Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light–my book of essays about Paris–was reissued in a fully updated, expanded, redesigned second edition in the prestigious Armchair Traveler series published by Broadway Books (Random House) and I’m proud to say that it has been reprinted a dozen times and is still selling.
Our Paris, Paris Tours–custom walking tours of Paris–have been in full swing for over a decade. Please see the testimonials below for a small sampling of our tour guests’ endorsements. We’re proud to have had the privilege of taking so many smart, curious, fascinating people on tour in Paris, Burgundy, Rome, and on the Italian Riviera!
Would you like to spend a day with my wife, photographer Alison Harris, and me, discovering the Luxembourg Gardens, Butte-Chaumont and Montsouris – Paris’ trio of seductive, sometimes startling parks?
Or stroll around the Ile-Saint-Louis, exploring courtyards and 17th-century townhouses?
How about getting an insider’s view of the Marais, where we’ve lived for over 25 years? We might start at the magical Place des Vosges and wind up at the Carnavalet Museum, after a leisurely walk down the atmospheric alleys of the Saint-Paul neighborhood, or through the quiet back gardens of the Hôtel du Grand Veneur and Hôtel de Sully.
Looking for the panoramic sweep? Skip the elephant train for tourists and let us help you experience Modigliani’s Montmartre instead. Or walk with us through Coco Chanel’s Golden Triangle. If you love “Vincent,” there’s Van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise. Architecture buffs thrill when we walk them through the 3-D adventurism of Georges Pompidou and François Mitterrand—a mix of inspired urbanism and extravagant eyesores. How about the Paris of the Great Romantics—Victor Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire—as described in my new book A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light.
Into zombies? You don’t have to be ghoulish to want to visit Paris’ astonishing cemeteries. We take you to a very lively City of the Dead at Père-Lachaise Cemetery, and Montmartre and Montparnasse cemeteries too.
Paris, Paris walking tours are one-of-a-kind, personalized, tailor-made, customized, bespoke, and, we hope, a pleasant adventure. We are delighted to spend half days or full days with individuals, couples, and families, or small groups. The only equipment you need is a pair of comfortable shoes—and curiosity.
If you don’t already own a copy of our book Paris Paris ordering it is easy. Consider picking a chapter or two and letting us create an accompanied tour for you. Like the book, our walking tours provide an independent, quirky, intimate insider’s view of Paris you’re unlikely to forget. If you’d prefer we do all the work, just say so and we’ll send suggestions your way.
We also craft visits that go beyond the pages of our book. Paris for photographers, for instance, Paris for art lovers, or Paris for food & wine lovers; Paris for choco-holics; and Paris City of Light—our favorite nightwalks. Not to mention ancient Roman Paris, and Paris riverbanks, canals and gardens…
Please write us for details and rates: email@example.com
All the best, David and Alison
“…Uncover… the secrets of this fascinating city… have adventures… a day of looking at the Paris of 1900, for instance. It’s still here. You’ll eat at Julian, have a coffee at Angélina, go to the movies at La Pagode, look at the Palais des Mirages… Or if 1900 is too recent, try the Paris of Beaumarchais, the playwright who invented Figaro, in the days of Louis XV and XVI…. You’ll learn about the topography of the Buttes-Chaumont, the gorgeous park in the 19th arrondissement, far from the tourist track; it has a bridge by Eiffel and cliffs built to emulate the famous cliffs of Étretat….”— Diane Johnson, from the foreword to Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light
“Exploring Paris with David and Alison is so much more than a ‘tour’. It is immersion into another world. I love Paris for many reasons, but primarily because it expands my universe. David and Alison have an incredible erudition and innate curiosity. The depth of their research into the story behind the windows, doors and streets of Paris is phenomenal. As you walk around the city with them, you will have déjà vu moments of being a child enraptured by storytellers who enjoy their tales as much as the listener. If you have read David’s books or seen Alison’s photography, you will surely want to revisit them once you become privy to their fonts of inspiration. Short visits to beloved places pass quickly. Time spent with this wonderful couple will extend and enrich your stay.”—Renee Ozborn
