Île de la Cité was the first part of Paris to be settled. Solemn and museum-like, it is the city's religious and judicial center, with a Gothic crown jewel in Notre Dame. After all the historic grandeur, Île Saint-Louis, linked to Île de la Cité by a tiny bridge, offers a welcome hedonistic respite, its grid of narrow streets parading a lively mix of fine food shops, arty boutiques, and top restaurants.
Start your walk at the (1) Pont Neuf ("New Bridge") which, despite is name, is the oldest bridge in Paris, celebrating its 400th birthday in 2007. Take Quai de L'Horloge to the (2) Conciergerie. This 700-year-old former royal palace housed a notorious prison during the French Revolution and became the last address before the guillotine for Marie-Antoinette and some 2,700 others.
Turn down Boulevard du Palais for the 13th-century (3) Sainte-Chapelle (http://sainte-chapelle.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/) rising beside the Palais de Justice—hence the high-security entrance. Founded by the crusader king St. Louis, the chapel glows with 16 enormous stained-glass windows that illustrate more than a thousand biblical scenes. "The place seems to be made entirely of glass," says Sylvie Clavel, Sainte-Chapelle's director. "It has an amazing lightness—Gothic and radiant."
Continue along wide pedestrian Rue de Lutèce, Paris's original name when it was founded in 250 B.C. Here the (4) Marché aux Fleurs has been selling its flowers for some 200 years. In front of you looms the Hôtel Dieu, the city's oldest hospital, founded in A.D. 651, while just to the right opens Place du Parvis. Look front stage and center for a sublime medieval masterpiece, (5) Notre Dame Cathedral (www.cathedraledeparis.com). Look up to see its looming gargoyles, then head around back of the cathedral for the famous flying buttresses and a glimpse of the falcons that often nest on the roof of the cathedral. Nearby you'll find the entrance to the (6) Memorial of the Deportation. Austere and claustrophobic, this modernist monument commemorates the French who perished in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. "Inside is a low passageway with 200,000 beads of glass that reflect the light and glimmer in the darkness—a reminder of those who were martyred," says Oriel Caine, co-founder of Paris Walks.
Cross over the bridge to Île Saint-Louis and walk up the buzzing main drag, Rue St-Louis en l'Île. Artisanal cheese shop (7) La Ferme Saint-Aubin is on the left. On the right, (8) Mon Vieil Ami (www.mon-vieil-ami.com) is the acclaimed Alsatian bistro of Strasbourg superchef Antoine Westermann. "It's really the restaurant of the isle," says Patricia Wells, food critic for the International Herald Tribune.
At the next corner you'll reach your final destination and reward, the beloved half-century-old ice cream parlor (9) Berthillon (www.berthillon.fr).
About Paris and France
This former home of French kings epitomizes royal elegance in the style of Old Europe. Get facts, photos, and travel tips for Versailles, a World Heritage site in France.
Discover the arts, foods, crafts, and vistas that make this one of Europe's most inspiring regions.
Test your knowledge of Paris with this quiz from National Geographic's Ultimate City Guides.
Subscribe to Nat Geo Traveler
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!