Paris's Best Insider Tours
An endlessly alluring and multilayered city, Paris has so much to see that it can be daunting to take on the task in one (or even several) trips. Whether you're a dedicated foodie, a culture vulture, a history buff, or simply a seeker of the unusual, an expert-led tour can streamline your visit and help you navigate the city like a native. Best of all, you'll enjoy all the benefits of VIP access and expertise.
Paris by Mouth Food and Wine Tours
Whether you're looking for the quintessential foodie experience or to boost your knowledge of Paris's culinary heritage (or just want to sample the goodies), Paris by Mouth's food tours deliver on every front. Led by savvy guides—most of them professional food writers—each three-hour tour (€95) offers an insider's perspective, with cheese, chocolate, wine, bread, charcuterie, and pastry tastings in food-centric neighborhoods—the Marais, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Latin Quarter, the Left Bank. Tours dedicated to cheese or wine offer in-depth commentary along with plenty of sampling, all included in the tour price. Tours are limited to seven people and benefit from "privileged relationships with vendors, cultivated over time," founder Meg Zimbeck says. Tours can also be privatized and tailored to particular tastes or interests. "You won't go away hungry," Zimbeck says.
Underground Paris Street Art Tour
After visiting the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, take a walk on the wilder side of Paris to discover a vibrant, sometimes subversive, street scene. Led by a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides—on foot or by bike—you'll be initiated into the ephemeral world of urban art, viewing works by notorious street artists like Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, as well as the works of locals, both well-known and anonymous. Underground Paris Street Art Tours (€20; €15 when booked online) feature many street artists who inject a spirit both controversial and illuminating into the city's far-flung corners. Learn the story behind the movement, how it differs from graffiti art, and experience a completely different side of Paris. After discovering the city with fresh eyes in through neighborhoods you might never navigate on your own, join a four-hour graffiti workshop to "conceptualize and paint your own full-scale graffiti mural" with the help of the Underground Paris team.
Paris Unlimited VIP Tours
Armed with an insider's knowledge and her personal black book of exclusive addresses, Marie-France Pochna, founder of Paris Unlimited tours, can open doors even lifelong Parisians may never step through. Personalized for individuals, families, or small groups of up to 12, these privileged tours mix culture, history, fashion, architecture, gastronomy, and even exclusive sporting events for the Paris experience of a lifetime. After conducting a personal interview to determine your tastes and interests, Pochna will create a custom proposal that combines timely cultural events with access to behind-the-scenes places and people for as little as one or up to five days. For example, fans of Napoleon start with the exhibition "Josephine" at the Musée du Luxembourg, then take a historian-guided tour through the sites most relevant to Napoleon's Paris, many closed to the public, culminating at the Château de Fontainebleau, where the Emperor bid farewell to the nation. "When people are moved by what they've seen, I feel I've done my job," Pochna says.
Historic Paris Tours
Although availability varies, Historic Paris Tours with Thirza Vallois make the city's extraordinary past come alive. An author, historian, and lecturer, Vallois has an encyclopedic knowledge of the city that has made her popular books a must-read for history buffs. For visitors seeking to augment their travel experience with a deeper knowledge of the city, Thirza's expert excursions deliver in her friendly and engaging style. Whether it's tracing the old Paris wall, learning the history behind the monuments, or following in the footsteps of legendary characters like Catherine de Medici or Madame de Sevigné, you will never view Paris the same way again. Tours can be booked by contacting Vallois online.
An integral part of the country's heritage and luxury economy, France's master craftspeople work behind closed doors to preserve a centuries-old French savoir faire. For a privileged peek behind those doors, Evanela offers visitors unique VIP access to the Paris couturiers, leatherworkers, woodcarvers, gilders, cabinetmakers, crystal cutters, perfumers, and many others who give the city its incomparable style and glamour. Spend an hour or a day meeting with craftspeople in their ateliers for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of age-old secrets and modern-day techniques. Evanela's most popular tour takes you to the exclusive ateliers supplying couturiers Dior, Givenchy, and others. "Our visitors love the fact that our encounters are authentic, a unique access to the great French designers and a real human experience," founder Lucie Knappek says. Customized tours are also available.
Paris by Bicycle
Since the advent of Paris's Velib' bike sharing system in 2009, the city has made huge strides toward creating safe, dedicated lanes. Capitalizing on this happy development, bike tours offer greater freedom and the ability to cover more terrain in less time.
Bike About's Parisian Day Tour (€30) gets you an insider's perspective of the city's charming, out-of-the-way streets, gardens, and passageways that otherwise might be missed, complete with expert commentary. Then, stop at a top French bakery for lunch. Tours are scheduled every day throughout the year.
Bike About and Fat Tire Bike Tours offer tremendously popular Versailles-by-bike excursions that skirt long lines, take you into the chateau through the palace gardens and Marie Antoinette's famous "village," and feature a trip to Versailles's wonderful indoor-outdoor farmer's market, capped with a picnic along the canal or in the chateau gardens (prices around €85). The company also offers a similar tour of Monet's garden.
Tip: Avoid wasting precious vacation hours in long lines with Easy Pass Tours' Skip-the-Line tours of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Versailles. Participants are whisked ahead of snaking lines for a two-hour tour led by professional guides. The VIP Versailles Tour not only takes you past hours-long lines, but also gives you access to monarch's private quarters in the opera house, closed to regular tourists (€225, but look for the frequently reduced rates of €145; lunch in the town of Versailles is included.)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paris by Mouth; Demian Smith (Paris Street Art Tour); © Bukki88 | Dreamstime.com (Château de Fontainebleau); Courtesy of Evanela; © Fat Tire Bike Tours
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