This month on MKB, we will speak about “Travel”. So as a Frenchie who loves her capital, I will give you 10 TIPS to have fun, educational and unusual days in traveling with kids in Paris!
Get up high
Paris is not flat, as I have proved it in this article. So when your kids are bored with walking or “marking time” in the museums and shops, tell them the family is going to touch the clouds or fly above the streets. For this magical feat you just have to:
– go on a tour of Paris using the Metropolitain’s lines 2 or 6. These two lines drive several times up the ground and you can look all you want at the busy streets and old buildings along their paths. You may also see a nice view of the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower…
– speaking about the Eiffel Tower, you can of course climb it, or any other high building in the city: Arc de Triomphe, Tour Montparnasse, up the Dome of the Sacré-Coeur, sight seeing at Montmartre or at the top of the Belleville hill (in the park for example). Some places are free, for the other ones you have to buy a ticket…
– have a walk on the Coulée verte René-Dumont, that was called not so long ago Promenade plantée, in the 12th arr of Paris. A park atop the buildings and through some old tunnels, long of 4,5km, it’s a great way to discover this part of Paris. (official website)
Rest in the parks and gardens
When you travel with kids, they tend to want to play while you want to go shopping or visiting some places… What is great in Paris is that you can do both (see the example given). Well, perhaps not really at the same time, but everyone can have their share of fun! Around each “must visit” place you write down on your to-do list, you will find a garden nearby.
Paris is swarming with parks, small squares, gardens. Each neighbourhood has its own “green lungs”. Parks to rest under the trees, large prairies, botanical wonders, joyous playground, whatever you’re looking for, you will find it! For example, in Auteuil, you have the Botanical Garden that Maria from Busy as a Bee in Paris visited with her children. And in Boulogne, enjoy a pic-nic in the Garden Edmond de Rothschild!
The town hall has dedicated a part of their website to document the (more than) 400 parks and gardens! Paris is said to be the greenest capital in Europe. Look at these pictures:
|Square Jean XXIII behind the cathedral Notre-Dame, picture published in the post Notre-Dame of Paris on the blog The Art Curator for Kids
Square Louis XVI: You can rest and the younger kids can play in the “enclosed” playground.
|Dovecote in the square Nadar, Montmartre.
|Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in the city.
|Luxembourg’s garden, picture published in this post.
|Tuileries’ park. Before or after a visit at the Louvre, enjoy the chairs and the playground!
Make the most of the streams
The river la Seine flows through Paris and with its meanders, isles, tributary rivers and the canals joining them, you can enjoy some nice moments under the sun. For a map of the rivers and canals in Paris, click here.
– with your kids, the boats on the Seine (les Bateaux-mouches or les Bateaux parisiens) should be a fun way to discover Paris. Of course they won’t show you all the city, but the view on some major architectural feats is very worth the price! Just be careful that no one wants to touch the water with their fingers… a fall in the river is not recommended (cold, not very clean…)!!! You can book a cruise or buy a one day ticket to stop wherever you want and board again a while later. My son and my husband used them once on a father/son day to go sight seeing (Eiffel Tower, Town Hall, Jardin des Plantes, etc), and they came back very happy about this way of transportation.
– Boat trips on the different canals and tributary rivers are also possible. Canauxrama is the company you will have to contact for them. Sadly, I never went on one of them, but I have a cousin who did, and she loved it!
– Walking along the rivers and canals: Paris has decided to give back most of the banks to the pedestrians. Here are some websites you can use to gaze at all the possibilities you have as a pedestrian: Parisinfo, Les Berges, ville de Paris: les canaux (in French), île des Cygnes, île Saint-Louis and île de la Cité.
– In Summer between mid-July to mid-August, you can enjoy Paris-Plage. The beach in the middle of Paris: doesn’t it sound great?
Always ask if your kids can receive a reduce price
We were talking about buying tickets for a cruise, an exhibit or museum… Don’t forget to ask beforehand if there are special prices for children, depending on the age, for students and also for “famille nombreuse” (family with more than 3 children). Some touristic attractions can be booked online: Le Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Tour Eiffel… The tickets will be a bit more expensive but you will cut through the line of visitors waiting to go in.
Another point: transports! With your children, you will want to go as quickly and safely as possible all around Paris. The RATP, the regional transportation company, offers tickets for one travel, for the day, for the week or special tickets for tourists. We have tried all of them and it depends on your physical health (are you a big walker?) and how many time you will need to use them, to chose what is best for you. For example: we stayed for four days in the 10th arrondissement, and we wanted to walk as much as possible to visit and explore parts of the city we like. Tickets for one travel, for adults and for kids up 4 four years old, were the most appropriate for us. We used just two tickets/person each day, not enough trips to buy a daily one… NB: Kids under 4 years old: free; Kids between 4 and 10: half price tickets if bought by 10 pieces at an automat or with a ticket Origine/Destination (like in the RER). All information about the prices can be found here.
