France

The Perfect Escape While in Paris: Île Saint-Louis

Wandering around Île Saint-Louis feels like you are taking a holiday from the rush of the city. It feels like a charming village that has been dropped right in the center of Paris. One that has been frozen since the 17th century. There are no significant landmarks or attractions, only postcard worthy views and historic architecture. It is one of two natural islands in Paris, the other well-known one, Île de la Cité, draws the tourists. But not the quiet and lavish Île Saint-Louis, which was our home base for our 3rd visit to Paris.

Pont Saint-Louis (built in 1630 and rebuilt 6 times since) connects the island to the Île de la Cité. It is one of the busiest bridges and where you will find street artists performing their talents. But if you go at sunrise, you get an empty bridge with beautiful light.

The first thing I did was go out and explore. The best way to get acquainted with this tiny island is to walk around the exterior as it sits in the middle of the Seine with the left and right banks on either side. It is connected to the rest of Paris by four quays and five bridges. And, as you can image, they each offer a lovely view of the Seine and the Parisian buildings. Down the center of the island is the main street, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, and off this main street are tiny side streets that extend to either side of the left or right bank. It is that simple.

Pont de la Tournelle (built in 1656) from the left bank
Quai d’Orléans on the south side. It runs between Pont Saint-Louis and Pont de la Tournelle
Quai de Béthune on the south side. It runs from Pont de la Tournelle to Pont Sully.
Pont Sully from the left bank (built in 1877)
Quai d’Anjou on the north side runs from Pont Sully to Pont Marie (Photo credit: communes.com)
Quai de Bourbon on the north side runs from Pont Marie to Pont Louis-Philippe
Pont Marie from the right bank (built in 1635). Photo credit: Wikipedia
Pont Louis-Philippe from the right bank (built in 1834). Photo credit: Paris 1900.Lartnouveau
The heart of Paris, in the 4th arrondissement, 2,500 people reside on the island. They are called ‘Ludovisiens’ (m) and ‘Ludovisiennes’ (f). With an area of 11 hectares the island. It has the shape of a parallelogram of 525m by 250m. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

So how did Île Saint-Louis come to be? History tells us that it was used mostly as pastureland for grazing cattle since 867. It wasn’t until the 17th century when King Henry IV, finished building the Pont-Neuf that he decided to join both islands together. The King then commissioned city planner and builder, Christophe Marie, and designer Louis Vau, the architect of Versailles, to develop this island. During a 30-year period between 1614 to 1644, the island was complete and is now chock full of elegant town homes and small mansions. Contrary to the buildings you find elsewhere in Paris that have an inner courtyard, these town homes were opened towards the outside with windows and balconies to maximize the view looking out to the Seine.   

Now, come and grab your Berthillon ice cream at the original location at 29-31, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île and stay awhile. My favourite thing to do here was just stroll and admire the grandeur of the untouched 17th century architecture.

To the west of the island lies Île de la Cité, where you can see Notre Dame Cathedral. That became our beacon to recognize our tiny little side street to our glorious apartment.

And, how could you forget the fine boutique shopping where you will find many wonderful specialty shops all along Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, such as:

  • Oliviers & Co specializes in olives and olive oils (No. 81) 
  • Boulangerie Saint Louis (No. 80)
  • La Ferme Saint-Aubin is a classic cheese shop (No. 76)
  • Les Delices de Saint-Louis is a wonderful corner store (No. 67)
  • Cacao et Chocolat is a chocolate shop (No. 63)
  • Pylones carries unique and fun products/toys (No. 57)
  • L’Epicerie is your local drug store, and a great place to buy French beauty products (No. 51)
  • L’ile Aux Images has vintage photographs and lithographs of old Paris (No. 51)
  • Jean-Paul Gardil’s is the local butcher shop (No. 44)
  • Lafitte specializes in foie gras (No. 8 Rue Jean du Bellay)

Dine at:

  • Mon Vieil Ami is run by acclaimed Alstian chef Antoine Westermann, also makes a great vegetarian choice (No. 69)
  • Brasserie de I’lle St-Louis serving classic French dishes (55 Quai de Bourbon)
  • La Crepe En l’Isle specializing in the classic french crepe (13 rue des 2 Ponts L’Isle St Louis)

Or, grab a drink at Au Franc Pinot, a bar since the 17th century (1 Quai de Bourbon).

The lovely and romantic square of Place Louis-Aragon at the north-western tip of the island. It was named after writer Louis Aragon. Some of his writings referenced and described this island very well: “Connaissez-vous l’île” (Do you know the island?) “Au cœur de la ville” (At the center of town) “Où tout est tranquille Éternellement” (Where everything is calm for eternity).

