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Paris (Photo:Ditty_about_summer/Shutterstock)

Seine River Cruise: The 7 Most Fascinating Ports on the Seine

Paris (Photo:Ditty_about_summer/Shutterstock)
Melinda Crow

Last updated
Nov 8, 2023

Read time
13 min read

On a Seine River cruise, it seems like Paris, where voyages begin and end, would be the marquee attraction when you're booking your trip. You may be surprised, though, to learn that much of a Seine River cruise is spent in the ports of Normandy. Gorgeous scenery, medieval cities, the art of Claude Monet and of course, delightful French cuisine await you as you leave the lights of Paris in your wake.

Multiple cruise lines offer cruises on the Seine River, with itineraries ranging from seven to 10 nights. The ports on a Seine River cruise are wonderfully choreographed to balance touring with quaint stops that invite relaxation.

Cruise Critic explored the cruise ports of the Seine River. From the Palace of Versailles to the war-torn Beaches of Normandy on the English Channel, these are the seven most fascinating ports and destinations to expect on your Seine River cruise.

1. Paris: The Start and Finish of Your Seine River Cruise

Needless to say there's so much to do in renowned Paris, France. Unfortunately, you won't be able to see it all during your Seine River cruise from Paris, but you can get quite the grasp of the City of Lights.

The itinerary includes solid time in and near the city (sometimes split between the beginning and end of the cruise), but you may want to add days before or after if seeing the sights of the city itself is important to you. Look for cruise lines that build those extra days into the package for you.

Things to Do in Paris on Your Seine River Cruise: Your ship may offer organized tours to make it easy to get an overview of the city and its long list of legendary sites. Obvious choices of sights to see include the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

At the top of the list for in-depth exploration must be the Louvre, France's national museum, whose palatial foundation dates to the 12th century. With 650,000 square feet of exhibition space, it's known for a lot more than da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

The Musee d'Orsay, allows you to experience key pieces of original art by Claude Monet, either before or after visiting the artist’s homeland during your Seine River cruise. Make a pilgrimage to the Notre Dame Cathedral; while you can't go inside until late 2024, the square and footbridge have reopened, allowing a stunning view of the building’s exterior.

Active Pursuits in Paris: Paris is one of the world's most walkable cities and its neighborhoods, called arrondissements, all have different vibes and appeals. Explore them all on foot for a more in-depth and authentic Parisian experience.

Insider Tips: Paris has Uber and it's a great alternative to taxis (though the city's metro system is easy to figure out and helps avoid clogged roadways). Be wary of pickpockets -- they're everywhere.

The Best Cruise Lines for Seeing Paris on a Seine River Cruise

Many lines spend either the first night or last night onboard the ship docked in Paris, allowing a bit of exploration time in the city. Uniworld and AmaWaterways ships dock a short distance from the Eiffel Tower, and both offer land-based extensions for even more time in Paris. Scenic offers a Shop with the Chef opportunity during the ship’s time docked in Paris.

2. The Palace of Versailles Near Mantes-la-Jolie or Conflans

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on a Seine River cruise (Photo: Flickr/Satoshi Nakagowa)

Mantes la Jolie, located about 30 miles west of Paris, is home to the medieval Collegiate Church of Our Lady of Mantes. It's worth a look, but river cruises really dock here for proximity to Versailles and Napoleon's Château de Malmaison. As such, it's a big power-touring day.

Things to Do in and Near Mantes la Jolie or Conflans: Spend the day at the Château de Versailles, one of the top tourist draws in and around Paris. This UNESCO World Heritage Site began as a humble hunting lodge before becoming the home of kings. On the tour, you visit the state apartments and the striking Hall of Mirrors, a 240-foot-long glass- and chandelier-filled corridor that pays tribute to France's political, economic and artistic might.

The recently revitalized Queen's Apartments, where you learn about life at the palace, is full of stories. And no visit to Versailles is complete without a turn in its lavish gardens. Don't miss the numerous waterworks, such as The Four Seasons Fountain and the Mirror Pool.

Been there, done that? Take a tour of Napoleon Bonaparte's last home in France before his exile. His wife Josephine owned the manor, and she kept it after the couple divorced. Chateau Malmaison is less a palace and more a home than Versailles.

Active Pursuits: Cycle your way around the Chateau de Versailles; you can rent bikes onsite.

Insider Tips: Various tour options to visit Versailles run from 5 to 6.5 hours. If this is the final night onboard your ship, you may find it moves deeper into the city to the port of disembarkation while passengers are off touring. If you’ve already seen Versailles, you are welcome to stay onboard and enjoy the move.

