Organized Tours & Classes
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 (www.bateaux-mouches.fr; 01-42-25-96-10; Métro: Alma-Marceau) cruises leave from Pont de l’Alma on the Right Bank of the Seine, and last for a little over an hour. They tend to be crowded and touristy but can be a worthwhile way to enjoy the beauty of the sites along the Seine. Tickets cost 14€ for adults, 6€ for kids 4 to 11, and are free for children 3 and under; the recorded commentary is in French, English, and up to 3 other languages. Brunch, lunch, and dinner cruises are also available (ranging 55€–75€).
On the other side of the river, in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Bateaux Parisiens (www.bateauxparisiens.com; 08-25-01-01-01, .15€/min.; Métro: Bir Hakeim; RER: Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel) offers similar 1-hour tours (recorded commentary), but in smaller boats. Tickets cost 15€ for adults, 7€ children 3 to 12, and are free for children 2 and under. Bateaux Parisiens also runs a tour departing from Notre-Dame, but the service is a less regular. Gourmet lunch and dinner cruises start at 59€ and 69€.
A little less touristy, the Vedettes du Pont Neuf (www.vedettesdupontneuf.com; 01-46-33-98-38; Métro: Pont Neuf) runs 1-hour cruises with live guides in French and English from the Square du Vert Galant at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Tickets cost 14€ for adults, 7€ children 4 to 12, and are free for children 3 and under; cheaper tickets can be bought online.
Canauxrama (www.canauxrama.com; 01-42-39-15-00; 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 pl. de la Bastille); tickets cost 18€ and are free for children 4 and under. The cruise takes about 2 1/2 hours. The first part, which runs through a tunnel under the place de la Bastille, is eerie (in a fun way), and 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.
Also, at time of writing, multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse was poised to launch the city’s first ever fine dining tour on an electric boat in the Seine in September 2018: Ducasse sur Seine (www.ducasse-seine.com; Métro: Trocadéro) will be a 200-person vessel offering 90-minute cruises and contemporary seasonal cuisine, docked at Port Debilly on the Right Bank opposite the Eiffel Tower. It promises to be good, so check it out.
Yes, they’re touristy, and yes, Paris is easy to navigate without an organized bus tour, but hop-on, hop-off buses are worth considering if (1) you’re in a hurry and want to see all the main sights in 1 or 2 days, and (2) you don’t want to use the public transportation system. For the former, we suggest the Big Bus Paris company (www.bigbustours.com; 01-53-95-39-53; 1-day adult ticket 36€, 2-day adult ticket 41€, 18€ for children 4–12; prices are cheaper online), which has just two routes, one stopping at 10 top sites (including the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame), and the other covering Montmartre. The key to these tours is not actually hopping on and off (although you could, of course), but staying on board to see everything in one sweep—in 2 1/4 hours for the main tour and in 1 1/4 hours for Montmartre—leaving you with plenty of time for serendipitous exploring of your own. To avoid using public transport, we suggest L’Open Tour (www.paris.opentour.com; 01-42-66-56-56; 1-day adult pass 34€, 2-day 38€, 3-day 42€, 17€ for children 4–15), which has over 75 stops spread over four routes that run from around 9am to 7pm (and 9:30pm in summer for night tours) just like normal buses. The advantage of this is that you will only be with likeminded visitors; the downside is that you may have a long wait between buses and therefore spend a lot of time standing in line rather than exploring.
Whichever tour you choose, multilingual audio guides are provided (you can switch them off if you just want to look at the city), and both sell tickets that can be combined with a river cruise (see websites for details).
Fat Tire Bike Tours (www.fattiretours.com/paris; 01-82-88-80-96, or in North America 866/614-6218; Métro: Dupleix) offers a 3 1/2-hour day- or night-tour of Paris by bike in English; adult tickets cost 34€, 32€ students and children 4 to 12. Kid-size bikes and toddler trailers are available, and the tour includes a break in a cafe in the Tuileries garden (where children can run around) so this is a good one to choose if you’re traveling with your family. They also offer tours of Versailles and Monet’s Garden in Giverny.
