A River Runs Through It: Why the Seine is the Beating Heart of Paris

The Seine, Paris, 2008

The Seine, Paris, 2008

What makes a city something special is open to individual tastes. But, for me at least, an exceptional city is one which has a clear focal point – somewhere you can always find your way to and from if you get lost.

Now this could be a man-made monument like a central square or perhaps a hill with a sweeping panorama. But, of course, there could be several of either of these within one city.

What I like to find is a wide thoroughfare going straight through the middle – one that links the different districts, and their ways of life, one that you can pick up and branch off from whenever you feel like it.

And I’m not talking about a five lane highway here… but a river.

For me a city is not a real one unless you can sit on a boat and sail straight through the centre. Or merely stroll the banks, taking in the sights, breathing in the history and, at the same time, escaping the hubbub of the traffic-filled streets behind you.

And that is what makes the Paris – Seine relationship so special.

Take a look at the river 400-odd kilometres downstream where it flows into the English Channel and there’s not so much to impress. But check it out as it winds graciously through the French capital and it’s a totally different beast.

Yet it’s not just the Seine that gains from running through the centre of Paris; it also works the other way around.

Perhaps the greatest sign of that is the recognition the citizens have for where they are at any given moment – you are either on the Rive Gauche, or the Rive Droite.

Which, perhaps, is not strictly so, because where does that leave the capital’s cathedral, Notre Dame?..

Answer: Right in the middle, on the Ile de la Cite, the very spot where the city was founded.

There could hardly be a better starting point to a city’s history, or indeed for a long, slow walk, with the river flowing smoothly past you on either side.

You’ll find plenty of other famous monuments and many of Paris’s top tourist attractions on, or within a few metres, of the river, from the Hotel des Invalides (home to Napoleon’s tomb) to the Louvre and the Tour Eiffel.

And then, when you feel like a rest, there are some of the city’s best-known green spaces, from the Parque de  Bercy to the Tuilleries.

Find yourself there in the height of summer and you can even strip down to your swim-wear and cool off on one of the pioneer city beaches that make up Paris Plages.

As happened with Eiffel’s Meccano tower, plenty of people scoffed at them at first. But, since the initial opening of the beaches in 2002, they have become treasured playgrounds, proving once again that the Seine is a great spot for a chill-out.

Like Joseph Turner and Claude Monet, you will almost certainly be inspired enough to record your visit to the river, if not in paint as they did then through your camera lens. (And, you can always buy your own artwork later from one of the ‘Little Masters’ at a quayside stand.)

But perhaps the best memory of all comes from taking a trip on a bateau mouche, to see the city from a very different angle, by day or by night when you can dine and dance on board with the lights of Paris twinkling on either side.

If you don’t want to take my word, listen to UNESCO, which was impressed enough to honour the Seine as the centrepiece for one of its World Heritage Sites.

“Paris is a river town,” it says, one that “translates the evolution of the relationship between the river and the people.”

To visit Paris and not make the most of its river would be a great faux pas.

Katie is the newbie blogger behind delightso.me. She has put together a few thoughts from her trip to Paris about why she feels the Seine is the beating heart of the city.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

1 Comment

  1. When I went to Paris I went for a romantic journey down La Seine on a glass topped boat and the most spectacular moment was passing beneath the lit up Notre Dame. It was among the most romantic moments of my life!