Paris Walking Tour: Bridging the Seine
When the French “faire le pont,” they’re not talking about building bridges. Rather, they’re taking an extra day off work to make a long weekend when there’s a bank holiday midweek.
Regardless, there’s quite a bit to be said for the real bridges (“ponts“) in Paris. Join us, as we stroll from the Ile St. Louis to the Eiffel Tower, crossing over some of the city’s best bridges.
A river runs under it
We start at the Pont Sully (built 1876), at the very eastern edge of the Ile St. Louis. Down below on the banks, this section of the isle is an ideal location for sunbathers on a clear day. After gazing out to the east of Paris, take a stroll westward through what has become one of the city’s most fashionable addresses.
The Pont St. Louis (completed 1970) is a tiny bridge connecting the Ile St. Louis with the Ile de la Cité. It sits in the shadow of Notre Dame, across the street from one of the many places selling the famous Berthillon ice cream (though not the original, at 31 rue St. Louis en Ile). This bridge is prime real estate for musicians and other street performers. On a recent afternoon, a crazy French clown and his amazing trick bicycle entertained a crowd of a few dozen, while a rock band was only too glad to take over once the clown’s show finished.
Everything old is new again
Continuing west off the Ile de la Cité, the next major bridge is the Pont Neuf. Despite it’s name, it’s actually the oldest bridge in Paris, completed in 1607. Just north of the bridge is the Samaritaine department store, closed since 2005 for safety-related renovations. The tip of the island to the west of the Pont Neuf is popular with picnickers. Although alcohol is officially “interdit,” gendarmes tend to look the other way if you pour your beverage into cups and hide the bottle.
No cars allowed
Following the Seine west, the next bridge we encounter is the Pont des Arts (completed 1984), an iconic footbridge anchored by the Louvre on one side and the Institut de France on the other. Taking a cue from the bridge’s name, many artists and craftsmen set up shop here to display their creations.
A little ways down is another pedestrian bridge, today called the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor after the first president of Senegal and the first African to be a part of the Academie française. Completed in its latest incarnation in 1999, this bridge arcs right down to the edge of the Seine.
Bridging the gap
The Paris city hall website calls the Pont Alexandre III “Paris’s most elegant bridge.” It can be a little hard to appreciate the fine sculpture work, however, with all the cars and buses roaring up from the Avenue de Maréchal Galliéni. The bridge was built between 1896 and 1900.
Between the Pont Alexandre III and the Eiffel Tower there is not much to see aside from the Passerelle Debilly, a pedestrian bridge built for the 1900 World’s Fair. Still, a walk along the southern bank of the Seine is quite pleasant, as it’s mostly a tree-lined strip of a park.
Get over it
We have finally reached the Pont d’Iéna (completed 1814), which was originally conceived to commemorate Napoleon’s 1806 victory in the battle of Jena. The bridge is an excellent spot for taking photos of the Eiffel Tower. Across the river, the steps of the Palais de Chaillot are probably the best place to watch the tower’s evening light show that takes place every hour from sunset to 1 AM (2 AM in summer).
Your favorite bridge?
Do you have a favorite bridge in Paris? How about a favorite spot along the Seine? Tell us in the comments section below.
About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.