Guided tours are a good option when you don't want to do it all yourself. And not all are an if-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium experience. A knowledgeable guide can take you places that you might never discover on your own, and you may be pushed to see more than you would have otherwise. Tours aren't for everyone, but they can be just the thing for trips to places where making travel arrangements is difficult or time-consuming (particularly when you don't speak the language). Whenever you book a guided tour, find out what's included and what isn't. In most cases prices in tour brochures don't include fees and taxes, plus you'll be expected to tip your guide (in cash) at the end of the tour.
Bike and Segway Tours
A number of companies organize bike tours around Paris and its environs (Versailles, Chantilly, and Fontainebleau); these always include bikes, helmets, and an English-speaking guide. Costs start at around €35 for a half day; reservations are recommended.
Fat Tire Bike Tours is the best-known Anglophone group; in addition to a general-orientation bike tour, it organizes a nighttime cycling trip that includes a boat cruise on the Seine; Segway tours are also available. Paris à Vélo, C'est Sympa offers tours that take pedal pushers through the heart of Paris or around outlying arrondissements.
Fat Tire Bike Tours. 24 rue Edgar Faure, 15e, Paris, 75015. 01–82–88–80–96; 866/614–6218; www.fattirebiketoursparis.com.
Paris à Vélo, C'est Sympa. 22 rue Alphonse Baudin, 11e, Paris, 75011. 01–48–87–60–01; www.parisvelosympa.com.
Several boat-tour companies operate Seine cruises that include sightseeing and, in some cases, dining. Batobus offers a convenient way to travel between all major sites along the river, including Notre-Dame, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. A ticket for one day of unlimited hop-on/hop-off travel costs €16. One-hour Bateaux Parisiens sightseeing cruises cost €14 and depart from the Eiffel Tower every 30 minutes from 10 to 10, April to September; themed dinner and lunch cruises start at €40 and €33 respectively. Canauxrama organizes leisurely tours year-round in flat-bottom barges along the Canal St-Martin in eastern Paris. There are four daily departures from April to October (less during the rest of the year); trips cost €18 and last about 2½ hours, with commentary in French and English. Compagnie des Bateaux-Mouches runs a tight ship 12 months of the year. Tickets for the 70-minute Seine tour cost €13.50; lunch cruises are €55, and dinner cruises start at €75. Other year-round operators include Paris Canal, which offers 2½-hour trips with live bilingual commentary between the Musée d'Orsay and the Parc de La Villette (€14), and Yachts de Paris, which organizes romantic 2½-hour "gourmand cruises" that include a three-course dinner (from €205, drinks extra).
Bateaux Parisiens . Port de la Bourdonnais , 7e, Paris, 75007 . 08–25–01–01–01; www.bateauxparisiens.com.
Batobus. Port de la Bourdonnais, 7e, Paris, 75007. 08–25–05–01–01; www.batobus.com.
Canauxrama. Bassin de la Villette, 13 quai de la Loire, 19e, Paris, 75019. 01–42–39–15–00; www.canauxrama.com.
Compagnie des Bateaux-Mouches . Port de la Conférence, 8e, Paris, 01–42–25–96–10; www.bateaux-mouches.fr.
Paris Canal. Paris Canal, Bassin de la Villette, 21 quai de la Loire, 19e, Paris, 75019. 01–42–40–96–97; www.pariscanal.com.
Yachts de Paris. Port Henri IV, 4e, Paris, 75004. 01–44–54–14–70; entreprises.yachtsdeparis.fr.
Pariscityvision.com runs a broad assortment of tours and day trips starting at €21. Buses are equipped with headsets that provide commentary in more than a dozen languages, and there are special recordings for children. Paris L'Open Tour offers hop-on/hop-off tours in a London-style double-decker bus with English or French commentary, again given via individual headsets; you can catch one at any of the 50 pickup points on its four lines. Passes cost €32 (1 day), €36 (2 days), or €40 (3 days). More hop-on/hop-off tours aboard double-decker buses are available through Big Bus Tours Paris; these feature 10 stops, and a ticket good for two consecutive days costs €32. Low-cost Foxity has two main departures, from Notre-Dame and Opéra; a two-hour outing with headphone commentary costs €17. By day or night, Foxity takes visitors around most of central Paris and offers rare handicap access. For an inexpensive, commentary-free alternative, try a regular Parisian bus. The Montmartrobus (€1.80) runs from the Anvers métro station to the top of Montmartre's winding streets. April through September on Sunday and holidays, the RATP's Balabus runs from Gare de Lyon to the Grand Arche de la Défense, passing by dozens of major sights on the way; tickets are €1.80 each, with one to three tickets required, depending on how far you travel.
Big Bus Tours. 17 quai de Grenelle, 15e, Paris, 75015. 01–53–95–39–53; eng.bigbustours.com/paris/home.html.
Foxity. 3 rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, 9e, Paris, 75009. 01–40–17–09–22; www.foxity.com.
Paris L'Open Tour. 13 rue Auber, 9e, Paris, 75009. 01–42–66–56–56; www.paris.opentour.com/en.
