Nestled on the Île de la Cité, in the heart of the 1st arrondissement of Paris, the Conciergerie is a former royal palace turned prison. With its impressive gothic architecture and long history, it most definitely is worth a visit!
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💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to find out more about the history of Paris? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Brief history of the Conciergerie in Paris
The origins of the Conciergerie
While the Île de la Cité has been the Parisian residence of kings since the early Middle Ages, the palace as we know it today was built during the reign of Philip IV of France (aka Philippe Le Bel / in English Philip the Fair) between the 13th and 14th centuries.
Built in a resolutely Gothic style, this vast royal palace embodied the power and sovereignty of the kings of France.
In the late 14th century, Charles V and later his successors abandoned the Palais de la Cité to take up residence in the Louvre and Vincennes. However, the services of the royal administration remained on the Île de la Cité.
🤔 Where does the name of the Conciergerie come from? 🤔
The Conciergerie owes its name to the Concierge, whp was the governor of the King’s Household at the time when the Palais de la Cité was a royal residence. When the Conciergerie became a prison, the Concierge became its director.
The Conciergerie, from royal palace to prison
In the late 14th century, part of the Conciergerie was converted into a prison to serve as an annex to the neighboring Châtelet prison.
Over time, the Conciergerie became a full-fledged state prison, as well as the nerve center of the judicial activity of the French capital.
On the eve of the Revolution, the Palais de la Cité housed the Chambre des Comptes (audit chamber), the Cour des Monnaies (court of currencies), the Cour des Aides (court of aids) as well as the Parisian Parliament.
The Conciergerie during the French Revolution
At the end of the 18th century, the Conciergerie became the symbol of all that was destructive and bloody about the French Revolution.
The Conciergerie was a detention facility, and from 1792 onwards it housed the Revolutionary Tribunal, where “enemies of the people” were brought to justice before those judged guilty were executed. Hence its sordid nickname of “antechamber of the guillotine”.
Many famous historical figures appeared before the Revolutionary Court and were incarcerated in the Conciergerie prisons, such as Marie-Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, Philippe d’Orléans, Antoine Lavoisier, and even Robespierre, who in 1794 went from accuser to accused.
In 1794-95, the French, fed up with the violent excesses of some revolutionaries, demanded an end to this bloody era known as the “the (Reign of) Terror”. The Revolutionary Court was abolished on May 31, 1795, three years after its creation.
In the following years, the Palais de la Cité became the Palais de Justice de Paris (Courthouse).
The Conciergerie today
The Conciergerie ceased to be a prison in 1914. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is now a national monument open to the public, as is the neighboring Sainte-Chapelle.
Visiting the Conciergerie in Paris
The Conciergerie now invites visitors to dive into the long history of the French capital. While visiting the Conciergerie, Captain Ulysses recommends opting for the Histopad, a touch-screen tablet on which you’ll be able to discover a reconstruction of the Palace by means of augmented reality.
The exterior of the Conciergerie
Before entering the Conciergerie, take some time to admire the impressive gothic building from the outside.
The Clock Tower, visible from the Boulevard du Palais, is undeniably an architectural gem. To enjoy a panoramic view of the Conciergerie, Captain Ulysses recommends crossing the Seine on the Pont au Change.
The Salle des Gens d’Armes & the Salle des Gardes
Built during the reign of Philippe Le Bel (1268-1314), the Salle des Gens d’Armes is a stunning vaulted room whose gothic architecture is sure to delight art and history lovers. It regularly hosts temporary art installations.
Built around the same time, the Salle des Gardes housed at the end of the 18th century the infamous Revolutionary Court.
Overlooking the Salle des Gens d’Armes, the medieval kitchens were built during the reign of Jean Le Bon (1350-1364).
The revolutionary rooms
Spread out between the first floor and the 2nd floor, the revolutionary rooms retrace through exhibitions and historical reconstructions the role played by the Conciergerie during the French Revolution.
Terror, Revolutionary Court and Dictature du Salut Public (=Dictatorship of Public Safety) will no longer hold any secrets for you.
The prisoners’ chapel is located on the former site of the king’s oratory. During the Revolution, the chapel was transformed into a collective prison.
The expiatory chapel of Marie-Antoinette
Built during the Restoration – the period of French history during which the House of Bourbon returned to power – on the initiative of King Louis XVI, the expiatory chapel of Marie-Antoinette pays tribute to the fallen queen.
