A trip to Paris is always a dream, with its 20 arrondissements (districts) to explore, the iconic Eiffel Tower twinkling at night, and the city’s historic arts scene. Vincent van Gogh lived here for two years refining his craft, and Picasso found inspiration here from the city’s cafes, nightclubs, and art galleries. The Louvre, arguably one of the best art museums in the world, draws in crowds daily, as does the Montmartre neighborhood, with its cobblestone streets, charming sidewalk cafes, stunning basilica, and Moulin Rouge history. Located along the Seine River, Paris is a must for the travel bucket list, but once you’re done exploring the city, consider some other noteworthy towns along the Seine River.
On Viking Cruises’ Paris and the Heart of Normandy river cruise along the Seine, port stops include small villages and communities full of life, history, great food, and gorgeous views. Here, our must-see spots.
A small commune along the Seine, Les Andelys is known for its medieval castle ruins that overlook the town. The ruins, which you can walk through, are Château Gaillard, a castle built by Richard the Lionheart in 1196. From the top, you’ll get stunning views of the town and Seine River below, and if you’re lucky, like I was, you might even get a rainbow after a light rain shower. After walking through the limestone ruins, head back to town and stop by a local pub for a bottle of Richard the Lionheart beer, only available in this part of France. À votre santé! (Cheers to your health)
The capital of Normandy, Rouen is full of history from the Middle Ages through World War II. The Notre-Dame Cathedral is a must see, as it’s the tallest cathedral in France with jaw-dropping gothic architecture. It took almost 400 years to complete the cathedral, and artist Claude Monet was captivated by it, having painted it more than 30 times in different light. Inside, towering stained glass windows leave you speechless, and you’ll also see the tomb that holds Richard the Lionheart’s heart and other relics.
Plagues are also a part of Rouen’s history, as they ravaged the city during the Middle Ages. During the Black Plague, so many people died at the same time that there wasn’t room in graveyards for burial, let alone enough time as the death rate climbed. In Rouen’s city center, Aitre St-Maclou became the city’s burial ground, and corpses were buried here in a plague pit. A new plague started here in 1520, once again decimating Rouen, and a half-timbered, wooden ossuary was built around the old plague pit to use for storing bones from those who died during the previous plague. The atrium and galleries being used to store bones gave more space for common graves, and the grounds were used for burials until the last plague in 1668. You won’t see this kind of building anywhere else in France, as it’s one of the last remaining medieval ossuaries in Europe. Aitre St-Maclou became a historical site in the 1860s, and today houses exhibitions and a cafe. All remains were moved outside the city in a new common grave in the 18th century.
Other noteworthy Rouen experiences include dining at La Couronne, where Julia Child experienced her first meal in France and became inspired to teach the world about French cuisine, snapping a picture of Gros-Horloge, the large clock tower in Rouen’s main shopping street, and stopping by Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc, a modern church on the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
With quaint bakeries and flower shops dotting the streets, La Roche-Guyon is one of the most beautiful villages in France. The village’s most iconic site is the Château de La Roche-Guyon, built in the 12th century and its manor house below, built in the 13th century. Take a tour of the chateau that sits along the Seine and climb your way up to the crypt, chapels, dungeon, and pigeonnier. A pigeonnier was a room with holes in the walls to house pigeons, which people ate. Having a pigeonnier was a symbol of status. Once you’ve reached the top past the dungeon, take in sweeping views of the village below.
Vincent van Gogh fans will want to explore Auvers-sur-Oise, the small commune that was the painter’s final resting place and a source of inspiration. Van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life here painting the French countryside. See the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption church, painted by van Gogh in his final days, and then see his grave at a cemetery up the hill, next to the field where he shot himself. Van Gogh didn’t die in the field though, but made his way back to town, where he died at his bedside. You can visit the place where he died, l’auberge Ravoux, which still has original decor and furnishings.
Although Normandy is an entire region in northern France, the beaches of Normandy, particularly Omaha, Gold, and Juno beaches, that were a major part of D-Day in 1944 are must sees. These beaches were part of the largest amphibious invasion in military history, as allied forces worked to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation. Head to the Caen Memorial Museum first to brush up on WWII history, then head out to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, where nearly 9,400 American soldiers are buried. The graves all face west to face the U.S. You’ll also see the Garden of the Missing, where more than 1,500 names of those never found after D-Day are remembered. There’s a visitor center on site, and you can walk out onto the historic beaches to take it all in. Notice American flags flying next to French flags in the yards of nearby villagers? It’s because many still fly the American flag as a way to say thank you for their freedom from Nazi rule. On my journey with Viking Cruises, our guides organized a special wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial, where we laid a wreath down to honor those who fought here on D-Day. We also held a moment of silence, sang the national anthem, and honored the military veterans on our ship. It was an experience of a lifetime, and made visiting Normandy so special.
See French opulence at its finest at the Château de Versailles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where three French kings, most notably Louis VIX, lived lavishly. The Hall of Mirrors, full of its sparkling chandeliers and towering mirrors, is a must see, as it’s also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which ended WWI. Then there’s the Hercules Drawing Room with its massive painted ceiling, the state apartments of the king, and Marie Antionette’s bedroom, among other sections. After exploring inside, head outside to walk through the sprawling, elaborate gardens. In total, Versailles has about 2,300 rooms, so there’s plenty to see here.
How to Get There
Dallas Fort Worth International Airport has nonstop flights from DFW to Paris, France. After arriving in Paris, board your river ship with Viking Cruises for the Paris and the Heart of Normandy cruise, and expert guides in each city take you through the sites, towns, restaurants, and more for an insider’s look at life along the Seine River. Viking works with local tour companies to allow its guests exclusive access to museums and sites, plus provides exclusive experiences not available to the general public.