Pariscityvision.com. 2 rue des Pyramides, 1er, Paris, 01–44–55–61–00; www.pariscityvision.com .
RATP. 3246; www.ratp.fr.
Minibus and Car Tours
Pariscityvision.com runs minibus excursions with a multilingual guide to places like Mont St-Michel and the Loire Valley (check the website for promos and prices). Paris Trip and Paris Major Limousine organize tours of Paris and environs by limousine, Mercedes, or minibus (for 4–15 passengers) for a minimum of four hours. Chauffeurs are bilingual. Prices range from €68 to €999, depending on the type of vehicle and the distance covered. Another four-wheel option is 4 Roues sous 1 Parapluie: take the Unknown Paris tour (90 minutes, €60) and discover the city’s best-kept secrets in an old-school Citroën 2CV (France’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle), or try a ride around the Champs-Élysées (45 minutes, €30). With 20-odd options available in this iconic car, you can leave the driving to others and just enjoy being a tourist.
4 Rues sous 1 Parapluie. 22 rue Bernard Dimey, 18e, Paris, 75018. 01–58–59–27–82; www.4roues-sous-1parapluie.com.
Paris Major Limousine. 199 bd. Malesherbes, 17e, Paris, 75017. 01–44–52–50–00; www.1st-limousine-services.com.
Paris Trip. 2 Cité de Pusy, 17e, Paris, 75017. 01–56–79–05–23; www.paris-trip.com.
Pariscityvision.com. 2 rue des Pyramides, 1er, Paris, 01–44–55–61–00; www.pariscityvision.com.
Special-Interest and Walking Tours
Has it been a while since Art History 101? Paris Muse can help guide you through the city's museums; with its staff of art historians (all native English-speakers) you can crack the da Vinci code or gain a new understanding of hell in front of Rodin's sculpted gates. Rates start at €80, including museum admission.
If you'd like a bit of guidance flexing your own artistic muscles, take a themed photography tour with Paris Photo Tours. Run by Randy Harris, these relaxed excursions are perfect for first-time visitors and anyone hoping to improve their photographic skills. Expect to pay $165 for a daytime tour, $275 for the evening version.
Sign up with Chic Shopping Paris to smoothly navigate the city's retail scene. Tours, which start at €100, include Chic Consignment (focusing on vintage–secondhand places), Très Teens, and Unique Boutiques; itineraries can also be tailor-made to fit your interests.
Edible Paris, the brainchild of food writer Rosa Jackson, is a customized service for vacationing gastronomes. Submit a wish list of your interests and guidelines for your tastes, and you'll receive a personalized itinerary, maps, and restaurant reservations on request. Prices start around €125 per half day.
Paris by Mouth—the most popular English-language website about eating and drinking in the city—offers tasting tours led by local food writers. Three-hour outings, which run every day of the week, are available for two to six people (€95 per person). Private tours and larger group tours are available upon request; you can also add on a wine tasting, shared lunch, or baguette-making class.
Paris Walks offers a wide selection of tours, some year-round, that range from neighborhood visits and museum jaunts to themed tours such as Writers of the Left Bank. The guides are knowledgeable, taking you into less trammeled streets and divulging interesting stories about even the most unprepossessing spots. A two-hour group tour costs €12, and you don't have to reserve.
For a more intimate experience, Context Paris offers specialized in-depth tours of the city's art and architecture led by English-speaking architects and art historians; tours aimed at foodies are also available. Prices range from €88 per person for a three-hour group tour to around €380 per party for a full day of custom touring (maximum five people).
Black Paris Tours explores the places made famous by African American musicians, writers, artists, and political exiles. Options include a 5½-hour walking-bus-métro tour (€75) that provides first-time visitors with a city orientation and a primer on the history of African Americans in Paris.
Interesting walking tours are also available from the Centre des Monuments Nationaux; you can find a list in the weekly magazine L'Officiel des Spectacles, which covers them under the heading "Conférences" (most tours are in French, unless otherwise noted).
If you are as interested in the locals as in the sights per se, you can’t go wrong with Paris Greeters (Parisien d’un Jour). English-speaking resident volunteers take groups of up to six visitors out for a stroll, providing an insider’s look at Parisian life along the way. Best of all, the experience is free, though donations are always welcome.
Black Paris Tours. 01–46–37–03–96; 972/325–8516; www.blackparistour.com.
Centre des monuments nationaux. Bureau des Visites/Conférences, Hôtel de Sully, 62 rue St-Antoine, 4e, Paris, 75004. 01–44–61–20–00; www.monuments-nationaux.fr.
Chic Shopping Paris. 573/355–9777; www.chicshoppingparis.com.
Context Paris. 800/691–6036; www.contexttravel.com.
Edible Paris. www.edible-paris.com.
Paris by Mouth. www.parisbymouth.com.
Paris Greeters. www.greeters.paris.
Paris Muse. 06–73–77–33–52; www.parismuse.com.
Paris Photo Tours. 425/281–4649; www.parisphototours.com.
Paris Walks. 12 passage Meunier, St Denis, 93200. 01–48–09–21–40; www.paris-walks.com.