The court of women
This inner courtyard was once used as an outdoor space where women prisoners could go for a walk in the Conciergerie.
Getting to the Conciergerie
The Conciergerie is nestled on the Île de la Cité, within the precincts of the Palais de la Cité, a stone’s throw from the Sainte-Chapelle, the Marché aux fleurs and Notre-Dame-de-Paris.
The nearest metro station is Cité, on metro line 4 (if you’re not in great physical shape, take the elevator to get back to the surface!)
The Saint-Michel station (line 4 and RER C, connected to the Cluny – La Sorbonne station where you will find line 10 and the RER B) is also located a few steps from the Conciergerie. You can also stop at the Châtelet station (lines 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14).
City buses (lines 21, 24, 27, 38, 58, 81, 85, 96) as well as sightseeing tour buses also stop near the Conciergerie.
The Conciergerie is open every day of the week from 9:30 am to 6 pm. The ticket office closes at 5:15 pm.
The Conciergerie is closed on May 1st and December 25th.
The full price ticket for the Conciergerie is €11.50. If you also plan to visit the Sainte-Chapelle, then it is much more cost-effective to opt for the combined Conciergerie + Sainte-Chapelle ticket at the price of €18.50 (compared to €23 separately).
Be warned, the Conciergerie and the Sainte-Chapelle are victims of their own success. To avoid wasting precious time in line, Captain Ulysses strongly recommends that you book your tickets online in advance:
👉 Skip the lines in Paris: book your tickets and tours in advance!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: Looking for an accommodation in Paris? Good news: there are plenty of options in the French capital. To book your hotel in Paris, Captain Ulysses highly recommends the website Booking.com. From cheap hostels to luxury palaces, you’ll have plenty of options to chose from. As for the localisation, it depends both on your budget and on what you’re looking for. If you can’t afford staying in the most expensive areas of the capital, the Captain recommends that you look for a hotel in the 12th or 13th arrondissements: they’re not as central, but are very well connected to the centre of Paris. The Buttes au Cailles, which looks just like a small village, is one of the Captain’s favourite neighbourhoods in Paris. If you’d rather stay in a chic and sophisticated hotel, here are the best 3 options according to the Captain: the St. James , the Dokhan’s and the Metropolitan .
🎟️ Activities : in order to book skip-the-line tickets, tours and activities in Paris, Captain Ulysses highly recommends GetYourGuide and Civitatis. Guided tours, entrance tickets, cruises, unusual activities: there’s plenty to chose from. If you want to avoid queuing to get into museums and monuments, the Captain suggests opting for skip-the-line tickets.
⛵ City cruises: Can you really visit Paris without going on a cruise on the Seine? The Captain loves sailing on the river and admiring the emblematic monuments of the French capital, especially at nightfall. You will find a large selection of cruises in Paris here.
🎫 City cards : If you’re planning on staying in Paris for a few days, you should definitely consider investing in a city card giving access to the capital’s top museums and landmarks. which includes access to the most famous monuments in Paris.
🚐 Transfers: the parisian airports are located outside the city and getting to the city centre can be quite expensive.
If your budget is tight, the Captain recommends the RATP shuttles that will drop you off at Opera if you’re coming from Roissy airport and at Denfert-Rochereau if you’re coming from Orly airport.
But for a few extra euros, you can book a transfer that will take you directly to your hotel.
If you are traveling in a group, this option is all the more interesting. Find out more here.
🚌 Transports: While you’ll be able to explore part of the city on foot, you will have to use the parisian public transports to explore some of the capital’s landmarks. In order to avoid accumulating (and losing) metro tickets, the Captain recommends opting for an unlimited transport pass. You can buy it directly at in any metro station.
Open tour buses (audioguides included) are also a good option.
If you’d rather explore Paris on a boat, you will love the batobus, a river shuttle on the Seine !
✈️ Flights, trains & buses : Good news: getting to Paris is quite easy! If you’re planning on flying to the capital, the Captain recommends Skyscanner, an online comparator which is perfect for finding the best deals. If your dates are flexible, you can even compare prices over several weeks. Paris is also easily accessible by train and bus. To book your tickets, the Captain highly recommends Omio, which integrates the offer of 207 train and bus companies in 44 countries.