If you are pressed for time and long to see Paris within less than half a day (or two full days or somewhere in between) or are simply not keen on scuffing your shoes on Paris’ cobblestones and developing nasty foot blisters in the process, Les Cars Rouges is a very good option to take.
For €24 per adult and €12 per child, you get to ride around in a red double-decker bus and get on and off at any of its 9 designated stops, which are conveniently located at Paris’ major points of interest: Eiffel Tower, Champs de Mars, Musée de Louvre, Notre Dame, Musée d’Orsay, Opéra, Champs Elysées-Etoile (right in front of the Arc de Triomphe), Grand Palais, and Trocadero.
As soon as you get on the bus, you will be given a small leaflet with the route map and the timetable, plus a pair of red (!) earphones, which you have to plug into the side of the armrests or the wall of the bus. You will then be able to listen to an interesting commentary which includes interesting tidbits of history about buildings and places that you pass by. The commentary is in 8 languages — English, French, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, German and Mandarin.
Click here to see the route map (Warning: 4MB file!). I scanned the actual leaflet that I had when I was in Paris, so it’s a bit tattered. Sorry about that ;)
There are 3 things that I like about Les Car Rouges:
1. You can get on and off the bus anytime you please at any of the 9 designated stops. A schedule is posted at each stop, indicating what time the next bus will come. Click here to see the complete timetable of the buses at each designated stop. The buses were right on schedule, almost Swiss-like in their precision, disproving my initial concerns about Paris traffic.
The address and location of the designated stops are indicated in the Cars Rouges leaflet. Look out for this sign, as well:
It takes about 2 hours to finish the entire tour. You may get off at every stop, if you wish, and just get on another bus once you’re done, or you can do like what Lola and I did: stay in the bus for the entire duration of the tour to see everything first before deciding where to get off and start a more in-depth exploration of the key places of interest. Perhaps you may want to have your photo taken in Trocadero, a small square located between 2 museums just across the river from the Eiffel Tower. Or you can choose to get off at Champs de Mars, a green field that makes a nice background for photos of you smiling, with the Eiffel Tower towering behind you. Or perhaps you want to pay a visit first to La Joconde a.k.a. the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.
2. Your ticket is valid for 2 days, hence, you can continue your tour the next day. The first bus leaves at 8 am at Trocadero and the last bus leaves at 8 pm. Just make sure you keep your receipt because the bus driver will want to see them when you board the bus.
3. They give part of the proceeds to Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). That means, you get to enjoy Paris and contribute to a good cause at the same time.
Of course, there are other options to see Paris, such as the Batobus, which employs the same hop-on-hop-off concept, except that you get to ride a boat on the River Seine. This is also a nice, leisurely option and I would have taken it due to my initial concerns about possible traffic jams that would disrupt my tour schedule. But after having seen how smooth the traffic was for the bus, I strongly recommend the bus because you get to see more of Paris from the bus, especially from the upper deck.
We enjoyed wonderful views of Paris from the upper deck, even if it meant enduring 2 hours of the freezing early spring Paris weather (about 7 C!). Bien sur, you can also opt to stay warm and comfy in the lower deck and enjoy the view through the extra large windows. But don’t chat with the driver, s’il vous plait, because they are forbidden from doing so.
You can buy the tickets from Les Cars Rouges’ website, through ParisInfo.com, from the bus driver (no prior reservations needed), or through l’Office du Tourisme et des Congres de Paris‘ Main Welcome Office at 25, Rue des Pyramides, very close to the Opera House.
You can also opt for the Open Tour Bus, which offers 4 circuits and 50 stops, also using the hop-on-hop-off concept. Passes are available for 1 or 2 days and can be used on all 4 circuits. Prices as of June 2008 are:
Adult 1 Day (12 and over): 25 €
Child 1 Day (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 12 €
Adult 2 Days (12 and over): 28 €
Child 2 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 12 €