If you’d like to see Paris like a local, pick Paris à Vélo, c’est Sympa!, 22 rue Alphonse Baudin, 11th arrond. (https://parisvelosympa.fr/home-2/; 01-48-87-60-01; Métro: Richard Lenoir). In addition to their “Heart of Paris” tour (which covers Notre-Dame, the Marais, and the Louvre area), they offer two themed 3-hour bike tours—Unusual Paris and Paris Contrasts—both of which take you into areas tourists don’t usually get to see. The first goes to the southern 13th and 14th arrondissements, home to cobbled lanes and artists’ workshops; the second is to northern Paris, along the canals and onto futuristic Parc de la Villette. Tickets cost 35€ adults, 29€ ages 12 to 25, 20€ for children 11 and under. They also rent bikes. Tours are in French and English.
Bike About Tours (www.bikeabouttours.com; 06-18-80-84-92) offers 3 1/2-hour tours in small groups, led by friendly, knowledgeable, fluent-English speakers for 39€ per person (34€ students). All tours leave from the statue of Charlemagne in front of Notre-Dame at 10am (and 2:30pm during the summer) and cover all the main sights via the city’s atmospheric back streets. They also include a pitstop in a Left Bank bakery (food not included) and a few quirky stop-offs, like at Jim Morrison’s house and places where famous movies were shot. Bike rentals also 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 (www.sightseekersdelight.com; 07-63-07-09-68) offers a range of walking tours in English, including Paris Along the Seine, Tickle Your Tastebuds, and Secrets of the Night. Tours last from 2 1/2 to 4 hours and prices vary between 30€ and 99€ per person (half-price for ages 4–10, free for children 3 and under).
Paris Walks (www.paris-walks.com; 01-48-09-21-40) organizes 2-hour walks of the city, based on either a theme or a neighborhood. Most of the walks cost 15€ for adults, 10€ ages 15–20, 8€ children 14 and under; special small-group themed tours (chocolate, the Louvre, fashion) range from 20€ to 40€ per adult. Reservations are only necessary for special tours.
Paris Greeters (https://greeters.paris/) arranges free tours for one to six people with local volunteers. There’s no catalog 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.
Discover Paris (https://discoverparis.net/) runs a few good tours, from gourmet walks to art-themed visits. But where it really stands out is with its Entrée to Black Paris tour, covering themes such as black history around the Jardin du Luxembourg (scheduled roughly once a week) and Black Paris after World War II. These walks highlight the life and works of black figures such as American authors Richard Wright and Chester Himes, and French writer Alexandre Dumas (famed for—amongst others—The Count of Montecristo and The Three Musketeers), whose grandmother was a slave of African descent. Book via email 6 weeks before your travel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours usually last 2 hours.
Other Guided Tours
4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie (www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com; 01-58-59-27-82) 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 30€ per person for a 45-minute tour and 60€ per person for a 90-minute tour; the price of the car is the same, it’s simply a question of how you divvy up the bill.
Another fabulous and quirky way to see the city is on board a 1970s Combi van (aka the “car” or “camper”). Combi Paris Tours (www.combi.paris; 06-96-94-39-77) is run by wonderful husband and wife duo Fabrice and Gwladys (private chauffeurs by trade) who have lovingly restored a 1972 combi and added a sunroof, so you can poke your head out on a sunny day and take pictures. Tours take you around all the landmarks, and include food and drinks from hand-picked bakeries, cavistes (wine shops), and grocers. The 3-hour combi tour costs 350€ for up to seven people.
Paris is a dream-come-true for shopaholics. Chic Shopping Paris (www.chicshoppingparis.com; 09-77-19-77-85, or in North America 573/355-9777) offers tours in English designed to give visitors a behind-the-scenes shopping experience. Themed tours include a Made in France tour, a Unique Boutique tour, and an Arts and Antiques tour of a flea market. Tours last 3 1/2 to 4 hours and start at 100€ per person.
