A Seine River cruise can be one of the world's great travel experiences, offering something for everyone from history lovers to foodies and more. The Seine is France's second-longest river, extending more than 480 miles from Burgundy through Paris and Normandy before joining the English Channel at Le Havre.
While most tourists opt for a dinner cruise along the Seine, a proper, multi-day cruise provides a deeper experience of northern French culture. All cruises along the Seine start and finish in Paris, with its endlessly fascinating neighborhoods and cultural institutions. Elsewhere, you'll experience the beauty of Monet's garden at Giverny, 2,000 years of history in beautiful Rouen and the Normandy beaches that served as the launching point for the liberation of Europe in World War II.
If you're planning a trip to France, a full Seine River cruise just might be for you. Read on to learn more about when you should go, where and why with our expert breakdown.
The best time for a Seine River cruise is pretty much whenever you want. To be fair, the weather in Paris and norther France is similar to the Midatlantic and lower Northeast states in the U.S, but your chance of experiencing blizzards or massive snow storms is lower in the winter in France. Temperatures in Paris tend to be higher year round than towns near the coast, like Rouen and Le Havre.
Like the rest of Northern Europe, summer is peak season along the Seine River and is the driest time of year. Note that some family-run restaurants and shops close during August, though you'll likely find plenty open no matter where you port. Just keep in mind that tourist sites and narrow cobblestone streets tend to be packed to bursting at this time of year.
That said, Paris and the northern Seine region are arguably at their best in the shoulder months when temperatures are moderate and cultural calendars are packed. Aim for April, May, September and October. A Seine cruise in the weeks before Christmas can also be spectacular, when both Paris and Rouen are in festive spirits. There are dedicated Seine Christmas market sailings that include excursions to atmospheric yuletide markets.
Nearly all major lines offer Seine River cruises, catering to the perennial appeal of Paris and the lovely Normandy seaside, which bookend this stretch of the river. These include These include AmaWaterways, Scenic, Tauck, Viking, Uniworld and Avalon Waterways.
Many of the lines offer similar sailings, so the final choice comes down to budget and personal preference, with the choice ranging from value-for-money sailings aboard Grand Circle to luxury all-inclusive lines such as Uniworld and Tauck.
Another option for cruising the Seine is an intimate French barge cruise with European Waterways or CroisiEurope. With as few as eight passengers, these boutique sailings are more like gathering with friends and offer high levels of personal service. These itineraries explore rivers and canals that are not accessible to mainstream river vessels in addition to the Seine. To find out more, check out our breakdown of barge cruises and how they stack up against traditional river cruises.
The good news is that all Seine River Cruise itineraries feature art, culture, nature and history. Unlike the Rhine River and the Danube River there is one main Seine itinerary, running between Paris and Caudebec/Honfleur (gateway to the Cote Fleurie and the pretty seaside resorts of Trouville and Deauville).
However, not all river cruises on the Seine go all the way north to Honfleur, so check your line options carefully. Likewise, not all ships are small enough to dock in the middle of Paris so if walking around the city right from your ship is important to you, double check where the vessel docks. Some moor quite a distance out of town while others are within sight of the Eiffel Tower.
In a region so richly endowed with attractions, shore excursion options vary widely, and operators make changes by adding longer stays in key ports like Rouen and tagging on time in Paris at either end of the cruise. So, you could take more than one Seine cruise and do something a bit different each time. Find out more about destinations in our guide to ports of call on the Seine.
In addition to Paris, poignant wartime memorials, cemeteries and landing beaches are one of the key draws on a Seine river cruise. River lines that are mainly geared to North Americans (like Viking) will focus on U.S. and Canadian memorials, while companies that mainly attract British passengers (like Riviera or TUI) will focus on U.K. sites, so check excursion schedules carefully before you book.
The Seine has many bridges (there are 32 in Paris alone), and when the river is swollen by rain or snowmelt at its mountain source, it can be hard for boats and ships to fit beneath the spans. So, be prepared to be confined to lower decks while the wheelhouse is retracted -- sometimes, you might even have to travel to towns by motor coach, although this is rare.
The weather along the Seine is generally hot in the summer months and can be delightful in spring and autumn. Like almost all of Europe, though, the weather can change quickly. Your river cruise packing list should include layers depending on the season. Many lines supply umbrellas, but it's best to pack a small one just in case.
Atop your packing list should be a comfy pair of shoes as you are going to do a lot of walking. Do not buy a new pair of shoes and wear them for the first time on your Seine River cruise -- blisters and more may very well be your traveling companions if you do.
There is no dress code on river cruises so you only need to pack casual clothing, with a couple of smarter outfits for the captain's welcome and gala dinner.
This isn't a requirement by any means, but the towns along the Seine and Paris itself have provided countless inspiration to visual artists for centuries. That's perhaps no more true than in the case of Claude Monet. You'll have a chance to see the Rouen Cathedral, which he famously painted, as well as the Claude Monet Garden in Giverny. It's worth learning a little about his technique, artistic philosophy or even his biography before visiting these spots to get an even fuller experience.
While a Seine River cruise has plenty to love beyond Paris, let's be honest: Paris is pretty much tops on anyone's bucket list. Paris is not only popular with tourists, but is also a top location for large scale events, including Fashion Week shows held in spring and fall, when trendsetters from around the world descend on the French capital.
If you only have a short time in the city before or after your cruise and want to make the most of it by visiting a particular restaurant or staying in a favorite hotel, make sure you book well ahead to avoid disappointment. Similarly, you can skip the lines by buying tickets to popular attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and Louvre online.