If you’ve only got a couple of days and you just don’t have the stamina to do the research, an organized tour can provide good background information on the city and help you get your bearings. Here are a few ideas for getting to know Paris in an easy and different way.
The famed Bateaux-Mouches ([tel] 01-42-25-96-10; www.bateaux-mouches.fr; Métro: Alma-Marceau) cruises leave from Pont de l’Alma on the Right Bank of the Seine, and last for a little over 1 hour; though they tend to be crowded and touristy, it still can be a worthwhile way to enjoy the beauty of the sites alone the Seine. Tickets cost 13€ for adults, 5.50€ for kids 4 to 11, free 3 and under; the recorded commentary is in French, English and up to 3 other languages.
On the other side of the river, in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Bateaux Parisiens ([tel] 01-76-64-14-45; www.bateauxparisiens.com; Métro: Bir Hakeim; RER: Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel) offers similar 1-hour tours, but in smaller boats. The recorded commentary is available in 13 languages, and tickets cost 13€ for adults, 5€ children 3 to 12, free 2 and under. Bateaux Parisiens also runs a tour departing from Notre-Dame but the service is a lot less regular.
A little less touristy, the Vedettes du Pont Neuf ([tel] 01-46-33-98-38; www.vedettesdupontneuf.com; Métro: Pont Neuf) runs hour-long cruises with live guides in French and English from the Square du Vert Galant at the tip of the Ile de la Cité. Tickets cost 14€ for adults, 7€ children 4 to 12, free 3 and under; cheaper tickets can be bought on the Internet.
Canauxrama ([tel] 01-42-39-15-00; www.canauxrama.com; Métro: Jaurés or Bastille) tours the picturesque Canal St-Martin. Boats leave from either the Bassin de la Villette or the Bassin de l’Arsenal (near the place de la Bastille) and tickets cost 16€ for adults, 8.50€ children 4 to 12, free 3 and under. The cruise takes about 2[bf]1/2 hours. The first part, which runs under the place de la Bastille, is a little gloomy, but after you’ll enjoy a lovely ride through locks and under pretty arched bridges. Tours daily from May to September; less frequent service the rest of the year.
If you can stand the kitschy atmosphere, the hop-on, hop off buses are not a bad way to go if you want to see the city in a hurry. L’Open Tour ([tel] 01-42-66-56-56; www.parislopentour.com) offers four routes, which run from around 9am to 7pm. A 1-day adult pass costs 31€, and a 2-day pass 36€; either pass is 16€ for children 4 to 11. Big Bus Paris (formerly “Les Cars Rouges”; [tel] 01-53-95-39-53; www.carsrouges.com) offers a hop-on, hop-off trip that stops at nine top sites from around 9:30am to 7:30pm. There’s multilingual commentary available. A 2-day adult ticket costs 31€, 13€ for children 4 to 12.
Fat Tire Bike Tours ([tel] 01-56-58-10-54; www.fattirebiketours.com/paris; Métro: Dupleix) offers a 4-hour day- or night-tour of Paris by bike in English; adult tickets cost 30€, 28€ students and children 4 to 12. Kid-sized bikes and toddler trailers available. They also offer tours of Versailles and Giverny.
Paris à Vélo, C’est Sympa (22 rue Alphonse Baudin, 11th arrond.; [tel] 01-48-87-60-01; www.parisvelosympa.com; Métro: Richard Lenoir) offers 3 themed 3-hour bike tours in French and English: Heart of Paris, Unusual Paris, and Paris Contrasts. Adult tickets cost 34€, 28€ ages 12 to 25, 18€ 11 and under. They also rent bikes.
Bike About Tours ([tel] 06-18-80-84-92; www.bikeabouttours.com) offers 3[bf]1/2 hour tours in small groups, led by friendly, knowledgeable, fluent-English speakers for 30€ per person (28€ students). All tours leave from the statue of Charlemagne in front of Notre-Dame at 10am (and 3pm during the summer) and focus on back streets and neighborhoods (you’ll see major monuments too). Bike rentals here too.
