France’s Seine Axis Ports Seen From The River

France’s Seine Axis Ports Seen From The River

The summer season is looking to be the ideal time to learn about France’s port heritage along the Seine Axis with tours of the ports of Le Havre, Rouen and Paris along the Seine. Port and river trips, sightseeing tours and themed walks: there is something here for everyone.


Gennevilliers is the leading port in the Greater Paris area and the second most important in Europe, just behind Duisburg in Germany. Located on the Seine at Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine), the port covers 401 hectares, 78 of which have been developed as spaces open to the public. The site has 12km of quays and 22km of port rail lines. Every year, more than 20m tonnes of goods go through Gennevilliers, where over 270 companies operate, providing just under 8,000 jobs. The port handles 13% of the region’s goods supplies. The main categories of port traffic are construction materials, metals, agro-industrial products, finished products, environmental and waste recycling activities, energy products, containers and heavy packages.

The Gennevilliers tourist office organises a monthly cruise complete with running commentary for tours of this major industrial facility in the Greater Paris area. This is also an opportunity to learn more about the role and advantages of river goods transport.


The second biggest river port in the Greater Paris area also offers tours of its facilities. In 2013, HAROPA PORT | Paris, in partnership with Val-de-Marne tourism and recreation agency, launched a programme of visits to the port of Bonneuil-sur-Marne. These are genuine learning experiences that include a commentary from a guide or a historian. Covering 198 hectares and hosting over 100 companies, Bonneuil port handles over 2m tonnes of traffic. Located 8km from Paris, it combines high-performance trimodal transport services (river, rail, road) with pleasant surroundings. The cruise allows visitors to see the industrial port for themselves as well as learn about the issues around biodiversity thanks to contributions from non-profits Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux and Nature & Société.


Located 100km from the coast, Rouen is an inland port, deep in the Seine estuary. As the leading cereals port for Western Europe (2019-2020 was a record marketing year at 9.9Mt), HAROPA PORT | Rouen is also the most important French port for agroindustry, fertiliser and general goods consolidation on north/south routes. It ranks fifth among France’s seaports, with average goods throughput of 23Mt, and it is the leading major seaport for river traffic, registering 5.8Mt in 2020. Tours with explanatory commentaries offer visitors an opportunity to learn about the port’s economic activity through the people and their jobs, along with the ships, port terminals, goods handled and stevedoring methods.

Formed in 2013, Normandie Croisières organises tours of the port of Rouen on board the Lutèce, a motor launch built in 1964. These trips are managed by Rouen tourist office.

Formed in 2012, Bodega & Co offers Seine history tours on board the Escapade. Travelling upstream and downstream between Bonsecours and Dieppedalle, taking in Lacroix island on the way, these cruises include an audio commentary recorded by a lecturer/guide who is an expert on the history of Rouen.


Boat trips are also possible from Honfleur on board the motor launches Aventura, Ville d’Honfleur as well as on the Calypso (inner port tours).

During trips on the Ville d’Honfleur, the commentary is provided directly by the skipper. They include a lock passage with views of the radar tower (harbourmaster’s office), a short sea trip travelling upstream to Normandy Bridge, the Seine quays, Port 2000, the beach, the lighthouse and the heights of Honfleur.

The Calypso takes on tourists for a 45-minute tour of Honfleur with accompanying commentary. The route followed is in the inner harbour, taking in the eastern dock (cruise vessels), the Carnot dock (marina and ship repairs), the old dock, the outer harbour and the fishing boat wharf.

Les Vedettes Cauchois is a company offering river and sea trips on board the Aventura. The programme comprises a tour of the Seine estuary with a lock passage, taking in the radar tower and the Seine quays. The Aventura then heads out to the Normandy Bridge, under which it makes a U-turn, offering a view of the Tancarville Bridge. On the return leg, visitors will enjoy views of Le Havre and Port 2000, the nature reserve and Butin beach, Pennedepie, Vasouy and finally the city heights.


Racking up 6,000 port calls a year and 30 vessel movements a day, HAROPA PORT | Le Havre is a port worthy of every superlative. The port of Le Havre impresses with its facilities and the gigantic infrastructure allowing it to handle, around the clock and seven days a week, the biggest ships currently on the seas. As the leading French port for container traffic, Le Havre ranks fourth among the ports of the Northern European range, handling maritime traffic of 62.4Mt in 2021. Le Havre is also the world’s leading port for wines & spirits, France’s biggest import/export gateway for new vehicles and the second-ranking French port for crude oil supplies. The port area covers 78,000 hectares, with 35km of quayside. The industrial/port zone is home to 1,100 firms providing 31,000 direct jobs and contributing 30% of the value-added generated in Le Havre’s employment area.

Vedettes Baie de Seine offers two tour routes: a visit to Port 2000 and another to the commercial port or the historical port. During these tours, the skipper provides a commentary on the modern port’s activities, providing up-close views of the ships using the port.

The visit to Port 2000 allows visitors to see the world’s biggest container ships, 400m long and carrying more than 23,000 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units). Officially opened in 2006, Port 2000 is dedicated to container traffic handled via the Normandy, Porte Océane and France terminals. Port 2000 is constantly changing and never stops growing; two new berths – 11 and 12 – are currently under development.

