L'Insolite Boat Cruises on the Seine
Are you turned off by tour groups? Skip the big-name Paris sightseeing boats and cruise on L'Insolite, a boutique vessel for independent travelers.
Cruising on the Seine is fun on any size boat, but the big Paris sightseeing-boat companies share a dirty little secret: They cater heavily to tour groups, and their ships are often packed with hundreds of tourists. In contrast, L'Insolite--a boat that entered service in 2018--is both intimate in scale and free of tour-bus crowds. If you're an independent visitor to Paris, it's the ideal vessel for your sightseeing cruise on the Seine.
The Insolite was purpose-built as a small boutique sightseeing and event boat. (It's owned by Bateaux de Paris, which also operates two 19th Century-style paddlewheelers, Belle Vallée and Louisiana Belle, which are used for wedding receptions, corporate parties, and other events.)
The boat is basically an oval with open decks that are protected by an overhead canopy. You can sit at either end or in chairs that are set up in the center area when the vessel is used for cruising. The boat also has a bar, vending machines, and toilets.
The roundtrip voyage starts at the Pont Saint-Michel, cruises along the Right Bank to the Eiffel Tower, turns around, cruises along the Right Bank to the Institut du Monde Arab (just east of the Île Saint-Louis), then turns again and returns to the Pont Saint-Michel. Total cruise time is about 1 hour 15 minutes.
When we cruised on the Insolite in 2018, the boat also offered a reduced one-way "hop off" fare to the Eiffel Tower twice a day (at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.), with full-fare passengers staying on board for the return cruise to Pont Saint-Michel.
How to buy tickets:
As you walk across the Pont Saint-Michel from the Île de la Cité to the Right Bank, look for a temporary sign and an employee selling tickets at the top of the stone stairs that lead down to the Seine embankment. (This will be on the left side of the bridge as reach the Right Bank.)
If you see only the sign, look down the stairs, and you should see an employee selling tickets at a podium next to the moored boat.
Bateaux de Paris recommends that you be at the boat 15 minutes before departure. When we last updated this article in June of 2019, departure times were 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9:15 p.m. (The 9:15 pm cruise doesn't run on Sundays and holidays.) L'Insolite's season is spring through fall.
Fares are quite reasonable, with special rates for seniors and children from 5 to 12 years old. Kids 4 and under travel free.
If you want a recorded narration, you can pay a three-euro supplement for an audioguide in French, English, German, Italian, or Spanish. (During our cruise, we skipped the narration and just enjoyed the scenery along both banks of the Seine.)
For up-to-date information in French, click here.
BELOW: The captain of L'Insolite waits for passengers before departure. (The boat normally has a crew of two--the captain and a sailor--with a third Bateaux de Paris employee on shore to sell tickets.)
BELOW: Passengers board L'Insolite at the bottom of a staircase that leads down from the Pont Saint-Michel.
BELOW: This fisheye image shows seating under the Insolite's roof canopy. Passengers can move around or change seats whenever they wish.
BELOW: For taking pictures,
the best seats are in the bow and stern.
BELOW: Side-facing seats also offer great views. To see the shore up close, sit on the right (starboard) side. You'll have views of the Right Bank from the Pont Saint-Michel to the Eiffel Tower, and of the Left Bank after the boat turns around for the return journey. (If you'd rather watch river traffic, sit on the left or port side.)
BELOW: The toilets on the Insolite are accessible, but you won't find it easy to reach the boat in a wheelchair.
BELOW: L'Insolite passes under a bridge toward the end of its 75-minute cruise on the Seine.
Bateaux de Paris Web site:
The company has a Web site at www.bateauxdeparis.net, but it was available only in French when we last checked, and no information was given for sightseeing cruises. (There is, however, an Insolite page with information about the boat itself, including a downloadable deck plan.)
Few visitors to Paris are aware of L'Insolite, and the boat hasn't had many passengers when we've seen it cruising. We hope the Insolite will continue to cruise from the Pont Saint-Michel, and we think you'll enjoy it if you want a pleasant, relaxed sightseeing experience on the Seine.
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