Other Guided Tours
4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie ([tel] 08-00-80-06-31; www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com) offers chauffeur-driven themed rides around Paris in its colorful fleet of Citroën 2CV, the tiny, low-cost and now classic French car that was jokingly referred to as “4 wheels under an umbrella.” If there are three people in the car, prices start at 10€ per person for a 15-minute tour and 60€ per person for a 1[bf]1/2 hour tour. The fewer people in the car, the more expensive the tour.
Paris is a dream-come-true for shopaholics. Chic Shopping Paris ([tel] 09-77-19-77-85; www.chicshoppingparis.com) offers tours in English designed to give visitors a behind-the-scenes shopping experience. Themed tours include a Chic and Cheap tour, a Sunday Shopping tour, and an Arts and Antiques tour of a flea market. Tours last 4 to 4[bf]1/2 hours and start at 100€ per person; custom tours are available.
Hot Air Balloon Tours
A unique way to see the city from above is by a hot air balloon. Located in the Parc André Citroën in the 15th arrondissement, Ballon de Paris ([tel] 01-44-26-20-00; www.ballondeparis.com; Métro Javel or Balard) has a hot air balloon that reaches an altitude of 150m (492 ft.) but remains tethered to the ground. Tickets cost 12€ adults, 6€ ages 3 to 11, free 2 and under. Tours can be cancelled due to weather conditions; check website or call ahead to make sure the balloon is flying.
Sight Seeker’s Delight ([tel] 07-63-07-09-68; www.sightseekersdelight.com) offers a range of walking tours in English, including Paris along the Seine, Père Lachaise Cemetery, and a night tour. Tours last from 2[bf]1/2 to 4 hours and prices vary between 25€ and 40€ per person (ages 4 to 10 half price, 3 and under free).
Paris Walks ([tel] 01-48-09-21-40; www.paris-walks.com) organizes 2-hour walks of the city, based on either a theme or a neighborhood. Most of the walks cost 12€ for adults (10€ ages 15–20, and 8€ 14 and under) and do not require reservations, but some, such as the Chocolate Tour, need to be booked in advance.
Paris Greeters (www.parisgreeters.fr) arranges free tours for 1 to 6 people with local volunteers. There’s no catalogue of specific tours; your walk is pretty much up to the greeter, who will choose a neighborhood. You register online and request a specific day and language, you’ll then be contacted with the details of your tour.
There are several cooking schools in Paris that offer short term or 1-day courses. The most famous is Le Cordon Bleu ([tel] 01-53-68-22-50; www.cordonbleu.edu; Métro: Vaugirard)—this is where Julia Child mastered the art of French cooking. Well known for its professional cooking courses, it also offers short courses for lay food enthusiasts, with prices starting at 45€ for a 2-hour demonstration and 105€ for a 3-hour hands-on lesson. Classes are translated into English and fill up fast; reserve ahead.
Less formal but equally enjoyable are the cooking classes offered by La Cuisine Paris ([tel] 01-40-51-78-18; www.lacuisineparis.com; Métro: Hôtel de Ville), a friendly school set up by a Franco-American team. They offer small classes by professional chefs in both French and English, including the popular French Macaron Class. Prices range from 65€ for 2 hours to 150€ for 4 hours.
Similarly, Cook’n with Class ([tel] 01-42-57-22-84; www.cooknwithclass.com; Métro: Simplon or Jules Joffrin) offers a range of individual and small-group classes, the most popular of which is the Morning Market Class; it includes a walk to a local market. Set up by a French chef, all classes are taught in English by professionals and prices range from 125€ for 3-hour classes to 185€ for 5-hour classes.
The Alliance Française ([tel] 01-42-84-90-00; www.alliancefr.org) has been offering quality French classes for almost a century. Depending on how many hours and what kind of course you take, courses cost 100€–250€ per week for 1–3 weeks; rates go down when you attend more than 3 weeks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.