Most “top attractions” lists for the French capital suggest a boat tour of the Seine or other waterways in Paris. But since these sightseeing cruises are so commonplace, you may wonder whether they’re really worth your time and money.
For some of you, such tours may feel too touristy and predictable to merit a couple of hours. It’s true that they’re generally not exactly “off the beaten path”, as attractions go.
However, you should know that Seine sightseeing tours aren’t your only option. A cruise along Paris’ canals and nearby rivers, including the Marne River and the Canal Saint-Martin, can offer fresh perspectives and picturesque joys, even for seasoned visitors.
And if it is your first time exploring the city, a boat tour of the Seine or other waterway is something I definitely recommend.
Keep reading for my take on why these cruises provide an excellent first glance at the capital, and for advice on choosing the right tours and packages.
What Are The Pros of Taking a Seine River Cruise?
There are a few noteworthy benefits, especially if you’re planning a debut trip to Paris. By taking a sightseeing cruise in particular, you can get an excellent overview of the city– its layout, geography and millennia-long history.
The commented cruises generally include interesting details on Parisian history, architecture and culture.
This can be a good way to get oriented from your first day, and help you figure out what you’d like to focus on in more details on the remaining days of your trip.
For this reason, I tend to recommend that you take a boat tour toward the beginning of your stay.
What’s more, these basic cruises are affordable and accessible to all, no matter your budget or mobility levels.
Fresh air, photo opportunities and the ability to just sit back and rest your feet for a stretch are other bonuses, in my book.
During the evenings, especially during the summer and early autumn, sitting out on the deck and taking in the soft lights reflecting on the water can be simply idyllic, too.
Finally, lunch or dinner cruises, while certainly not very original, can nevertheless be romantic. And visitors often overlook the joys of a lazy lunch cruise, especially on a sunny day.
In the summer, drifting down the Seine or the Marne (see below) onboard a boat, enjoying cool breezes from off the water, and sipping a crisp glass of Sauvignon or rosé can be something approaching bliss.
What Will You See on a Typical Seine River Cruise?
Ah, the Seine. It’s probably safe to say that no other river in the world has been the subject of so much poetic fussing, frantic picture-taking and all-around adulation.
Touring the river– which is the literal center of Parisian civilization– is a great way to familarize yourself with stunning monuments, historical buildings and ornate bridges. Photo opportunities also abound, of course.
Most sightseeing cruises, including those from Bateaux-Mouches, Bateaux Parisiens and Vedettes du Pont Neuf, include commented views of the following sites and monuments:
- Notre Dame Cathedral
- Eiffel Tower
- Musée du Louvre
- Musée d’Orsay
- Assemblée Nationale (The National Assembly building)
- Hotel des Invalides
- Pont Neuf ( despite it’s name claiming that it’s “new”, this is Paris’ oldest bridge, dating to the 16th century)
- Pont Alexandre III (Art Nouveau bridge dating to 1896)
- Grand Palais (Belle Epoque building housing National Galleries)
Many other attractions and monuments are in your range of sight, too– not to mention more impressionistic scenes. Enjoy dapples of dusky light hitting the water, or the fiery glow of leaves from autumn trees clustered around the Ile St. Louis.
Admire some of the finer details of Parisian architecture: ornate statues decorating old bridges, and warm afternoon light illuminating the medieval turrets of the Conciergerie, once a royal palace.
Sometimes, the boats themselves are even noteworthy attractions– such as the Louisane Belle steamboat-style cruiser pictured above, and operated by Bateaux de Paris for private events and special occasions such as New Year’s Eve.
Commentary is generally available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese and other languages. Check with the tour you end up choosing to ensure they offer commentary in your language of choice.
Book a sightseeing tour in advance
It’s not strictly necessary to reserve in advance for most sightseeing cruises, but especially during peak tourist season it’s something I recommend.
- You can compare popular sightseeing cruises on the Seine and book online here (via GetYourGuide).
- To read reviews from fellow travelers and select the cruise that’s best-suited to your budget and interests, visit this page (at TripAdvisor).
- If you’re in the mood for something a bit indulgent, why not try a champagne cruise? It won’t break the bank, but affords a little luxury. Book a champagne cruise of the Seine here (via GetYourGuide). The 60-minute sunset trip includes a glass of champagne, wine or an aperitif.
Lunch & Dinner Cruises on the Seine
If you’re interested in a lunch or dinner cruise (and don’t mind going all-in on an activity that’s a bit of a romantic cliché), you have plenty of options.
While the fare aboard these cruises is rarely exceptional, this can be a relaxing and picturesque way to take in the city while enjoying some decent, typically French food and wine.
Companies including Bateaux Parisiens offer onboard dinner packages that typically range from 3-course meals with wine and water to more elaborate “tasting menus” and “VIP” packages include champagne.
Most have at least one option for vegetarians these days, but vegans will generally have a harder time finding something suitable among the fixed menu options.
