Notre Dame has a very unusual neighbour that no one ever visits. If you’re facing the cathedral’s famous facade, surrounded by a sea of tourists and selfie-sticks, turn to your left and spot the blue door behind the chestnut trees, marked “Entrée“. And enter you must!
This blue portal opens up to the Hôtel Dieu, Paris’ oldest hospital. And why ever would you want to wander around an old hospital, you ask?
To escape the crowds, for one thing…
Hôtel Dieu is not just Paris’ oldest hospital, it’s also one of the city’s emptiest hideaways. A glorious French garden and Italianate galleries awaits behind the façade, ideal for peaceful strolling away from the circus outside Notre Dame.
And the best part? You’re allowed to walk right in and wander around as you please– which in this day and age, is very, very unusual for Paris.
Begin with the east side of the building, following the signs to Galerie B. Open any of the doors marked “escalier” and make your way to the upper floors admiring the elegant 19th century staircase and vintage signage.
For those interested in a spooky diversion, parts of the hospital are abandoned too. On the second floor, we found an entire deserted wing simply by trying unlocked doors and wandering inside…
Mind you, I didn’t feel like sticking around these parts of the building for very long. If anyone’s location scouting for a new zombie movie however, I’d highly recommend looking here.
The Hôtel Dieu was founded in the middle of the 7th century, which makes it the first hospital in Paris (as well as about four hundred years older than the Notre Dame cathedral). It was built as a symbol of charity and hospitality and was the only hospital in Paris until the Renaissance. Poverty was widespread during that period, and the Hôtel-Dieu became an opportunity for many of the bourgeois and nobility to come to its aid.
For centuries however, it had a terrible reputation for poor patient conditions, overcrowded facilities and high mortality rates.
It was only in the mid-19th century, when the hospital was rebuilt by order of the King, that it began to shed its reputation as a disease trap. And today, well … it’s more of a sun trap– with pretty excellent views.
In fact, it’s not the worst way to spend a lunch break. There are benches a plenty, whether you decide to perch in the authentic French gardens below or up on the roof terrace with views over Left Bank all to yourself.
Secret lunch spot: tried and tested!
Take a full tour of the old hospital with me over on Instagram in my Paris highlights.
To answer a few of your questions:
The hospital looks haunted, where are all the patients?
To be honest, we didn’t see any. We saw a few doctors in white coats, none of which seemed to mind we were wandering aimlessly through the halls.
Why is it abandoned?
It’s not abandoned– but sections of it appear to be no longer in use. According to records, the Hôtel Dieu has 350 beds, and specialises in diabetes and endocrine illnesses. Whilst the long corridors have a curious haunting elegance about them and the hospital wards themselves are perfectly clean and functional, the spaces in between are rather shabby and have a run-down feel. The entrance to the emergency units for example, don’t really inspire confidence even though it’s a state-of-the-art facility.
Can you really just walk right in?
Yes. A security guard at the door will ask to check your bag, but then you can proceed to roam as you please. Some doors around the hospital will of course be locked, but many aren’t– just be respectful and keep volume to a minimum. Here is where to enter (the entrance tends to switch between the blue door and the big glass doors to the left of it).