Though most river cruisers start on the Rhine or Danube Rivers, the Paris to Normandy route is another sensational cruise option. I set sail on the Viking Fjorgyn in the late fall of 2022 for an epic adventure on the Seine River with less than 200 passengers. The week featured a small number of passengers and a fabulous itinerary, with attractive port of calls, fantastic food, and fellowship, and put another memorable Viking River Cruise under my belt.
Viking Overnight in Paris
Paris is the hub of architectural gems, French culture, and that highly desired fabulous French cuisine. It is billed as one of, if not the, most romantic city in the world. The “City of Lights” is featured in literature, dance, film, and music, while the city center’s most famous Champs-Élysées is a must-see shopping destination.
Paris offers 37 spectacular bridges, and fabulous attractions, including the Louvre Museum, Arc de Triomphe, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
Panoramic Paris Via Viking Fjorgyn
The Viking Fjorgyn river cruise includes a bus tour (and some on foot) around Paris. You will see the most famous sights, the Champs-Élysées, Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and much more. Our guide shared valuable insights about the City of Lights, and we rode around in a very comfortable bus.
Take your free time to explore Notre Dame Cathedral, the nearby cafes (great for sipping chocolate, coffee, or pastry), and souvenir shops. The excursion will also drive by the world-famous Louvre and Opera House; have your cameras or phone handy.
There are three optional excursions (fee applicable) on this day in Paris: a food tour, Montmartre Hill, or Sacré-Coeur. I chose the food tour.
Flavors of Paris: An Optional Viking Excursion
I’ve visited Paris before, but this was the most fun thing I’ve done in the city. Our guide picked us up at the ship, walked us several blocks away, and took us to the Paris Metro. We boarded the transit system to get to our tour’s correct part of town.
We meandered four to six blocks, stopping for tasty treats. Our taste buds indulged in macarons and hand-crafted gourmet chocolates from RICHART (since 1925), cheese and wine from O’Neil Beer Bar & Bistro, and a foursome of delightful pastries from Paul.
Our choices at Paul were a hot chocolate or coffee, both of which were terrific.
A stop at the Maison Brémond 1830 gourmet foods store brought samples of honey, oils, vinegar, and sweets. It was also a primo spot for souvenirs, plus they carried calissons, the French candies I discovered (and loved) on a previous Costa cruise to Aix-en-Provence.
Later that evening, we returned to the ship for a fantastic Paris-inspired buffet night. The staff was dressed in adorable get-up and served a huge selection of French foods, cheeses, wines, cured meats, and scrumptious sweet treats.
Highlights of the Viking Fjorgyn Cruise and Epic Scenery
You don’t need to step off the Viking Fjorgyn ship to have a wonderful vacation. Choose a book from the library, take part in the lectures or ship talks, indulge in gourmet meals and snacks, listen to the musicians, take in the sights during the scenic river cruising, or sleep in. The possibilities are endless.
And don’t fret over the dress code. Viking encourages you to be you, dress as casual or stylish as you wish, there are no rights or wrongs. Appropriate walking shoes are necessary for your off ship excursions, but other than that, anything goes.
The temps in Paris were quite colder than we anticipated, but nearby shops and street vendors made it possible for us to pick gloves, hats, and scarves. There were several people proudly sporting berets. When in Paris…
Fun Fact: The iconic French beret heat accessory, which became popular in the 1840s, is actually called a Laulhère.
Or, grab all the excitement you can. Participate in the daily excursions, wander through the local towns, see the sights, and taste the culinary treasures of each port of call.
I love that Viking River Cruises takes you to places you may have yet to consider in the past and highlights the cruise line has perfected through its voyages.
I also encourage you to meet and mingle with the other cruise guests. You already share a love of travel with the 100-200 guests; you might make some deeper connections. I have friends that I keep in touch with years later from each of my Viking River cruises.
It could also be someone you want to travel with in the future.
La Roche-Guyon is a quaint village with a 15th-century church, a striking town hall, and a public fountain. Chateau de La Roche-Guyon is the city’s hallmark and garnered attention from Claude Monet (Father of Impressionism) and poet Victor Hugo.
We were only in the port of La Roche-Guyon for a half day, but it was a pleasant place to stroll around.