“Of the fourteen days we savored Paris, the one we spent with you two lingers for all five of us in fond memory and deep gratitude. We realize how fortunate we were to have scheduled that day early in our visit. The perspectives, anecdotes and history – delivered painlessly with wit and humor – informed and enriched all the days that followed as we roamed without your presence. During our walk with you from St. Germain, through the Latin Quarter, Ile de Saint Louis and Marais, you helped us visualize and appreciate the centuries of people who had walked there before us. We particularly enjoyed that you edited your presentation to meet specific interests and backgrounds each of us had mentioned to you in our correspondence prior to the tour. Beyond that, you graciously adjusted the pace to our advanced ages and infirmities. We’re sure that it must be challenging for the two of you to determine what to release to any given group from your great reservoir of Parisian knowledge and experience, but know that you slaked our thirsts. We already have recommended — and will continue to recommend — your books and tours as we have the opportunity to do so. Au revoir!”—Chapin and Janet Day, Laurie Cowan, Susan Gilbert, Ev Fletcher
“After spending five wonderful weeks exploring Europe, I’m happy to confirm that among all our adventures, our time with you stands out as one of the genuine highlights. Exploring Paris in your joint company opened our eyes to so much worth knowing.”—Bill Tweed
“Thank you again for such a wonderful day. You are a wealth of information and also very good company (Minnie)”… “Minnie and I had an absolutely wonderful day exploring Paris with you. We’re just glad that there was no follow-up quiz on all the information you shared. You not only opened up new areas of the city for us, but gave a new dimension to the area around the d’Aubusson where we have passed often, without realizing so much of what was right in front of us (Richard).”—Minnie and Richard Gill
“What do you get when you combine an encyclopedic command of subject matter, an artist’s eye for detail and perspective, and an accomplished raconteur with a devilish (or mischievous) sense of history and humor? You get a walking tour with David and Alison Downie; an unquestionably rich and rewarding experience at the end of which you will feel as if you’ve taken an enchanting stroll with very smart, engaging, and delightful friends.”—Marlow and John Peters
“A personal thank you for spending the day with my girls and me exploring Paris. We could feel the passion and love you both have for this incredible city’s history. You’re both great storytellers and we loved that you both wanted to tell us your version of things. As we explored on our own the rest of the week we would remember many things you explained to us and we mentioned you often to each other.”—Mary Ann Patzer and family
“Fascinating! We joined David and his wife Alison for two walking tours around Paris and came away so excited by what we learned and truly impressed by the amazing knowledge and delicious details David and Alison provided at our various stops. They tailored the walks to our interests and walking pace, and were full of charming stories that brought the churches, buildings, sites and locations to life. A walk with these two gifted storytellers will make a trip to Paris very special. Thank you David and Alison.”—Wendy Stewart and Judy Foreman
“David, thank you for an amazing day. As a couple who have visited Paris many times and thought we had seen it all, our day with you was a wonderful trip into the history, architecture, people and uniqueness of Paris. We learned things we never knew, saw things we had never seen and experienced Paris in a new way. I don’t think we’ll ever forget going underground in St. Germain to stumble upon remnants of Paris’ medieval walls, adjacent to neatly parked cars of course. We both found ourselves re-reading your ‘Paris,Paris’ book reliving our day on the flight home. Thank you again and we look forward to our next visit!”—John and Karen Gerstel
“As promised we came back for a second helping! Thank you for another wonderful tour! As I expected, you made the familiar streets seem even more interesting, and you introduced us to an area we wouldn’t have found otherwise. We loved it! And thanks for pointing us to the Hotel du Nord restaurant, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch, and for telling us the best way to get to Buttes-Chaumont. We had a wonderful afternoon.”—Laurie Petersen et al, tour alumni
“In our 25+ years of coming to Paris, yours was by far the best tour we’ve had. You made a careful selection of sites to show us, paced it perfectly, and wove entertaining anecdotes into the history, architecture and lore of the Marais. And you and Alison were such fun companions we forgot about the less than welcoming weather.”—Eileen Kennedy and Bob
“After the wonderful day with you, we were inspired to spend the rest of the trip just walking. We saw so much of the city we would never have seen without you — from hints you gave when we were with you to stories from the book, we saw the city in a whole new light. It was one of our very best vacations ever. Thanks so much for helping make it happen. PS–The wine and cheese were wonderful — and much needed after long days of walking. I’m still dreaming about the earthiness and salt in the mimolette!”—Jamie DeMent and Richard Holcomb, Coon Rock Farm, N.C.
