Is Paris an Island? Did It Used to Be an Island?

Is Paris an island?

Even if you haven’t been to Paris, you would most likely answer “no.”

But did you know that it once was an island? Not only that but there are actual islands in Paris that you can visit!

If you’re baffled by this information and you want to learn more, you’ve come to the right place.

I lived in Paris for quite a few years and toured these islands on many occasions. So, I know everything there is to know about these wonders as well as the best things to do on each of them. And, today, I want to share with you where you can find these islands, how to visit them, and a few other insider tips.

Is Paris an Island? Did It Use to be an Island?
Is Paris an Island?

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Table of Contents

Is Paris an Island?

No, Paris is not an island.

But it’s easy to think of it as one.

Most people who come to France only spend time in Paris. And rightly so!

There are an endless number of reasons to love the City of Light. But it does mean that many other places get overlooked. It’s like Paris is a separate entity within the country. Even locals consider it isolated from the rest of France. So, in a way, Paris is like an island, just not a real one.

Is France an Island?

Isolated Beach in Reunion Island which is a Territory of France
Reunion Island – A Territory of France

No, France is not an island.

It’s a mainland European country, bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. Its coastline spans a whopping 5500 kilometers (3417 miles). And that includes the shores along the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the English Channel.

France also has several overseas territories and some of these are islands.

Below is a list of all the islands, categorized by location, that are part of France:

  • Atlantic Ocean: Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint Pierre and Miquelon
  • Indian Ocean: Reunion Island, Mayotte, the French Southern and Antarctic Lands
  • Pacific Ocean: French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna Islands

Did Paris Used to Be an Island?

Inside the Conciergerie
The Conciergerie – The Former Palace of the Monarchy

So, was Paris an island?

To answer your question – Yes, Paris used to be an island.

The city of Paris was originally known as Lutetia. It was located on the Seine River, but the exact island is unknown. At that time, the Parisii, a Celtic tribe, settled their territory in the current Île-de-France region. They were also in control of the river traffic along the Seine.

When the Romans arrived, they built a new city on the left bank of the Seine which is, now, known as the Latin Quarter.

In the third century, barbarian invasions forced the Romans to move to Île de la Cité (an island in the Seine River). And this was when the city of Lutetia transformed into Paris. It became the official capital of the region in 508 under Clovis, King of the Franks.

For several centuries, the monarchy resided on the island. And Paris became an important religious center. Several cathedrals were built including the ever-magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral.

By the 14th century, the population on the island had reached its capacity. It became unbearably congested and polluted. So, after a rebellion, the King decided to leave Île de la Cité and move into the Louvre. But the island retained its financial powers and became the judicial center of the country.

From there, Paris grew into the city that you see today. And the island that once was Paris still exists. It kept its name, Île de la Cité, and is, now, home to historical landmarks like the Notre Dame Cathedrale and the Pont Neuf. There are also several important judicial buildings like the Prefecture de Police and Palais de Justice.

Why Is Paris Surrounded by Water on Vikings Maps?

Paris is surrounded by water on Vikings maps because it was once an island in the Seine River.

Over the course of the ninth century, the Vikings tried to conquer Paris. They wanted control of the trade routes along the river. And Île de la Cité, where Paris was located at that time, was one of the most strategic trading posts.

So, the Viking maps show what Paris looked like during the years they tried to take over the city – an island in the Seine River.

Does Paris Have Islands?

So, now, you’re probably wondering if Paris is on an island or if it has islands.

Yes, Paris has islands located within its city limits. And what’s even better is you can visit all of them! So, let’s take a deep dive into the islands of Paris!

How Many Islands Are in Paris? What Are They Called?

Today, Paris has three islands, and they are called Île de la Cité, Île Saint-Louis, and Île aux Cygnes.

But did you know that there are six other islands that were once a part of Paris? These six islands were called Île des Cygnes, Île aux Vaches, Île Notre Dame, Île Louviers, Île aux Juifs, and Île de la Gourdaine. And even though they are no longer islands in Paris, you can still visit the areas where they once were.

So, let’s take a closer look at each island.

Île de la Cité

This enchanting island has been a part of the city’s history since its early beginnings. With its iconic landmarks and scenic views, this picturesque island is a must-visit. It’s also the island on which Notre Dame is located!

Some other highlights include Sainte Chapelle and the Pont Neuf. And don’t forget to stop by the Conciergerie. This former prison is, actually, where Marie Antoinette was held!

Click here to book the best Paris Island Tour!

Stained Glass Windows of Sainte Chapelle on Île de la Cité in Paris
Sainte Chapelle

Île Saint-Louis

This small islet sits in the middle of the Seine River offering a unique glimpse into French history, culture, and architecture. Today, the island is mostly residential but there are a ton of things to see.

