Think back to the films you may have seen– whether recently or not– that are partly or wholly set in Paris. What sorts of backdrops (aside from the oh-so-predictable Eiffel Tower) do they most often have in common?
If you guessed “bridges”, you’re right on my wavelength. From “Last Tango in Paris” to “Amélie”, “Les Amants du Pont Neuf” to “Before Sunset” and “Midnight in Paris”, some of the more well-known movies set in the capital feature its iconic bridges as a filming location (or even as starring characters of sorts).
There’s a very good reason for these directorial choices. Many of the historic bridges in Paris are remarkably photogenic, and not only because they offer views over the waterscapes of the Seine River and the (admittedly mucky, yet poetic) Canal St. Martin.
They each tell fascinating stories about the city’s history, architecture, political fortunes– and political egos. And since 1991, all of the bridges situated within Paris along the Seine were deemed part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the river and riverbanks itself.
As to the question of “the most beautiful bridges in Paris”, there are arguably too many to include in a short-n’-sweet post. But in what follows I talk about the ones that I find especially inspiring and worth visiting.
I’ve also added other beautiful and historic examples to the clickable custom map below. You can use it to help navigate from one point to another on your next trip, if desired.
Clickable Map: Most Beautiful Paris Bridges
1. Pont Neuf
Confusingly, “Pont Neuf” means “new bridge”—when it’s in fact the oldest standing stone bridge to grace the Seine River. It features an unusual and arresting design that allows it to connect the right and left banks of the river– literally forming the heart of early Parisian civilization.
It’s certainly one of the most beautiful bridges in the city. Five Romanesque arch structures join the natural central island known as the Ile de la Cité to the left bank (rive gauche), leading into the St-Germain district.
Another seven arches connect link to the right bank, near the La Samaritaine department store.
At the center of the Pont Neuf, an elaborate equestrian statue of King Henri IV is hard not to spot, especially at dusk when its silhouette stands out against the sky.
A Bit of History & Details to Watch For
The Pont Neuf was commissioned by Henry III of France in 1578, but the design went through numerous changes prior to the bridge’s public inauguration.
The initial design proved to be structurally faulty, leading to the final five-and-seven-arch concept bridging the two banks of the Seine. The architects also widened it to make potential room for houses and other structures.
It’s hard to imagine now, but during the pre-modern period, many bridges in the capital were covered in residential buildings. However, this was never to be for the Pont Neuf: Henri IV disliked the idea of blocking views over his royal palace (the Louvre) and gardens at the Tuileries.
Over the centuries, the bridge was rebuilt and restored several times, including in 2007 to mark its 400th anniversary.
Notable films featuring the Pont Neuf
Leo Carax’s “Les Amants du Pont Neuf” (1991) stars Juliette Binoche in a film that places the bridge at the center of a romance between a painter and a man who’s fallen into homelessness.
The bridge also makes noteworthy appearances in films including Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset” (2004) and Robert Bresson’s “Quatre Nuits d’un Reveur” (Four Nights of a Dreamer), based on Russian master Dostoevsky’s story, White Nights.
Getting There: Pont Neuf, 75001 Paris (1st arrondissement); Metro: Pont Neuf
2. Pont Alexandre III
I first fully appraised the beauty of this bridge while on a Seine river cruise with my grandmother years ago. I recall how thrilling she found it to pass beneath it, taking notes of all its sumptuous details.
Connecting the Invalides with the gardens of the Petit Palais, it’s certainly emblematic of a grand, Belle-Epoque era Paris.
It was built from 1896 to 1900, and was inaugurated for the Universal Exposition marking the new century.
A Bit of History & Details to Watch For
The bridge boasts a steel framework that was remarkably modern and sleek for its time, lavishly decorated statuary and arches, and art-nouveau style lamps.
The enormous pylons or masonry socles that support it on the right and left banks are eye-catching for their bronze sculptures of winged horses. These are allegorical figures representing the Fames, or high achievement in different areas of arts, science, and industry.
And over the years night clubs have been installed beneath its arch structures on the right bank– most recently in 2017, when a pop-up bar and cultural venue, La Genie d’Alex, took over the space for a time.