“I’ve been to Paris many times, and taken private tours with many different tour guides. None of them come close to being as good as David. He brings the history of Paris to life, and he’s full of interesting and colorful stories, not simply what you could read in a guidebook or history text. Even my brother, who is a history teacher and a tough critic, loved David’s tours. I will pick a different neighborhood and tour Paris with David again on all of my future trips to Paris.”—Karol Mason
“I have been to Paris so many times I know my way around blindfolded, but I hire David to provide newer perspectives and vastly different approaches than I can possibly have. His book about walking in Paris has been an incredible hit — he’s the best there is. You are ALMOST in the air!”—Elatia Harris
“My husband and I have been to Paris many times and are always seeking new and great adventures! My favorite book on Paris is “Paris Paris” by David Downie. He is an author and at times, if you are lucky, he will agree to be your guide. We shared an absolutely fascinating afternoon with David at Pere Lachaise Cemetery where the likes of Chopin, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde lie, along with many companions. David knows so much about so many Pere Lachaise residents. . . and brings each to life with his wonderful tales. I cannot wait to find another adventure to go on with David. It truly gives you the “insider’s look” into Paris, and I would highly recommend him to anyone who loves the City of Light.”—Sandi Kallenberg
“We so enjoyed our time with Alison & you. Some of our friends can’t understand why we need “guides” after all the time we’ve spent in Paris. I think part of the answer to that is “the forest through the trees” cliché. It’s a great plus to have knowledgeable people like you to have us pause and regard spaces that we have seen many times, but now with more historical and artistic background. Not to mention that we get the perspective of Americans who have lived in Paris and France as long as you have.”—Max Lebersfeld
“Thank you for the great tour. Tom and I so enjoyed our time spent with you. The depth of your knowledge is amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at French history in quite the same way.”–Margaret Harding
“We learnt more about Paris spending a day with David and Alison than in twenty years visiting as ordinary tourists. The tour was brilliant, totally bespoke and full of treasures we’d never have found on our own. David and Alison have a huge fund of knowledge and enthusiasm about the city and its history. Thanks to them, today we feel like expert Parisians. Could not have been better.”–Imogen Robertson
“We all loved the tour of the Marais; you’re the man! I can’t imagine a more knowledgeable, generous, and hospitable guide. Except maybe Alison!”—Laurie McAndish King
“We all loved the time with you introducing us to the subtleties of the early history of Paris and the Marais.”—Joseph & Claudia Gold and family
“ Paris is a city of many pleasures, known for its museums, landmarks, music, art, fashion and food. Visitors who come for their first few stays are generally still tied to their guidebooks, and only beginning to feel the real attraction of the city. There is a magnificent thread to be discovered here. A connection between history, politics, the arts and architecture of a place that is its culture. One could spend a lifetime observing and studying to understand and revel in it. It is a treasure waiting to be discovered and captured into life’s experience. It was Maggie who found our key to the Paris treasure from the pages of his best selling book, “Paris, Paris,” David Downie. We have enjoyed his company as our guide on our most recent two trips. David has walked us through this beautiful city opening windows of understanding through architectural relics, art and his knowledge accumulated through years of study, research and exploration. David makes each experience with him rich as a landmark in the events of another time and statement to the city’s cultural heritage. He has shown us the former location of the Roman theater, the above and below ground remnants of the stone wall that once encircled the city as well as a quiet courtyard where the last of the old leaden hand water pumps stands soldierly tall and quiet. We have walked through the former home of a noblewoman who kept young men for her insatiable sexual appetite, and stood in the doorway where one of her “suitors” jealously stabbed another. We walked down the street that once ran red with the blood of sheep killed to perfect the guillotine as a more merciful way for the condemned to die. David shared the location of Sarte’s residence and coffee houses where he and his contemporaries explored another point of view. We stood by the usual table occupied by Picasso, and then walked to view where he lived through the Nazi occupation, and where he created Guernica. We have learned more in a few hours of walking and talking with David than we did many previous years of travel to Paris. David has whetted our appetite for more of our own study as well as a quick return to explore more of Paris with him. However, in parting with him yesterday, Maggie and I agreed on a certainty. Once I too have completed his newly released book, “Paris to the Pyrenees,” we won’t attempt to duplicate his months of travel on foot. My feet are way too tender.”—Tom Logsdon
“Thanks again for your most engaging and thorough visit of the Marais—the history and humor was memorable, as was the meal at Le Gorille Blanc. We all had a great time, and will certainly recommend your tours.”—Maria Scrivani
