The Seine winds its way through the centre of Paris, and in this extremely expensive city, a walk along its banks is a great free way to spend some free time.
Bridges punctuate the shoreline, stretching across the Seine or simply to the Île de la Cité. There are 37 bridges across the Seine in Paris. Of these, four are pedestrian only, three link the Île Saint-Louis and eight link the Île de la Cité with the 'mainland', and one links the two islands. From the Louvre to Notre Dame takes about 20 minutes (at a fast pace) and already offers plenty of beautiful views and interesting features.
The oldest bridge is the Pont Neuf; this was completed in 1607, as the first stone bridge in Paris, and for several centuries it acted as a hub in the centre of the city.
You can see the Palais de Justice stretch along the bank of the Île de la Cité at this point. In the eighteenth century Marie-Antoinette was imprisoned here, and more recently the site has become well-known as the location of Sainte Chapelle, a key place in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code.
One of the quirkiest aspects of the modern river is the Pont des Arts. At first sight it is an unassuming small pedestrian bridge across the river, from the central square (cour carrée) of the palais du Louvre, and the Institut de France. It was commissioned in the time of Napolean (1802-1804), designed to resemble a wrought iron hanging garden.
The present version has only been in place since 1984, and in recent years a trend has emerged of couples attaching a padlock to the railings, as as symbol of their love. These are often inscribed with permanent markers, and the bridge is now covered in small tributes. Hawkers will sell you padlocks on the street, but they're not as ubiquitous or aggressive as one might expect. The padlocks are generic though, and perhaps take away some of the magic and romance of planning your visit.
To reach Notre Dame from the Louvre you also pass the Pont Saint-Michel and Pont au Change.
Most unexpectedly, you can buy books as you wander. The river is lined with green wooden stalls, which first thing on a Sunday morning stare at you blankly, but slowly open up to reveal not tourist tat, but antiquarian books. The Seine is lined with small independent bookstalls where you can buy French mainstays, tatty novels, and translations of the Greek and Roman Classics.
There are also souvenir stalls, where you can purchase postcards and miniature Eiffel Towers along with a variety of other bits and pieces. The vibrant images of Toulouse Lautrec decorate all kinds of merchandise, from cards and coasters to more substantial items.
You can easily spend a good hour or two gently strolling up and down the river, crossing bridges to explore the views on both sides, and from standing over the water. There's something magical about the Seine, a river which defines the centre of Paris and offers a focal point for all visitors. Whether it's a sparkling, placid, sunny amble with an ice cream in your hand, a romantic meander or a power walk in the rain minding out for the (admittedly chic) joggers, it's worth joining the throng.