The best way to visit Paris is to walk around Paris. It is literally the best way to see the awe-inspiring sights, hear the lovely sounds of the French language and smell the melange of smells of this incredible city. It also helps that each must-see spot is only a couple hundred of meters from the next one. Had it not been for the freezing weather during my stay, I could have saved several euros from taking the bus. Anyway, aside from being a true-blue(-in-the lips-from-the-cold) tropical girl, I am also a (proud) nerd that loves nothing more than learning new things. And being a solo traveler on a tight budget and on a very short trip, what I needed were free Paris walking tours.
Sandemans Free Tour of Paris
On the third day of the year 2017, I explored Paris on foot. Knowing that the weather was going to be fairer than that of the previous day, I designated it as my “outdoor day,” the day of the free Paris walking tours. I had pre-booked a slot on Sandemans Free Tour of Paris prior to my trip and I was pumped.
The meeting point was only about 15 minutes away from my Airbnb apartment. I plotted my course in Google Maps using my pocket WiFi, making sure to pass by the famous Notre Dame de Paris. On my way there, I had another walking breakfast of pain au chocolat. I just knew the day would be great.
Arriving at the point de rendez-vous, there was already a crowd gathered. Among the tourists was a Filipino family based in Japan. It was terribly cold and when I heard they were from Japan, I immediately asked them if they had any extras of that wonderful Japanese invention: the kairo heat pack. Unfortunately, not one of them remembered to bring any.
Just like in my experience with SANDEMANs Free Tour of London, our walking tour started with a group photo:
After the obligatory group photo, our guide, Daniel, gave the following speech:
Before we start our tour, I would like to inform you that in Paris, thieves are everywhere, trying to steal money and other things from tourists. So, before we head out, I want you guys to remember this code word that I will say if I see any of these thieves so you’ll know to keep your things safe. The code word: THIEF!
It’s hard not to burst out laughing after that! Then, he proceeded to regale us with fun fact after fun fact of everything Paris. Here’s the roundup of our stops:
1. Fontaine Saint-Michel – during the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final with France vs Brazil, football fans gathered around the square. A fan climbed to the statue and put his blue jersey on Saint-Michel. The other fans tackled the a lone Brazil fan and put his yellow jersey on Satan.
2. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris – the second most visited church in the world.
3. Palais de Justice – at this point of the tour, the Filipino family decided to break away from the trip because we weren’t walking as much as they liked given the freezing weather. Everyone was just longing for some kairo.
4. Place Dauphine – a public square on the Ile de la Cité, the oldest part of Paris.
5. Statue of Henry IV – Here, I was too busy trying to get a decent photo of stop #6.
6. Pont neuf: one of the many love lock bridges – because locks are heavy, the locks from the Pont des Arts, the most famous love lock bridge, were cut and removed. It is now illegal to put locks there. Earlier this year, many of the locks from the different bridges went to an auction for charity.
7. Musée du Louvre – because it was a free walking tour, we just stayed at the Cour Carrée. There I learned that Louis XIV was a ballet enthusiast but only ever succeeded in mastering one movie, as in evident in his portraits. Check out my other post and find out what pose that was.
8. Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel – I was able to check the night scene here the previous night and I was glad to have also seen it during the day.
9. Tuileries Gardens with the Grand Roue de Paris at the end
This was the last stop of the walking tour. As an epilogue, Daniel told us that it seemed as if the pickpockets of Paris were also on holiday as we did not encounter a single one of them. He said they normally flock around the Notre Dame de Paris. Whew!
The tour ended then and because I was able to meet with two other solo travelers, I was able to give a “cumulative” tip to Daniel, our tour guide. This means that I pooled my money together with the other two people so I was able to give only 5 euros. Aside from being flexible when it comes to giving tips – tip only as you see the tour is worth – I liked Daniel’s tour because he had been pretty entertaining. His code word is my favorite Paris anecdote.
Latin Quarter Left Bank Tour of Discover Walks
Happy to have found other solo travelers, I stuck with them and together, we had lunch. M., the Italian guy, had the brilliant idea of looking for other free Paris walking tours. He found one that focuses on the Left Bank. After lunch, we were about half an hour walk from the meeting point for the Latin Quarter Left Bank Tour of Discover Walks: Notre Dame de Paris by the huge horse statue of Charlemagne. Good thing we had plenty of time as the tour was scheduled to start at 2:30 in the afternoon.
1. Shakespeare and Company – a bookstore in Paris that sells only English books. It also offers free lodging to aspiring English writers. The only conditions are that they spend some hours manning the front desk and finish one book per day. Quite interesting, don’t you think?
2. Saint-Julien le Pauvre – the oldest church in Paris, predating the Notre Dame de Paris by 3 years.
3. Aux Trois Mailletz – a jazz bar and an underground cabaret at the Left Bank.
4. Rue Galande – famous for being the oldest street in France
5. Rue du Fouarre – in the olden times, students used to come here to put hay around the street and listen to professors. Our guide swears it’s also the place of rampant prostitution.
6. Rue des anglais
7. Marché Maubert – this is our guide’s favorite spot in the Left bank as there is a great line up of French food available. This is also the spot where he gave the following tips:
- cigarette butts outside a food establishment means French people go there
- choose restaurants wherein there are no photos on the menu
- the shorter the menu, the better
8. Collège de France – France’s most prestigious research university. It does not grant degrees but there are professors who hold classes there for free and open to all.
9. Paris-Sorbonne University – one of the first universities in the world. The photo below shows the Statue of Montaigne. Notice how the tip of his shoe is colored differently from the rest of the statue. This is because rubbing his foot before an exam is guaranteed to bring good luck to students.
10. Cinema street – one of the things I regret was not having gone back to this street. I could’ve caught a movie here as per tradition.
11. Place de Sorbonne
12. Panthéon – burial site of many of France’s famous personalities.
Thus we ended the tour with a group photo. Left Bank Tours from other tour operators normally cost around 12 euros. But because I was part of a three-person group (and because I literally no longer had any cash in my wallet), I again only gave 5 euros.
What I especially loved about the Left Bank Tour was that it was done by a Parisian. I loved all the insider tips! Too bad it was really the second to the last day of my stay and I could not really put any of it to the test. Perhaps on my next visit? Also, this tour was quite different from my previous #EURockMyWorld walking tour (London) and bus tour (Highlands) in that there was no dissing involved. Although they were really just poking fun at their age-old adversaries (the English dissing the French, the Scots dissing the English), it was still quite refreshing not to hear any of it.
Before heading back to the 4th arrondissement where I was staying, I did a quick stop at the famous Jardin du Luxembourg. It was almost closing time so I only had the chance to take a few photos of the Palais du Luxembourg.