With the sun setting over the west of Paris, the last few rays cause the gilded bridge, Pont Alexandre III, to sparkle overhead. Joggers and cyclists speed along the river while the rest of us clink glasses of rosé perched in a café, or with our legs dangling listlessly above the river. From the banks of the Seine, Parisians and visitors alike congregate, watching the boats float by on the Seine, thinking only of whether they should order another glass or not.
Welcome to springtime in Paris - outdoor seating is in high demand. The café terraces are jam-packed. The Canal is heavy with hipsters. The grassy patches of the Tuilieries Gardens are filled with picnickers. Fortunately, there is a local hangout that still has plenty of space for some alfresco tibbles - the Berges de Seine. Day and night, it's a great alternative to stuffy clubs and cafés when spring and summer are in full swing.
The berges, or riverbanks, reopened in 2013 after renovations and are the new 'it' place to be. That's if the crowds are any indication. Stretched between the Eiffel Tower to the west and the Musée d'Orsay in the east, it's basically a paved waterfront promenade for joggers, bikers, and walkers with plenty of space for picnics.
Spending a warm summer evening by the Seine is a popular Parisian pastime, and while other waterside watering holes do exist in Paris, the berges offers something quite unique. Le Quai Francois Mauriac in the 13th arrondissement, popular among locals, has floating bars and seasonal restaurants, including a stellar pizzeria, offering a similar ambiance to the berges. However, unlike Le Quai, the Berges de Seine is situated in the middle of the city's most visited attractions, making it an easily-accessible, if not inevitable stop for anyone visiting Paris.
All-in-one: Sightseeing and Evening Drinks
On a warm sunny day, there are few places to settle with as much sun and monumental architecture in every direction. Between the Grand Palais, the Pont Alexandre III, and the Louvre, a visit to the Berges de Seine doubles as a healthy dose of sightseeing. Easily accessible by Vélib, metro, or taxi, it's also one of the best places to watch the sun set ever so slowly during the increasingly long summer days.
While marketed as a family-friendly destination, once the sun goes down, the berges become an adult playground. Several bars, mostly focused around the Pont Alexandre III - the bridge with the gold horses on it - keep Parisians and tourists alike happy with a host of food and drink options. While it's far from a seedy or dodgy crowd, this area doesn't attract Paris's most prim and proper, and it's not the place to go for expertly mixed cocktails either. Here, the Parisians keep it simple and classic.
While there's only a select handful of bars and cafes here, they all offer their own unique character, so it's good to know what you can expect from each. For those after a bit more upscale environment, Faust offers a sun-soaked terrace with waiter service, where you can watch the masses wander past. Fashionistas and suits on their way home from work might stop for a drink and end up staying for hours; order a bottle of chilled rosé and settle in for the evening (daily 11AM-12PM). They also finally opened a restaurant built into the base of the bridge, with a two-course lunch for 29 euros and dinner dishes that are far from unreasonably priced.
At the opposite end of the scale, and on the opposite side of the bridge, you'll find the relaxed Flow, which is more like a beach-side cabana. There's a seating section with tables where waiters serve up beer and plates of cheese and charcuterie, plus they have dozens of lounge chairs available for customers who order directly at the bar. Even on a sunny weekday, lines can grow long, but you can't beat that view (daily 11AM-2AM).
For something in between, Rosa Bonheur sur Seine, a barge outfitted with a kitchen and bar, is the place to be. An offshoot of the original Rosa Bonheur in the Parc Buttes Chaumont, the riverside version attracts just as stylish a crowd. Drinks are affordable, with pints at 5.50 euros, and plates of snacks hover between 5 and 8 euros. It's open early, so it could even be a nice alternative for a quick coffee en route to visit the Hotel des Invalides or Eiffel Tower (Wed-Sun 8AM-11PM).
If All Else Fails...
The riverside setting is mostly informal, so for anyone not seated at a table, there are no rules. Bring your own picnic supplies to have with a few beers from Flow, or grab some sardines and sausage from Rosa Bonheur sur Seine to go with the bottle of white you brought from home. These banks belong to the people, so wedge yourself in as best you can and enjoy one of the most beautiful waterfront experiences the city has to offer.