I was never a big cruise person, but the river cruise in Europe is something quite different. My Paris river cruise was an amazing experience, and I would highly recommend a river cruise to anyone looking for a unique way to see Europe.
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The Paris river cruise went from the capital up the river Seine (the river flows north westward) to Normandy, with the first major stop in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and Auvers-sur-Mer.
Conflans-Sainte-Honorine is a charming little city right on the banks of the river seine, but the real draw is nearby Auvers-sur-Oise,the burial place of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh lived and painted here before his death and is quote as saying the village of Auvers was “seriously beautiful”.
You can visit the church and field he painted, his grave alongside his brother Theo, the place he took his own life, and the town castle Chateau d’Auvers. It really is a neat experience.
Tip: Make sure to take impressionist art tour inside the Chateau d’Auvers (pictured above). The interactive experience takes you through the lives and times of the world’s greatest modern artists.
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Next major stop is Rouen, the ancient capital of Normandy. This was one of the highlights for me as it really captured medieval France in all its beauty and glory.
Full of half timbered houses, little courtyards and winding streets lined with cute cafes, and a gigantic Gothic cathedral that takes your breath away when you first see it, Rouen is the cultural and historic hub of Normandy. Truly one of the great architectural feats of the late middle ages, depictions of Rouen Cathedral have made the vast edifice many visitors’ favorite in the city, but there are also many museums to explore, the Gros Horloge clock tower, and the modern church dedicated to Joan of Arc.
Did you know? Joan of Arc was tried and ultimately burned at the stake for heresy in Rouen in 1431.
Sitting along the river Seine up from Rouen, lie the ancient ruins of Jumièges Abbey.
Once one of the most renowned and powerful religious institutions in Europe, the ruins impress by their scale and their setting in a beautiful valley along the River Seine. The original Jumièges Abbey goes back all the way to 654, founded on a gift of forested land by the Merovingian King Clovis II dedicated to Saint Philibert.
The abbey was abandoned for a time after the Viking invasions, then found new life under William Longsword in the 11th century, and eventually was stripped for stone during the violent years of the French Revolution.
The picturesque seaside town of Étretat has been the setting for many impressionist painters over the years, and for good reason.
Set along the Normandy coast up just a ways from the Seine River, the white cliffs, green landscape, and long beaches made this a popular spa town in the 18th and 19th centuries. You’ll also find an 18-hole golf course flanked by gorgeous gardens on either side.
Ah, Honfleur, perhaps the most iconic city in Normandy, and my absolute favorite on this Paris river cruise.
Colorful half-timbered houses, a historic harbor, quaint medieval streets, art galleries and cute restaurants make this city along the Seine estuary a must see.
Along with Etretat, this medieval historic harbor has been the setting for many of the world’s most impressionist painters. You may recognize the harbor in paintings and photos as it’s been the subject of thousands of artworks over the decades.
Another wonderful feature of this gorgeous city is the church of Église Sainte Catherine. Saint Catherine’s church is France’s largest timber-built church with a separate bell tower, and a roof made from the hull of an old ship.
In fact, this is the only church in the world with two ship hulls used as a roof. Set against the cobble stone streets and medieval buildings, it’s a sight to behold.
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Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches
Of course no trip to Normandy is complete without a visit to the D-Day landing beaches.
Situated along the northern coast of France, there are officially five landing zones the Allied forces used to land their forces for the D-Day invasion, which ultimately ended WWII. On this Paris river cruise, I visited both Omaha and Gold beach.
The coastline is beautiful dotted with numerous quaint French villages, but you are often reminded of the terrible conflict that took place here. There are dozens of museums along the coast and countryside commemorating the heroes that fought and died for the freedom of Europe.
You could easily spend multiple days exploring just this stretch of coastline, but one thing you won’t want to miss is the American Cemetery, not far from Omaha Beach in the village of Colleville-sur-Mer. The cemetery site covers 172 acres and contains the graves of 9,386 of American soldiers, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.
Between Paris and Rouen on the Seine River sits the endearing little town of Vernon.
Vernon transports you back in history with streets of half-timbered houses, a countryside châteaux, and one of the few remaining old medieval mills. The city and its historic flair were painted by one of history’s greatest artists, Claude Monet, who lived just across the river.
As you would imagine, a Paris river cruise ends its journey in Paris, offering wonderfully unique views of the French capital.
Hopefully, you will start or stop your cruise at night so you may get a chance to see the Eifel Tower and mini Statue of Liberty at night. Every ten minutes the Eifel Tower dazzles the city with sparkling lights.