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5 Tips From a Local for Exploring the Seine River in Paris

July 22, 2020
Seine River in Paris

Some of my favorite moments in Paris took place along the Seine, the main waterway that goes straight through the city. The broad river divides the city into the left and right banks. The Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, is famous for the Latin Quarter while the Right Bank is better known for attractions like Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, and the Louvre.

The Seine River is also a favorite spot for locals on the weekend for a “bring-your-own-wine apéro.” But there’s so much more you can do on this scenic river. Here are five tips for what to do on the Seine and what you shouldn’t miss.

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1. Take a ride on a boat down the middle of Paris.

Boat on the Seine River

For a unique tour of the city, travel by water. Sure, we love walking and climbing tours in Paris, but we’re not afraid to get our feet wet when that’s the best way to see a city. To take in spectacular views of Paris in all its glory, opt for a cruise along the Seine.

You can ride in one of the “flea boats,” known as the bateaux-mouches. The great thing about these cruises are the variety of options. There’s something for everyone: daytime or evening, dining or sightseeing. You’ll want to bring your camera because the cruise will take you past many of the city’s monuments, including Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, the Orsay Museum, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

Most Bateaux-Mouches boats start at Place de la Concorde (a well-known plaza in Paris, formerly the main spot for the guillotine during the French Revolution). Then your boat will continue its route passing by the Louvre, Paris city hall and a number of other main attractions, ending at Saint-Louis Island. Saint-Louis is the island in the middle of the Seine River.

The first time I took one of these boats, I went on a night-time cruise. If you’re looking to glimpse the storied City of Lights you heard about, this is the right option. You’ll get an up-close look at the Eiffel Tower at night as it shimmers a bright — almost blinding — gold.

2. Photograph Paris’s most famous bridge, the Pont Alexandre III.

pont alexandre III bridge

The Pont Alexandre III is iconic — an official historic monument in Paris. The bridge is a beautiful piece of architecture in itself, but I always see it as a glamorous accessory to the Seine. It stands out with pylons nearly 56 feet high. Shiny bronze sculptures of winged horses give it a lustrous appeal.

The bridge joins the city’s left and right banks, connecting the historic Invalides complex to the Grand Palais and Petit Palais, two renowned museums near the Champs-Élysées. You’ll see lots of booksellers near here, a tradition that dates back to the 15th century. A stroll along the Seine near this gilded bridge is the perfect break on a busy day touring the city.

Insider tip: You’ll find yourself at a prime photo spot here with a great view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. While most rush for a photo, I prefer to take pictures of the boats sailing past on the Seine with the bridge in the foreground. There’s no need to worry about particularly long photo shoots, either. The bridge is so wide there’s room for locals taking a stroll and tourists pausing for the picture perfect shot.

3. Drink and be merry at bars along the Seine.

Dinner boat on the Seine

If you didn’t end up dining on one of the Bateaux-Mouches, no worries. There are a variety of cool dining and drinking options — quite a few on boats — along the Seine. If you want to stay in the central area that caters to tourists, just get off at the Châtelet Metro station.

From there, a stroll down the quay should give you a number of places to choose from. I can vouch for Maison Maison, a hip open air bar right at the foot at the Seine. Drinks aren’t cheap, but they aren’t the priciest in the city either.

Insider tip: To go off the beaten tourist path, take the Line 6 Metro to Quai de la Gare. Once you descend, you can stroll along the Seine with a mix of different boat restaurants and bars to choose from. For a nice night out check out the live concerts at the boat bar Bateau El Alamein Sarl, or simply grab drinks on their terrace.

4. Stop by the love locks on the Seine’s bridges.

love locks

You’re in the City of Love, and it doesn’t matter if you’re traveling with your sweetheart, solo, or a group, one thing everyone should do is take a look at the padlocks at bridges on the Seine.

The tradition is throughout Europe, but Paris seems to be the most famous spot to see them. Why do they exist? The idea is that couples attach a padlock to a bridge as a memento of their love, locked and sealed forever.

A colorful collection of locks from lovers all around the world can be found at Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor. It’s right off of Quai Anatole France on the Left Bank of the Seine in the 7th arrondissement.

Nowadays, however, people can only look at the locks rather than partake in the ritual. The weight of all those heavy locks were damaging the bridges. So you’ll have to find another way to express your love. Maybe a trip to the I Love You Wall in Montmartre?

5. Have a riverside picnic, just like the locals do.

French picnic

This is a must-do when the weather is nice in Paris. A Parisian picnic is classic, affordable, and fun. Because the simplest foods here are so high quality and flavorful, a rather basic meal easily becomes a gourmet experience — and the views don’t hurt either.

Just stop by the nearest bakery for bread, fromagerie for cheese, and Nicolas (the red and yellow famous wine shop) for a nice bottle of wine, and you’re set.

Pont des Arts is the most popular spot to stretch out by the water. This favorite picnic spot is in the 6th arrondissement. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Metro station Saint-Michel Notre-Dame.

Answers to your questions about the Seine

View of the Seine running through Paris from above

Is the Seine River the longest in France?

At 485 miles, the Seine is actually the second-longest river in France. Honors for the longest river go to the Loire River, which runs through much of France, including a famous valley filled with châteaux.

But it is the only one in Paris, making it the best-known (and possibly best-loved) river in the country.

Can you swim in the Seine River?

No, you’re not allowed to swim in the Seine — for now. That could change in the coming years. There’s mounting pressure to open the river for the 2024 Olympics games and leave it open to the public afterward.

But that involves cleaning up the water first. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to see a parade of plastic bottles floating by in the murky water.

The Seine: River of Romance in Paris

Panorama of the Seine in Paris

The Seine is just one of the reasons to fall in love with Paris. It lends entertainment, beauty, and mood to the City of Love, and it’s part of what made Paris the world-class city it is today.

A trip here simply isn’t complete without a stroll along this romantic river. And a cruise on the Seine or drinks aboard an anchored boat is just icing on the cake — or French patisserie, if you prefer.

One last tip: If you can, walk along Pont de Grenelle, the bridge connecting the 15th and 16th arrondissements. As you cross the Seine, you’ll have a beautiful view of France’s mini Statue of Liberty on one side and the Eiffel Tower on the other.