“The Cort family was fortunate enough to do a day-long tour with David Downie in October of 2012 on our first day in Paris. We combed through the Marais, learning along the way about kings and queens, other important and interesting characters, religion, architecture, urban planning, great food, and great books. His insights and pointing out of details we would otherwise have missed, informed the rest of our visit to Paris. Whenever we saw a change in structure or a statue we were able to fit it into what we had learned that first day. I hope to be able to do another exploration with David soon.”—Cynthia Cort
“We are very grateful to have experienced our one-day wander around the streets of the Maris with you. We learned so much about the people, politics, buildings, very old protective walls, narrow roads, churches, coffee, cafes, gardens and squares. I think one could walk for days with you and only begin to tap your wealth of knowledge that is delivered with that special edge we loved so much!”—Tracy Stilwell et al
Read about Tracy’s adventures in Paris (and the tour with David) on her lively and colorful blog
“Thanks for a really nice walk and talk. More than seeing a few sites and learning a bit of history, I feel like I left with a different way of looking at cities. As my taxi drove me along today, I looked more closely at the buildings around me, the shape of roads, the positions of landmarks–always looking for hints about why things are the way they are.”—Jeff Patton
“We were a party of four from Seattle and Boston who met up with David on the Ile St Louis in a torrential April downpour. Damp but undaunted, umbrellas up, we set off with David to find some of the best food in Paris. We learned something about French life around every corner, down every tiny little rue. David is extremely knowledgeable about French history, French food, French culture, and French politics. And David is fun, funny, irreverent and insightful. We tramped all over the Latin Quarter, in and out of fromageries, patisseries, and boulangeries, sampling and buying cheese, pastries and bread. We held an impromtu taste-test of macarons from two different patisseries, while out on the street (the winner was Gregory Renard). One of the most enjoyable aspects of our time together was the instant affinity all felt toward David. He is a rock star!”—Dianne Davis, Seattle, WA and Sharon Potenza, Boston, MA
“Is there nothing David and Alison don’t know about Paris? As an eighteenth century specialist, I was probably their idea of a nightmare client and my request for a bespoke tour of what remained of Revolutionary Paris was a tall order indeed. But David and Alison more than rose to the occasion. They showed me parts of the city I would have never found on my own. They opened doors to places otherwise inaccessible. Architecture, street signs, hidden details I would have never known about, were all revealed to me. It proved to be a totally fascinating and invaluable experience!”–Hallie Rubenhold
“Read the book (twice), took the tour with David and Alison and highly recommend both. Paris, Paris is a great, fun way to learn more about Paris. After several trips to Paris, I heard about Paris, Paris and bought the book. This led to a better appreciation of the city, its people and its history. So we decided to spend a day with David and Alison. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the day with them and learned so much more about the city of lights. David pointed out things about streets, buildings, museums that we never would have really ‘seen’ had we not been with him. Treat yourselves to a unique experience in Paris.”–Jonathan Philipson
“Our full-day customized Paris walking tour with David and Alison was one of the most memorable travel experiences we’ve had. David and Alison spent a lot of time planning a unique tour that met our interests in art, literature and history. They made the city and its rich history come alive in ways that would not have been possible if we had done it on our own. Thank you, David and Alison, for making that day such a special one for us. We look forward to another tour the next time we visit Paris!”–Linda Markeloff
“Thanks for the great companionship and education you gave us. We now have our column types straight, know some serious things about Delacroix, got a sense of the rich history of the Marais, and the walk around St Germain des Pres and to St Sulpice was magical. All in all, a great trip and the time we had with you was the high point; we will do it again and hopefully soon.”–John A. Herfort
“With his deep knowledge of Paris, David can really bring the city alive with fascinating historic and modern stories.”—Susan A. Noonan
“My wife and I are American Francophiles who have made at least twenty visits to Paris since our first trip there together in 1974. I cannot recall ever hiring a guide before, but last month we came for four nights and I reached out to David (whose name I had noted in a Paris Notes article some years ago). We spent the most fascinating half-day with him in the neighborhood where he lives, the Marais, and only regret that we had not thought to contact him in the past as our previous visits to our favorite city abroad would have been so enriched. The previous day, his wife, Alison Harris, accompanied us to Versailles. The weather happened to be miserable but Alison had us concentrating on the magnificence of the place and regaling us with its history; the rain and wind became immaterial. We look forward to spending more time with Alison and David whenever we return to Paris and would entertain their suggestions for accompanying them to other places in Europe that they know and love.”—Max Lebersfeld
