come by the millions to visit neighbouring Notre-Dame.

Yesteryear Paris © French Moments

Rue Chanoinesse, Paris © French Moments

There is much to discover if one takes the time: the narrow cobblestone streets lined with peaceful buildings, a few bistrots and boutique stores, medieval remains, romantic lampposts… a small world under the protection of the towering Notre-Dame cathedral.

From the top of the towers of the cathedral, this little part of the island can be seen with its distinctive Parisian rooftops:

The "quartier du chapitre" from the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

Gothic decorations, Notre-Dame de Paris © French Moments

The "quartier du chapitre" from the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The view from Notre-Dame © French Moments

The "quartier du chapitre" from the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The “quartier du chapitre” from the towers of Notre-Dame © French Moments

The entrance to this neighbourhood is located near the Pont Saint-Louis.

The view from Pont Saint-Louis © French Moments

The view from Pont Saint-Louis © French Moments

Rue Chanoinesse

One hundred metres further, turn right to Rue Chanoinesse. A few residential buildings give a certain cachet to the street: some are typical Haussmannian blocks, others are made with red bricks.

Rue Chanoinesse © French Moments

The façades of rue Chanoinesse © French Moments

Hidden spots of the Ile de la Cité © French Moments

Rue Chanoinesse © French Moments

At the corner with Rue Massillon, there is a fine view of Notre-Dame‘s spire which soars high above the roofs and chimneys.

Hidden Spots on the Ile de la Cité © French Moments

Notre-Dame from Rue Massillon © French Moments

Au vieux Paris d’Arcole

A bit further, still on 24 Rue Chanoinesse stands a very old inn: Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole. This is the most Instagrammable façade on the Île de la Cité! On its left is a curious cupcake store…

The house of the Vieux Paris d’Arcole dates from 1512, at a time when the construction of Notre-Dame de Paris was nearing completion (although a signpost indicates it became an inn in 1594).

It is said that it housed the cathedral’s canon. Thus, for nearly six months, it was the home of a canon who became one of the popes of Avignon, Clement VIII.

The bishopric of Paris sold it in 1723 to become a wine bar. This can still be seen in the exterior grille which protected the merchandise on display while ensuring good ventilation.

Listed as a historical monument, the house is distinguished by its magnificent floral and plant decoration. Indeed, Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole benefits from an exemption as a “tourist exception”. Thus, the Paris City Council authorises the presence of a very imposing wisteria planted in 1946, 7 metres high and 22 metres long.

Au Vieux Paris © French Moments

Au Vieux Paris © French Moments

Au Vieux Paris © French Moments

Decorations on windows, rue Chanoinesse © French Moments

Rue de la Colombe and rue des Ursins

Turn right to Rue de la Colombe and once at the corner with Rue des Ursins, check behind you the typical Parisian scene. We seem far away from the Haussmann boulevards that are actually just across the street.

Rue de la Colombe © French Moments

Rue de la Colombe © French Moments

Walk along Rue des Ursins, a narrow street that leads to the Quai aux Fleurs. Passed the small garden of Les Ursins, the street is bordered by a stone house with medieval window frames.

Hidden spots on the Ile de la Cité © French Moments

The picturesque Rue des Ursins © French Moments

Hidden spots on the Ile de la Cité © French Moments

Rue des Ursins from Quai aux Fleurs © French Moments

Rue des Ursins takes its name from a mansion “Hôtel Ursin” dismantled in the 17th century. It was also called “Hell Street” in the 16th century.

Rue des Ursins © French Moments

A yesteryear view of Paris: Rue des Ursins © French Moments

Rue des Ursins from Quai aux Fleurs © French Moments

Rue des Ursins from Quai aux Fleurs © French Moments

Do not be fooled by appearances: this medieval-looking house was heavily restored in 1958 and once owned by Aga Khan.

The former house of Aga Khan © French Moments

The former house of Aga Khan © French Moments

Rue des Chantres

The Rue des Chantres is one of Paris’ narrowest streets. Named after the cantors of the cathedral’s cloister, it is rather a dark street.

Rue des Chantres © French Moments

The narrow street of Rue des Chantres © French Moments

Rue des Chantres © French Moments

A dark alley in the heart of Paris: Rue des Chantres © French Moments

The spire of Notre-Dame soaring high above Rue des Ursins can be seen from the Quai aux Fleurs.

Rue des Chantres © French Moments

Rue des Chantres © French Moments

Rue des Chantres leads back to Rue Chanoinesse from where it is easy to reach Notre-Dame Cathedral.


Find out more!

Find out more about the Ile de la Cité:


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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