The Seine starts its life at Source-Seine, 18 miles north-west of Dijon, gives Paris its raison d’etre, and then meanders north, with many loops along the way to its estuary on the English Channel at Le Havre. Over 482 miles it touches the French countryside, passes through villages and cities, and has many historical sites alongside its riverbed.
Here I want to introduce you to my favorite stops along the Seine between Paris and Le Havre. Many river cruises start off in Paris, occasionally stopping off on their way to Le Havre. But not everybody has the time or the inclination to go on a cruise, and prefers instead, like I do, to explore on a road trip through northern France.
You can find all the listed places in consecutive order setting off from Paris, following this meandering river through the stretches called the Lower Seine, between Paris and Rouen, and the Maritime Seine, between Rouen and Le Havre.
All these places are easily reached one at a time from Paris as day trips. I have enjoyed them from my home in Paris and know that depending on how much time you are spending in France, each day or weekend will bring something new to explore.
Saint-Germain-En-Laye, Yvelines, Ile De France
This is hands-down my favorite Parisian suburb. I should not call it a suburb, but the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye lies a mere 12 miles, a 30-minute ReR ride from Paris, so it is well within the commuter belt.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye has a chateau that dates to the 1100s and is best known as Louis XIV’s place of birth. Today it is an archaeological museum, and from the public gardens, you have all of Paris stretched out below you. The town’s market is one of the best in and around Paris.
Pro Tip: Come on a Friday, go to the market square, sit on the terrace of the Cafe de l’industrie with a coffee and a croissant, and watch the world go by before going sight-seeing.
La Roche-Guyon, Val D’Oise, Ile De France
La Roche-Guyon is a tiny community 47 miles from Paris, voted among the most beautiful villages in France, and known for its chateau. There are two aspects to the Chateau de la Roche-Guyon, one, the fortified part dating to the 12th century at the top of the hill and with parts that have been excavated into the chalk hill overlooking the Seine, and an extended country mansion from the 14th century further down the hill. From the village, there are some beautiful walks along the river, including a walk along Promenade Guy offering a peek at some rather attractive real estate.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the historic kitchen gardens of the chateau. It is a magnificent walled garden across the road from the chateau’s entrance toward the river. Access is included in the ticket for the castle.
Vernon And Giverny, Normandy
While both Vernon and Giverny deserve their own listing, I put them together here because not only are they only a few miles from each other, but also, you will arrive in Vernon by train, or car, first, before heading onward to Giverny. Vernon has a lovely old town center with half-timbered houses, but its main attraction to me is the old mill on the half-ruined bridge that once crossed the Seine. It’s a perfect picnic spot.
Giverny has become famous because it is home to Monet’s house and garden, where you can see the water lily pond that inspired so many of his pictures. There is also the Museum of Impressionists, but the draw is the garden. I have visited it throughout the year, and every season offers something special.
Pro Tip: It might be stating the obvious, but try to see the garden in spring, when the trellised bridge is solid with wisteria in flower. But get a timed-ticket online and arrive before opening time to avoid the crowds.
Les Andelys, Normandy
A popular stop-off point for river cruises, Les Andelys is a picture-perfect little town nestled between the river and the chalk cliffs. Look up, and you will see the truly imposing Chateau-Gaillard constructed for Richard the Lionheart between 1196 and 1198. From its elevation, the views are as grand as the old castle. The hike up and walk around the castle is like history coming alive, and you’ll find some nice trees up by the castle for a picnic.
Pro Tip: Painter Nicolas Poussin was born nearby and Les Andelys has a museum showcasing many of his works.
Rouen is the capital of Normandy and is worth an overnight stay. The city is filled with half-timbered buildings, the cathedral is where Richard the Lionheart (you’ve just seen his castle at Les Andelys), left his lionheart, embalmed and enshrined. This is where Joan of Arc was trialed and burnt at the stake, where Monet painted, and where you can spend hours walking through the narrow alleyways, eat at great restaurants and shop for a souvenir or two.
Pro Tip: Wander along Rue-de-Eau-de-Robec, where a stream flows underground but is remembered with various memorials, and where one cafe and restaurant neighbors another.
Abbaye Notre-Dame De Jumieges
The Jumieges Abbey, a ruin of an abbey founded back in 654 A.D., lies in an oxbow of the Seine 12 miles downstream from Rouen. Placed in a near-perfect location, and rich, the monastery was invaded by pretty much everyone from the Vikings to the Huguenots. Ransacked, rebuilt, re-consecrated by William the Conqueror in 1064, and finally destroyed in the French Revolution, this abbey has seen it all. The abbey may lie in ruins, but it is still imposing, and the setting is simply gorgeous.
Pro Tip: The village of Jumieges is lovely, with many other historical buildings, such as the 12th century St Valentine’s Chapel.
Parc Naturelle Regionale Des Boucles De La Seine
Created in 1947, the Meanders of the Seine Natural Park is situated between the cities of Rouen and Le Havre. Spread across 81,000 hectares, this is green land perfect for walking, stopping off at various points of interest, such as the above-mentioned Jumieges Abbey or the thatched cottages dotted throughout, the ecomuseum, or simply enjoying the plethora of wildlife and plants that call this protected environment home.
Pro Tip: This park covers a wide area, so it is easier to select a trail to follow before you set off.
Just when you think France cannot get any prettier, along comes Honfleur. This is without a doubt one of the prettiest harbors in France, so picturesque that you will see most of it through the lens of your camera. Crooked colorful houses line the little harbor basin, cafes and restaurants dotted around serve the perfect moules-frites, the fishing boats look straight out of a souvenir shop, and the churches appear ancient. Needless to say, Honfleur has inspired many artists, so a look at the Fine Arts Museum is a must, but otherwise, I’d suggest not to go overboard with sightseeing; instead, just get lost in the narrow lanes and explore around the old harbor at leisure.
Pro Tip: Feast on the best fresh scallops at Le Vieux Honfleur right by the old harbor.
Le Havre marks the end of your trip down the Seine from Paris. This is where the Seine joins the English Channel, and, not surprisingly, where you find a major port city. One that suffered badly in the war. Crossing over the impressive 7,032-foot-long Pont de Normandie spanning the estuary is a great way to arrive in Le Havre. Apart from the seemingly endless beach, there are a few must-sees in the port city, and those are of particular interest to lovers of architecture. Head for St Joseph’s Church, designed by Auguste Perret, aficionado of using reinforced concrete in building and mentor of Le Corbusier. Do go inside and look up the inside of the tower, it is stunning. Then there is the Oscar Niemeyer Cultural Centre, a concrete volcano by the harbor basin, and the Modern Art Museum, Muma, rounding off a truly modern approach to rebuilding a city.
Pro Tip: If modern architecture is not your thing, then pop into the Maison de l’Armateur for a perfectly preserved slice of life in 1790.
Whether you explore the Seine between Paris and Le Havre via river-cruise, on a road trip, or during days out, following a river in France is always a good way to explore the countryside and communities along the way. But I especially think that this stretch of the Seine has so much variety, from ancient history to modern cities, and so much beautiful countryside in between that makes for a worthy addition to your itinerary for your next France trip. For additional inspiration, consider