You’ll generally pay more for the best views at the front of the boat or by a window. Some cruise packages also include live music or other performances onboard.
Lunch packages are, on the whole, a bit more casual, but can also be elaborate. For example, the Bateaux-Mouches lunchtime cruise (complete with slightly corny-but-charming accordion music) includes a welcome aperitif, three courses including starter, main and cheese or dessert, wine and bottled water.
Book a Lunch or Dinner Cruise
Unlike sightseeing cruises, which run throughout the day and don’t require a reservation, you’ll almost certainly need to book a lunch or dinner package ahead of time.
See this page (via GetYourGuide) to compare and book dinner cruise offers . For popular lunch cruise packages, see this page (via Come to Paris)
Which Seine Cruise Companies Are the Best?
Since there are so many companies out there competing for your attention, you may wonder which to go with. I can’t give you any absolutes, but here are a few notes to help you find the right offer:
- I have personally vetted the basic sightseeing cruises for Bateaux Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens, as well as a sunset dinner cruise from Bateaux Parisiens. I found the quality-price ratio to be high for all of these tours and packages, and confidently recommend them.
- In addition, as I note below, I have tested and recommend the canal and Marne River cruises from Canauxrama.
- Companies including Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf and Vedettes de Paris are also well-respected, both offering sightseeing and lunch/dinner cruises.
- To make an informed choice about a particular company and choose a Paris boat tour or cruise that fits your budget, read reviews from fellow travelers at TripAdvisor.
Independent Type? Hop-On, Hop-Off With Batobus
Some of you will feel restless on a commented cruise and would prefer a “hop-on, hop-off” sort of service. Batobus is a quirky way to get around central Paris and some of its more popular tourist attractions.
A good alternative to the metro in some cases, it allows you to explore at your leisure, taking all the time you need.
The nine stops include the Eiffel Tower, Musée d’Orsay, Louvre and Eiffel Tower. Batobus “shuttle boats” depart every 20-40 minutes, depending on the time of year.
You can purchase a one-day or two-day pass. Boats are equipped with glass rooftops and are heated during the winter months.
Get tickets: You can book 24-hour or 48-hour tickets for Batobus here (via Tiqets.com)
Canal Tours & Day Trips With Canauxrama
Especially if you’ve already taken a Seine sightseeing tour or cruise and wonder what else there is to do sur l’eau (on the water), consider exploring the city’s canals and nearby rivers.
Canauxrama offers cruises on the Canal St. Martin, giving you interesting perspectives of one of the city’s historic industrial waterways.
The center of a vibrant local nightlife scene, the canalside area is scenic and less touristy than the Seine riverbanks. This cruise is especially interesting for the way it allows you to glimpse and learn about the canal’s elaborate lock system.
The waters are emptied, then refilled at incredible speeds to allow for the passage of boats and cargo vessels.
Itching to get out of the city for a day trip? You can also take a longer, half-day cruise on the Marne river, drifting alongside banks immortalized by Impressionist painters including Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet.
I boarded a weekend cruise on the Marne with some friends a few years ago, and was astonished at how green and bucolic the surrounding landscapes were.
It was a true “escape to the countryside” that was well worth it. Pack a typical Parisian-style picnic to enjoy a break on the banks of the river during the warmer months.
When is the Best Time to Take a Boat Tour of Paris?
The best time for sightseeing cruises is generally May through mid-September, when skies tend to be clearer and temperatures are generally warm.
Fall and winter tours are still worthwhile, but keep in mind that wind chill and frequent rain can make sitting on the open-air deck less than desirable.
I once embarked on a wintery evening Seine cruise with my grandparents. While I cherish the memory of sitting on the open deck of the Bateaux-Mouches with my grandmother, both of us wrapped in thick gloves and scarves to fend off the icy wind, this won’t be to everyone’s taste.
As for lunch and dinner cruises, fall and winter can still be a lovely time of year to embark on one.
But I do recommend that you check forecasts and try to pick a clearer day. Foggy or wet conditions could make your cruise less scenic and enjoyable, after all.
Is a Package Deal Always More Worthwhile?
In a word, no. Only book one of these if you really want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge or whatever else is being offered alongside the cruise.
Sometimes tourists mistakenly believe that it’s always better to go for a packaged deal, even if your enthusiasm for certain activities is low.
Several companies offer discounted packages allowing you to book a combined cruise/dinner/cabaret show if you so choose, or to follow up your Seine tour with a visit to monuments such as the Eiffel Tower.
If everything on offer in such deals sounds fantastic, go for it. Otherwise, I recommend opting for simplicity. Sometimes, an hour of sightseeing is all you want and need.
Book a Cruise Package
If you do think a packaged deal may be for you, there are plenty of offers to choose from. See this page at ParisCityVision for packages that combine cruises, cabarets and/or visits to attractions such as the Eiffel Tower.
Editor’s Note: This post includes some affiliate links. Booking cruises or packages through these comes at no additional cost to you, but will help to fund more in-depth features and news at this site. Thank you.