The Berges de Seine (the Banks of the River Seine) describes the area striping the river Seine, which bisects the city into the Right Bank and Left Bank. As such, the parts worth visiting span several different neighborhoods and arrondissements. Let’s break it down in a way that makes it easy to pick and choose without wandering. (Although Paris is THE city for the wanderer…)
The Waterfront is a State of Mind.
You know how it is, the weather is just right…when you want to be on the waterfront, you want to be on the waterfront.
It’s a human impulse dating back to single-celled organisms struggling forth from the muck in search of a good French guinguette (open air resto-bar) and a frosty beer in July.
Yet the waterfront is the great unifier — where all walks of Parisian life stake a spot for a picnic or kick off their shoes and take in the sun.
When the weather is nice, the Berges de Seine are simply the place to be. (Or even when it’s not so nice…). To be free of cars and just watching Paris throw its green and its gold against the water and the water respond to Paris with glitter and light…When I catch those moments — that’s when I feel like the luckiest girl alive.
These are fundamental human urges: to picnic, to bike, to have dinner on a péniche — a boat moored to the dock. Or to rollerblade, a thing that’s bringing even more 90s back to Paris than all the mom jeans ever could (I just bought actual 1980s rainbow roller skates so watch out for me, I might mow you down…2020 made me WEIRD.)
Bonjour, East Side.
The East waterfront, from around the Hôtel de Ville to Gare d’Austerlitz and Bibliothèque Mitterand, are where you’ll find the péniche scene in full force (well, unless you venture to the hidden — to outsiders — nooks and crannies of Paris, like the Canal de l’Ourcq scene).
A péniche is a long, sturdy, river boat made for narrow French waterways that, in Paris, is often permanently retired from freight hauling, and has been moored to a neighborhood with a robust nightlife. In true Parisian style, many have been turned into places to eat and drink, or to dance and take in art and cinema. (As we mostly inhabit micro-apartments like Hong Kongaise or New Yorkers, we are mostly found out of our homes.)
The East side of the Berges de Seine has more contemporary architecture and bars catering to students, like the Crous péniche and guinguette, where the vibe is more of the youthful ruckus that comes with cheap drinks and everyone gunning to get laid instead of getting Michelin stars…
Can you see the Eiffel Tower? Now it’s time to get picky, as many of the places you see will be targeted at tourists. Only the Eiffel Tower itself gets a pass for this, and obviously you need to go there, right? But who wants to spend 12€ on a cup of tea?
Most of the restaurants near the Hôtel de Ville (4th arrondissement) side of the Berges are overpriced and mediocre but great for a drink when the sun is setting — you’ll feel like the luckiest human alive when the summer sun sets in an orange sherbet Paris sky (at least I do.) But again, wine is a factor, so who is to judge what kind of episode this is. A glass of rosé in hand and a spot on the water…what more could you ask for?
As I mentioned, for better dining options, venture up (or down, as it were) and away from the waterfront as it’s not known for the best food. And why waste even one meal in Paris where you just have to know where to look to find memorable meals at every price point. (No joke…)
For more and better dining, if you are near the Hôtel de Ville (which is not a hotel at all but our City Hall, where Anne Hidalgo, our first-ever female mayor, rules with an iron fist. Totally j/k…she’s cool. She’s responsible for damn-near turning Paris into Amsterdam — for bike lanes…not drugs. Sorry to get you excited, we got hugs not drugs. Still a bit conservative here in that regard…), walk northwards to the 2nd or 3rd arrondissements.
Above the Berges de Seine in the center of the city, the splendor of two of Paris’ best neighborhoods for food awaits you: Châtelet/Les Halles (the ancient “belly” of Paris) and Le Marais, the historic/gay/Jewish/fashion district (talk about intersectionality).
If you are closer to the Eiffel Tower, venture towards the little “food-truck »-style restaurant shacks just east of the Pont Alexandre III bridge (Brittany crêpes and Jampi ice cream are our #1 choice at Food Breizh). Skip the Alexandre III restaurant, they changed owners during the recent world ~excitement~, and now it’s not as good as it was. (It’s Paris, don’t sacrifice even one lunch to mediocrity…)
If you are near Alexandre III bridge, lunch at the Petit Palais is an unfussy, place-your-order-at-the-counter-affair, but in the garden of a museum-palace, so, yeah, it’s plastic-tray but Paris-style (lunch only and ~yay~ the museum is *free*).
For a more classic, sit-down experience, venture southwards and inland towards the Fontaine de Mars on Rue St. Dominique — that’s where the locals are hiding from the tourists! Especially at Les Cocottes de Cristian Constant. I personally love sitting at one of the spots around the fountain. There are little pockets for the locals, even near the world’s most famous monument! Act like you belong…