by Christine Orford
One of the best—and cheapest—things you can do in Paris is walk along the Seine. With so much beauty in the world capital of romance, it’s easy to miss the more practical features of the city. That’s why we’re taking a closer look at five of the river’s 37 bridges.
Since the ninth century, there has been a bridge at this site and the location has witnessed its fair share of tragedy. In 886, the first bridge was destroyed during the Siege of Paris, where an estimated 35,000 Normans attempted to invade the capital. The rebuilt bridge was washed away by floods in 1406. After being reconstructed with 60 houses flanking its sides, it collapsed in 1499 and several people were killed. Due to dozens of water traffic accidents in the late 19th and early 20th century, the bridge at this site was commonly known as the Devil’s Bridge. It was for this reason that it was demolished and the modern-day Pont Notre-Dame was built in 1919. Look for the head of Dionysus on each arch!
What’s nearby? Other than the Notre-Dame Cathedral? Stroll around Place Louis Lépine Flower Market on a sunny day and smell the roses. It’s great for watching all kinds of Parisians peruse the plants.
Pont au Change
At the border of the first and fourth arrondissements, a 12th century incarnation of this bridge was named for the goldsmiths and money changers that set up shop here and the name stuck ever since. It’s known to countless book, theatre and movie lovers around the world as the location where the anguished Inspector Javert jumps into the Seine in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
What’s nearby? Construction finished on the medieval Gothic Sainte-Chapelle in 1248 and this incredible structure boasts one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass in the world. Go early and watch as the light floods in through the impressive windows before the crowds arrive or splash out on an evening concert.
Directly translated as New Bridge, Pont Neuf is, infact, the oldest standing bridge in Paris, dating back to 1607. The sides are decorated by 381 different mascarons – stone masks – that represent ancient mythological deities. These grotesque faces were replaced with replicas in the 1800s, but you can check out some of the originals in Musée Carnavalet and Musée national de la Moyen Âge. Be warned though, some of them are pretty creepy…
What’s nearby? Chill out in the quiet little oasis of Square du Vert-Galant and take in the views of the Seine. If you’re on a budget and it’s a nice day, it’s the perfect place to eat a packed lunch and take a break before more sightseeing.
Pont Alexandre III
Lamps, cherubs, winged horses, nymphs… There’s no shortage of things to look at on this Beaux-Arts bridge. Named after the second last Russian Tsar, who made an alliance with France in 1892, it was inaugurated for the 1900 World’s Fair and is widely said to be the most beautiful bridge in Paris. The ornate structure has been featured in lots of movies including Midnight in Paris, Anastasia and A Very Long Engagement, as well as in Adele’s video for ‘Someone Like You’.
What’s nearby? Visit Les Invalides and marvel at Napoleon’s elaborate tomb. With 11 huge nested coffins, it truly is a resting place fit for an emperor. The military museum itself is one of the largest in the world, with exhibits and artefacts spanning eight centuries.
Built to accommodate pedestrian traffic for the 1900 World’s Fair, this bridge is perhaps best known for an event that would take place a lifetime after the first person set foot on it. During the Cold War, Passerelle Debilly became a frequent meeting spot of East German secret service agents and just a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a German diplomat was found dead on the bridge.
What’s nearby? Palais de Tokyo is a self-proclaimed ‘anti-museum par excellence’. What does that really mean? We’re not really sure, but we do know you can bank on lots of large contemporary art installations in this gigantic space. Come here for fun, lively art that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Where to stay?
Paris can be pricey, but luckily there are lots of cost-effective hostel options, so you can save your hard earned cash for wine and cheese. The 3 Ducks Boutique Hostel is France’s oldest privately run hostel. It’s been recently renovated, and is now as trendy as it is comfortable. Le Village Hostel Montmarte is right at the heart of the action, and has all the amenities you could want, including a well-equipped kitchen. Oops Design Hostel is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry, with flamboyant decorations throughout the building. Located in where Chinatown, the Latin Quarter and Moufftard meet, it makes a great base for exploring. You can also view our other Paris hostels on a handy map here!