The Best Cruise Lines for Seeing Mantes-la-Jolie or Conflans on a Seine River Cruise

Viking offers a delightful Paris by Night tour on the final night of the cruise. Avalon docks in Conflans rather than Mantis-la-Jolie and adds excursions to the final resting place of Vincent Van Gogh or enjoy a guided bicycle ride along the Seine.

3. La Roche-Guyon, Giverny and Vernon: Close Encounters with Claude Monet

Monet's garden in Giverny on a Seine River cruise (Photo: Viking)

Vernon's main draw is its proximity to Giverny, where impressionist painter Claude Monet created his beautiful gardens. The small, quite ancient city is delightful. It's known for its half-timbered buildings, the oldest of which dates to the 12th century.

Things to Do in La Roche-Guyon, Giverny and Vernon: Monet's expansive, colorful garden is the focal point of a visit here. The artist spent 43 years creating and maintaining the garden, which is divided into two parts. Clos Normand is home to flowers and plants from all over the world, and the Japanese-inspired water garden is across the road. There's also a massive Monet-themed gift shop.

In Vernon, visit the Musee du Vernon to see two of Monet's works (interestingly none of his works are shown in Giverny): "Nymphaea," 1908 (painted in his garden) and "Effet de soleil couchant a Pourville" (the cliffs of Pourville at sunset); stay to enjoy the Norman ambience in this historic building. Another plus: The tourist office is located on the ground level.

Active Pursuits in La Roche-Guyon, Giverny and Vernon: As in many stops along the Seine, bicycling is an idyllic way to tour. The ride here is through pastoral farmland and quaint village streets, mostly on the flat Andre Toufler pathway, converted from an old train line.

Insider Tips: Monet is buried at Giverny's Eglise Sainte-Radegonde de Giverny, the church he attended. Honor him with a visit to his flower-festooned grave but also wander into the church itself; it's serene, cool and simply beautiful.

The Best Cruise Lines for Visiting La Roche-Guyon, Giverny and Vernon on a Seine River Cruise

Tauck offers painting classes onboard following your visit to Giverny, allowing you to explore your own version of impressionism. Gate 1 cruises on the Seine give you a full day in the region, with morning tours to Giverny and free time in the afternoon to explore Vernon independently, and at a bit lower price than many other European river cruise options.

4. Les Andelys: Beautiful Scenery on the Seine River

Les Andelys consists of a fishing village and a larger town, which are separated by a marsh (and 30-minute walk). Ships dock in the smaller Le Petit Andelys, a charming port with half-timbered houses and, better yet, after busy days in other ports, light tourism. It's the perfect place for a low-key day, with lots of boutiques, antique stores and local bistros.

Things to Do in Les Andelys: Walk up the mountain to the ruins of Chateau Gaillard for the incomparable views of the Seine Valley and its white cliffs.

Active Pursuits in Les Andelys: Walk along the riverside towpath and through the village. Kayaking on the nearby Eure River is possible, either independently or through a ship’s excursion.

Insider Tips: The range of interesting shops in Le Petit Andely is surprising and worth the stroll through town.

The Best Cruise Line for Visiting Les Andelys on a Seine River Cruise

Adventures by Disney offers a few chartered Seine River cruises, with everything you’d expect when the Disney name is attached. In Les Andelys, for example, the Disney team offers lessons in making macarons onboard the ship following excursions.

5. Rouen: Medieval History, Art and Julia Child’s Inspiration

The largest city in Normandy and its capital, Rouen, dates back to the 12th century with a heritage that spotlights the disparate trio of Joan of Arc, Claude Monet and Julia Child. It's a favorite stop on any Seine River cruise.

Joan of Arc, canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church, is a national hero who, as a young girl with a belief in the divine guidance of God, led the French army to success during a Hundred Years' War battle at Orleans. Monet's connection with Rouen lies primarily with his fascination with the facade of the Gothic-Norman Cathedrale Notre-Dame; he painted a series of oils.

As for Julia Child, in Rouen she had, as she wrote in "My Life in France," "the most exciting meal of her life" -- which also inspired her passion for French cuisine.

Things to Do in Rouen: A walking tour of Rouen's medieval quarter takes in the city's most iconic sites, such as Notre Dame Cathedral (buried inside is Richard the Lionheart) and the Gros Horloge astronomical clock. A statue in the Place du Vieux-Marche marks the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. The Eglise Ste-Jeanne-d' Arc, which was built in the 1970s, presents an odd contrast to the square's otherwise historic ambience.

