Lots of tourists swarm the main island in Paris, the Île de la Cité, home of Notre Dame Cathedral. But far too many overlook its delightful little sister, the quaint Île Saint-Louis, which is just a few steps away. Charming, with small and narrow streets everywhere, and the Seine River all around you, you will find the real soul of Paris here! And even better, this island is never crowded except during the holidays. It’s almost as if someone dropped a small French village into the center of Paris.
It contains everything you would want from your neighborhood: markets, bakeries, fromageries, and cafes. While much of Paris has modernized over the years, this island remains romantically frozen in the 17th century. It is remarkably the same as it was centuries ago.
Also, one of the most famous things about Île Saint Louis, Berthillion is on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, and it’s ice cream! This delicious ice cream and sorbet has rich colors and equally intense flavors. It comes in thousands of flavors, but nothing can beat the dark chocolate (chocolat noir) and mango (mangue). Summer or winter, this is a real Parisian delight. For true authenticity, try this treat at 29-31, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, where it was started.
The Pont Saint-Louis, the link between the two river islands, is more often than not the location for an impromptu musical or artistic performance. There are also amazing views of Notre-Dame and the Mairie de Paris from the bridge. This small bridge that connects two islands, Île Saint-Louis with Île de la Cité, is a popular spot for street performers, be it jazz bands, jugglers, or mime artists. It’s not unusual to hear jazz at one end, watch an acrobat on the other and get tricked by a magician in the middle. Perfect entertainment for enjoying while eating your Berthillon ice cream.
Further along the Quai de Bourbon, just by the Pont Marie, a lovers’ bridge under which you should kiss your companion, there’s the Théatre de l’Île Saint-Louis Paul Rey. This small theater is a great place to check out for an evening recital or performance. At the far end of the island, there’s Square Barye, an essential visit for anyone with an eye for sculpture.
The island’s main street, Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, features many specialty boutiques and shops. Although they can be both trendy and overpriced, this is still an ideal spot for discovering unique souvenirs. There is an upscale toy store, a shop devoted to handcrafted puppets, a chocolate shop, a couple of gourmet shops, and art galleries. Try L’ile Aux Images for vintage photographs and lithographs of old Paris.
While red, blue or even forest green doors are easy to come by on île Saint Louis, mint doors are not. Walk over along the north side of the island to 29 Quai de Bourbon where you will find the perfect candy-colored mint doors. Then, walk down to the south side of the island for the most incredible view of Notre Dame in the whole city. You may even make friends with some swans.
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