The River Seine is one of the most important and iconic features of Paris, bordering 10 of the city's 20 arrondissements. The boundary it forms through the middle of the French capital helped to create the distinct atmospheres you find on each bank, with the cultural Left Bank south of the river and the commercial Right Bank to the north.

    The Seine is far from just a boundary, though – it’s an attraction in its own right. Spanned by 37 bridges in Paris alone and with kilometres of footpaths down by the water, it has a reputation as one of the more romantic parts of a city that itself is known as a romantic destination.

    What are the highlights of the River Seine in Paris?

    There are plenty of ways to enjoy the River Seine in Paris. The easiest and most obvious is to walk along its banks. Recognised as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1991, both the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank) have their own unique atmosphere and attractions. These include the Louvre Museum and Grand Palais on the Right and Musée d'Orsay and the Eiffel Tower on the Left, with the Notre-Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle on an island in the middle.

    Among the bridges spanning the River Seine in Paris, Pont Neuf is the oldest (built in 1607) while Pont Alexandre III is considered the most ornate and beautiful. There are also several parks by the banks, such as Jardin des Tuileries, Jardins du Trocadéro and Jardin Tino Rossi. They’re great places to sit and take a break. In fact, some are popular picnic spots for Parisians and the riverbanks are generally quite lively on warm summer evenings.

    With over 60% of its length being navigable by large boats – including the bit passing through Paris – one of the more popular ways to enjoy the river is, of course, on a tour cruise. There are plenty of companies offering cruises along the Seine, with various departure points to choose from. Just walk a little way along the bank anywhere on the river and you’ll find tours available before you’ve covered 1 km. While the tour is great at any time of day, it’s particularly picturesque and romantic to take a night cruise. It’ll show you exactly why Paris is known as the City of Lights.

    The course of the River Seine

    The Seine has a total length of about 775 km, making it the second-longest river in France, over 230 km behind the Loire. It takes its name from Sēquana, the Celtic Gallo-Roman goddess of the river, though her name is thought to come from the Latin word sequor, meaning ‘I follow’. The river itself originates from the aptly named commune of Source-Seine, about 30 km northwest of Dijon and 230 km southeast of Paris.

    The river’s course consists of 5 sections. From its source to Montereau-Fault-Yonne, it’s known as the Small Seine (Petite Seine). From there to Paris, it’s the Upper Seine (Haute Seine). Passing through Paris, it’s the Paris waterway (Traversée de Paris). From Paris to Rouen, it’s called the Lower Seine (Basse Seine). As it finally makes its way to the English Channel and its estuary at Honfleur and Le Havre, it’s known as the Maritime Seine (Seine-Maritime).

    Good to know about the River Seine in Paris

    As with any watercourse, there’s an ever-present risk of falling in, especially as there aren’t many railings alongside the waterfront footpaths. Even though it is slow-flowing and there are plenty of floatation devices dotted along its length, the average depth of the River Seine in Paris is about 9.5 metres and the water isn’t especially clean, so going for a dip – either on purpose or by accident – is not recommended. Drownings aren’t particularly common, but it’s still best to mind your footing when you’re walking on the riverbanks.

    A word of advice for the gents: it’s highly recommended that you wear comfortable shoes that don’t have laces when you’re walking by the Seine with your loved one. Given its reputation, if you bend down to re-tie your laces, your partner might think you’re kneeling for a marriage proposal!

    River Seine in Paris

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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