The first time I saw Paris was on a bus. It was 2007 and my mom had come to visit me while I was traipsing about London and on our itinerary was a quick day-trip to Paris. We hopped on the Eurostar and in a few hours we were aboard a private bus tour. It was air-conditioned, lovely and honestly, a bit sterile. We were experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world from behind glass and with no way to do what we wanted. Sure it was a quick trip but there had to be a better way.
Jump On The Big Bus
If you haven't been to a city before, the best way to experience it is by walking its streets. If you're pressed for time, an open-top bus is the next best thing. I've taken the Big Bus Paris Tour a number of times, including this past June, and have never been disappointed. It's a quick, fun way to get your bearings in Paris and plan where you want to visit with your remaining time. My wife and I have used Big Bus Tours in London to keep a group of high school pilgrims awake on their very first day in the country. In Rome, we hopped on a Big Bus to maximize a poorly planned trip (totally my fault) and see the highlights.
While it's not everyones preferred method of seeing Paris, there definitely are advantages to the Big Bus Tour. If you're using a Paris Pass, its included in the price and is a great kick off to seeing la Ville Lumière. It's hop off/hop-on feature lets you take your time when visiting museums or sites. So if time is of the essence, a Big Bus Tour is definitely the way to go.
Intimate Paris in a Citroën
If a bus isn't your thing, then maybe a private car ride around Paris with a local Parisian guide might be. On our honeymoon, my wife surprised me with a jaunt around Paris with Cedric of Cedric's Paris Tours and his 1982 Citroën 2CV "Thelma", complete with champagne. The tour was tailored to us and skipped the St. Germain de Pres area, since that was where we were staying, and focused on areas a bit further out. Cedric was beyond amazing and explained everything about the car, Parisian history and quirks of the city as we passed by the Arc de Triomphe and through the tiny streets on the Île Saint-Louis.
The tour was so great that we even sent our parents on it this past June for an anniversary present. Cedric and his drivers are all local Parisians and they have a few different cars and options to choose from to help tailor your tour to your taste. On our honeymoon we opted for a two-hour night experience with Champagne and photo opportunities behind Notre Dame. You can even book a tour with a photographer and visit all the best Parisian photo spots.
Life On Two Wheels
One of the most hilarious experiences that I've ever had in Paris was taking a Fat Tire Paris bike tour that snaked in and out of traffic, through crowds and in parks. We "dominated" lanes while drivers honked at us and thought we'd never make it back to the office, but we did and it was a blast. We took the Paris Day Tour but the real excitement came with the Versailles Bike Tour. Most people head out to Versailles and only experience the Chateau and a little section of the impressive gardens, but there's so much more to see. With Fat Tire you get transportation from Paris To Versailles and a truly magical ride around the massive palace grounds.
Did you know that Marie Antoinette had a small hamlet built away from the main palace to escape life as a French royal? Well, this tour takes your right up to the hamlet, complete with farm animals and a unique look at life in the time of Louis XIV. For lunch you get to shop at the local market and have a memorable picnic at the far end of the Grand Canal, with many great photo opportunities along the way.
However you see Paris, make sure you wander a bit. That's where the magic in the city really comes out.