Like many of the city’s most beautiful bridges, the Pont Alexandre III is especially arresting at dusk, when light catches its statuary– portraying everything from proud lions and nymphs to genies and pegasus figures.
Notable films featuring the Pont Alexandre III
The bridge makes appearances in movies such as “Gigi”(1958), starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier; and in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (2011), starring Owen Wilson as a time-traveling, frustrated novelist seeking an elusive golden era in Parisian history.
Getting There: Pont Alexandre III, Paris 75008 (8th arrondissement); Metro: Champs-Elysées Clemenceau
3. The Footbridges of the Canal St. Martin
The graceful green footbridges, or “passerelles” of the Canal St-Martin aren’t as globally recognizable as some of their counterparts on the Seine, but have gained a kind of cult appreciation among locals and savvy movie lovers in particular.
Six of these cast-iron structures arch poetically over the waters of the 4.5 kilometer canal, which was once used for shipping boats but now forms the center of an always-bustling nightlife and restaurant scene in eastern Paris.
A Bit of History
The Canal Saint-Martin was created in the early nineteenth century under the orders of the Emperor Napoleon I, who used a tax on wine to fund its construction.
Building efforts continued until roughly 1825, and the canal was used to transport grain, building materials, and other goods via boats that passed through complex lock systems. The aforementioned footbridges were completed sometime in the mid-nineteenth century.
These locks are still visible today, although the canal is rarely used for industrial purposes these days. You can take a sightseeing cruise that ushers you under the canal’s numerous bridges and footbridges and through the locks; two of the bridges retract to allow passage of boats.
Notable films featuring the Canal St Martin: In Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amélie”(2001), the eponymous protagonist played by Audrey Tautou stands on one of the footbridges and skips rocks on the rushing waters of a canal lock system below.
The bridges and the canal area itself were also famously reconstructed for the set of the Marcel Carné film of 1938, “Hotel du Nord”.
Getting There: You can access the six footbridges from the Quai de Valmy or Quai de Jemmapes in Paris’ 11th arrondissement). Get off at Metro République (Lines 3, 5, 8, 9, or 11) or Jacques-Bonsergent (Line 5) and walk to the canal from there.
4. Pont Bir-Hakeim
Another of Paris’ more “modern” bridges, dating to the early 20th century, the Pont Bir-Hakeim is an elegant landmark in western Paris, connecting the Ile aux Cygnes on the Seine to the Passy district on the right bank, and the area near the Eiffel Tower and Champ de Mars on the left.
Built primarily of steel, it boasts two levels: one for cars and pedestrians, and another for the Metro Line 6, whose tracks pass across it. It’s not necessarily seen as one of the most aesthetically pleasing bridges in the capital, but I personally find it architecturally interesting. It has its own particular beauty– and some arresting historical details.
A Bit of History
The bridge was designed by French architect Jean-Camille Formigé, who was also the mind behind beautiful structures in the capital including the park below the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre and the Austerlitz Viaduct.
It was constructed between 1903 to 1905, making it another turn-of-the-century bridge to join the Parisian landscape, then dominated by neoclassical architecture.
The bridge is particularly solemn for the presence of historical plaques and monuments recalling human tragedies. One plaque commemorates French soldiers who perished in Belgium during World War II.
Another, more solemn still, grieves the 1942 crime against humanity known as the Roundup at the Velodrome d’Hiver, which saw French police and Gestapo arrest and detain over 13,000 Jewish citizens and residents in a stadium that once stood nearby.
If time allows, pay a visit to the nearby memorial to the victims of the Vel d’Hiv roundup (7 Rue Nélaton, 75015), an important but often overlooked site in the area around the bridge.
The stadium where the atrocities of 1942 were perpetrated has since been torn down. But that means it’s even more important to remember the events of that terrible July.
Notable films featuring the Pont Bir-Hakeim: The bridge has a starring appearance in movies including Bertolucci’s erotic classic “Last Tango in Paris”, “Zazie dans le Métro” (based on Raymond Queneau’s novel of the same name and directed by Louis Malle), and more recently, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, and Marion Cotillard.
