Since the Gaulish Parisii tribe settled here in Roman times, Paris has been built up on either side of the river. The history of the city’s development can be followed along the banks of the Seine, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site. From historic monuments and architectural gems to waterfront developments, this walk – or cycle ride – will take you on a journey back in time. It starts from Gare Austerlitz.
1 / Quai Saint Bernard
Just by the metro station, at Place Valhubert and facing Quai Saint-Bernard, close to the banks of the Seine, sits an oasis of greenery – the Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Gardens). It houses the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle (Natural History Museum) with its famous Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (Gallery of Evolution) as well as tropical hothouses and a zoo. If you listen carefully while you walk alongside the river, you can hear the noises made by some of the zoo’s residents!
A stone’s throw away, the Tino Rossi garden, running alongside the Seine, features an open-air sculpture museum where you can stroll among the works of major contemporary artists such as Brancusi, César and Zadkine. During the summer months, this is a favourite spot for salsa lovers who come here to practice – which makes for a lively and friendly atmosphere!
Before you reach the bridge, climb the flight of stairs and you’ll find yourself in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe. The Institute – with its unusual façade comprising some 240 mashrabiyas, is a symbol of the dialogue between Western culture and the Arab world.
Jardin des Plantes - place Valhubert, Paris 5e
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Jardin Tino Rossi – 2 quai Saint-Bernard, Paris 5e
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Musée de la sculpture en plein air - 11 bis quai Saint-Bernard, Paris 5e
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Institut du monde Arabe - 1, rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard, Paris 5e. Museum open from Tuesday to Friday, from 10 am to 6 pm, and saturday and sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.
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2 / Île Saint-Louis
From here, continue your walk along by the Seine and cross the river at Pont de la Tournelle leading to île Saint-Louis, also known as the ‘island of the palaces’. Stop for a minute to admire the panoramic view of the chevet of Notre-Dame Cathedral – as impressive as ever, even after the ravages of the April 2019 fire. If you have time, wander around the streets of this historic centre of Paris – Quai d’Orléans, Quai de Bourbon, Place Louis Aragon. Soak up the tranquil atmosphere that reigns here, from the quacking of the ducks on the river to the elegant town houses – including number 15 Rue d’Anjou where Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier founded the Club des Hachischins – art galleries and the world-famous Berthillon ice-cream parlour. Then cross the river again by Pont Marie, a continuation of Pont de la Tournelle, to Quai des Célestins on the right bank of the Seine.
Île Saint-Louis, Paris 4e
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Glacier Berthillon - 29/31, rue Saint-Louis-en-l'île, Paris 4e
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Did you know ? The monumental statue guarding the Tournelle bridge is Sainte Geneviève, patron saint and protector of Paris, and is the work of sculptor Paul Landowski.
3 / Rives de Seine Park
Walk down to what was the motorised Voie Georges Pompidou until a few years ago, and enjoy the Rives de Seine Park which now offers Parisians and curious visitors from around the world a breath of fresh air. The park runs along 2.3 km and extends over 10 hectares from Pont de l’Alma to Pont des Arts on the left bank and from Pont Neuf to the Port de Arsenal on the right bank. Sports facilities, pétanque playing areas and a children’s climbing wall have been put up in various places, and there are cafés too. This is also where Paris Plages (Paris beach) takes place in the summer, when deckchairs, beach umbrellas and all kinds of activities create a seaside holiday atmosphere in the heart of the city. Carry on to Pont au Change and cross the bridge to explore île de la Cité.
Rives de Seine park - left bank: from Pont d'Iéna to Pont des Arts. Right bank: from the Pont Neuf to the port of Arsenal.
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4 / Île de la Cité
What first strikes you as you reach île de la Cité is the Tour de l’Horloge (clock tower), which has been showing the time since 1371! Leave the waterfront behind you for a few minutes to admire the Conciergerie, the Sainte Chapelle, the Palais de Justice and, of course, Notre-Dame Cathedral! Then follow Quai aux Fleurs and Quai de la Corse and lastly Quai de l’Horloge, before turning left into Rue de Harlay from where you can cross Place Dauphine towards the equestrian statue of Henri IV and Square du Vert-Galant.
