River Seine visitor guide

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Visit River Seine, France

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The Seine river flows more than 480 miles through France and passes through the heart of Paris.

When looking at Paris from above, you can clearly see how the Seine cuts the city in half and you can also appreciate how architecture and city planning over the centuries has followed the course of the Seine.

If we go back as far as the time of the Roman Empire, we find that the Seine has always been a great commercial artery, enabling Paris to be connected to the Loire, the Rhone and Rhine rivers. Because Paris has been an inland port for such a long time it has also been invaded via the Seine several times across the centuries.

Pont Alexandre III across the Seine

In 1991 the banks of the Seine in Paris were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. No surprise because along these banks you will see monuments such as the the Musee d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Hotel des Invalides, the Louvre, Grand Palais and the Concorde and of course in the middle of the Seine river on the Ile de la Cité you will see Notre Dame Cathedral.

Remember that the Seine is flowing towards the west so when you hear mention of the 'rive gauche' and 'rive droite' these are to the left and right respectively as you face downstream. In other words the 'rive droite' is north of the river and the 'rive gauche' is to the south of the Seine.


Bridges across the Seine

There are numerous bridges that cross the river in the heart of Paris, with several among them of particular interest:

  • The most beautifully decorated bridge across the Seine is the 19th century Pont Alexandre III between the Grand Palais and the Quai d'Orsay that features numerous statues and decorative elements.
  • The Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge (despite a name that translates as New Bridge) and was built in the late 16th century. It is at the western end of the Île de la Cité.
  • The Pont Marie between the Town Hall and the Ile St-Louis was built in the 17th century and is especially notable because if you kiss as you pass under the bridge your love will last forever, or so they say. Eternal love is well worth the price of a boat cruise ticket in our opinion.
  • Another bridge of interest is the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir, further to the south-east (beyond the Jardin des Plantes) so you will need to take the metro to the Quai de la Gare to see it. This is a very new and architectural pedestrian only bridge with an interesting 'wave' design. (Interesting but takes a while to get here so only recommended for those with plenty of time to explore and enthusiasts of modern architecture!)

Paris Plages

Quite a recent innovation, for a few weeks each summer from mid-July to mid-August the northern side of the river near the Ile de la Cité is turned into a series of beaches!

Using sand and trees brought into the city a long and clean beach is constructed along the embankment and is a very popular place for a promenade or to sunbathe.

Paris Plages in summer

Unfortunately it is not possible to access the Seine itself from these beaches, you have to be content with sunbathing!

Historical trivia

  • It is said that Joan of Arc’s ashes were thrown into the Seine.
  • It is also said that Napoleon had expressed in his will that he wanted to be buried on the banks of the river.
  • In Les Miserables, Javert decides to throw himself to his death in the river.
  • The river has also featured in several movies, television shows and music lyrics – you’ll find it in everything from Disney’s Ratatouille to the Ballad of John and Yoko.

So as you drift quietly along the river or look into the river from above, remember that more than 1000 years of bloodshed and history has come before you to make your peaceful journey possible!

Today, many of the travellers on the river are tourists who love to see Paris from the famous Bateaux-Mouches – you should try one of these when you visit, they are an interesting and affordable way to see the city.

See Paris Short Breaks to plan your Paris visit

You can find more travel ideas in the Paris guide and the Paris region guide.

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