Uncovering Europe's best budget hotels since 2001.
By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
When it comes to discovering Paris, walking is the only surefire way to really get to know the city. Boats and buses are wonderful ways to explore, but they limit you and prevent you from going at your own pace. Bikes are great, but zipping through traffic means that you should, perhaps, pay attention to the road.
Walking leaves the discovery to you, and one of the best ways to get your bearings is to tag along on a walking tour. Paris has no shortage of private tour guides, and all sorts of themed tours are available (including the French Revolution-themed walking tour offered by “Paris Walks”, shown in the photo above).
Luckily for Cheapos, there are several companies that offer free walking tours, in which the guides work solely for tips. (Although it may seem odd not to tip a waiter in Paris but to leave money for a tour guide, that’s how these tours work.)
Here are three companies that organize well-known free walking tours in Paris:
City Free Tours
Duration: 2 hours
Reserve in advance: Yes
City Free Tour has been offering a variety of two-hour tours in Paris since 2009. The knowledgeable English-speaking and expat guides cover the big sights like the Marais, Montmartre and Notre Dame. You’ll get acquainted with certain neighborhoods and you’ll have the expertise of your guide to point you on your way after the tour. Space is limited, so it’s best to secure a spot through advance reservations.
Sandemans New Paris
Duration: 3.5 hours
Reserve in advance: No
Sandemans New Paris has been running their famous 3.5-hour free tour just about every day since 2004. The guides are known for adding a lot of personality to their tours, combining entertainment with history and culture. The tour is a great overview of the entire city, starting at the fountain of Saint Michel and ending by the Champs-Elysées.
No reservations are required, just show up at the meeting spot at the appointed time. The tours are free and, again, guides work on tips, but the company also offers several inexpensive paid tours, including a Versailles tour and one of Paris’ only pub crawls. English and Spanish are available for all tours.
Reservation needed: No
Still another company, Discover Walks, offers themed walks through Paris including a landmark tour and a Left Bank tour, all in English. They also offer a tour along the river that is ideal for lovers or those looking for love. Their array of native tour guides pride themselves on their local perspectives.
No reservations are needed unless you are coming with a group of eight or more. Just check the site for information, show up at the designated time and remember, again, that the guides work on tips.
Walking Tour Tips
Ask away: All of these tours offer great introductions to Paris’ biggest sights and most famous neighborhoods. You’ll get the layout of the land and, armed with plenty of information and know-how, you’ll be able to explore Paris like a local. In case anything doesn’t make sense, however, ask. The guides are there to answer questions and share information with you.
Dress comfortably: Remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring an umbrella. Tour guides expect you to stick with them, rain or shine, and stopping halfway through the guide’s speech on the French Revolution because your feet hurt is not appreciated.
Drink water: Also, make sure you hydrate, especially in the summer. Tours are usually not strenuous, but it can get hot in Paris, especially in the midday sun. Don’t be afraid to buy bottles of water for one euro from the men selling them out of buckets in the street. (Support the local economy, I say!)
Prepare for the sun: Finally, avoid burning by putting on some sunscreen and wearing sunglasses. There’s no real need to try to “fit in” by dressing fashionable when you’re on a tour. Be a tourist, be comfortable and worry about introducing your stilettos to the cobblestones later that night.
Your thoughts on walking tours in Paris
Have you tried any of Paris’ free tours? Do you know of any others? Share your thoughts and tips in our comments section.