Cross over Pont Neuf to Quai de la Mégisserie.
Did you know ? Inaugurated by Henri IV in 1607, Pont Neuf is in fact – contrary to what its name suggests – the oldest bridge in Paris! It was the first bridge in Paris to cross both sections of the River Seine, to not have any houses built on it, and to be equipped with pavements!
Île de la Cité, Paris 1er et 4
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Conciergerie – 2 boulevard du Palais, Paris 1er
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Sainte Chapelle – 8 boulevard du Palais, Paris 1er
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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris – 6 parvis Notre-Dame, Paris 4e
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Place Dauphine, Paris 1er
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Square du Vert Galant – 15 place du Pont Neuf, Paris 1er
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5 / Le quai de la Mégisserie
Retrace your steps to the right and walk along Quai de la Mégisserie. On the road side are a succession of florists and pet shops. On the river side is where the famous bouquinistes (second-hand booksellers) set up stall on the parapets of the wall overlooking the Seine. It’s an iconic Parisian scene. Carry on along Quai du Louvre and Quai François Mitterrand.
Did you know ? Quai de la Mégisserie is named after the mégissiers – tanners specialized in working with sheep and goat skins, who settled here in the seventeenth century. It subsequently took the names Quai de la Ferraille and Quai de la Ferronnerie for a period, when the area was taken over by metalworkers, before reverting to its original name.
Quai de la Mégisserie, Paris 1er
6 / Pont des Arts
Carry on along Quai du Louvre and Quai François Mitterrand. A little detour to admire the cour carrée (square courtyard) of the Louvre is well worth it. From here, pass through the arcades for a view of Ieoh Ming Pei’s famous pyramid. Retrace your steps and cross the river by Pont des Arts – a favourite location with filmmakers. The cast-iron footbridge, built in the early nineteenth century to link the Louvre – then known as the Palais des Arts – and the French Institute, attracts musicians, amateur artists and lovers from all over the world. Take the opportunity to admire the spectacular view of île de la Cité and Pont Neuf from one side of the bridge, and the Louvre and Orsay museums from the other.
After crossing the bridge, you will find yourself in front of the French Institute, seat of the Académie Française (French Academy). To its left, admire the majestic façade of the Monnaie de Paris.
Pont des Arts, Paris 6e
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7 / Quai Anatole France
Turn right along Quai Conti, from where you get a glimpse of the Fine Arts School. Continue into Quai Malaquais and Quai Voltaire. Stop for a couple of moments to enjoy an unusual view of the Tuileries gardens and if you are tempted to stop over in the magnificent garden designed by André Le Nôtre, cross the river at Pont Royal. Then retrace your steps and continue along Quai Anatole France. On your left you’ll pass the Musée d’Orsay, with its outstanding collection of impressionist art, and the less well-known but not less fascinating Museum of the Légion d’honneur and orders of knighthood just next door.
As you continue towards Pont de la Concorde, admire the Musée de l’Orangerie at the end of the Tuileries gardens on the opposite side of the river. Behind it, Paris’s famous Place de la Concorde is indicated by its iconic obelisk. By now you will have reached Quai d’Orsay.
École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts - 14 rue Bonaparte, Paris 6e
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Musée d’Orsay - 1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur, Paris 7e. Museum open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:30 am to 6 pm and on Thursday from 9:30 am to 9:45 pm.
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Musée de la Légion d’honneur et des ordres de chevalerie – 1 rue de la Légion d’honneur, Paris 7e. Museum open from Wednesday to Sunday,from 1 pm to 6 pm.
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On the opposite side of the river:
Jardins des Tuileries – Place de la Concorde, Paris 1er
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Musée de l’Orangerie – jardins des Tuileries, Paris 1er. Museum open from 9 am to 6 pm except on Tuesday.
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Place de la Concorde, Paris 1er
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Did you know ? The Musée d’Orsay is housed in the former Orsay railway station, which was designed by architect Victor Laloux for the 1900 Universal Exhibition.
