The Seine River is a major river in France. It flows 482 miles from just outside of Dijon in Burgundy through Paris to Le Havre on the English Channel. Named after the Celtic and Latin words for "Sacred", it is best known as the river that bisects Paris, forming the "Left Bank" and "Right Bank" there. The Seine has been a historic means of transportation and protection for the city of Paris as well as an inspiration for poets, writers, and painters for hundreds of years, among them Renoir, Monet, Turner, Corot, and Vuillard. But, the Seine River is more than picturesque. It is a vital shipping channel as well as a charming way for Paris visitors to experience the city.
The Bridges of Paris
The thirty-three bridges that span the Seine in Paris' city center tell the history of the city. In medieval times, the bridges were popular meeting places and lined with houses and vendors. The Pont Neuf (new bridge), despite its name, is the oldest bridge in Paris. Completed in 1607 by King Henri IV, it has twelve arches and spans 912 feet, along the tip of the Ile de la Cite. The Pont Alexandre III, the most ornate bridge in Paris, reflects the Beaux Arts style of the turn of the (20th) century. This bridge, named for the Russian Tsar, Alexander III, is adorned with winged horses, cherubs, and nymphs. The Pont des Arts, near the Louvre Museum, is Paris' first cast-iron bridge, and was completed in 1804.
Cruising the Seine River
One of the easiest, and most romantic, ways to view the Seine River is by taking a cruise on one of the many boats that ply the river. The most popular and obiquitous of these are the Bateaux Mouches, the long, glass-topped pleasure boats provide excellent viewing of the bridges, the islands, and the sights of Paris. Cruises include day and night sightseeing trips, luncheon and dinner cruises, and romantic evening dinner/dance cruises.
Smaller than the Bateaux Mouches are the vedettes, more intimate boats, still with glass-enclosed viewing domes. More unique are the Canauxrama canal boats. These 125-passenger vessels have an enclosed cabin plus an open air viewing deck.
Seemingly, all of the important building abut the Seine River. From the boats, you can view the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand and Petit Palais, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the petit Statue of Liberty, the smaller prototype of the one that stands in New York Harbor.
Strolling along the Seine
The banks of the Seine are a world-famous spot for lovers. The beauty of the river, the flowering trees, and the elaborate buildings combine to form one of the most romantic settings in the world. Along the embarkments of the Seine are walkways and steps leading up to street level. Along the upper level, artists and booksellers (called bouqanistes) routinely set up stands in warmer weather. It is a time-honored passtime for tourists and locals alike to browse through the stands of second-hand books (many in English), print, postcards, and magazines. The banks of the Seine in Paris have been designated as a World Heritage Site.
The Seine River Outside of Paris
The mouth of the Seine in Le Havre is a major French port. The river was dredged in the early 20th century as far as Rouen, 75 miles from the Channel, and ocean-going vessels navigate this stretch before docking there and sending goods all over Western Europe via rail. Outside of Rouen, the Seine is only navigatible by shallow-bottomed canal boats.
Outside of Paris, canal barges glide up and down the Seine, and make an ideal way for visitors to view live outside of Paris at a leisurely pace. These barge cruises are offered in all price ranges and vary from small 10-passenger vessels to relatively large vessels that can accommodate 50 or more passengers. Some vessels are offered for charter and make a charming destination for a family or school reunion trip.