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Paris’s river artery has had a makeover, thanks to a cool new Left Bank promenade and a host of floating and riverside restaurants, bars and activities

For all its incredible historic heritage, one of the most fascinating things about Paris is watching how different districts evolve or even appear from nowhere – as I’ve observed in the twenty years that I’ve been living in Paris and writing about the city and its cultural scene, first as editor of Time Out Paris and more recently as a travel expert for the Daily Telegraph.

So I’ve been pleased to see that in the past few years the River Seine has at last come into its own. Around the Bibliothèque Nationale, a new, modern district is springing up, featuring a floating swimming pool, Piscine Joséphine Baker, and waterborne music venues like Batofar, Paris’s original ‘nightclub on a boat’. Temporary events like the summer-long man-made beach Paris Plages help too.

A new Left Bank promenade

But the real turning point came when the city at last got rid of the Left Bank riverside expressway – one of the more unfortunate urban improvement schemes of the 1970s – transforming the tarmac into Les Berges de Seine, a riverside promenade that takes you roughly from Musée d’Orsay to Pont de l’Alma, and is sprinkled with activities and diversions that have been multiplying ever since (more details). Les Berges has brought a whole new spirit to this grand and rather staid part of the Left Bank.

There are reclaimed wooden beams for sitting and watching the world go by, exercise points and running tracks, Tai Chi and boxing classes, food stalls and cafés and kids’ games and craft workshops. You can be energetic and stroll along the quay, or be delightfully inactive, gazing at the water, playing chess or even snoozing: among the ‘maritime-style’ steel containers which dot the promenade, there are some labelled ‘Zzz’, which you can rent (book here) for a siesta. I particularly like the floating water garden, planted to recreate different riverside habitats.

New restaurants and bars

While exploring I also had a glimpse of Faust restaurant, which like the club and music venue Showcase on the other side of the river is actually inside the Pont Alexandre III, Paris’s most ornate bridge. Faust inhabits a vast vaulted space with watery views between the arches, revisiting the classic Parisian brasserie. Outside, the other arrival of the season is the Rosa Bonheur sur Seine barge, sibling of trendy Rosa Bonheur in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. A laidback guinguette combining bar, café, restaurant, dance hall and music venue, it is definitely the place to be. The specially designed barge, with its rotondas at either end and pale green metalwork (an echo of the Grand Palais across the river, perhaps), gives you fabulous views of the Pont Alexandre III and Pont de la Concorde bridges.

And the best rooftop bar in Paris with a view of the Seine?

Le Perchoir Marais, the summer rooftop bar on top of BHV, opens when the department store closes in the evening. An offshoot of Le Perchoir bar-restaurant that opened on the top of a block of flats, near République, is the most happening place in town (at least when the weather is good), which means a huge queue along the street every evening. But once you make it to the top, including a walk down a corridor of department store offices, it’s great fun: hip yet relaxed, with a rooftop view of central Paris, Hôtel de Ville (city hall) just across the street, wooden tables, trees, packing crate benches with colourful cushions, and a bar where laid-back staff serve beer, cocktails and glasses of rosé. House special is the Dark’n Stormy, with rum, ginger beer, Boston bitters and lemon juice. Open until the end of October, entrance on the 37 rue de la Verrerie.

 

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