If I told you a private guide was waiting to give you a personalized tour of Paris, you’d probably be excited — and a bit wary. Exactly how much would such a swanky experience cost? Thanks to one remarkable organizer and their volunteers, the answer is nothing at all!
Paris Greeters is part of the International Greeter Organization, and I was fortunate to experience a volunteer-led tour on my recent trip to France. Organizing everything was easy and it’s something I would do again. Here’s why you should do it.
You See The City Beyond The Guidebook
According to the International Greeter Association, “Greeters welcome visitors to their city and take them on a personal, two to three-hour walk showing them the city beyond the guidebooks and off the beaten track. Greeters are volunteers who love their city or region and are keen to share with you their enthusiasm and knowledge.” Setting up a tour like this is a chance to take a unique look at a city and see things you wouldn’t normally discover.
It’s Perfect For New Or Returning Visitors
I love Paris, but I know it’s a divisive destination. For every person who adores the City of Lights like I do, there’s at least one other who says that they hated Paris. I think a Paris Greeters walk could be the perfect solution. Instead of following a cookie-cutter itinerary of top-10 attractions, you’ll see the city through a new lens and have a local explain the lay of the land for you.
As a returning visitor to Paris, I also found the experience incredibly valuable. The bulk of my tour took place in the Luxembourg Gardens. This is a spot I have visited before, but I gained valuable new insights about French history as my guide shared the history behind a group of statues representing French queens that I had never noticed before.
It’s Personalized For Both Of You
When you request a tour, you have to fill out a simple online form to share what some of your interests are, like urban architecture, local life, or history and culture. You can also write some information about yourself, what you want from the tour, and what area of the city you’re in. I shared that I’d be staying in the 7th district (or arrondissement) and I was open to exploring that area or the neighboring ones so I’d get to know “my” Paris better.
The organization quickly got back in touch with me with the contact information for my assigned guide, but there was no detailed itinerary. I was in her hands! She, after all, would be sharing her neighborhood and her expertise. In my case, my guide had grown up nearby and attended school near the Luxembourg Gardens.
As a child, her morning walk took her through the property, and some physical education programs even took place in the gardens. Had I been assigned a different guide, I bet I would have experienced a completely different tour. That is the beauty of it. It’s personalized for you and your greeter. This is a chance to gain a friend for the morning and learn about the city through their life and experiences.
There’s A Chance For Cultural Exchange
During your tour, you share a lot about your respective cities and learn a lot about local Parisian life far beyond the tour. I didn’t share all of my guide’s opinions about politics and world affairs. You probably won’t get into global affairs, like we did, but the idea is that you’re open to meeting people who aren’t just from a different country than you but also who might be different from you in many ways.
Chatting about everyday life and the similarities and differences between your countries is a huge part of the Paris Greeters tours. You’re not just getting dry commentary.
There Are No Hints Or Tipping
How many free tours have you been on that are “free” except they’re a “pay what you can” experience and you are all but required to give a generous tip instead of payment at the end? For me, it’s been a lot. Paris Greeters isn’t like that. They are volunteers who are committed to sharing their city’s story. They are doing it out of a love of volunteering and a love of Paris. After the walk, you can donate online to the organization if you want, but there is no pressure or follow-up to do so.
You’ll Be Encouraged To Explore More
My guide left me with some excellent parting advice. “Push on doors!” she said. It was a reminder that Paris is there for exploring and not to hesitate if there was a building I wanted to explore. Many churches, semi-private courtyards, and historical sites aren’t explored simply because people are hesitant to push on doors. It was advice that served me well throughout my trip.
Pro Tip: Make Meeting Up Easy
After the organization connected my guide and me by email, my greeter suggested a time and place to meet up. I knew the area in question, but where in that big intersection should I meet her? Was there a restaurant or shop I should stand beside? She breezily informed me that she’d find me. Uh, hello anxiety! How would she find me in that big crowd? I assumed she knew what she was doing, but I did email back to say that I’d be wearing my navy blue scarf.
My guide did indeed find me with no problem but, I’m glad I had the scarf all the same. If your greeter is similarly laid back, sharing a photo or an identifying feature pre-tour might make it easier to connect once you’re on the ground.
For more information on traveling to Paris, check out these articles: