A First Timer’s Guide to Paris and Normandy on Viking (2024)

A First Timer’s Guide to Paris and Normandy on Viking (1)

Les Andelys on a Seine River Cruise from Chateau Gaillard (Photo: Peter Falk, courtesy of Viking)

A First Timer’s Guide to Paris and Normandy on Viking (2)

Les Andelys on a Seine River Cruise from Chateau Gaillard (Photo: Peter Falk, courtesy of Viking)

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Standing on the sun deck in the evening air, watching the lights of Paris reflecting on the city’s rippling waterways …it’s hard to picture a better home base to explore the City of Lights than a river cruise.

I’m firmly in the camp that believes that Paris is always a good idea; it’s where I’ve celebrated everything from my honeymoon to milestone birthdays. But even after having visited multiple times, sailing down the Seine for the first time presented an entirely new perspective to the enchanting city.

And Paris, I discovered, was just the first of the delights of a Viking river cruise along the Seine. Gliding west along the river revealed a treasure trove of castles, chateaus, churches, cathedrals, and charming towns as we sailed into the heart of Normandy.

From the flowering gardens of Giverny to the soaring spires of Rouen, the river never ceased to amaze and delight, both from the comfort of the ship and on the easy-to-reach shores.

Here are some of my favorite first time experiences of a river cruise through the heart of the Seine, Paris, and Normandy.

A Ship With a View

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Viking Longship Radgrid on the Seine in Paris (Photo: Viking)

A room with a view is one of the ultimate luxuries in Paris; but, being able to see the Eiffel Tower from a hotel drives the price into the stratosphere (the best I’ve done in the past is a sliver of the tower, only spotted when standing on my tiptoes). So I was especially delighted to discover my Seine cruise aboard Radgrid with Viking was not only docked in the heart of the city, but also had a front row seat for prime Eiffel Tower views.

A true highlight: A simple stroll up to the top deck in the evening rewarded me with the landmark’s glittering evening light show, without any of the city’s crowds and without having to step off the ship (I even wore slippers).

Paris is lovely on its own, but sailing down the waterway that creates its beating heart presents an even more majestic view. 37 bridges traverse the Seine, and while I’ve wandered over a few, departing Paris on my Viking Longship, sitting on my private balcony and seeing the sculptural elements up close, was a magical experience. Not to mention being side-by-side with the replica Statue of Liberty in the middle of the waterway, a unique city view.

Delightful Ports

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Viking Radgrid in La Roche Guyon (Photo: Adam Coulter/Cruise Critifc)

One of the top reasons to sail the Seine with Viking is to step into the storybook towns that line the riverbanks. Many of these were established in the middle ages, dating back a thousand years to when the primary mode of transportation was by boat. So approaching from the water provides a thoroughly authentic entrance.

And the ease of visiting ports was a delight, too. Our Viking Longship would silently slip into place, the gangplank was secured, and within 10 minutes or so, passengers were strolling onto riverside paths and directly into town. I’ve never reached a destination faster (certainly not the time I rented a car in France and couldn’t maneuver through the narrow cobblestone streets).

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The Gardens of Chateau Guillard in La Roche Guyon (Photo: Adam Coulter)

Some of my favorite stops: tiny La Roche-Guyon, where gardens greeted me as I stepped off the ship, leading me up to a perfectly preserved chateau which held sublime tapestries from the 18th century; Rouen, where I explored the Beaux Arts museum and found galleries of Impressionist paintings of the very views I had been enjoying on my journey; and a stroll through the postcard-pretty streets of Les Andelys, which turned up an antique store with vintage silver serving pieces I had evidently been needing all my life.

Spectacular Staff

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The chef on French Night on a Viking Longship (Photo: Adam Coulter)

“Be sure to visit the bakery,” my friendly Viking room attendant told me when she saw me donning my jacket to step outside in La Roche-Guyon. “It’s better than Paris!” With an enticement like that, how could I resist? (And she was right, they were, without a doubt, some of the best eclairs and croissants I’ve ever eaten.)

On a Viking river cruise, I discovered it's easy to get to know the staff – they’re constantly making sure you have what you need and learn your names and preferences nearly instantly. At breakfast, the chef remembered how I liked my eggs, in the evening the bartender knew a late night port was my preferred nightcap. And the program director topped it all like a cherry on a sundae.

Sometimes she was like a late night television host, personally hosting cheese tastings, giving insightful and funny port talks, and breaking the ice for the many groups of new cruisers.

