If you are in Paris, one of the things you must do is see the City of Lights at night. As a person who was on the fence about taking a night cruise down the Seine let me tell you that this ended up being one of the highlights of my recent trip.
Picking a Tour Company
There are 3 main boat cruising tour companies in Paris: Bauteaux Mouches, Vendettes du Pont Neuf and Batobus. All of these companies will compete for your business and offer very similar day, night and dinner cruises. Of the 3 companies, Bateaux Mouches has the largest fleet or boats and appeared to have the most seating available. Batobus had more boats running during the day and appeared to have their passengers mostly standing.
I used Vendettes du Pont Neuf as it was the closest to my hotel. Their boat had both upper and lower decks for observation mostly sitting and was what I would consider a cross between the other two companies. Vendettes du Pont Neuf is located just off the oldest bridge in Paris, Pont Neuf with very clear signage and is very easy to find.
The night I decided to take a cruise, I had seen an advertisement for their 1 hour Seine cruise for a low 13 Euros. I asked my hotel concierge about it, and was actually directed to buy a ticket on their website for 10 Euros. The only catch was, to get the cheaper ticket, you had to specify what time you wanted to take the cruise and not buy the open end ticket. The process was very easy and didn’t even direct me to make an account with them. All I needed was my phone and an e-mail address (and credit card of course).
My hotel was only about a 10 minute walk from the Pont Neuf, but I was afraid to buy a ticket for a timed cruise that potentially could have a long line of people. I bought my ticket at 8:20 pm for the 9:15 cruise. About 2 minutes after my purchase was confirmed, I received an e-mail with a QR code that would double as my ticket. It said to print it out, but you really don’t have to. I checked with the hotel concierge just in case before I left and walked over.
Get There Early!
It was a warm night, I really wasn’t sure what to wear as some people really were dressed up, but there is definitely no dress code. I saw a large range of people in jeans, dresses and even shorts. The once thing I will say is that it can be really chilly on the water. I would encourage you to bring a coat or sweater with you.
Going back to the story….I arrived at the Vendettes du Pont Neuf stand at about 8:45 p.m. I could not believe how many people were already there and in line! I thought I was early, but 30 minutes almost was not enough time. I was one of the last passengers that would board the boat. If you did not have a ticket or an online purchase, there was a ticket window available to sell you tickets.
We stood in line until about 9:10 pm when the line finally moved. The tour company collected the paper tickets and had tablets to scan any QR codes on peoples digital tickets. My only gripe was that the line was not very well organized when it came to finding seats. Everyone ahead of me rushed to the upper deck of the boat to grab their spot. I actually fell on the stairs by a person pushing me out of the way to look for seats. The configuration was 2 by 2.
The tour guide, Emma was amazingly helpful and held the line after I fell to ensure I wasn’t trampled. I couldn’t believe how aggressive some people are. Wait until you hear about my Mona Lisa story! As a solo traveler, I was luckily at an advantage at least as there were a handful of seats open with odd numbered parties. We had almost enough seats. To me, the boat appeared to hold about 75-100 people on the upper deck.
The Cruise Begins
Once the boat was boarded, photographers came upstairs to take photos of anyone in a group. I was actually really disappointed that they skipped me as I said I was traveling by myself and didn’t even offer to take one for me. I would have probably purchased it as a fun souvenir. Oh well. The photos would be available for viewing after the cruise at the kiosk next to the Vendettes du Pont Neuf ticket window.
The boat headed past the Louvre, Musee D’ Orsay and many of the fameous bridges and museums towards the Eiffel tower. Emma, the guide, did a great job explaining a little bit about each monument and bridges were passed. I tried to take some videos and photos, but the boat was moving a little faster than I would have liked. If you want good night time photos, don’t waste your time trying to see if the photos came out. Just take your pictures and have a good time. You can always review and edlete the ones you don’t like later.
You also will get a chance on the return trip back up the Seine. We took about 20 minutes to reach the Eiffel tower and paused there for about 5 minutes. Now, if you take a boat tour at about 10 minutes or 15 minutes to the hour after sunset, you will have the added treat of having the tower sparkle for you for a solid 5 minutes. I wish I had personally known that ahead of time.
When the boat turned around, we made our way back past the starting point around the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame is. It’s sad that the cathedral was so dark, but amazing to see how much restoration work has already progressed. Due to the hotter than normal summer in Paris, Notre Dame’s lead levels rose higher than was safe for the public. I have the sneaking suspicion that tourists may be allowed to potentially get closer to the cathedral next year if the lead levels are in the normal range. By then, it had been about 40 minutes.
The highlight of the tour for me, was seeing some several large groups of people enjoying a “dance club” night out by the Seine. There were people of all ages dancing the Salsa, Tango, Swing, Hip Hop and so much more. I wish I had been able to get off the boat to join them! Apparently after dark this pop up dance club is the norm. The boat guide, Emma let us know that you often will see dancers out until 2 am on some nights! Only in Paris!
When our boat reached the edge of the Pont Sully near the Ile Saint Louis, it did did not turn around the way we came, but went around the Ile Sain Louis. This island of Paris holds the most expensive homes in the city and some of the most famous architecture. After 50 minutes of cruising the Seine, we ended up docking back under the Pont Neuf at the tour company HQ.
While we passed many dinner cruises and boats with a lot less seating that looked crowded, Vendettes du Pont Neuf to me had the perfect sized cruising boat. An hour cruise is well worth the ticketing price and is just enough time to wet your appetite for more. For me, I don’t often venture out too late at night, but I really enjoyed my time out and about. I don’t think I would have done a longer cruise unless the boat went further up or down the Seine.
Emma was an excellent guide and it really is the guide that will make or break the experience! When we were getting off the boat, I was really sad to see very few people tipping the guide. We disembarked the boat and the moment you got off you could see the photos being sold at the kiosk from earlier. I didn’t glance at the prices since I was still a little annoyed from earlier.
My main takeaway is that you absolutely should do a cruise down the Seine if you are in Paris.Any of the main companies look like they will provide you with an unforgettable experience. Night is the best, but remember to take a jacket as it can get chilly. Ensure your phone or camera is fully charged too! Until next time, happy travels!