Angie and I took a stroll around town on our own to admire the narrow streets and half-timbered houses, plus take a zillion pictures. Most of the shopkeepers open at 11 or noon, so nothing was open during our visitation hours.
Vernon was our ship’s home for the rest of the day. We had a ship excursion that lasted almost five hours as soon as we arrived. We set out by bus to explore Auvers-sur-Oise, which looked straight out of a fairy tale, enhanced by the dreary weather and rain.
Here, we explored L’Auberge Ravoux, where Vincent Van Gogh lived and died. We also visited the Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Catholic Church and Daubigny Museum, but we mostly strolled around the charming town, seeing many monuments and gardens.
The tour concluded at the gravesite of Vincent and Theo van Gogh in the municipal cemetery.
Fun Fact: We passed Claude Monet’s famous house and garden on our drive, but there was nowhere for our bus to pull over for a closer look.
Vernon’s points of interest are the Collegiate Notre Dame, a Gothic church built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the Chateau of Vernon ruins, and the Vernon Museum, which houses original works by Monet.
I thoroughly enjoyed cookies and macarons from Boulangerie Mum’s on the main street.
Les Andelys is often mentioned as one of France’s most beautiful villages. This delightful Middle Ages town is home to the mighty fortress, Chateau Gaillard, built in 1196 by Richard the Lionheart.
The French king sieged the castle at his death and launched a series of battles. You can take the walking tour, which has a steep incline to get up or see the town on your own.
My friend Angie and I chose to do it on our own, exploring both sides of town, a cemetery, and the riverside. The murals were magnificent, but the shops were all closed during our visit.
Rouen Walking Tour
We took a two-hour tour of Rouen, the preeminent capital of Normandy, after several hours of scenic cruising in the morning. This lovely town is set amidst chalk cliffs along the Seine River. You’ll find 700 half-timbered houses in the Old Town.
The medieval charm of Rouen makes it a great place to uncover the romantic charms of France—not to mention its vibrant history.
Rouen Cathedral sat on a hillside and was a place Claude Monet was repeatedly drawn to. He painted the Notre Dame Cathedral during different times of day for the dramatic and varying light. Its trio of towers is the tallest in France, with the center spire being 490 feet.
Rouen was created in 744 AD and is also the site of Market Square, where Joan of Arc’s last stand took place. She was condemned for heresy and burned at stake in 1431. William the Conqueror also died here in 1087.
Not to worry, when you return from your epic sightseeing days, Viking Cruises will have a fantastic spread of foods (and drinks) waiting for you. Often you are greeted when getting onboard with a cocktail or cordial, but mealtimes are when your stomach will really be appreciative.
A few of my favorite items to be on the lookout for are the cheese soufflé, fish & chips, and escargot, which is sinfully delicious.
Picturesque Honfleur: An Optional Viking Excursion
A thrilling part of my Viking Paris to Normandy trip was the day trip to Honfleur, a powerful trading port in the Middle Ages on the Seine River favored by impressionists.
This picture-perfect destination has a historic harbor, gorgeous timber-framed buildings, winding streets and pathways, and quaint shops with adorable goods. I packed a lot of adjectives in that sentence because Honfleur packs a powerful punch, and everything there is simply wonderful.
Did You Know? Claude Monet painted 30 works of art in the Rouen Cathedral.
Cold temps and rain couldn’t dishearten our trip to Honfleur; it is charming regardless of the weather. Our guide led us through the twisty, turning streets as she shared historical facts about the area and its colorful past.
Just when we thought the fairytale scenery couldn’t be any better, another road came to trump the last.
The sheer number of boats and maritime vessels at Le Vieux Bassin took our breaths away. St. Catherine’s Church was quite a find, much different from France’s typical historic churches. It remains the oldest wooden church in the country.
We explored Honfleur as a group and then had free time on our own. Angie and I dashed to a few shops for souvenirs, gourmet foods, and adorable-as-can-be hats. The group met at a local cafe afterward, where we had a choice of crepes and hot coffee or tea.
Because Honfleur is in France’s Calvados region, an apple or pear brandy of the same name is highly popular. You will see it on menus in various recipes or in pure form, or you can buy some to take with you from a local shop.
