One of the most beautiful bridges in Paris, the Pont Neuf is a sight few can ignore, especially after dusk when it's bathed in warm lantern light. Even though its name in French means "New Bridge," it's ironically the oldest in the city spanning the Seine River. The design is fairly unique in that it's composed of two distinctive and separate branches: five ornate arches link the Ile de la Cité to the left bank of the Seine (rive gauche), while a further seven connect the natural island to the right bank (rive droite).
With its Romanesque arch structures and easily identifiable equestrian statue of French King Henry IV, this iconic landmark has appeared in numerous films to say "this takes place in Paris" and create a strong sense of place. True, it's not exactly one of the capital's overlooked, secretive spots — but it's certainly worth at least a short look, especially for first-time visitors.
The bridge was constructed in 1578 by King Henry III, but its design was changed numerous times before it officially opened for public use. Where the bridge was first built with eight and four arches on the right and left banks respectively, this was changed to seven and five for structural reasons. It was also widened to allow for houses to be constructed along the bridge, a common practice in medieval and Renaissance Paris. It was also equipped with pavement along the sides to allow pedestrians to use it without being sullied by mud from passing horse-drawn carriages.
The bridge was officially opened in 1604 and inaugurated by Henri IV in 1607.
Rebuilt in the mid-19th century, the Pont Neuf was majorly restored beginning in 1994. Restoration efforts were completed in 2007 to mark the bridge's 400th anniversary.
What to Do on the Pont Neuf
There's plenty to do and see on and nearby the bridge. Here are just a few ideas to make the most of your visit.
- Admire its Unique Details: There are numerous decorative elements to take note of, including the regal equestrian statue of Henri IV at the point where the bridge crosses the Ile de la Cité. This is actually a replica created in 1818: the original was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution. Also take note of the Roman-inspired arches (easier to admire from the riverbanks below), and the 381 mascarons (stone masks) that grace the sides of the bridge. These are replicas of Renaissance-era originals, and have been attributed to the French sculptor Germain Pilon. The originals remained on the bridge until 1854, and are meant to represent mythical divinities from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, as well as forest sprites and satyrs.
- Take in Views of the Ile de la Cité: The Pont Neuf offers ideal vantages over both the left and right bank of the Seine, as well as the Ile de la Cité — the "island" that separates the two banks. From here, admire views of sights and attractions including the Louvre and Tuileries, Eiffel Tower and Institut de France, as well as the equally lovely, pedestrian-only Pont des Arts in the distance. Also admire the Belle-Epoque facade of La Samaritaine to the north: while the beloved former department store recently closed following a fire and financial troubles, it remains an iconic monument. Plus, it's slated to re-open in the coming years as both a store and hotel.
- Take an Idyllic Walk at Dusk (or Sunrise): This is an ideal place to start a romantic walk around Paris at or after sunset. Watch the Eiffel Tower explode into shimmering light at the start of the hour, explore the surrounding riverside paths from which you can take in different perspectives of the bridge and its details, and stop for photo opportunities when inspiration calls.
Location and How to Get There
The easiest way is to get there is to get off at the the Pont Neuf Metro station (Line 7) exit to the bridge.It's also easily accessible from the Ile de la Cité, if you're visiting sites such as Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Sainte-Chapelle. In that case, get off at Metro Cité and walk to the bridge from there.
From the left bank side, you can get off at the Saint-Michel Metro stop and walk west along the Quai des Grands Augustins to reach the bridge.
What to Do Nearby
The bridge is situated at the crossroads of many iconic Parisian sights and attractions.
- Especially on a sunny day, consider having a Parisian-style picnic on the Square du Vert Galant, a lovely park at the western edge of the Ile de la Cité.
- Visit the Sainte-Chapelle and take in its breathtaking stained glass and ornate statuary, then go see the Conciergerie in the same building: a former medieval palace that later served as a Revolutionary prison and tribunal.
- While it recently suffered a tragic fire and won't be open for some time to come, Notre-Dame Cathedral is within walking distance, and you can still go admire its stunning facade.
- You're just a short walk from the legendary Latin Quarter and St-Germain-des-Prés districts. Hop over the bridge to the left bank and explore these neighborhoods, each famous in their own ways for their literary, cultural and artistic history.