Rick Steves Gave Me a Personal Tour of Paris — Here’s How You Can Get One, Too

This informative guided tour of Paris might just be Rick Steves Europe's best-kept secret.

A cup of tea with Rick Steves' Paris Guide book and a woman reading his Paris Guidebook

Kelsey Fowler

As someone who doesn’t mind spending time alone on vacations, I find some of my favorite travel memories include walking around a city or exploring a museum on my own. On a recent trip to Paris, I wanted to experience the history and atmosphere more than the last time I had set foot in the City of Light, when I was focused on checking off the “must see” tourist attractions.

So, driven by the mindset of traversing the city more as a traveler and not a tourist this time around, I decided that, rather than hiring an expensive personal guide, or hopping along on a packed group walking tour, I would turn to one of the most trusted guides in European travel: Rick Steves. Steves is a renowned travel writer, synonymous with European travel and his philosophy of embracing local culture while abroad. The Rick Steves guidebooks are hugely popular — in fact, I picked up the pocket version of the Rick Steves Paris book specifically for this trip.

While I couldn’t book Steves to guide me personally through Paris, I did have the next-best-thing: his audio tour. As I set out to explore the Left Bank, I had the convenience — and added company — of hearing Steves directly in my ear as I started my walk. Great audio guides allow the listener to explore cities at their own pace without needing to map out an itinerary in advance. Simply download the audio tour, head to the first landmark, and hit play.

Steves spent a lot of his 2022 travels talking to himself, carefully noting updates and changes for his 60 self-guided audio tours. In April 2023, Rick Steves Europe republished updated versions of these tours, with guides in Athens, London, Salzburg, Paris, and more. The walking tours are excerpted from Rick Steves guidebooks, and the free Rick Steves Audio Europe app includes bonus features like a companion map, tips, and the full script of each tour.

I opted for the Historic Paris Walk audio tour, as it covered a lot of the neighborhood near my hotel. The tour is advertised as a three-mile journey, and Steves recommends two hours for walking, and another two hours if you choose to go inside the sights.

View of Rick Steves audio tour of Paris and Rick Steves on a bike in front of an Eiffel Tower backdrop

Zachary Scott/New York Times Magazine/Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe

Starting out at Notre-Dame de Paris, I was instantly immersed in the story of Paris that Steves tells, building on the history of the city and religion that led to the construction of the cathedral. Even though the Gothic landmark is still undergoing repairs from the 2019 fire, I was able to listen to a good portion of the tour anyway, as Steves hits on a lot of the history and architecture on the outside.

One of the great things about the audio tour is each chapter of the narration has a separate title and picture, making it easy to navigate forward or backward in the audio to find the right location. Walking through the center of the city, I enjoyed having Steves as a companion, bringing me from spot to spot with enough insight to keep even my jet-lagged self interested. His style of narration is friendly and informative. 

The tour also includes verbalized step-by-step directions, so, if you have a good sense of direction, you can easily follow the turns and head to the next landmark or street without missing a beat. (I did have to pause once or twice to look around and make sure I was headed in the right direction.) But it’s easiest to follow the tour in the order Steves has laid out, as I completed almost a full loop around Île de la Cité, from Notre-Dame, to Pont Neuf, the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter, and Place Saint-Michel.

Of course, when I got to the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, I had to pause the guide to go inside. And that wasn't the only time I deviated from the tour: when I reached Sainte-Chapelle, I decided to skip that section as well. Because of Notre-Dame’s closing, this nearby church is even more popular now, and the line was too long for me to wait that day. In the updated tour found in the Rick Steves Audio Europe app, Steves does point out this is the one place to get an advance ticket for.

But as I walked through Paris, it truly felt like I had a personal guide with me. I didn’t feel like a tourist at all — I never had to pull out a map or a guidebook, and it made me appreciate walking through the city while learning its history.

The next day, I went to the Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’s most popular museums, perhaps best-known for its extensive Impressionist collection with works by Van Gogh and Monet, among many others. Here, I pulled out my pocket-sized Rick Steves Paris guidebook (and quietly read it aloud to a friend as we walked the vibrant maze of Manets and Picassos). Steves also has an audio tour of the museum, and others, like the Louvre, if you’re more inclined to listen rather than read. 

If you — like me — are not an art student, but still want to appreciate these masterful works, Steves’s guides are helpful in pointing out which works are important to stop at, and what to look for once you’re there. I loved hearing more about the art world throughout history in Paris, and Steves is able to compare and contrast differing styles and movement, and build on that knowledge as you progress in time throughout the museum.

The Steves guides allowed me to explore landmarks and places I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, and get a great understanding of the city without any language barrier. Plus, self-guided tours offer flexibility and independence, while still offering a rewarding and informative experience. 

The Rick Steves audio guides are all completely free. Interested travelers can install the Rick Steves Audio Europe app to download the latest versions of the tours.

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