Few cities are as steeped in history and culture as Paris, and there’s no better way to soak up the rich heritage of France’s capital than by wandering the labyrinth streets of its oldest districts, starting with the aptly named Ile de la Cité (Island of the City). One of two natural islands on the Seine River (along with the neighboring Ile St-Louis) and connected to both the Left and Right banks by the landmark Pont Neuf (New Bridge), the Ile de la Cité was the site of Paris’ oldest settlement, around the third century B.C, and later formed the core of medieval Paris. Today, it’s the heart of the historic city center and home to landmark sights such as the Sainte Chapelle Chapel, La Conciergerie, the Palais de Justice and the Holocaust Memorial.
The island’s undisputed star attraction is the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, and climbing the 411 steps to the top of the bell tower is a favored pastime that offers spectacular views along the Seine, as well as the opportunity for a photo beside the cathedral’s centuries-old gargoyles. Like all of Paris’ top attractions, the UNESCO-listed cathedral draws huge crowds, and pre-booking skip-the-line tickets to climb the Notre Dame Cathedral Bell Towers is the best option for visitors, avoiding the hassle of what could be a two-hour long queue. For the full experience, pair your visit to Notre Dame with a small-group or private Historical Paris Sightseeing tour, skip-the-line tickets to the Louvre or a walking tour of the Ile de la Cité. If you’d like to dodge the crowds altogether, take an after-hours tour of Notre-Dame Cathedral, where you’ll have the rare opportunity to climb the bell tower after the crowds have disappeared, with the City of Light glittering beneath you.
Another popular accompaniment to tours of the Ile de la Cité is one of the Latin Quarter, the cultural and creative center of Paris, located on the Left Bank opposite the island. Take a Latin Quarter walking tour and experience bohemian Paris, visiting the former homes of luminaries like Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, the beat poets and Jim Morrison, alongside sights like the prestigious Sorbonne University, the Conciergerie prison (where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution), the St. Etienne du Mont church and the lively Place St. Michel.
You could even pedal around the sights - a Heart of Paris Bike tour offers a choice of routes, either starting in the historic Marais and following the Seine River to the Louvre, or navigating the backstreets of the scenic Latin Quarter, followed by a tour of the neighboring Luxembourg Gardens and St Germain-des-Prés, home of the Paris fashion industry.