Stop by one of the many charming boutiques, visit the Maison de Marie Curie, marvel at Église Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, and take in the views of Île de la Cité. It’s a small island so you won’t need more than an hour to see everything.

Click here to book the best Paris Island Tour!

Inside Église Saint-Louis-en-l’Île on Île Saint-Louis in Paris
Église Saint-Louis-en-l’Île

Île aux Cygnes

This is the only island on this list that is artificial. It was built in the late 19th century to support the crumbling Pont de Grenelle, one of three bridges it sits below. And it has since transformed into one of the most beautiful and tranquil places in the city.

Here you’ll find a walkway, Allée des Cygnes, that stretches the length of the island. It’s perfect for an afternoon stroll, especially when the weather in Paris is nice.

Then, at the southern end of the island, there’s a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The northern end doesn’t disappoint either! It offers one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower.

Statue of Liberty on Île aux Cygnes in Paris
Statue of Liberty

Île aux Vaches and Île Notre Dame

Up until the 17th century, Île aux Vaches and Île Notre Dame were separate islands divided by a small canal. But that changed when plans to urbanize the area were set into motion. The canal was filled, and residential buildings were installed.

Today, the combination of Île aux Vaches and Île Notre Dame is Île Saint Louis! So, if you visit this island, you’re, actually, standing on what was once two islands!

Click here to book the best Paris Island Tour!

Streets of Île de Saint-Louis which was once Île aux Vaches and Île Notre Dame
Île aux Vaches and Île Notre Dame are now Île de Saint-Louis!

Île des Cygnes

Not to be confused with Île aux Cygnes, Île des Cygnes is one of the former islands. It was originally named Île Maquerelle until the late 17th century when Louis XIV ordered that the island be filled with swans. The name was then changed to Île des Cygnes or Island of Swans.

Today, that piece of land that once was an island now sits between Rue de l’Université and the Seine River. It’s a picturesque area with several gardens where you can picnic with views of the Eiffel Tower. There’s even a museum called Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac that specializes in tribal exhibits.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from the former Île des Cygnes
The Former Île des Cygnes is Near the Eiffel Tower!

Île Louviers

Île Louviers has had many names over the years, including Île aux Javiaux, Île aux Meules des Javeaux, Île aux Meules, and Île d’Antrague. And until the mid-19th century, it was used to store wood. Then, the King filled the canal between mainland Paris and the island.

Today, the former island sits between Boulevard Morland and Quai Henri IV. The most popular activity here is yacht tours along the Seine. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area!

Click here to book the best Seine River Cruise!

You can see Île de Saint-Louis from Quai Henri IV
Île de Saint-Louis from Quai Henri IV!

Île aux Juifs and Île de la Gourdaine

These two islands served various purposes during their existence, but they were merged with Île de la Cité in the 16th century. Today, the area where these islands were once located is at the western end of Île de la Cité. In their place is a beautiful square called Place Dauphine.

Shops in Place Dauphine on Île de la Cité in Paris
Place Dauphine

Where Are the Islands in Paris?

The three islands in Paris are spread across several postal codes and neighborhoods. Click the map below to open Google Maps. It contains all the sites listed in this article as well as the closest metro stations. 

Map of the Islands in Paris
Map of the Islands in Paris

Île de la Cité is divided into two neighborhoods, the first and the fourth arrondissement. It’s easiest to think of Île de la Cité as the island on which Notre Dame is located. The closest metro station is Cité (Line 4).

Île Saint-Louis is in the fourth arrondissement. The two closest metro stations are Cité (Line 4) and Pont Marie (Line 7). There’s also a bridge (called Pont Saint-Louis) that connects Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis. So, if you’re visiting one you can easily cross this bridge and visit the other!

Île aux Cygnes is further west in the 15th arrondissement. The closest metro station is Bir-Hakeim (Line 6).

Click here to book the best Paris Island Tour!

Conclusion: Is Paris an Island?

Paris is not an island, but it does have three islands that are a part of the city. Whether you want to visit historical sites or take a stroll along the Seine, these islands will add something special to your itinerary. Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis both sit in the heart of Paris and will no doubt be at the top of your list. Île aux Cygnes lies further west, but it’s not far from the Eiffel Tower. So, don’t discount this little breath of fresh air. The only thing that’s left is to pack your bags and get ready for an adventure!

Read More Travel Articles from France

I hope you enjoyed my post about the islands in Paris and found it useful. Here are some other articles that I think you might find interesting.

Jen Ciesielski
Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is the creator of Dabbling in Jet Lag. She has lived abroad for over ten years, traveled to more than 50 countries, and speaks French and English fluently. Her areas of expertise include moving abroad, learning languages, and travel planning. Originally from the United States, she now lives in France, where she has been for more than six years. She has also traveled extensively around the country. She shares her experiences as an expat living in France and helps thousands of people plan their trips every month.

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