I instantly fell in love with Île Saint-Louis. To me it represents the quintessential Parisian life. It is where you will find lovers entwined on a bench or walking arm-in-arm along the Seine, where you hear the faint sound of some musician playing their cello or violin, where small children are playing soccer in the tiny side streets, where locals warmly greet one another in the street with their double air kisses – left than right looking ever so chic and effortlessly put together while holding a baguette in one hand and a dog in the other. It truly looks as though you have stepped onto a movie set, but then you realize, this is just the quiet, romantic Parisian life on Île Saint-Louis.

So, if you….

  • appreciate historic architecture and neigbourhoods
  • prefer to live like locals when traveling
  • love to shop in specialty stores
  • enjoy a fine meal with locals; and
  • want to experience the quiet Parisian life

then you will likely fall in love with Île Saint-Louis as I did.

48 Comments

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Faith for your comments. It really was the perfect spot to stay. It was so quiet in the mornings and evenings.

  • Connie

    Great read! You took me right back to my favourite time in Paris. Larry and stayed at the HOTEL DES DEUX ILES. Such a sweet boutique hotel! Someday soon we’ll go back

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Connie. I am so glad that it brought back some memories for you both. I hope you get a chance to travel there again some day.

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman

    Ile Saint Louis seems like a wonderful destination to explore Paris like a Parisian. The city is so wonderful and vast that you owe it to yourself to leave to tourist areas and find a little authenticity for yourself. I can see how you can fall in love with Ile Saint Louis.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comments. It indeed was the perfect spot in Paris to explore, almost feeling like you live there are are part of a wonderful historic community.

  • Delphine

    I’m from Paris and I really loved your photography. I always go back to Ile Saint Louis when I go back to Paris, it has a very genuine and romantic feel. I was once a flower girl at a wedding at the church Saint Louis en l’Ile… I also love the fact that it’s so quiet compared to the tourist hub of Ile de la Cite. There is also a wonderful shop that sells old-fashioned sweets, not to be missed…

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Delphine. I am so glad as a native Parisian you agree with me, and I that I have captured the heart of this place accurately in your eyes. I too, love that it is so quiet, with not a tourist to be found, especially in the morning and evening hours.

  • Samantha Karen

    Wow you have me missing Paris! Definietly one of my favourite places to visit. But, I have never been to ile saint Louis! It looks like a lovely escape. I’m going to be putting that one my list of new places to visit for when I go to Paris next.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Samantha. I am glad that this post uncovered a hidden gem for you and that maybe the next time you are in Paris you will have a new place to explore.

  • Marya

    Such a refreshing read about Paris that is not about Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. I heard that Paris is so touristy, especially those mainstream destinations. It’s such a gem to find an information beyond those places in the city. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for commenting Marya. Yes, definitely Île Saint-Louis is not where the tourists flock to. They tend to come for the ice cream and walk right back across, so this is a lovely place to come for a few hours, or perhaps stay like we did, as you truly feel like you are a local when here.

  • Eric Gamble

    Okay so Maybe I knew it but didn’t really realize it till I read this post and saw the pics but I never thought of Paris as having inner-islands. Very cool indeed.
    First I love all the pics you were able to get of the many quai’s or Ponts that connect Île Saint-Louis to the rest of Paris. Bridges always fascinate me.
    Second, I love your view you had of Notre Dame…I wonder how it looks from that view point now.
    Lastly, Love all the boutiques. There is something classically European/British 17th century about those type of Store fronts. Definitely going to have to add a walk to explore Île Saint-Louis to my return to Paris Bucket List item.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you so much for your kind comments Eric. I know, it is hard to fathom that Paris indeed does have two islands right in the center of the city. Île Saint-Louis is so small and yet so well preserved, right down to those storefronts. I hope you are able to return one day soon and love it just as much as I did.

  • Carol Colborn

    That is definitely a great alternative for staying in Paris, Île Saint-Louis. I didn’t know there are islands where you can escape to right in the heart of Paris.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment Carol. Yes, the two islands are in the middle of the right and left banks with the Seine river running on both sides. The larger and busier one is Île de la Cite, where you will find the Notre Dame cathedral. It is a bit of an escape, as most tourists do not visit it, as it doesn’t have any main attractions. In its place, it has wonderful historic buildings.

  • Josy A

    Oooh this looks like mini Parisian heaven. It’s awesome when you find this kind of quiet oasis in the middle of a big city.

    It would be so sad if you go back there now with the change to Notre Dame. 🙁

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comments Josy. Yes, it would be sad to return and see the damage to the Notre Dame. I can’t image how very different it may look now and for years to come. I am glad you enjoyed reading about this hidden gem.

  • MY RIG Adventures

    I agree, the best way to get familiar with the area you’re staying in is to explore it first. Whether by foot or even public transport. I’ve found that we maximise our time there much more efficiently when we begin with a round look at the place. It’s hard to imagine it all used to be grazing land for cattle! I’d love to get a warm coffee and go for a wander just to look at the architecture.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I very much appreciate your comments. You are right, a warm coffee (or croissant) and start to wander to take in the architecture is the best part of being there.