Appreciate the mix of styles
Paris is an historical site, a cosmopolitan city AND a mix of very different architectures. It’s certainly NOT homogenous. From the Parc de Bercy, one of the biggest entertainment arena of the capital (currently under renovations), to the museum of the Primitive arts, Beaubourg, the Louvre Pyramide, the National Library, the Arche of La Défense, etc, Paris has taken a more contemporary turn. Of course, the old narrow streets in the Quartier Latin or the Marais are still alive, the old “villages” like the one on the Butte-aux-Cailles, or Belleville are precious in the eyes of the inhabitants and the imposing building such as the “Grand Palais”, the Palais de Chaillot, Opéra Garnier, the churches and train stations couldn’t be erased without a giant revolution…
During your stay, keep in mind that your children need to see the different faces of Paris: the “rich part” like the 16th or 5th arrondissement, the cosmopolitan part near Barbès or avenue de Choisy, the 19th century renovations with the “Grand Boulevards”… Rushing from museums to exhibits is not a true visit of Paris. Let yourself immerse in the “atmosphère” (Winter in Paris is a whole different view of the city). I’m sure your children will remember more how the buses are driving through the crowd, the kilometers/miles of walk they will do, the height or beauty (or ugliness, depending on the point of view and the site) of the buildings and the food they will discover… Mine did, like when we rented a flat in the Passage Brady.
Phoebe of Lou Messougo shared in one of her posts what she does on her family travels to Paris, and it’s so much like we do! Rent a flat, discover the neighborhood, eat, visit a thing or two, see friends, and enjoy the walks!
Maria shows us that a trip to the capital can join practical needs and fun family time!
Annabelle of the Piri-Piri Lexicon has enjoyed a child-free week-end in Paris with her husband, and even if she had her kids with her, what she did – wandering, feeling Paris – would have been a perfect way of “visiting Paris” with the whole family. Also, her pictures in black & white are gorgeous!
Thien Lan made a 2 day trip with her 6 years old son: the result is two days of good food, splendid views, historical facts, wandering and enjoying mother/son time!
Taste the French and also foreign products
Food in Paris is not the cheapest. But coming to Paris and not going into a handful of restaurants, pâtisseries, brasseries or épiceries should be a crime! You don’t have lots of money and prefer to spend it on tickets for exhibits, shows and museums? Well, that’s your choice!
However, don’t forget that your children will see all the food places, and they will want to taste the ô so delicious éclairs of Christophe Adam, or the macarons of Pierre Hermé, the crêpes or raclettes in St Michel part, the burger à la française in the typical Parisian brasseries (I long for a burger with blue cheese and bacon and homemade french fries, like the one I ate for lunch once a week at Chez Irène et Bernard), and so on…
Food can be seen as basic need. For me, and I’m sure for many of you dear readers, it’s so much more! Communication, respect, novelty, feelings, discovery: these words hold a deep meaning for those who see food as a way of life, a complex cultural aspect, a family/ethnic bond. Children understand these meanings. So don’t deny them a few treats during your stay in Paris! They will be full of great memories!
Crêpe: bacon, chedar and egg.
|Crêpe caramel beurre salé (one of my favourite!)
As said earlier, the multicultural side of Paris can’t be missed. Indian food, Chinese, Thai, North African, Japanese, African, Mexican or European countries, you will have your choice! Some are excellent. Example: the Japanese restaurant Kokohana near the Champs-Elysées/ Clémenceau metro station offers dishes cooked on a cooking plate (no sushi there) and I loved to go there for lunch from time to time with one of my colleagues (I worked near it for a year). Not for young kids (no place for the stroller and high chairs), but for older ones, watching the cook cut the fish or the meat, make them dance on the plate and “throw” them on the plate should be a memorable lunch (menus are cheaper for lunch). And some have to be avoided at all cost… (sorry, no names to play the tattletale right now).
Always be careful that the restaurant (whatever the country or region it represents) is “clean” and that the prices are fairly visible. If you see some prizes (from the current year or the last one) on the display window such as Le Routard, Gault et Millaud, Michelin, you have some serious chance to be delighted by your meal (but perhaps not by the prices…).
Verify that your restaurant is kid-friendly
Following my last point, always ask if the restaurant agrees:
– to store your stroller in a corner or if there is enough place at the table
– to lend you a baby chair or a special cushion
– if the kids can share a plate (for small eaters) or if they have a kids’ menu
– if it’s possible to change diapers… Nota Bene: Most of the Parisian restaurants don’t have changing tables, however some are nice enough to allow the parents to change the babies on a couch (with something between the baby and the couch, of course!)