Paris and perfume also go hand in hand, but while most people can name perfume brands, few can actually accurately describe what they’re smelling. Cue Rendez-Vous Parfum (www.rendezvousparfum.fr; 06-35-53-40-47), an olfactory tour led by Sophie, who—as a perfume developer for major companies like Burberry and Lancel—is to perfume, what a sommelier is to wine. The tour, which usually takes place in the Marais, teaches you about things like the groups of scent, how they interact, and the history of perfume, and of course, where to buy some to take home. It’s a fascinating 2 hours and at 50€, money well spent.
Several cooking schools in Paris offer short-term or 1-day courses. The most famous is Le Cordon Bleu (www.cordonbleu.edu; 01-85-65-15-00; 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 85€ for a 2-hour food and wine pairing demonstration and 115€ for macaron-making lessons. Classes are translated into English and fill up fast; reserve ahead.
At Le Foodist (www.lefoodist.com; 06-71-70-95-22; Métro: Place Monge), over the course of several hours, students don't just master recipes—they learn techniques that they'll be able to use in numerous situations. They also hear a bit about how French history shaped the cuisine and get an earful about the underlying physics and chemistry that underpins it all. Since this is delivered with brio and wit by owner Fred and his charming wife Amanda, the classes are never dull. A range of options is offered, from croissant- and macaron-baking to wine tasting (99€–119€). The highlight, however, is the market visit and class during which students accompany Fred through the lively Latin Quarter to an open-air market and get to sample scrumptious cheeses. After cooking together, everyone sits down to a delicious meal with wine.
Equally enjoyable are the cooking classes offered by La Cuisine Paris (www.lacuisineparis.com; 01-40-51-78-18; Métro: Hôtel de Ville), a friendly school set up by a Franco-American team. It offers market tours and small classes by professional chefs in both French and English, including the popular French Macaron Class. Prices range from 69€ for 2 hours to 160€ for 5 hours.
Similarly, Cook’n with Class (www.cooknwithclass.com; 01-42-57-22-84; Métro: Simplon or Jules Joffrin) offers a range of individual and small-group classes, the most popular of which is the French Market class, where you learn to choose and cook the best produce from the market. All classes are taught in English by professionals, and prices start at 130€ for a 3-hour class.
The Alliance Française (www.alliancefr.org; 01-42-84-90-00) has been offering quality French language classes for over a century. Depending on how many hours and what kind of course you take, courses cost from 81€ per week for grammar and written French to 253€ per week for 1 to 4 weeks for spoken French; rates go down the more weeks you attend.
Tour & Ticket Websites vs. booking direct
Such websites as GetYourGuide.com, Viator.com, ToursByLocals.com, TakeWalks.com, and Airbnb.com/experiences are undeniably convenient to use. In just a few minutes one can have advance reservations and/or tickets for tours, museums, historic sites, cooking classes, guided walks, and more. These sites also include reviews from recent customers; sometimes they’ll offer discounts on high volume products like bus and boat tours.
But there can be downsides to using them. Because these websites take a significant commission from these tour providers and attractions, sometimes the price charged will be higher than it would have been had you gone directly to the source. I recently purchased a cooking class in Paris for $85. At the class I learned that a fellow student had paid $135 to one of the above companies—for the same experience. The chef needed to make ends meet and so charged those who didn’t book with her directly significantly more. She did so quietly—the web company she works with has a price guarantee—but her actions are not uncommon.
As well, many of these companies sell priority access for a bit extra, allowing their customers to get on the “reserve line” rather than the regular one. But many travelers are reporting, especially at such sites as the Eiffel Tower, that so many folks are anteing up for VIP treatment that the “reserve line” moves just as slowly as the regular one. Just a small warning.
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.