The inimitable Seine is France’s best-known river, a mighty waterway rising northwest of Burgundy’s Dijon and flowing though Paris before emptying into the English Channel at Le Havre. The Seine is a superlative river, taking travellers on a romantic journey from the French capital of Pairs to the historic landscapes of Normandy, travelling past ruined abbeys, medieval castles, verdant countryside, cider orchards, bustling towns and forests filled with wild boar. Sailing down sweeping bends you’ll typically sail between Paris and Honfleur via Chantilly, Giverny, Vernon and Rouen – through the Seine’s fabled landscapes that inspired Monet, Cezanne and Matisse.
Why cruise Seine
The Seine is a very popular river to cruise on, and no wonder, taking in the City of Lights and the most spectacular scenery in northern France. Many cruise lines offer sailings on the river Seine between Paris and Normandy, like A-Rosa, which offers affordable sailings, and Riviera Travel, Avalon Waterways and Viking offer more expensive options. At the top end, Crystal River Cruises, Scenic and Uniworld. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines also offers Seine sailings on its small ocean ships Balmoral and Braemar, being small enough navigate some of the waterways.
Countries of the Seine River
France is the epitome of joie de vivre – the country of fine cheese, finer wine, patisseries, chateaus, the City of Lights and the Cote d’Azur. France is a fantastic cruise destination, with ports dotted along its coastline and tranquil river running through its historic heartlands and winelands. Wander through the chateaus and museums of the former empire, head to northern France for rugged coastline and Gothic architecture, while the south holds sun-baked stone villages, lavender fields and luscious rose vineyards.
Ports of the Seine River
Honfleur is a charming port town in Normandy on the Seine estuary, recognisable for its jumble of tall almost squished buildings and charming harbour packed with tall-mast yachts. A popular day trip for chic Parisian families and painters like Monet, the seaside town is surrounded by lush hillside and is full of maritime charm, closely resembling the charming ports of Devon and Cornwall. The most charm can be found in the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbour) and historic quarter with its cobbled lanes of timbered buildings, art galleries and al fresco brasseries. For history-loving travellers, it’s also the gateway to the haunting beaches of Normandy where the D-Day Landings took place.
Rouen is a city steeped in history, the site of many plagues, a fire and English occupation during the Hundred Years War. As a result Rouen is one of the most fascinating cities in Normandy, greeting travellers with medieval and historical treasures at every corner like the soaring Gothic cathedral and narrow alleys of beautiful wood-fronted houses. Rouen is also the site where French heroin Joan of Arc was burned a the stake, and visiting the new Historical Jeanne d’Arc Museum is a must – a multimedia and immersive experience in the location of her second trial.
From the twinkling Eiffel Tower to grand Champs Élysees, the Louvre and Notre Dame to the Sacre Couer in Bohemian Montmartre, Paris is ever bit as magical s you can imagine. The City of Light is one of the world’s most captivating capitals, sitting on the banks of the river Seine and a leader in fashion, food, culture and art. On the banks of the Seine you can see the gargoyles of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, pop into the Musée d'Orsay and make your way up to the Arc de Triomphe past swanky shops and eateries like Ladurée. High up on the hill you’ll find artsy Montmartre, its heyday in Belle Époque Paris and home to rustic, absinthe bars, the Moulin Rouge and the Sacré-Coeur basilica.
Palais de Versailles
When in Paris make sure to factor in a stop to the Palais de Versailles, the breath-taking former residence of the French monarchy right up until the 1789 revolution. Built in the 17th century under the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV to show the might and power of the French Empire, the palace is sprawling and set in landscaped formal gardens, home to the world famous gold-dipped Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Grand Apartments, Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, the grand chapel and a glorious art collection. Most of the original furnishings disappeared following the French Revolution, but the trust has done a fantastic job of restoring it to its former glory.
Château de La Roche-Guyon
The Seine is not short of fantastic palaces, one of the most spectacular being the Château de La Roche-Guyon, on the banks of the river in the Vexin regional national park. The stunning Château is owned by the La Rochefoucauld family and is a beautiful mix of medieval, Renaissance and classical French architecture and interiors – its grounds, formal kitchen garden and rooms open to the public. The village itself has been named one of France’s 'Most Beautiful Villages' and is linked to the château via a by a secretive staircase dug into the rock. Travellers can see old village streets lined with charming houses and also visit the La Roche arboretum in the La Roche-Guyon regional forest.
Charming and historic Vernon is a popular stop on most Seine river cruise itineraries and stepping off the ship is like stepping back in time to the middle ages. The town is a jumble of timber-framed houses, the oldest part being around the collegiate church, and has a delightful bevy of sights like the Le Vieux-Moulin and Château des Tourelles – an 14th-century mill and rustic castle – and Maison du Temps – one of the prettiest villages in the town. Nearby you’ll find the lived-in neoclassical estate of Château Bizy (open for private tours) and Claude Monet’s house and garden – where he lived for 40 years and home to his willow tree, wisteria and peonies.
The commune of Chantilly is as sweet and delectable as its namesake cream, 50km north of Paris up the Seine and home to an elegant town and imposing resorted château. Chantilly’s most impressive sight is the Château de Chantilly, built in the 14th-century on a small rocky island in an artificial lake and since restored many times. The current castle has been restored in the French Renaissance Revival style and is a grand façade of towers and turrets, also home to the Musée Condé – one of France’s most important art collections. The elegant town also has a famous racetrack which borders the fairy tale chateau, where the cream of the crop descend for prestigious meets.
As part of a stop in Vernon, river cruisers are able to visit Giverny, a small village in Normandy where the beloved impressionist painted Claude Monet lived and worked until his death in 1926. The top sight is the artist’s former house and gardens, a charming sight where Money painted his famous luminous ‘Water Lilies’ series – the same lilies still blossoming today. The luscious gardens are testament to his work, while the candy-coloured house gives insight into the artists’ colour-driven mind. Nearby is the Musée des impressionnismes Giverny, focusing on the Impressionist art movement.
Best things to do on the Seine
Visit a château
From Versailles near Paris to the grand Chateau Gaillard, make sure to visit as many castles and Châteaus as you can on a Seine river cruise. Top ones include Château de Chantilly and Château de Malmaison.
Enjoy art galleries
With stops in Paris and Vernon, you’ll be able to visit galleries like the world-famous Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, the Vernon Fine Arts Gallery and the Musée des impressionnismes Giverny.
Learn about World War II history
From Honfleur, travellers are able to walk to historic Normandy beaches, home of the D-Day landings, visit the Landing Museum at Arromanches and the 9,387 graves of the haunting Normandy Cemetery.
Eat and drink
You’re in France, one of the culinary capitals of the world, so arrive on shore hungry and ready to dine in local bistros and sample French wines – even if not sailing past vineyards.
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Start your Scenic river cruise in Paris
Honfleur on the Normandy coast
Monet’s garden at Giverny