Some may not have enough space or no baby chair, but if they are customer service orientated, they will try to find a way to accommodate your family (like in the Crêperie de Cluny, where they are used to families and tourists).
I will tell you a story that happened to us last September. We went into a crêperie in Ile Saint-Louis rather late for lunch and as soon the waitress gave us the menus, she told us that it was one person, one ordered dish. We couldn’t share our dish with our daughter (a picky and small 2,5 years old eater). We were a bit flabbergasted. We are used to eat in different type of restaurants with our children (from the Kebab booth to a gastronomic and starry restaurant) and it was the first time someone jumped on us like that. She argued that it was the “norm” in all the restaurants in Paris. Let’s be clear: it’s NOT! After that stunt, I have asked waiters in other restaurants, and their eyebrows raised so high at my question, that I know it’s a “particularity” from that place. If there are too many customers, some waiters can try to push away the families with kids – who will eat cheaper in their mind – and prefer couples and coworkers. When the kids are hungry (that was the case for us), it’s difficult to say “We will look for another place”, but frankly if the welcome is so unfriendly and unprofessional, get up and go out. You can find better / different elsewhere! Although, starting to look for a place to eat at noon is smarter than at 1pm. The hungrier the gremlins get, the harder it will be for you to find a suitable restaurant (price, dishes, size, etc).
Know the best moments to go to the toilets
Changing a baby in Paris can be a trial, especially when it’s raining (you can’t use the benches in the parks…). The best places: the shopping malls have toilets and changing rooms, as the big museums and the train stations. Public libraries have one too. If the sun shines and the birds sing, do it in the parks!
For the rest of the family, free public toilets can be found in the streets: interactive map. In some parks like Parc Montsouris or Buttes-Chaumont, the toilets are also free. Meanwhile in the malls and the parks in the more touristic parts of Paris (Luxembourg, Tuileries…) you must pay to use them. From 0,50€ to 1€, always have some coins in your pockets! And if it’s an emergency issue, ask a café or brasserie to use theirs with already a 0,50€ coin in your hand. The waiters should be more agreeable…
As it’s always a race to find toilets, the whole family MUST use every opportunity: before leaving a restaurant, a museum, the hotel, etc. While in an exhibit or a museum, when you see the sign “toilets”, go in with the kids. They will perhaps tell you that they don’t need it… when 20 minutes later they won’t be able to wait to pee!
Book an activity for your kids
Cooking classes for kids, scientific experiments, artistic groups, languages classes… In Paris, your children can learn French and discover the world in workshops. There are so many of them, that it would take hours to list them all!
Two places worth talking about:
– Parc de la Villette with its workshops for all: kids 0-6y.o, 6 to 12, teenagers, adults, everyone. Located near the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (who has also workshops), the park is composed of a big playground, exhibit rooms, gardens, carrousel, snack shops, etc.
– Le Louvre: a different program each week, with workshops for the parents and the kids. Another way to learn about art!
Carry a “Always Ready” bag
I can’t finish my list without the most practical aspect: what to bring for a day out in Paris?
Families with young kids are often like camels: so many things to carry! As usual, don’t forget the diapers, wipes, changing mat, extra clothes, and so on. Modern strollers in Paris can become a burden if you use many public transportation or want to visit historical places. Like a tour guide joked with us once, strollers are quite new contraptions and the architects of the Opera or of the Pantheon weren’t aware that their staircases would be ill suited for future families of tourists. So, according to where you wish to visit, you would better be off with a sling or a compact stroller you can leave at the reception desk.
Backpacks are a safe way to manage both health issues (at the end of a busy day, a shoulder bag can seem like a ton of bricks!) and carrying your family’s needs. Be sure to put your wallet near the bottom and not on the top (because… pickpockets!), to pack hankies and a small umbrella, to add a bottle of water (fill it again at a sink during a stop in some toilets) and a map of Paris. Don’t forget your camera! And leave a bit of space in it, to fill with your shopping “envies”.
For the lucky owners of smartphones, grab the applications of the RATP, the Paris city, or the events in Paris. See this great list from the Figaro newspaper. And add some shortcuts to the websites you have read to prepare your trip!
Blogs and websites to help you prepare your family travel:
Pardon my French in Paris… Audrey is a friend of mine. She loves to wander in Paris with her sister or husband, and hunt down atypical places. You will love her insights and her photos!
How to save money on a trip to Paris: Busy as a Bee in Paris 7 tips you NEED to know before booking for a trip!
You have to read this article about how to use the Metro in Paris! It’s exactly how I have proceeded during my eight years of living/working in Paris. Perfect advices for the tourits as much as for the new inhabitants.
I hope these tips will help you during your stay in Paris. Traveling to big cities with children may be sometimes tedious, however a light schedule and a lot of wandering should be the key to memorable trip!
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