Every year millions of tourists flock to Paris drawn to the city’s world famous monuments, but this popularity inevitably leads to big crowds of people all trying to see the same thing at the same time. The city is so popular that even in low season it can be difficult to get the sights of Paris to yourself.
But there is a way to see the most emblematic places in Paris easily and in your own time. And most importantly, without the crowds. Take a cruise down the River Seine and make the most of the chance to see the sights from a relaxed and unique perspective. Here’s our guide to the 5 iconic Paris sights you can see from the River Seine.
The most iconic of them all – the Eiffel Tower
The 324-metre tower needs no introduction. As well as the most popular Paris sight, the Eiffel Tower is about as iconic as monuments come and is often used as a city symbol.
Despite its fame nowadays, the Eiffel Tower was actually intended as a ‘pop-up’ monument, built just for the 1889 Exposition Universelle by Gustave Eiffel. But its popularity meant that the Paris authorities decided to let it stay as a permanent landmark on the city skyline. Until 1929 the Eiffel Tower was the highest building in the world.
Visible from almost anywhere in Paris, the tower has a privileged position on the Champs-de-Mars esplanade on a wide meander in the River Seine. Although impressive enough by day, the Eiffel Tower is at its most magnificent after sunset when hundreds of golden lights outline the giant metal structure topped by a huge beacon. Don’t miss the lights when they sparkle (for 5 minutes every hour on the hour).
Why see the Eiffel Tower from the River Seine?
Easily the best views of Eiffel Tower are from the river, which gives you a chance to get the tower into perspective. The views are especially good from the Pont d’Iéna bridge that joins the tower with the Trocadero district on the north side. (And no one is in the way of your view!)
A treasure island of Paris treats – Ile de la Cité
This important island might be small but it comes packed with must-see (and crowded!) Paris monuments – see them from the river and they’re all yours.
At the east end of the island is the instantly-recognizable Notre Dame, 1 one of the world’s finest and largest Gothic cathedrals. A river view gives a great perspective on the cathedral’s size and also its architecture. Notice the flying buttress structure and the 93-metre spire in the middle, plus the world-famous twin towers, home to the equally famous bells and the hunchback, Quasimodo. You also get a good view of the dozens of gargoyles and chimeras that line the roof.
You’ll also find the Conciergerie on this central island, a royal palace in the 14th century it was put to more sinister uses when it became a torture chamber and prison. During the French Revolution some 4,000 prisoners were housed here including Marie Antoniette Antoinette. The river views of the Conciergerie are simply stunning, particularly at night when the entire building is lit up.
Why see l’Ile de la Cité from the River Seine?
A river cruise gets you up close and personal with the bridges that join the island to the city of Paris on both sides of the Seine. Look out for Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris despite its name, and at the western tip of the island, the pretty Square du Vert-Galant gardens, famed as one of the most romantic spots in Paris. (And you have the views all to yourself!)
Fine art inside and out – the Louvre
Originally a medieval fort the magnificent Louvre is now the world’s largest museum, home to treasure after treasure. The collection of over 5,000 art works includes the world-famous Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo, not to mention the genius of the Louvre’s pyramid design entrance itself. Its juxtaposition with the surrounding classically-styled buildings is a brilliant merge of the old with the new.
Further down river are the ornamental Tuileries gardens, designed by Queen Catherine de Medici in 1560, and a giant playground for Parisians ever since. The view of the geometric design and long lines of trees is particularly fine from the river especially in autumn when the leaves glow yellow and orange.
Why see the Louvre from the River Seine?
Perhaps nowhere else gives you a better idea of just how grandiose the Louvre is than from the river. From a boat you can take in the entire building with varying perspective – from afar as you approach and then up close as you glide past. (And of course with no crowds getting in the way!)
Little and large – Grand Palais and Petit Palais
The two palaces at this bend in the River Seine – the Grand Palais and its smaller sister the Petit Palais – were built for the Exposition Universelle in 1900. Well over a century later, their imposing glass roofs and stunning façades form part of the must-see monuments in Paris.
The Grand Palais combines classical architecture with Art Nouveau in its columned façade and giant metallic glass roof. The palace’s 4 corners are home to huge bronze horse-drawn chariots. The main characteristic of the Petit Palace is its glass dome that mirrors the larger stone one on Les Invalides on the other side of the river. Both palaces are especially stunning at night when the glass roofs reflect the statues inside.
Why see these Palais from the River Seine?
To see these glass masterpieces you need to go under the Pont Alexandre III, a deck-span bridge many consider to be the finest in Paris. Where else gives you a better vista of the Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs and golden winged horses than the river itself? (And of course, completely crowd-free!)
All stations to – Musée d’Orsay
Facing the Louvre on the other side of the River Seine is another of the great iconic sights in Paris and one of its best-known museums, the Musée d’Orsay. Originally built as a train station in 1900, the fine and perfectly symmetrical north façade is one of the main landmarks on this side of the river between l’Ile de la Cité and the Eiffel Tower. Look out for the two clocks in the façade; the largest is reminiscent of the clock in the film ‘Hugo’.
The trains disappeared in 1939 and after narrowly escaping demolition, the Musée d’Orsay opened decades later in 1986 as home to the world’s finest collection of Impressionism as well as examples of Art Nouveau and Nabis art. Masters showcased here include Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Rodin, Mackintosh…
Why see the Musée from the River Seine?
You can only fully appreciate the splendour of the museum architecture from a river cruise, especially beautiful when its illuminated façade is reflected upon the River Seine at night. And as you approach the Musée d’Orsay you also see the Louvre on the other side of the river at the same time. (And yet again, without the crowds!)
Want to get the best views of Paris without the crowds? Talk to us about vacations along the River Seine. There are river cruise holidays available and hotel barges like La Nouvelle Etoile and Panache have itineraries that cruise through the city.