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France: Paris – the banks of the Seine

The banks of the River Seine through the heart of Paris are listed as UNESCO world heritage site due to the incredible architecture of buildings such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Grand Palais and the examples of outstanding town planning, in particular, the large squares and avenues built by Haussmann at the time of Napoleon III have influenced town planning throughout the world.

Our exploration of the River Seine started at the Pont de Sully, which crosses the river onto the Île de Saint Louis, which we did not do, instead, we headed further along the river to Notre-Dame de Paris. This medieval Catholic cathedral sits on Île de la Cité (an island in the Seine River). The cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Sadly, in 2019 there was a terrible fire in Notre Dame that caused immense damage to the cathedral. On the positive side, the fire was put out before the building was completely raised to the ground. President Macron boldly declared that they would reopen Notre Dame in 5-years (2024). So, for our visit in 2022 all we could do was look on and imagine (we had visited several times before so that was quite easy.)

The Pont de Sully
Notre Dame Cathedral under repair after the fire of 15 April 2019

Not far from Notre Dame is the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle, a gothic chapel with impressive stained glass windows. The queues were long so we decided to continue on. Right next to Sainte-Chapelle is the Palais de Justice de Paris, a vast complex of buildings that are the heart of the French justice system. The streets around the main entrance to the court buildings were heavily guarded as they were in the final stages of the trial for the sole surviving terrorist from the devastating Paris attacks of 2015. 

We left the Île de la Cité, crossing the Pont au Change, and continued our walk along the Seine, taking us past Pont Neuf, which dates back to 1578 and is the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris.

Palais de Justice on the Ile de France, Paris
The medieval Pont Neuf crossing the river Seine in Paris

A short way from the Pont Neuf is the mighty Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, next to which is the Tuileries Garden; the site of a former royal palace that was destroyed during the French revolution. Today, the Tuileries are a large green space in the heart of Paris. 

Across the Seine from the Louvre is the old train station, Gare D’Orsay, which is now an art museum displaying impressionist artists, such as Monet, Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh.

The Louvre Palace in Paris
The gardens of the Tuileries

Continuing down the Seine you come across two more iconic buildings on opposite sides of the river. 

The Grand Palais looks like a giant greenhouse but is actually an exhibition hall that was built for the 1900 Universal Expedition. Currently, it is closed for renovations and is expected to re-open for the 2024 Olympic games.

Opposite the Grand Palais, is Les Invalides, formerly the Hôtel National des Invalides, which houses several museums relating to French military history and a hospital for retired veterans.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Pont Alexandre III
Les Invalides

Our final stop on our journey along the river Seine was the iconic Eiffel Tower. The tower sits on the Champ de Mars and was built for the 1889 World Fair. The Eiffel Tower is once again open for visitors to take journeys to the top, but we’ve done it once or twice before so we skipped it on this occasion.

Planning your trip along the river Seine 

We decided to walk along the Seine from Pont de Sully to the Eiffel Tower. It is about 5.5km (3.4 miles), which took us around 2 hours with quite a number of stops along the way. The route is flat with only a few stairs, which can be avoided.

Another way to explore this part of the river is by a riverboat tour. There are several companies providing tours including Bateaux Parisien and Bateaux Mouches.

An alternative mode of travel is to use the Paris metro train system. The RER C Train has stops at St Michel Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower with other stations along the way, following along the Seine.

Best time to visit Paris

You’ll experience crowds from May to September, but encounter the most people in July (followed closely by June and August). We’d recommend visiting between October and April if your main objective is to avoid crowds. For the warmest temperatures, October and April are the best times to visit Paris sans crowds.

Other places to visit while in Paris

1. MUSEE D’ORSAY

Housed in a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair, the Musée d’Orsay is known throughout the world for its rich collection of Impressionist paintings including masterpieces as iconic as the Bal au Moulin de la galette from Renoir or The room at Arles de Van Gogh. Its collections include works of architecture, decorative arts and photography in addition to traditional artistic fields (painting, sculpture, graphic arts). They thus draw a broad panorama of French and European art from 1848 to 1914.

2. VERSAILLES

The Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators and landscape architects, it provided Europe with a model of the ideal royal residence for over a century.

3. SACRÉ-COEUR

The Sacré-Coeur, consecrated in 1919, is one of the most iconic monuments in Paris. At the top of the Butte Montmarte, it has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the capital, from 130 metres above the ground. In a Roman-Byzantine style, the Sacré Coeur is recognizable by its white colour. Inside the building, the ceiling is decorated with the largest mosaic in France measuring about 480 m². The crypt is also worth a visit. And to go even higher up, visitors can access the dome where the 360° view of Paris is magnificent.

4. THE LOUVRE MUSEUM

The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world’s most-visited museum, and a historic landmark in Paris, France. It is the home of some of the best-known works of art, including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. At any given point in time, approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are being exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres.

5. THE PALAIS GARNIER

The Palais Garnier, also known as Opéra Garnier, is a 1,979-seat opera house at the Place de l’Opéra in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, France. It was built for the Paris Opera from 1861 to 1875 at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III. It is also famous due to its use as the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.

6. PÈRE LACHAISE CEMETERY

The Père Lachaise cemetery takes its name from King Louis XIV’s confessor, Father François d’Aix de La Chaise. It is the most prestigious and most visited necropolis in Paris. Here you will find the graves of such famous people as Frédéric Chopin, Colette, Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro and Oscar Wilde are just a few.

7. CHÂTEAU DE FONTAINBLEAU

The Château de Fontainebleau is located in the small town bearing the same name and lies 40 miles (65 km) south-southeast of Paris by road. It has been the residence of 34 kings and two emperors, Fontainebleau is the only château that was lived in by every French monarch for almost eight centuries. With 1500 rooms, it is one of the biggest châteaux in France, and the most furnished in Europe.

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