“David helped us open doors in Paris that many tourists would never see. He has a passion for the French way of life that exists today and that is disappearing because of globalization. David can help you immerse yourself in Paris with the ease of an old friend. His approach is wonderfully low key but thorough and very much in depth. He can share with you an in-depth education and love for French food and wine like no other.”—Jerry Lane
“It was the highlight of our trip to spend the day with you…. Thank you a million times over for your insight, knowledge and patience! I don’t know how you do it!!”—Courtney and Tom Kennaday
“Wine and cheese and the pairing of these two delights took on new meaning and excitement when presented interestingly and beautifully by Alison and David. Taking that home and then reading David’s exciting novel, Paris City of Night, made the experience wonderfully whole. Everytime I read a novel that includes Paris, I refer to their insights, tidbits and information about the Marais. All are a must!”—Kathy Stone
“My husband and I have been to Paris several times but we felt that when we saw Paris with David and Alison, we were seeing it for the first time. Off the beaten path, Paris is a whole other experience and it was nothing less than fascinating, fun and memorable. We felt very privileged indeed, and wouldn’t go back, ever again, without them.”—Claudia and Robert Horton
“David and Alison know—and can introduce you to—the food, architecture, history, culture, life and people of Paris better than anyone. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a regular looking for new insights and new discoveries, you couldn’t have a better guide or better company. If Michelin gave stars for tours, David and Alison would have a whole constellation.”—Robert Tolmach
“I’m probably not the most adventurous traveler. I always go back to the same places again and again, then wonder why I’m bored! With Alison and David, seeing Paris through their very knowledgeable and expert eyes was a feast for the senses. I discovered the parts of Paris and their unique delights that I would never have seen otherwise. I’m now totally spoiled. If only Alison and David would give tours of Rome, Istanbul, the Cotswalds!” —Miriam Stanger (Thanks, Miriam! We do give tours of Rome!! Please join us, David and Alison)
“Travelling and exploring Paris and its environs with Alison and David is like taking a wonderful walk with your best friend, and visiting the places that only a native would know.”—Raylene Burke
“With today’s mass market tourism, it is not easy to find an authentic travel experience – one that incorporates a depth of history with a shrewd knowledge of the current culture. David and Alison possess both in spades. They know how to find the places that still hold the mystery of Paris hidden in courtyards behind gates that others would never know about let alone have access to. They also know more about French wine and food than most other people on the planet. Those of us who have had the pleasure of traveling or working with them on their home turf in Paris and in Burgundy know that we have had the experience of a lifetime and that we are lucky to know them.”—Pamela Mercer, owner of Tuscany Tours
“The day we spent together was SPECTACULAR!. We saw and understood so much more than we ever would have if we had just wandered out on our own. You maximized the entire experience and brought the history and personality of Paris to life. Many of the special back-alley sights we never would have thought to visit, and with you we received treatment from everyone we met that had a special local touch. “Walking tour” is an understatement – boy did we walk!
We will never forget our special day in Paris and the passion that radiated from you. Being at your side and clearly hearing everything you had to say as well as having our questions answered personally is a unique and treasured opportunity. It would be my pleasure to speak to anyone that needs a gentle nudge to take advantage of your services. When Cindy and I return we look forward to a completely different experience in your company.”—Carl Hyman
“Fun in a cemetery?? Adventure? Enlightenment? In a Cemetery?? Each, absolutely yours if you embark on your journey with David Downie as your trusted guide and purveyor of knowledge. On more than one occasion I had visited Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery, alone. Despite my being armed with maps and guide books I failed to find a) fully half the graves I searched for, Modigliani’s off the beaten path grave site being a prime example; and b), passed obliviously by historical and important figures grave sites. My day with David changed all that. I provided David with a list of what sites I wanted to see. He appeared, seemingly from no where, which in and of itself was cool, fully prepared and ready. I saw what I wanted and, thanks to David, much I didn’t know existed. Well, the occupants don’t actually ‘exist’ any longer, still, you get the point. Fun in a cemetery? With David, it’s absolutely yours for the phone call. I strongly recommend the adventure.”—Jeffrey Kallenberg
“Susan Kelly and I enjoyed our walking tour with you in the rain in the Marais. We always enjoy learning about the history of Paris and plan to read more on some of the vital historical figures who lived in Place des Voges. It was great to meet an American in Paris after sightseeing for a week on our own. You provided a great tour with plenty of time for questions. We would join you again for a tour and will recommend you to our friends.”—Deb Fleming
Some photographic highlights from the “April in Paris, Paris” 2012 tour: Paris, Chablis, Vezelay (Northern Burgundy)
Traveling beyond Paris? Alison and David also create custom tours to Burgundy, the Italian Riviera & Genoa, and Rome. Write us for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Traveling to Tuscany? Take a tour with our partners, Tuscany Tours.