Just because you have limited mobility and short attention span, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the famous city of lights and love. This is not a comprehensive travel guide to Paris, but rather a few tips that made traveling with kids there much easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few tips based on our experience, a lot of which apply to any big city traveling with kids.
1. Plan for the kids
With kids, you must accept that you not see and do and eat everything you want to in Paris. You must scale back your expectations and build in lots of fun free time for the kids in-between the must-sees.
We spent an hour pushing our boat around this fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg, time well spent making our kids feel like the trip was for them too.
Take the Kids to Paris by Helen Truszkowski – This book describes Paris attractions from the kids’ point of view, including many smaller museums and attractions not covered in other guide books. It frequently mentions playgrounds and kid-friendly restaurants nearby various attractions. It also has a large section on Disneyland Paris, detailing all the rides (including age suitability), noting toilet locations, and tips on maximizing your time and fun. We found the restaurant recommendations spotty at best, but overall the book was helpful.
Travel for Kids web site – this site lists “things to do in Paris” that appeal to kids. It also has a list of Paris related kids books to help get your kids excited about the trip
2. Bring a super light stroller
Bring the smallest, lightest stroller you can or use a baby backpack instead. The metro is very difficult for strollers: there are lots of stairs and the entry turnstiles are narrow and impossible to push a stroller through. You’ll have to fold up your stroller over and over to get in and out of the metro. For example, about 100 steps up from Metro (elevator broken) and another 100 steps to the Sacre Coeur – do you want to lug your kid and a heavy stroller?
Instead of a stroller, our kids, including our 3yr old, used their scooters, which allowed them to cover large distances without getting so tired. We were always able to check the scooters at the coat room at each museum we visited.
3. Stay close to a convenient Metro stop
Book lodgings as close to a metro stop as possible, preferably a line that connects with one or no stops to most attractions. At the end of a long day, the two or three blocks from the metro station to our apartment seemed like the longest walk ever. On our last trip, our apartment was directly across from the metro exit and it was heavenly! Also, connections between metro lines can often mean an extra 10 min, up and down several flights of stairs. This can stretch what seems like a short trip into 40 minutes of hassle. We would regularly choose to ride a couple stops in the “wrong” direction so we only had to make one connection.
4. Say yes to bus and boat tours
Yes, the tours are overpriced and touristy. But with a small child (and a 8mo pregnant belly), it’s difficult to wander the city as I would normally do on my own. In cities, my children quickly get tired of walking and impatient to reach our destination. But on the bus, the scenery is quickly changing, giving them plenty to look at. Plus it gives you a good overview of the city so you know where you might want to spend more time. I was so glad we did it.
We took L’Open Tour yellow bus that leaves from the Eiffel Tower. It last two hours and stops at nine major sights (passing by several others on the way). You can hop on and off (the ticket is good for two days) if you want to spend more time at a particular destination.
We also took a cruise on the largest boat tour company, Bateau Mouches, which leaves either from the Eiffel Tower or Pont Alma and lasts one hour. I liked the boat tour less than the bus, but it was still fun.
We also took the small tourist “train” in the Montmartre neighborhood, which was a nice way to get up the hill without walking up all those stairs.
5. Spend part of every day in a park.
Paris is full of parks, big and small. Most of the big parks have pony rides, at least one carousel, playgrounds, and fountains with ducks and fish to feed. Guide books may warn you from visiting places like this on Wednesdays, when Paris kids are out of school. But we didn’t find it too crowded. Plus many of these attractions are open only on Wednesdays because that’s when the kids go (you might not find ponies on a Tuesday morning).
Jardin de Luxembourg has a huge, fantastic playground with different areas for different ages. There is a small fee for a day pass, totally worth it in my opinion. The whole playground is fenced in, with a single entrance and exit, making it much safer for your children to roam around.
Jardin d’Acclimation is more like an amusement park, with a large array of carnival rides (lots of options for toddlers), a small zoo, puppet shows, a water spray play area, lots of huge playgrounds, etc. Our 3yr old had much more fun here than at Disneyland – so much more to do and the food was so much better. In addition to the regular carnival food stands, there are a few bistro-style restaurants that serve good, normal food. There is a small entrance fee, then you buy tickets for the rides. Even if you end up spending as much as your entry to Disneyland, your child would have ridden 10x the number of rides and wouldn’t have stood in line more than 5 minutes for any given ride (as opposed to at least 30 minute for each ride at Disneyland). We loved it!
Lots of little rides for little ones.
Slightly more exciting rides for bigger kids.
There is a giant playground as well.
And water play, bring your swimming costume or extra clothes!