The tour of the inner harbour lets visitors see the sheer variety of the port’s activities and different types of ship operating in the port: oil tankers, oilers, ore carriers, container ships, pilot boats, tugboats, bunkering vessels, and many more. It is also an opportunity to observe the diversity of port structures such as the windbreak wall, François 1 lock and Southampton quay featuring Vincent Ganivet’s monumental container arch sculpture.

Optimism is the watchword for operators offering sea and river liveaboard cruises. This year, 242 sea cruise ships are in service out of a total global fleet of nearly 320. This is the highest level of activity recorded since the beginning of the global pandemic and its total shutdown of cruises in the spring of 2020. The new season also promises to be very dynamic for the Seine Axis ports.

In 2022, 130 cruise calls are scheduled for Le Havre. Three new sea cruise lines (Virgin Voyages, Ambassador Cruise Line and Mystic Cruises) are planning to call for the first time in Le Havre and fifteen cruise ships will be making inaugural calls at the port. Out of the 130 scheduled calls, 24 designate Porte Océane as “starting/terminal port”, one example being the prestigious Queen Mary II that will be setting sail in September for an ocean crossing to New York.

A new terminal on Le Havre’s Florida Point

The plan for a new cruise terminal due to be built on Florida Point in Le Havre testifies to regional actors’ determination to develop this port activity. The driver for the future infrastructure is a public interest grouping (GIP) notable members of which are the “Le Havre Seine Métropole” city and district federation and HAROPA PORT. The project has been sized to process some 600,000 passengers by 2030, compared with 400,000 currently. It represents investment of just under €90m in public works to be carried out over the next few years. The three quayside berths on Florida Point will be equipped with electricity connection points at the rate of one installation each year, starting in 2023. HAROPA PORT is devoting €20m to making these “zero fumes” calls possible.

51 cruise ships accommodated at Quay no. 3 in Honfleur

The first cruise ship of the season in Honfleur arrived at the port on Thursday, 14 April. The Hanseatic Spirit, operated by Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd line, made its inaugural call at the port. The traditional inaugural tompion was awarded on board. The Hanseatic Spirit entered service in August 2021. She is the most recent addition to the Hapag Llyod Cruises fleet. This expedition cruise ship can accommodate 230 passengers and 175 crew for luxury cruises. She is 138m long with a beam of 22m.

Seven other inaugural calls are expected at Honfleur: Le Dumont d’Urville, Silver Moon, Le Bellot, Sea Cloud Spirit, Ambience, World Navigator and Bolette. Worthy of especial note is the arrival on Saturday of the Bellot, the fifth vessel in the “Explorers” class operated by Ponant, a French company. The Boréal and the Dumont d’Urville, also operated by Ponant, will also be stopping over in Normandy. The Europa 2, a Hapag-Lloyd premium cruise ship, also called at Honfleur on 26 April last. The season’s largest ship will be the Ambience, 245m long with capacity for 1,400 passengers. This ship, operated by Ambassador Cruise Line, will be making three calls at Honfleur.

Four inaugural calls at Rouen

Also on Thursday 14 April, the Rouen Cruise Terminal welcomed the Ocean Nova, its first cruise ship of the season. Built in 1992, this former coastal express from Greenland was designed to cope with icebergs and pack ice. In 2006, she was converted for sea cruises. Her capacity was deliberately limited to 76 passengers. This small Ice Class B1 polar vessel has a 38-strong crew, is 72m long and has a beam of 11m. Three other inaugural calls are scheduled for Rouen: Silver Moon, Volendam and Azamara Pursuit.

Rouen’s Cruise Terminal is currently the site of a major, multiphase programme of works. The first stage involves the rerouting of water and electricity utilities. This will be followed, at the end of 2022, by extensive quay consolidation work to be completed in 2023. This will prepare the way for the installation of connection points for supplying electrical power to cruise ships at berth. The electrification work is expected to be completed in 2025.

Viking River Cruises begins operating four new Seine cruise vessels

The river cruise sector is also seeing a dynamic upturn on the Seine Axis. In Le Havre, booked port calls have virtually doubled, rising from 110 stopovers in 2019 to 219 this year. This represents around 7,500 passengers a year, with a customer base consisting essentially of German, British and American tourists.

The American line Viking Cruises has recently added four new river cruise vessels to its fleet, these having been specifically designed for Seine navigation. They are Viking Fjorgyn, Viking Kari, Viking Radgrid and Viking Skaga. Based in Grenelle port near the Paris regional management offices, the formal ship naming ceremony was conducted on 7 April in the presence of the vessels’ godmothers: Ghislaine Wood, Kari Garmann, Janie Deutscher and Muriel Wilson.

In Rouen, work has begun on the modernisation of the piers of Babin dock in the Saint Gervais basin to the north of the Cruise Terminal. This area of the port currently has two berths mainly used for wintering river cruise ships.

The main objectives of the work now under way is most notably to improve the piers and berthing/mooring conditions for increased capacity (from a maximum of 7 ships to 10). The aim is also to allow the piers to be used for barge convoys (carrying freight) outside the wintering periods. The new infrastructure will enable water and electricity to be supplied (a wintering version for river cruise vessels and possibly one supply point for barge convoys). The latter project should begin this summer for completion in 2023.

Source: HAROPA Port

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