Getting There: You can access the Pont Bir-Hakeim from the Champ de Mars-Tour Eiffel station (Metro or RER). I also recommend exploring the winding, village-like streets of Passy, with its hidden little nooks and art nouveau buildings, before heading to the banks of the Seine and crossing the bridge on foot.
5. Pont des Arts
Bridging the Seine between the Palais du Louvre and the academic society known as the Institut de France, the Pont des Arts is an invariably vibrant place to sit and stroll– especially in the summer, when crowds tend to assemble for Parisian-style picnics.
But even in the winter, a blustery walk over the pedestrian bridge, or passerelle, can be poetic and inspiring. This is especially true when the bridge’s many lanterns illuminate and cast their warm glow over the water below, in tandem with lights beaming from the Louvre and Institut on opposite sides of the river.
A Bit of History
Emperor Napoléon I first commissioned a metallic bridge with nine arches at the location of the current bridge; it was unveiled in 1804. It was initially meant to resemble a suspended garden, lush with trees, greenery, and benches for passers-by.
In 1976, the bridge was assessed for structural damage caused by air bombings during the two World Wars, as well as by boat collisions. The government decided to close the Pont des Arts to the public for repairs in 1977. But in 1979, it was badly damaged and partly collapsed when an enormous barge…barged into it (forgive my silly pun).
The new footbridge was inaugurated in 1984 by then-Paris Mayor (and former French President) Jacques Chirac. It greatly resembles the original design– with one major difference. The latter-day version has only seven arches, while the first bridge boasted nine.
The bridge seems to merit the “arts” reference baked into its name: temporary open-air exhibits, performances, and other artistic happenings are often staged on the bridge. Street artists have at points been given free reign to adorn the sidings, giving it a fresh sense of contemporary relevance.
Films featuring the Pont des Arts
The bridge has a starring role in the 2004 film “Pont des Arts” by French director Eugène Green, and starring Natacha Rénier and Adrien Michaux. It also appears in movies including “Amélie” and “The Bourne Identity”, starring Matt Damon and Clive Owen.
Getting There: You can easily access the Pont des Arts from the Louvre Museum, walking behind it to the banks of the Seine. From the left bank, it can be reached from the Quai de Conti (Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Près.)
6. Pont Marie
One of the oldest bridges on the Seine, the Pont Marie connects the central Parisian island known as the Ile St. Louis to the right bank, near Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and at the boundary of the Marais district.
It’s the right-bank counterpart to the nearby Pont de la Tournelle (see on map above), which connects the Ile Saint Louis on the same plane to the left bank and the Latin Quarter.
Constructed from stone, it’s also an interesting (and historic) counterpoint to the many metallic bridges that grace the western stretch of the Seine within Paris. Its five arches are all unique, and unlike other bridges in Paris they are rather unadorned, with no statues.
A Bit of History
The Pont Marie is named after a 17th-century French engineer, Christophe Marie, who put forth a proposal in 1605 to build a bridge that would allow further urban development of the Ile Saint-Louis. King Louis XIII only approved its construction in 1614, and it wouldn’t be opened for public use until 1635.
In 1658, a severe flood destroyed around 20 of some 50 houses that had been built atop the bridge despite the early objections of engineer Marie. Around 60 people perished in the disaster, and two arches near the central island collapsed.
A temporary wooden bridge replaced the original in 1660, with a toll booth installed to raise funds for a complete reconstruction. This was completed 10 years later.
Luckily, by 1769, building anything new atop the bridge was formally banned, given their hazardous history.
And the Pont Marie has changed little since the 18th century, with the exception of a few engineering tweaks that haven’t appreciably altered its appearance. It’s an emblem of a pre-modern Paris that’s mostly lost, but remains alive through traces such as these.
Films featuring the Pont Marie: I wasn’t able to find any major films with locations shot at this bridge. However, I did stumble on this interesting soundscape project that captures the everyday sounds of the bridge and the waters below.
Getting There: You can access Pont Marie from the metro station of the same name (line 7) or by taking a short walk from the Marais district/Hotel de Ville area, strolling up the Voie Georges Pompidou along the Seine.