If you've read any one of my previous posts talking about Paris, you know I've mentioned the juxtaposition of commotion and tranquility that exists throughout the city. The most important thing to remember is that it's a matter of where you go in the city. On a more precise note, it's also about your state of mind, which sensation you experience. If your experience is one of stress and hustle, you may have either given yourself too much to do, or you're spending too much time in the touristy areas. Allowing time for your mind to be put at ease, letting your schedule flow effortlessly instead of being dictated. Then again, doesn't that apply anywhere and everywhere you are? All of that to say, one of my most treasured experiences in Paris would be quietly, gently strolling through the many "hidden" gardens. They aren't necessarily hidden from the locals, just the tourists! Parisians may wonder why I am fascinated by their gardens in which they are able to visit daily; it's because there aren't any "secret" gardens where I live. I am determined to create one of my own in our backyard once we get our new house built!
Many of these "secret gardens" (as I love to refer to them as) are only a step through a doorway that is easily missed if your walking down the street. Often set within residential areas, some are private and locked; but if the gate is open, take a peek inside to see what is hidden on the other side. It may turn out to be the peaceful little spot you wanted to enjoy your cappuccino and some fresh air.
Thanks to our newfound love for walking tours, we are regularly finding these quiet spaces that are unbothered by masses of tourists. Oh, and I must mention, we stumbled across the lovely home of Marion Cotillard on one of our tours. It was lovely!
In order to make the absolute most of your trips, I would highly suggest searching for walking tours in that city. There are many different companies; most at a reasonable price, some are "name your own price"- meaning they are gratuity only. You will also have a variety of tours to choose from, so you can pick one that caters to your interest. Whether there is a specific neighborhood you'd love to learn about, or if you love to learn about history, or if you want to explore unknown areas and find hidden gems within the city, there is something for you. Some cities even have food tours and themed tours (the latter is usually kitsch, but they can be fun).
Some walking tour companies we've used and highly recommend:
- Discover Walking Tours- name your own price, a large variety of tours. We did three of these in Paris! We really enjoyed the Le Marais tour, so much beauty and passionate guide!
- Free Tours by Foot- also gratuity based, we chose this company in New York City. Highly recommend the Soho, China Town, Lower Manhattan tour!
- London Walks- only £10 each person. A wide variety of tours available! Including themed tours, such as Jack the Ripper and Ghost Tours.
- Seattle Free Walking Tours- as the name infers, this one is in Seattle. If you find yourself in Seattle soon, do NOT miss this one!
Be sure to check out the lists of tours before leaving for your destination (easier said than done, I know!) as it really helps to have the simple activities such as a walk planned out in advance. I like to have a few things on the itinerary that are a set date and time, so we can plan around it. However, if you don't plan ahead, walking tours can be an easy last-minute plan! We did three in Paris- two of which were spontaneous. Just don't bank on it- some of them fill up days in advance.
Walking tours last anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours. While they are an excellent way to learn history and lesser known gems throughout the city, our favorite thing about walking tours is the people we get to meet. We have made friends with people from other countries that we ended up eating with and visiting with outside of the tour. Connecting with others from around the globe who just happen to be visiting the same city as you at the same point in time is so life-enriching. Thanks to social media, you have a way to keep in contact easier. On that point, always do a walking tour close to the beginning of your trip as possible; so that if you meet people you'd like to hang out with, you still have time! We did a walking tour the morning we were to fly out of NYC earlier this year, and we wished we had more time to visit with some friendly people who were visiting from Italy, but we had to rush off!
Other benefits of walking tours, including, but not limited to:
- Learning local customs, traditions and courtesies
- Your guide may teach you some basic phrases the local language
- Learning how to recognize a good, trustworthy restaurant
- Learning the best way to commute/routes to take in certain neighborhoods or times of day-- a great strategy for maximizing your trip.
- Learning where you may find scenic walks or vantage points.
- Finding shops and boutiques that you otherwise may have missed.
- Condensing several sites into a short amount of time that may have taken you twice the time navigating yourself.
- Possessing more knowledge about the city you visited!
- Learning interesting, fun stories about places and people that otherwise, you would walk right by and not know! You will love the stories you get to take home and share with others and cherish for yourself.
So, if you're planning a trip anywhere, domestic or international, find a walking tour! You'll be so glad you did.