Bernard Lee
The Only Way to See Paris 2011

There is only one good way to see Paris, and that is on a boat. While other tourist groups drive around a blazing hot city on top of hop-on-hop-off- buses, or try to make sense of the metro system to go from one place to the next, those travelers who want to relax can just sit on a boat and see the monuments glide by. Not only do they have an unobstructed view of the most famous buildings of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame and the Louvre. They see a row of beautifully decorated famous Parisian bridges, each with its own history and style.

So it’s no wonder that the Bateaux Mouches boat ride on the Seine is one of the most popular tourist activities in Paris, with 2,5 million passengers a year. In summer, the fleet of boats cruise the river every day and evening, just as they’ve been doing for over fifty years. Bateaux-Mouches is the most widely known operator of the boats in Paris, founded by Jean Bruel. Its name, Bateaux Mouches, translates literally as "fly boats" ("fly" meaning the insect); however, the name comes from the fact that they were originally made in boatyards that were in the Mouche area of Lyon.

These boats have always been popular tourist attractions in Paris. They started with steamers at an Exhibition in 1867. The Steamers stopped running in the slowdown of the Great Depression, but made a comeback after World War II. Today the Compagnie des Bateaux Mouches is the oldest company that operates boat tours. On busy days in high season, boats constantly move up and down the river. Many seat several hundred people, often with an open upper deck and an enclosed lower deck; some have sliding roofs and windows that can close to protect the open deck in bad weather. The tour includes a recorded commentary on the sights along the river in many languages, including mandarin, and lots of photo opportunities.

Since the Seine is in the center of Paris, a boat tour covers a great deal of the city. Both the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) and the Right Bank (Rive Droite) can be seen from the boat. The tour starts at Pont d’Alma on the Right Bank, then goes on to Concorde, the Louvre and Hôtel de Ville before turning at Île-Saint-Louis and riding up the Left Bank past the Eiffel Tower. The best part, however, is seeing the bridges. They sometimes appear so low that you can touch their stonework. Each bridge has its own architectural style. Some are modern, others medieval, all are beautiful.

Some famous landmarks visible from the boat:

Eiffel Tower: Tower named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, who designed and built the monument. It was erected in 1889, as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair. Not everyone liked it - some of France's famous artists and intellectuals criticized its design, but it did go on to become one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

Notre Dame: This cathedral is a fine examples of French Gothic architecture, and one of the largest and most well-known churches in the world. The cathedral was completed by 1345. Originally, the famous statues were colored, as was most of the exterior.

Alexander III Bridge: The most ornate, extravagant bridge in the city. It is named after Tsar Alexander III, who concluded the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892. The bridge was inaugurated for the 1900 World Fair, and has gigantic gold statues and intricate metal work.

Pont Neuf: The oldest standing bridge across the river Seine, completed in 1606. All through the 18th century, the Pont Neuf was the center of Paris, with street performers, charlatans, hustlers and pickpockets. Among the many businesses there were several famous tooth pullers.

Orsay Museum: A museum housed in the former railway station between 1898 and 1900. By 1939 the station's platforms were deemed too short for longer trains, so now it has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. It was also used as a set for several films.

Louvre: This museum was originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century and later became a Royal Palace, until Louis XIV decided to go live in Versailles in 1682, and the Louvre became a place to display the royal collection. Now it is the world's most visited museum, with nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century exhibited over an area of 60,600 square metres.

Les Invalides: This monument is a burial site for some of France's war heroes, the most famous one being Napoleon Bonaparte. It was built in 1670 as a home and hospital for veterans, hence its name, which is a shortened form of hôpital des invalids. The modern complex does still include facilities for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers but through the centuries, an impressive row of halls have been built to extend the complex.