If you haven’t seen the Seine, you don’t know Paris. Like London, the French capital is one of those cities whose pulse reverberates along its river. The Seine’s banks are peppered with iconic Parisian monuments, like the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum. If your visit to Paris is brief, you can catch a glimpse of all these major sites on a Bateau Mouche boat. Or, on a longer trip, the boat trip’s a good way to get the lay of the land before you explore in more detail.
We tried out the Bateaux Mouches this summer, when D’s uncle invited us onto one for his 70th birthday. It was a short, joyous occasion. We took the Eurostar from London to Paris – such a short and painless journey that it’s even possible to do it as a day trip. D’s parents had hired the best Parisian accommodation: a 10-berth houseboat they found on Airbnb. The boat was within striding distance of the Eiffel Tower. We sat on deck on both the balmy evenings of our stay, while the Tower treated us to a twinkly light show every hour, its lights blinking on and off like a metallic Christmas tree.
The Bateau Mouche ride
The Bateaux Mouches all depart from the same place: close to the Pont de l’Alma on the Port de la Conférence. Depending on whether you’re on a sightseeing tour, a lunchtime cruise or evening dinner ride, the cruise time varies between an hour and ten minutes, and two hours and fifteen minutes. During the day, the Bateaux Mouches are full of casually dressed tourists, with a smart-casual code at lunchtime. You need to dress up for dinner, though. And who would object, to sail down one of the most romance-laden rivers in the world? If you’re looking for things to do in Paris at night, that has to be one of the best choices.
(Incidentally, you can order an on-board Bateau Mouche marriage proposal, ‘Get a Yes in Paris’, for the bargain price of €325. I wonder if they give you a discount if the answer is no?)
Bateaux Mouches can also be hired for parties and private functions. There was no shortage of formal attire at D’s uncle’s bash, as you can see from the picture of us above. Kilts ahoy! Aftera bracing walk along the riverbank (thank heavens for comfortable M&S heels), we arrived in time to board our Bateau, to the soft tinkles of a piano, and the popping of Champagne corks.
The low-slung, beetle-like boat sailed up the river, down, and then back up again. We ate a three-course meal of pea and watercress soup, tender lamb (chicken for the children), and a pistachio dessert. Plenty of green food, to match the newly cleaned-up Seine. Although the river itself still isn’t safe for bathing, a push is on to make it clean enough for swimming in time for the 2024 Olympics. This summer saw Parisians swimming in the nearby La Villette canal for the first time in decades.
While we ate, our waiter discreetly pointed out landmarks. Marie Antoinette’s prison, the Conciergerie, appeared just as we were eating dessert. Not to be outdone in splendour, the Musée d’Orsay glided past in the background, when the party piano recital began. We sat on the Bateau’s shiny red seats and watched D’s uncle’s friends dance Flamenco. Then there was time to wander. We took our drinks up on deck, to toast the replica Statue of Liberty in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Pros and cons of the trip
This was a blissfully simple trip, and I’d recommend the Bateaux Mouches to anyone wanting to sample the essence of Paris. For us living in London, the ease of Eurostar travel made it feel as straightforward as a jaunt to Leeds.
My one regret about this trip was the timing. It came at the end of the school term, but we had prior commitments back home a few days after the party. This meant we had to head straight back afterwards. Had the party happened a week or two later, we’d have hired a car in Paris, and driven south. Paris is so well-connected to other parts of the country, that a repeat of last year’s road trip would have been appealing.
But you can’t do everything in one summer. This time, we headed north instead, to the opposite extreme: Galloway Forest, where there are so few lights that it’s the best place in Scotland to see the stars.
But Paris: we’ll be back.
If you’d like to read about other short breaks in Europe, check out our feature.
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This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.