Even the Notre Dame has a small play area. Most people crowd around the front, but on the side, there is a quiet area with a sand pit with benches. My boys loved running and jumping into the sand while we relaxed on the benches and enjoyed the view.
6. Carry a list of special treat shops.
Shopping and great food are major attractions in Paris, but my child isn’t particularly interested in following me all over town to find a particular bakery or kitchenware store. So instead, I made a list of the shops I wanted to visit, particularly specialty candy, chocolate, and ice cream shops. Periodically, I’d check my list to see if any of these shops were in our area so we could make a quick detour. This proved more effective than dragging the family across town, with two metro connections, to find one little shop for mommy.
We always make a stop at Berthillon (29-31 rue saint Louis en l’ile, 4th, M: Pont Marie) for their famous ice cream. I try to take a detour to Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte, 6th, M: Saint-Germain-des-Prés) if at all possible.
7. Visit the smaller museums.
You might feel obligated to visit the Louvre (you went to Paris and didn’t see the Mona Lisa – what’s wrong with you?), but there are tons of other fantastic art collections in town. On our last trip, we went to the Marmottan museum that houses an excellent collection of Monet paintings, including his famous Sunrise, lots of water lily pieces and several Japanese bridge pieces. The museum was practically empty; most guide books don’t even mention it. It was small enough to do in less than an hour and we didn’t have to walk through 100 rooms to see the good stuff.
We also visit at least one museum specifically for the kids. We loved the Natural History Museum, which had an amazing collection of stuffed animals. The kids also had a great time at La cité des sciences et de l’industrie, a science and technology museum similar to Technorama. This one was extremely busy and we had to wait in line almost an hour to get in. I recommend buying tickets online beforehand.
When visiting the big famous museums, like the Louvre and Musee d-Orsay, we always get the audio guide, which keeps the kids busy pushing buttons. When the kids were very small, we brought small toys like little dinosaur figures for the kids to play with on a bench with one parent, while the other parent browsed, taking turns.
8. Get a babysitter
You don’t have to stay at a kinderhotel to get some time on your own. After a long day of dragging your child around town, it’s so rewarding to enjoy a long fancy meal instead of the usual rushed kid-friendly sub-par bistro fare. Most hotels will arrange a babysitter for you and there are many well-reputed babysitting agencies, several listed in the Take the Kids to Paris book. We found a very nice babysitter through an agency and our child was very happy to stay with her.
One of the many fancy meals in Paris while the kids were with the babysitter.
Don’t forget to try some “weird” stuff, like snails and mussels, with the kids to expose them to new flavors and ideas.
9. Give rewards
Kids love being rewarded for good behavior. So try to find something kid-friendly to do immediately after every activity that requires good behavior, like museums. At Versailles, we rented a row boat and tooled around for an hour. The boys thought this was a great reward for walking through the palace and looking at old stuff.
10. Eat where you are
Instead of spending an hour looking for some restaurant you researched beforehand, just pick something close to where you already are. Yes, Paris is all about food and I love good food. But our first trip to Paris, we made a big mistake of trying to eat only at places we had pre-researched or that were recommended in our guidebook. Even with my long, organized restaurant list, it usually took much longer than we expected to get there. Sometimes the restaurant ended up being closed or sometimes the food wasn’t even that good; all that effort for not much.
On our second trip, we just stopped when we were hungry and tried to pick places that seemed smaller and less touristy. Mostly, the food was good, if not great, and the family was much happier. We tend to graze more with the kids, stopping for a crepe here, a sandwich there, gathering supplies and picnicking at a park. We always have breakfast in our apartment, sampling all the bakeries in our neighborhood. When dining at night with the kids, we’ll go to a casual bistro in whichever neighborhood we’re staying. We save the destination restaurants for nights when we have a babysitter.
Of course, we eat lots of crepes (aka “chocolate pancakes” for our 3yr old), but make sure the place you pick makes them fresh and doesn’t rewarm pre-made crepes (yuck). Our favorite crepe place is Crêperie des Arts (27 rue St André des Arts, 6th, Metro: St. Michel), which is very close to Notre Dame. We ate there three times over our last two trips to Paris. It’s cute, fast and yum.
Bonus: Explore your neighborhood
I’m sure you have a checklist of things to do and see. But I suggest making time to explore the neighborhood you’re staying in: visit the small local parks, eat at the cafes, visit the bakeries, shop in the groceries. This gives you more of a flavor of the real Paris than the tourist attractions. One morning our boys spent an hour playing soccer with some neighborhood kids at this pitch near our apartment. That made more of an impression on them than most of the big things we saw on the trip.
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