In Paris, you can find just about anything from low-brow to high-brow:
You can enjoy street art or view the best art in the world in the Musee du Louvre or Musee d’Orsay.
You can have a simple sidewalk crepe on the hoof or savor one at an elegant restaurant.
Watch the fashion show at Galeries Lafayette department store or experience a haute couture afternoon at the regal Le Bristol hotel, complete with parading models, tea and luscious pastry.
And, of course, you can have a drink at the corner cafe or sip gorgeous cocktails at the bar at the architecturally stunning and terminally hip L’Hotel (best known as the home of writer Oscar Wilde).
As you can tell, I’ve enjoyed Paris many different ways and from many different angles, so you can trust me when I tell you there is only ONE WAY to cruise the Seine.
When planning a boat ride on the Seine, most tourists will just book one of the many bateaux-mouches, the name referring to the large vessels that ply the Seine all day, everyday.
While I’m all for being mindful of vacation budgets, I think splurging on something that will give you lasting memories is simply priceless – and there is no better time to take that splurge than on Seine. In fact, there is a much more comfortable way to experience floating on the Seine, a way that is far more enchanting than the jam-packed and ever so ubiquitous bateaux-mouches riverboats.
But before I share what I consider to be the ultimate Seine river experience, let’s explore the origins of the tourist boats and why I consider my alternative to be the best choice.
A Brief History of the Bateaux-Mouches
Bateaux-mouches translates literally to “fly boats.” The name came to be because the boats were originally manufactured in boatyards situated in the Mouche area of Lyon.
The bateaux-mouches were first used as steamers at an Exhibition in 1867 and since the easiest way for Paris residents to travel through the city was via the Seine river, the boats became a utilitarian option for those who wanted cheap, reliable and convenient transportation.
Then the Paris Metro entered the scene.
At that point, the boats ceased to be the transportation method of choice for city dwellers. But even so, the bateaux-mouches continued on.
By the end of World War II, a gentleman by the name of Jean Bruel purchased one of the last remaining steam-powered bateaux-mouches, a left over from the 1900 Universal Exhibition. He then founded the Compagnie des Bateaux-Mouches and, although he trademarked the name, it is still common to refer to all the boats that ply the river as the bateaux-mouche.
Since World War II they have flourished and today they are indeed one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris.
Why I’m Not a Fan
Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it will translate into beautiful memories for you. Here’s what I’ve found that gives me the confidence to suggest that you to leave the bateaux-mouche experience off your itinerary:
Many of the boats with the exception of one – the Vedettes du Pont Neuf – are overcrowded and the seats are about as far away from comfortable as you can get.
Additionally, the commentary during the boat ride (which is often prerecorded) can be difficult to understand and the information provided about the sights merely skims the surface.
If the commentary happens to be live, well, I’ve been on enough of these boats to know what a difficult time the guides have in getting passengers interested in what they have to say. Most often tourists are chatting among themselves or are otherwise disengaged.
Some of the boats do provide a meal. But it is very mediocre and not worth wasting euros on.
Suffice it to say that from its heyday in the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th, things have changed quite a bit and a ride on a bateaux-mouche is far less glamorous and calming than it once was.
Traveling the Seine the Memorable Way
For the ultimate in style and sophistication, consider dining and sightseeing aboard Yachts de Paris company and you can say au revoir to the touristy bateaux-mouches forever.
Established in 1993, the Yachts de Paris is a fleet of seven yachts offering clients an exceptional way to enjoy Paris from the river that’s unmatched by any other boat company.
All their vessels shine with gleaming brass and highly polished mahogany interiors – and instead of sitting on uncomfortable plastic molded seating as many of the bateaux mouches offer, you’ll sink into deep seating on the upper decks, as well as inside the cozy interiors.
The smallest boat in their collection is the melodic sounding Cachemire yacht that can accommodate two to 12 people. Imagine … you can rent the vessel for just you and perhaps your loved one; now that’s a Paris insider experience if there ever was one!
The other yachts in the company include the Acajou and the Victoria which can hold 30 to 90 people, the Mirage which holds 100 to 220 and the Excellence for 70 to 180 people – all riding in complete comfort.
The larger capacity boats are designed to accommodate conferences and larger groups, while the smaller boats are available for individual clients who want a grand experience on a small, cozy scale.
A few years ago, I had the ultimate privilege of being a passenger for a dinner cruise on the 7th boat in the group, the Don Juan II, a yacht that accommodates up to 40 people.
On that particular sailing, we only had about 15 people on the boat; talk about an intimate experience! In fact, I rubbed elbows with like-minded luxury enthusiasts while we supped on cuisine by chef extraordinaire Guy Krenzer.
As we savored the flavors of scallop roasted in truffle viennoise, we slowly glided by the most iconic sites in Paris:
A rich Bordeaux wine with a view of Notre Dame? Bien sur!
Petit fours paired with the golden Pont Alexandre? Tres magnifique!
An up-close view of the Statue of Liberty and a perfectly timed vision of the Eiffel Tower all lit up (as it does every hour) completed the sumptuous scene.
Plus, the entire time we enjoyed deep commentary on the river bank sights as our captain and guide helped us understand what we were gazing upon in a much more meaningful way.
How to Do the Seine Properly for an Experience You Won’t Forget
You’ll begin your adventure at Port Henri IV in the 4th arrondissement, near the Bastille.
Once there, you’ll find that the boarding is just as memorable as the entire voyage. Personally, I loved being treated just like a princess, as my hand was steadily held by the charming purser as I stepped onto the upper deck for a pre-dinner sweet aperitif.
Joined by fashionably dressed fellow passengers, I knew I had made the right choice to experience a beautifully balmy evening in the City of Light on the Seine.
And lights there were! After the last sip of cafe, it was back up to the upper deck to take in all the sparkle and twinkle of Paris as darkness set in and the city became all aglow.
But there was something missing from my near perfect experience – a lavish bed on board in which to continue my opulent evening into the next morning. It was that hard to pry myself off the boat!
That night I dreamt about free-flowing champagne while ensconced in a very chic apartment and mulled over my top ten moments of this most memorable time on the Seine.
You can read about how Robyn’s connections to historians, guides, culinarians and entrepreneurs will give you entree into the City of Light that most tourists will never experience right here.
Ready to experience a Paris trip as unique as you are? My connections to the movers and shakers in the city will ensure your vacation is one of a kind! Come be part of my inner circle and meet the people behind the stories and interviews on my blog when I plan your trip. Find out more about what makes Paris Made for You so different – and get ready for the experience of a lifetime. As we say, just pack your bags, we do the rest.
Robyn Webb has made Paris her home every summer for more than 20 years. During that time she has developed an intimate knowledge of the city’s most intimate secrets, special places and events. Even more she has the know how to open the right doors for you to make your trip to Paris one-of-a-kind. She is also the award winning author of the Paris Apartment Guide and a Certified International Tour Manager.