Paris is beautiful. But why does this medieval city have big wide streets? Why does Paris have tree lined boulevards, green parks, fountains, and block after block of elegant, uniformly designed cream colored buildings? Take a Paris walking tour with Context Travel to walk the streets of Paris. Learn about its history, architecture, and how modern Paris was created. Or take a Context Travel walking tour designed especially for families or foodies.

Paris walking tour with Context Travel

Gorgeous interior of Galleries Lafayette department store in Paris (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Paris Walking Tour

My family took a walking tour of Paris with an expert guide who let us pepper him with questions. It was a great way for my kids (ages 18 and 21), my husband, and me to get a sense of the layout of Paris and to learn some of its architectural history.

What is a Context Travel Walking Tour?

I love the idea behind Context Travel tours: in-depth walking tours with local experts, for culturally curious tourists. For each tour, a local expert on the topic who guides a small group, never more than 6 people, and focuses on a particular subject. Depending on the topic of the tour, your guide might be a chef, historian, architect, or professor. Context Travel tours let you travel deeper by learning historical, cultural, or artistic context for the sights you are visiting.

While Context Travel offers tours throughout Europe, Asia, U.S. and Canada, and a few in South America, this Paris tour was my first experience with them.

Walking tour of Paris includes the Opera House exterior

Paris Opera House is part of the walking tour (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Paris Walking Tour: How Modern Paris Was Designed

This was my family’s first visit to Paris. We wanted a tour that would help us get an overview of how this city grew from a medieval warren of narrow alleys to become the grand elegant city it is today. We chose a 3-hour Paris walking tour called City Invented: Haussmann and the Making of Modern Paris.

Haussmann, it turned out, was the enormously powerful Paris city planner who designed the layout for a lot of current Paris. Working for the French Emperor, from 1853-1870 Haussmann ordered whole old neighborhoods to be leveled to make way for the modern Paris. One goal was to bring light and air to the overcrowded city, to make the city healthier. He replaced the narrow twisting alleyways of the medieval city with the wide, tree-lined boulevards that today are so popular with both Parisians and tourists.

Paris walking tour

A lovely park in Paris created by a noble family as a real estate investment (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Haussmann wanted Paris to have a uniform elegance. Today you can see the identical design of whole blocks of buildings, with cream stone facades, floor to ceiling windows, and balustrades. He often planned a street to have a visual focal point, leading your eye to look down the street to its ending point at, say, a gorgeous church, or the Paris Opera House.

Highlights of Paris Walking Tour

Our Paris walking tour started when we met our Context Travel guide at a café near the Louvre Museum. Our guide was an American who lives in Paris, where he is a graduate student in urban planning.

Highlights of our Paris walking tour included the exterior of the sumptuous Paris Opera House, the stained glass mural inside a bank and the even more dramatic stained glass ceiling of the department store Galleries Lafayette. We visited garden parks created by noble families as real estate ventures, lined by stores and apartments. We stopped at several elegant glass-topped pedestrian shopping zones with clusters of one-room stores, which must be among the earliest “malls.” In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these shopping malls also were used to showcase new inventions to Paris crowds.

Paris walking tour includes elegant interiors

Elegant interior of a Paris bank (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

Our walking tour ended on the rooftop terrace of the Galleries Lafayette department store. From the roof, there is a great view of Paris, including many areas Haussamann completely ripped out and redesigned in the mid-1800s. Ending here had a bonus: there’s an excellent cafeteria. You can eat inside a glass space with a view, or outside on the terrace, with an even better view. After we said goodbye to the guide, we immediately went to lunch.

Is a Context Travel tour a good fit for your family?

All Context Travel tours of Paris are walking tours, ranging from 2.5 hours to 3 hours. While the tour we took was geared to adult or teen travelers, several tours are designed for younger kids: Notre Dame & Gothic Paris for Families; Monmartre For Families; Roman Paris for Families. And if your kids are foodies, your family might enjoy one of its many Paris Food Tours.

A Context Walking Tour ends with this view of Paris

Can you see the Eiffel Tower? View of Paris from the roof of Galleries Lafayette (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)

We were lucky to have a gorgeous August day for our walking tour when Paris was having a cool spell in the 70’s. This three-hour walking and stopping tour might be a challenge for younger kids, depending on their interest in architecture, history, and how modern Paris was designed. My kids (ages 18 and 21) thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

Our group of 5 peppered the deeply knowledgeable guide with a wide range questions about what we were seeing but also about Paris generally. He was happy to answer our questions. Context Travel guides are experts in their topics, and it was a pleasure to have the chance to ask any question that popped into our heads.

We visited Paris because it was the starting point of our river cruise in France – more about the cruise here. For a TMOM’s take on the Louvre, here.

Have you ever enjoyed an architecture tour of a city? Tell us about it in the comments.

Enjoy a Context Travel walking tour of Paris architecture - or food, art, history.

Enjoy a Context Travel walking tour of Paris architecture – or food, art, history. (Photo Philadelphia TMOM Sarah Ricks)