Normandy Beach Excursion
Refrain from letting the 11-hour time frame of this excursion deter you. There is a two-hour drive each way, a museum tour with a catered lunch, a Normandy American Cemetery visit, and time for walking the beaches of Normandy.
There were options to pick Omaha Beach or an alternative Commonwealth Tour option. Our American group almost all headed to Omaha.
Visiting the cemetery was so incredible; I hardly had words for it. We wandered around amid heavy rain, then met up for a ceremony to present a floral spray to the World War II Unknown Soldier for those who perished during the war. The reflecting pool was a nice touch to the 172-acre property.
Our guide brought the flowers, and the crowd came together for a few words, the wreath laying, and the playing of Taps. The ceremony takes place at the “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” statue, which is the cemetery’s focal point.
Military personnel was called on to come forward and thanked for their service. This made it possible for a group photo of our service members. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.
After visiting the Luxembourg American Cemetery on yet another Viking River Cruise, I was so thankful for this opportunity.
FYI: This is the first American cemetery on European soil and contains graves of 9,386.
Lastly, we drove to nearby Omaha Beach, the site of the D-Day Invasion, on June 6th, 1944. On D-Day, the Allies invaded France, then occupied by the Germans, with the Normandy landings.
We had learned from the museum visit’s engaging movie that many of our young troops died trying to swim from the boats or parachutes. That was just the beginning of the unimaginable things that would transpire.
Remaining on the hallowed beach are a few reminders of D-Day and a thought-provoking stainless-steel sculpture commemorating the American soldiers by artist Les Braves.
Realizing a Childhood Bucket List Item
Both of my grandfathers landed at Normandy during the D-Day invasion. Both were in the Army and from West Virginia.
My grandfather (mother’s father) sent my grandmother a picture of him in uniform, sitting on a bench shortly after arriving in Normandy. He wrote a personal note on the back, telling her he loved her and hoped to make it home to her. That picture is and has been one of my prized possessions for life, namely since he passed away when I was 12.
I was beyond thrilled, cue the tears, to stand on the hallowed ground where my grandfather(s) arrived, walked, fought, and was injured, earning him the Purple Heart medal.
It was a privilege to be in Normandy and take a picture of my beloved picture with the haunting ocean surf behind it, a treasure I will hold dear forever.
I thank Viking River Cruises for helping me achieve this lifelong bucket list.
Pro Tip: Bring a container, sandwich bag, or empty water bottle to take some sand home with you. They allowed and encouraged it.
Le Pecq for Chateau de Malmaison
We arrived in Le Pecq for a few hours to enjoy the daily excursion to visit Napoléon’s Chateau de Malmaison. Except for the Normandy beaches, this was my favorite excursion.
Napoléon bought the chateau for his wife, later Empress Josephine, who secured the deteriorating property in 1799 while her husband was away fighting. She painstakingly overhauled the home, spending a small fortune to fit her taste, still apparent on a visit today.
Josephine lived the rest of her life at the Chateau de Malmaison, spending much time in the charming gardens she worked so hard on. They were not in bloom during our visit, but they were still beautiful.
Though Napoléon and Josephine divorced, she remained at the grand home. It became a place of many scandals, yet a tumultuous and romantic love story. Napoléon returned to Chateau de Malmaison one time before being exiled. It was the last time the couple would lay eyes on one another.
Visitors can see many of the 24 rooms, with the dining room, bedroom, and library being my favorites. The shared bed (pictured below) was almost unheard of for its time, especially from royalty. I found the furnishings, including the fabric ceiling, to be impeccable.
The entire house was a delight to browse.
Other Optional Excursions
The Palace of Versailles was the most sought-after optional cruise excursion. I had done this on a Viking Paris to Swiss Alps itinerary, so I skipped it this time. The Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of French kings, ranging from Louis XIV to Louis XVI. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the center of power, art, and science.
The drive to the Palace of Versailles is more than an hour each way, and a tour, plus free time is offered.
Around 15 million people visit the Palace of Versailles, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Thousands visit daily, so having quick access and a private guide without waiting is a big deal.
This is one of the perks of sailing with Viking Cruises on the Viking Fjorgyn.