Speaking Touristically: Paris by Wheels or Water?

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Photograph by Steve Sampson.

Photograph by Steve Sampson.

Want to see Paris in a really special way? I recommend the ultimate in summer touring—via a Citroën Deux Chevaux, or 2CV. Engineered by Pierre-Jules Boulanger, and first produced in 1949 but last manufactured in the 1990s, these beloved cars are mythic. The enterprising company 4 Roues sous 1 parapluie (Four Wheels under an Umbrella) takes its title from the car’s nickname. Seven years ago owner Florent Dargnies restored a raft of them to offer tailor-made tours with multilingual driver-guides. Most are young, all are good drivers and each will happily tell you much you’d never guess about Paris.

Tip: Drivers for 4 Roues are chatty yet authoritative. They’ll make you feel like you’re in an old French film, plus you’re free to look up at architecture, foliage, steeples, etc. You’re also in the hands of a company that has won, two years in a row, the French Tourist Authority’s Most Welcoming prize. 4 Roues offers a huge selection of tours, some based on themes—bucolic Paris, Paris by night, the Da Vinci Code, “insider” specials—others designed by arrondissement or for children. You can also have one customized.

At 54 euros for three passengers (158 euros for just one person), the Paris Eternel tour covers the city’s great landmarks in one and a half hours. But I’m certainly tempted by the sound of Paris Shopping: Tour of the Men’s Despair. The least expensive option is 19 euros per person, with three passengers to a car; or 58 euros for one person chauffeured alone. Book in advance through the 4 Roues website, and be sure to preview the weather! Their tours are a delightful experience, and one that locals, who relish seeing a Deux Chevaux, often cheer on.

Photograph courtesy 4 Roues.

Photograph courtesy 4 Roues.

Of course the Seine is also alive with boat tours. Each lasts around an hour, and they run every 20 to 30 minutes. Prices vary by only one or two euros. If you want to join in, decide what you prefer: do you want to cruise by evening? Are you with the kids? Consider especially whether or not you want (loud) audio commentary. That may explain the sights, but it will detract from any romance. You’ll need to consult each company’s website for details about booking, departures, special offers and other options.

Tip: At 13 euros, Batobus offers an eight-stop tour without commentary, and its boats are relatively intimate in size. A Batobus ticket works as a one-day pass, allowing as many trips as you like, with hop-on, hop-off privileges at the eight main stops. Through August the boats run every 17–20 minutes. A glass safety roof can make them extremely hot in summer, but is nice to have when it’s rainy.

Tip: At 16 euros (4 euros less if booked online) are Canauxrama’s inventive Atmosphère tours, on Friday and Saturday evenings, along the Canal St.-Martin (each lasts 2.5 hours). You’ll pass briefly underground, with special projections, audio information, music and more. The cruise takes its name from Arletty’s famous “Atmosphère, atmosphère!” exclamation in the classic Marcel Carné film Hôtel du Nord, shot on sets that duplicated an area you’ll see from the boat. Canauxrama also runs Cruise of the Old Paris daily, which allows you to take in swirling locks as well as locations from Amélie and Hôtel du Nord. Tickets are 9.50–24 euros.

Savers: The least expensive, most recognizable option (bright vermilion seats) is Bateaux Mouches (basic price 10 euros), whose very large boats leave from Pont d’Alma. Lunch, dinner and children’s cruises are offered. At 11 euros, Bateaux Parisiens and Vedettes de Paris also run less expensive basic tours, plus dining and children’s cruises for higher prices. Vedettes du Pont Neuf charges 12 euros but is popular with visiting students.

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