From the Iéna Bridge to the Austerlitz Bridge
Starting point: Iéna Bridge (M° Bir-Hakeim/RER Champ-de-Mars, 4 miles, from the 16th to the 5th district)
From this spot, you can enjoy one of the city's most fascinating views, from the Chaillot Palace to the École Militaire, over the Trocadéro Gardens, Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower.
Go down to the quai Rive-Droite and under the Iéna Bridge (1808-13, the imperial eagles are due to Barye), towards the Debilly footbridge, remnant of the 1900 Universal Exhibition.
Follow the Debilly port (the one facing it is the Bourdonnais port). Once arrived at the Debilly footbridge, walk up to avenue de New York, until you reach the Alma Bridge. On avenue de New York, you will notice the rear of Tokyo Palace (Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris), erected for the 1937 Universal Exhibition, in a classical, unadorned style, similar to the Chaillot Palace's. A nearby street is called rue de la Manufacture. The origin of its name is a very simple one: under Louis XIII, there was a carpet factory ("manufacture de tapis") here.
Above voie Georges-Pompidou stands a replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty, offered in 1989, on the French Revolution Bicentennial, to the city of Paris by the "International Herald Tribune", which is based in Neuilly-sur-Seine (a very fancy Parisian suburb). The flame, for a while, had become a sort of memorial to Princess Diana, who died, together with his boyfriend and their driver, under the Alma tunnel on August 31st, 1997.
Keep walking on the right bank. You are now at the "port de la Conférence", whose name evokes the talks held at Suresnes in 1593, between the League's supporters and those of Henry IV.
Beyond the Alma Bridge, on the left bank (quai d'Orsay, made famous by the French Foreign Office), rises the bell-tower of the American Church of Paris, built from 1927 to 1931, in neo-Gothic style, by the architects Greenough, Cram and Ferguson. It is the US expatriate community's Protestant parish. Concerts are regularly held here on Sunday afternoons (check "Pariscope" or "L'Officiel des Spectacles").
Under the bridge is the famous statue of a Zouave, 20 feet tall, which has become an "unofficial measuring device" of the Seine's level. In 1910, just his head emerged from the rough waters! The present bridge dates back to 1974 and of its four original statues, only the Zouave has been put back to its place.
Walk under the Invalides Bridge. This is where the boats of the "Compagnie des Bateaux-Mouches" leave from. The expression "bateau-mouche" derives from the Mouche district of Lyon, where such boats were built.
The Invalides Bridge was built for the 1855 Universal Exhibition and enlarged in 1956.
Should you wish to take a little break, sit on one of the benches you will find between the Invalides Bridge and the Alexander III Bridge. Enjoy, despite the numerous cars parked there, this wonderful landscape made up of sky, trees, stone and water!
Reach the Alexander III Bridge, which is regarded as the most beautiful in Paris. It was built in just two years, for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, at the same time of the Grand and Petit Palais. It celebrated the Franco-Russian friendship, when Tzar Alexander III visited the City of Lights. It has been recently restored to its original splendour.
Proceed to the Concorde Bridge. You can see the front of the National Assembly from here. This building was erected under Napoleon I in the style of a Greek temple, just like the Madeleine church at the end of rue Royale.
Right after the Concorde Bridge, quai Anatole-France presents a remarkable architectural diversity: imposing Art Nouveau buildings, the aristocratic hôtels particuliers (private mansions) and their manicured gardens in rue de Lille, the elegant hôtel de Salm, with its rotunda of Corinthian columns, copper dome and numerous statues. It has been the Museum of the Legion of Honour since 1918, www.musee-legiondhonneur.fr
Go up to quai des Tuileries and just after a few yards, return to the river bank. Big trees, benches, a weeping-willow: the ideal spot to relax and day-dream! In front of you stands the Orsay Museum (19th century art, after 1848). It used to be a railway station. The museum was designed by the Italian architect Gae Aulenti and opened in 1986.
Walk towards the Royal Bridge first and then the Carrousel Bridge. On the opposite bank, quai Voltaire looks more homogeneous from a stylistic point of view, with elegant, well-kept buildings. This quai represents one side of the "Carré des Antiquaires" (square of the antique-dealers), while the other three sides are rues de l'Université, du Bac and des Saints-Pères.
Pass under the Carrousel Bridge, go down the steps to quai du Louvre and take the Arts footbridge.
The Arts Bridge, immortalized by Georges Brassens in one of his best-known songs, has always been reserved to pedestrians and offers the most enchanting over-the-water stroll in Paris, between the Louvre's Cour carrée and the Institut de France. The present structure was designed by the architect Louis Arretche and built from 1982 to 1984.
It is not by chance that the Arts Bridge is always crowded with painters, busy reproducing this fascinating scenery. The long façade of the Galerie du Bord de l'Eau, erected by Henry IV to link the Louvre's Cour carrée to the (now gone) Tuileries Palace; the south wing of the Cour Carrée, a triumph, thanks to Le Vau, of classical architecture; the Gothic church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, parish of the Kings of France. With a little bit of luck, you will hear its 38 bells toll! Farther away you can see "La Samaritaine" department store (temporarily closed since June 2005). Its Art Déco façade is due to Jourdain and Sauvage. Its name, however, has a much older origin, recalling a water-pump that was attached to the second arch of the Pont-Neuf. It was set up in 1608 and destroyed in 1813. It was called "La Samaritaine" (the Samaritan woman) because of a bas-relief representing Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.