Normandy is famed for its foodstuffs, particularly cheese and apples; available ship’s tours might feature a visit to a Norman farm with plenty of opportunities for tasting, including Calvados (an apple liqueur), Norman cheese and apple tarts.

Active Pursuits in Rouen: Cycling on towpaths lining the Seine.

Insider Tips: The farthest any ocean ship can get up the Seine is Rouen; it can be exciting to see both riverboats and ocean-going vessels in port.

The Best Cruise Line for Visiting Rouen on a Seine River Cruise

If you can’t get enough of impressionist art, CroisiEurope has Seine River cruises dedicated to the art and artists. In Rouen, for example, tours follow the footsteps of the artists, with afternoon lectures as the ship sails to the next port.

6. Honfleur: A Picturesque Stop at the Mouth of the Seine River

Honfleur, at the mouth of the Seine River, is so picturesque it has been memorialized by impressionist artists like Georges Seurat, Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin. Its appeal is not just its medieval ambience, half-timbered Norman-style buildings and cobbled streets; it's also the light, as it reflects the sky and sea, which has inspired so many artists, from the impressionists to hobbyists.

While Honfleur has some historic attractions, it's also a perfect port for simply strolling through the lanes, sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe or doing a bit of shopping.

Things to Do in Honfleur: On a walking tour, visit St. Catherine's Church. It was built entirely out of wood in the 15th century. The Eugene Boudin Museum honors the impressionist painter who was a native of Honfleur.

Active Pursuits: Stroll around the old harbor front and make sure to explore backstreets, too.

Insider Tips: Honfleur's only downside is that very few river ships can dock here. There may be an hour-long bus transfer to Honfleur. And, like Rouen, this is a port of call for both ocean and river travelers (via day trip).

The Best Cruise Line for Visiting Honfleur on a Seine River Cruise

The British line Riviera offers Seine River cruises at a price just enough lower than other lines to make it a viable alternative for budget-minded cruisers. CroisiEurope has a handful of one-way Seine River cruises between Honfleur and Paris. These itineraries obviously offer less time in Paris, but more time in all the other ports, including this one.

7. Normandy's D-Day Beaches: Pay Homage While You Cruise the Seine River

Omaha Beach in Normandy (Photo: ho visto nina volare/Flickr)

More than almost any other port of call on a Seine River itinerary, Normandy is a reason that many cruisers book this particular river cruise in the first place. Normandy is securely implanted in our minds for the role that Allied troops played in D-Day, which changed the course of World War II. The invasion of German-occupied France is chronicled in numerous places, from landing beaches to museums and cemeteries.

Beyond its prominent place in World War II, the region was settled by Vikings in the 10th century and played a central role in the War of 1066, when the British attempted to seize France. What's a delightful surprise about Normandy is its beautiful rural countryside along with its beaches, too, which line the English Channel.

Plenty of locals and travelers alike come here to swim and sunbathe -- even if rusted out World War II pontoons still dot the beaches.

Things to Do in Normandy: Many Seine River cruise ships offer two full-day tours: one geared toward Americans, the other toward Canadians.

The American tours visit Juno and Gold beaches, where troops landed, then continue on to Arromanches, which is where the D-Day Museum is located. There's also a stop at Omaha Beach and a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, where 9,400 American troops are buried.

Lunch is generally provided as part of the ship’s excursion and there's free time to wander through the meticulously maintained gravesites.

This is a case where the ship's tours really are incredibly well-organized with exceptional guides, so we recommend you take the excursions. There's a little bit of free time, particularly on the American tour in Arromanches, where you can stroll through the pleasant seaside town and buy Normandy souvenirs, such as Pommeau (apple cider), Breton-striped blue shirts and Calvados (the region's famous apple brandy).

Active Pursuits in Normandy: As incongruous as it may seem, you can pack a beach towel and a swimsuit and go for a swim at Arromanches and Omaha Beach.

Insider Tips: No one tells you how beautiful the countryside is in Normandy, so that portion of the long drive to the D-Day beaches is very pleasant. It’s wise to bring a charging cord and spare phone charging battery because you’ll be away from the ship and snapping photos for the duration of your excursion.

Don’t be surprised by the crowds. Besides river cruise excursions, expect land-tour buses and excursion groups from ocean-going cruise lines like Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Disney and luxury lines like Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas.

The Best Cruise Lines for Visiting the D-Day Beaches of Normandy on a Seine River Cruise

Americans are more likely to have the D-Day experience they expect by cruising with a line that caters to Americans. Viking and AmaWaterways top that list.

Publish date December 15, 2019
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