8 / Quai d’Orsay
Quai d’Orsay is home to a number of government institutions. Opposite Pont de la Concorde stands the Palais Bourbon, seat of the French National Assembly, unmissable thanks to its imposing pediment. Further along as you make your way towards one of Paris’s most attractive bridges – Pont Alexandre III – you’ll pass the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Invalides. Sit down for a rest on the lawns of the esplanade and admire the dome of the church that contains the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Palais Bourbon- Assemblée Nationale – 126 rue de l’Université, Paris 7e
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Hôtel National des Invalides – 129 rue de Grenelle, Paris – open every day from 10 am to 6 pm
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9 / Pont Alexandre III
From Quai d’Orsay, you will have glimpsed the Petit Palais, the city of Paris’s Fine Arts Museum, built – like its neighbour the Grand Palais – for the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
Cross to this side of the river by the majestic Pont Alexandre III. Built in 1891 to celebrate the Franco-Russian alliance, this bridge is a superb example of the Belle Époque style with its 17m-high towers topped by gilded bronze winged horses, its 22 sculptures, its gilding, its elegant lamposts, and its rich decoration and ornamentation. Its open construction means you can see the Invalides from the Champs-Elysées. Take time to enjoy the fantastic panoramic views from the bridge, especially of the Eiffel Tower.
Did you know ? Alexander III, who was responsible for the Franco-Russian Alliance, never saw the bridge that is dedicated to him – he died three years after the treaty was signed and two years before building work started on the bridge in 1896. A similar bridge crosses the Neva in Saint Petersburg.
Take a close look at the Grand Palais, a listed historic monument with its majestic glass roof. Today it’s a venue for exhibitions, contemporary art fairs, fashion shows and temporary installations.
Pont Alexandre III, Paris 8e
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Petit Palais – avenue Winston Churchill, Paris 8e. Museum open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.
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Grand Palais - 3 avenue du Général Eisenhower, Paris 8e.
Open times vary depending on the temporary exhibitions and events.
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10 / Le quai Branly
Cross back over the bridge and continue along Quai Branly from where you get a good view of the Pont de l’Alma. One of its pillars is adorned with a statue known as the zouave (the name given to North African soldiers in the French Army) which serves as a measure of the height of the water in the river. On your left stands the eye-catching new Russian orthodox cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Glance up to admire its five gilded onion domes – no less than 90,000 gold leaves were required to cover them. A little further along the quay, observe the beautiful vertical garden of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum. In addition to its permanent collections and temporary events, the museum devoted to non-European arts and civilisations also features a pretty garden. On the opposite side of the river, you can glimpse the Palais de Tokyo, the Chaillot hill and the Trocadéro garden. But the star of the show is here right in front of you – the ‘iron lady’ of Paris – the Eiffel Tower! It’s up to you whether you want to climb the 1665 steps to the top for a spectacular panoramic view of the route you have completed.
Musée du quai Branly – Jacques-Chirac, Museum open from 11 am to 7 pm except on Monday. Late-opening on Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 9 pm.
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Tour Eiffel – Champ-de-Mars - 5 avenue Anatole France, Paris 7e
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On the opposite side of the river:
Palais de Tokyo – 13 avenue du Président Wilson, Paris 16e. Museum open from noon to midnight, except on Tuesday.
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Jardin du Trocadéro – place du Trocadéro, Paris 16e
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11/ L'Île aux Cygnes
Once you have passed the Eiffel Tower, go to the Bir-Hakeim bridge. Favorite of filmmakers, its arcades and elegant lamps suspended under the viaduct delight passers-by and make it a prime spot to admire the Seine. From there, find the passage that allows you to descend to the small contiguous island: Île aux Cygnes. A short kilometer long, this tree-covered artificial island created in the 19th century houses at its end a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty. Installed during the Universal Exhibition of 1889, three years after that of New York, it is a gift from French citizens living in the United States on the occasion of the centenary of the French Revolution.
Pont de Bir Hakeim, 15e et 16e arrondissement
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Île aux Cygnes, 15e et 16e arrondissement
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