You have in front of you: the Pont-Neuf and the square du Vert-Galant (1818 equestrian monument of Henry IV, who was nicknamed "Le Vert Galant"), with its weeping-willow.
The whole history of Paris is inextricably tied to the Seine, even its Latin motto: "Fluctuat nec mergitur" (even though it is shaken by the waves, it does not sink)...
Once on the left bank, turn right onto quai de Conti, where you will be facing the Institut de France, one of the great masterpieces of 17th century French architecture, strongly influenced by Italy. The construction, according to a grandiose plan by Le Vau, started in 1663, where the hôtel de Nesles had previously stood.
Shortly before his death, Cardinal Mazarin had called for the creation of a boarding-school, where sixty needy gentlemen from the kingdom's four newly-annexed provinces could get an education. The "Collège des Quatre Nations" was born. In the 19th century, Vaudoyer was charged with the restoration of the "Collège", which would become the seat of the five Academies: "Académie française", "des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres", "des Sciences", "des Beaux Arts", "des Sciences morales et politiques". This grandiose building also houses several libraries, including the oldest public library in France (1643), www.bibliotheque-mazarine.fr.
Follow quai Malaquais, continuation of quai Conti, towards the Ile de la Cité and the Pont-Neuf. Despite its name (New Bridge), it is actually the city's oldest bridge still in existence. It was the first bridge in Paris to be built without any houses on it. Until then, the stone bridges of Paris had structures similar to that of Florence's Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). Construction began in 1578 but was achieved in 1607 only, under Henry IV. It allowed Parisians to comfortably go from faubourg Saint-Germain, the intellectual quarter (now nicknamed "Saint-Germain-des-Fringues", i.e. "of clothes", because of the exorbitant number of fashion stores), to the Cité and the Louvre, the religious and political power centres.
Exceptionally wide by 17th c. standards, it quickly became a very fashionable and constantly animated place.
Walk under the Pont-Neuf. From quai des Orfèvres, along the south side of Ile de la Cité, you can see place Dauphine, the second of the royal squares (after place des Vosges, then called Place Royale), created under Henry IV. Place Dauphine, even though it looks quite different now, still is one of the city's most pleasant and romantic spots.
Turn your steps towards Saint-Michel Bridge. You will soon be facing the cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Paris, glorious example of Gothic architecture.
After the Petit-Pont, go down to the river bank again. This is in fact the shortest bridge in Paris (13 feet long). It has been rebuilt innumerable times, since a passage between the Ile de la Cité and rue Saint-Jacques has existed for the past 2,000 years.
Walk under the "pont au Double", erected in the 17th century to link the Hôtel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris, with its annexes on the left bank. To finance its construction, its toll was doubled ("doubler le péage"). The name has stuck, the toll, fortunately, has not!
Strolling along this stretch of the Seine is a rare pleasure indeed. One is often alone, by the south side of Notre-Dame, in quiet contemplation of its rose-window and Saint-Stephen's Gate.
Overcome the Archevêché Bridge and enjoy the magnificent view of the cathedral's apse and square Jean XXIII.
A few yards away, another breath-taking view: the eastern tip of the Ile de la Cité, the Saint-Louis Bridge and, in the background, the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall).
At this point, you might like to take a detour and visit, if you have not been there before, the lovely Ile Saint-Louis.
Walk under the Tournelle Bridge, linking the Ile Saint-Louis to the left bank. Its name derives from a turret (tourelle) in Philippe-Auguste's walls, which stood near here. Like many other Parisian bridges, it has been demolished and rebuilt over and over again. The current structure dates back to 1929. Its silhouette is quite unique thanks to Paul Landowski's statue of Sainte Geneviève, patron saint of Paris. It is a peculiar, controversial sculpture, that has been nicknamed "Ariane rocket" by the Parisians, because of its elongated shape.
Before reaching the Sully Bridge, you are in the ideal position to admire the "Institut du Monde Arabe" (Institute of the Arab World), a fascinating and original building by Jean Nouvel (1985). Its permanent collections or temporary exhibits are of the highest quality. It is also a very nice place where to have coffee or tea.
Go under the Sully Bridge and reach the square Tino-Rossi, created by Daniel Badani from 1975 to 1980. In the summer, tango lovers gather here on Sunday nights. You can linger in the Open-Air Sculpture Museum, which is usually quite empty and therefore very quiet. It may be overshadowed by the far more popular "Jardin des Plantes" (botanical garden), on the opposite river side.
Walk towards the Austerlitz Bridge. Just before it, on the other side, the Saint-Martin Canal begins. The Paris-Arsenal port is also located there.
Climb the steps to place Valhubert and the Gare-d'Austerlitz Métro station, where our itinerary ends.