Most of the major cities in the world have a river or a waterway nearby, and these can be a big part of what shapes and defines the city. Paris has the Seine, of course. Since Paris began on the Île de la Cité, as we talked about last time, the river actually goes straight through the centre of the city and right past many of the major landmarks. This means a great way to take a tour of Paris is to do it by boat!
The boats that run these tours are called bateaus mouches, and they have wide open roofs so tourists can take in the sights on each bank of the river. When I took one of these tours I did it in the evening, and they served us red wine in plastic cups. The landmarks, such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower were all lit up against the night sky, and the boat’s loudspeakers announced what each landmark was in several languages as we glided past them. It is thrilling to float under the stone arches of the many, many bridges that arc over the river, each of them with their own history (such as, for example, the Pont Neuf which is not new at all by modern standards–built from 1578-1601). But the booming loudspeaker takes some of the romance out of it, though at least you know what you’re looking at!
If you don’t want to pay for a tour, another way to get a similar view is to walk along the stone quays which line each side of the Seine. Each bank of the Seine is basically lined in a stone wall, with a kind of shoulder right along the water’s edge that you can walk along. These shoulders were very helpful for boats to unload their cargo in the past, which is why they are there. The city of Paris has turned these into beaches in the summer in the past, for its citizens to enjoy, and there’s also been zumba classes and gardens and other things for Parisians to do at different times of the year along the river.
Another thing about Paris is that whether you’re on the “Left Bank” or the “Right Bank” is very important. Each has its own characteristics. The Left Bank (Rive Gauche) is supposedly the Paris of artists, writer and philosophers, while the Right Bank (Rive Droite) is described as more elegant and sophisticated. However, these are just broad generalizations, and both sides of the river have enough to explore!
All in all, the river of Paris is well worth explaining, whether by foot or by boat. You will get a good dose of history and Parisian atmosphere just by meandering along this stretch.
When I was a child, I read a book named The Houseboat on the Seine. This was one of the works that fired my imagination about visiting Paris one day. The book is more about fixing up the houseboat itself, and about describing the Seine river, rather than about the rest of Paris–but it was definitely one of my influences for why I wanted to see the city. And when I was in Paris I did visit a houseboat that you can rent on AirBNB, so if this is your dream it is possible to try it out!
You can read more about the quays of Paris here: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24520146
Here is the book, The Houseboat on the Seine.
My novella set in Paris, Paris in Clichés, can be found here.
Posts in this series:
- Paris is Still Always a Good Idea
- Shakespeare and Company: A Bookstore as Cozy as You Imagine a Bookstore Would Be
- Berthillon: An Astonishing Ice Cream Shop on the Île Saint-Louis
- Eiffel Tower