  • April Key Rode

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful city and I really think that this is a great area to relax while visiting Paris one of the tourist’s city to visit. It’s nice to know hidden gem away from the busy street of the city. Thanks for sharing I’m taking note on this one.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comments April. Glad to know that this one peaked your interest and may refer to it when traveling to Paris.

  • Candy

    I read so many posts about Paris (because I really need to go at some point) and this one really caught my attention. Especially Île Saint-Louis. I want to immerse myself into that Parisian life and have a baguette (my favorite!) in one hand while enjoying the sounds of the violin in the distance. I’m also a fan of historic neighborhoods!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I too can read a million posts about Paris, it’s my way of being transported back to the city I love the most. Thank you for your comments, and yes, if you enjoy both of those things, this is a great place to do it in. Also, you can hear the sound of pianos being played echoing through the tiny side streets as Parisians (albeit it might be children practicing) are playing. Either way, it is fantastic!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Third time is a charm! Actually, this was our discovery on our third trip. I knew the general area I wanted to be in and I lucked out finding a fantastic apartment in one of those buildings along the Seine. So I fell in love with the apartment first, and then realized how fortunate I was to be staying in this beautiful and historic area. Thank you for commenting.

  • Jas

    I used to study in southern France and often frequented Paris so you’re totally making me nostalgic now! Love that you included a list of specialty shop recommendations. One of my favorite things to do when travelling is to get lost in local scenes and now I may just need to return!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      How fortunate are you to have lived and studied in the south of France?? I am very envious of that! I am happy to know that it allowed you to reminisce about your time there. Thanks for the feedback about you liking that I included listing the specialty shops, it is always something I research before going to Paris, is where to shop and dine at. Thank you for your comments.

  • Melissa Rogers

    WOW! For starters, your photography is AMAZING. I’ve never had such a great sense of a location as you were able to do here. Also, I love how you mentioned this as the perfect escape. I have to agree completely. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your very kind comments Melissa. It’s great to know that this was helpful in navigating you around this area through my photos. I hope you get to experience it in person one day.

  • Shreya Saha

    Île Saint-Louis looks so pretty. I am totally intrigued by the pictures. I liked how you have given so many dining options apart from letting us know what to see there. I would love to visit this place once I head to France. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful place.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comments. I am glad to hear you found the post helpful. I hope you get to Paris one day, and when you do, don’t forget to experience this quiet and historical area of that beautiful city.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      One day is better than no day in Paris is what I would like to think! Thank you for your kind comments Dana and hope you get to return one day soon, for a bit more time!

  • Michael Hodgson

    I had no idea that there were only two natural islands in Paris and that Île Saint-Louis was one. Love the history of it. I have only been to Paris two times, and each time was struck how this big city really was a congolmeration of many smaller communities / villages — each with a distinct flavor and feel. Île Saint-Louis sounds like a wonderful place to simply sit, have a cafe, and watch the world slip by.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hi Michael, thank you for commenting. Yes, the 20 neighbourhoods or arrondissements that make up the city of Paris, certainly do have their own distinct look and feel. It almost makes us feel like we need to return at least 20 times to really experience each one! If only! You are right, Île Saint-Louis is the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by.

  • Yukti Agrawal

    Going to Île Saint-Louis from the busy city of Paris must be a wonderful thing to do for a relaxed and peaceful holiday. I would also love to do some boutique shopping and thanks to you for sharing a list of some shops.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment Yukti. Glad to know that you found the post helpful. I love boutique shopping, and this area, has some great traditional shops.

  • Alice Ford

    What a wonderful picture of Ile Saint Louis. I have been to Paris twice now but still haven’t quite captured the essence in the way you must have. I will have to travel a bit more slowly through the city on my next visit.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment Alice. Slowly is the only way. Our first trip I tried to jam everything in such a short period of time and then on our last day we made no plans and just strolled aimlessly and it was the best. Now every time we return we pick a new area and do just that. It’s the best!

  • Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions

    This is exactly the kind of place I’d want to see if I visited a city like Paris: centrally located but overlooked by the tourist crowds. It’s fascinating that Île Saint-Louis was farmland until it was fully developed by a city planner. That’s cool also that the courtyards face outward for the view of the city. This must be some of the most expensive real estate in the city! Great pictures and very informative post.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you Kevin for taking the time to stop by to read and comment on my post.
      You are right, it is the most expensive part of Paris to live. I was told that many of the homes have been passed down through the generations, and hardly ever come to market.

  • Danik

    Memories, memories, memories. I used to live and work nearby here and loved walking around here at quiet times of the days (when it wasn’t tourist season). I go back about once or twice a year and always enjoy a wander around this area.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, this is an area of Paris that is meant to be saved for a special occasion, and not to be rushed.

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