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Wreath-laying at the American Cemetery on a Viking Paris & the Heart of Normandy Seine River Cruise (Photo: Adam Coulter)

Most impressive for me, though, was when she accompanied the ship’s guests to the American Cemetery in Normandy. She arranged a private wreath laying ceremony just for our group, and moved the servicemen and women who were sailing with us into a honor line in front. It was one of the most memorable, and emotional, moments of the trip, in large part due to her very personal touch.

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Culture Comes On Board

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French Night on a Viking River Cruise (Photo: Adam Coulter)

I quickly learned that river cruises by necessity have limited entertainment space due to their intimate size. But what surprised me on my Viking cruise along the Seine was how varied the evenings could be thanks to new entertainers who came onboard at nearly every port.

In this way, Paris and Normandy came alive every evening in the lounge with live local music ranging from Parisian opera singers to pianists to jazz musicians from Rouen, all of whom would normally be top attractions at venues in their home ports.

When the lounge wasn’t hosting musical diversions, there was a thrilling enrichment activity, whether a regional wine and cheese tastings, French high tea, expert lectures, or even a hands-on painting opportunity.

French Wining & Dining

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Dessert selection on Viking River Cruise on the Seine (Photo: Adam Coulter)

The French are famous for their cuisine, and it can often consume my days trying to figure out where to eat when I’m visiting so that I don’t miss a regional specialty. It turns out I had no reason to worry about missing a single bite of anything, though, on a Viking river cruise.

Garlic-drenched escargot, spoon-tender duck that was cooked for days, crackling creme brulee, and cream-filled profiteroles––the best of regional French tastes were highlighted every day on my Paris & the Heart of Normandy cruise, and no two menus were alike since the cuisine represented the town of the day. Not to mention the grand buffet,Taste of Normandy, featuring a variety of Normandy specialties that greeted us in the dining room when we alighted in Vernon on our way to Giverny. Calvados apple brandy, pate en croute, creamy reblochon cheese – the only problem was choosing what to sample first.

Ship Life That's Just the Right Size

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Breakfast on the Aquavit Terrace (Credit: Viking)

The intimate size of a river cruise on the Seine was also a delightful surprise. As someone who prefers a personality- and service-filled boutique hotel to a massive high rise tower, a Viking river cruise felt like I had stepped into my favorite land-based hotel. It was easy to reach the restaurant, lounge, and sun deck in just a few moments, and with less than 100 rooms onboard, there was never a possibility of waiting in a line.

Plus, the small size lends itself to a convivial atmosphere of like-minded travelers. I found that whether I was sharing a communal table in the main restaurant, getting a cup of coffee, or enjoying a glass of wine in the lounge, it was easy to strike up a conversation about the French countryside or simply the view we were all enjoying out the window.

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Veranda Stateroom on the Viking Gullveig

Just like my favorite hotels, I found that Viking river cruise staterooms are attentive to comfort and style. My room included a delightfully plush bed; plenty of storage in dressers that ran the length of the wall and in closets that had shelves and deep hanging rods; and even heated bathroom floors.

The best part, though, were the windows. Since all of Viking’s staterooms are “outside” cabins, they all have a view. And there’s always something happening on the river – there’s no such thing as a day of scenic sailing on the Seine. Just kicking off my shoes and stretching out on the bed brought an evolving look at the rolling scenery, and life along the shore.

Terrific, Included Tours

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American Cemetery in Normandy (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Every day of a river cruise shines a spotlight on the port of the day with a guided tour. Viking’s inclusive value provides one included tour in every port. These tapped into local experts and guides with a wealth of knowledge and insider tips for exploring. Some of my most memorable moments were on Viking's shore tours of the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery as part of a full-day excursion where our guide helped create the context of what the people of the area had lived through, including his family, as the drama of the war played out around them.

Another highlight: The Chateau de Malmaison, the home of Napoleon and Josephine just outside of Paris; a hidden gem I don’t think I would have found on my own, where our guide talked about Josephine like she was Kim Kardshian (which is to say beautiful and way smarter than anyone gave her credit for.)

My First River Cruise, But Definitely Not My Last

Ports that are riverside treasures, endless sightseeing from the comfort of a cozy room, incredible staff, fabulous food, and a ringside seat to all of the wonders of Paris and the Seine. It’s easy to say that although this was my first river cruise in France, it certainly won’t be my last.

A First Timer’s Guide to Paris and Normandy on Viking (2024)
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