Paris with children may sound daunting. Paris with three boys may sound like torture. But somehow these last few days have gone quite smoothly and I thought that I should make a list of recommendations from what I have observed while here in Paris with my sister, brother-in-law and three nephews.
Before you come to Paris you most likely do a bit of reading on what there is to see, where you should eat, and where the best places to stay are. Considering this, it only makes sense that you should allow your children (or whoever's children you are on holiday with) to do the same. Of course you aren't going to give them a Lonely Planet tour book to glimpse over, but there are actually plenty of books on Paris aimed towards a younger crowd. It makes it much more fun to visit the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and so on if they have heard about it before, and even more so if it is in a context aimed directly towards them. This also allows them, upon returning home, to read these books to their loved ones and brag about seeing this, that and the other thing.
As any parent knows, when you are doing something with children things tend to take much longer than normal. This is especially true if you're children are not used to being in a large city and thus must be reminded, constantly, to stay close and out of people's way. Getting on and off the metro is not so much a hassle as it is an adventure but little feet and little arms tend to take longer getting through the gates and down the walkways.
This is an important thing to keep in mind when planning your outings. My sister and I have found that scheduling one thing per day seems to work the best and is often all there is time for unless another destination is close by.
Staying in an apartment has definitely been a godsend for my sister and her family. Not only does it make you feel like a true Parisian but it also gives you a place to cook and do laundry. Cooking is handy because eating hot dogs and jambon and fromage sandwiches, while delicious, may get a little old. Plus, at the end of a long day it's nice for the whole family to be able to unwind, relax, and sit down around your personal table for some home cookin'. And having your own washer and dryer is icing on the cake. Children are inherently messy so being able to wash and dry their clothes on a daily basis will allow you to pack less.
Since a big part of what is fun in Paris is walking around and seeing the sights, plan on doing a decent amount of foot shuffling with your kids. There's no reason for you to skip this part of the trip and it will most likely be something they enjoy just as much as you do. However, this may mean finding a stroller that is easy to fold up for children that normally don't use one at home. Bode, age five, can certainly walk on his own and does so with admirable expertise, but at a certain point he just becomes too tired to venture any further. Luckily Abigail foresaw this obstacle and purchased more compact stroller than can fold up quickly and easily to remedy this problem. It also allows for pushing storage space which is more than wonderful considering the plethora of crap that not only comes standard with kids but, also, that you pick up along the way.
Depending on the age and adventurousness of your kids, you may not have a problem finding places that they will love to eat. But I know my nephews have certainly been craving some of their traditional American dishes, and when hunger reaches the critical point the last thing you want is to get into a discussion over why escargot is so good and that they should taste it and find out. So it's certainly nice to have a few places up your sleeve in case you find you need them.
Most sandwich stands have relatively standard stuff like ham and cheese, crepes, and some even have hot dogs. A lot of boulangeries have sandwiches and quiches. Croque Monsieur is offered pretty much everywhere and is also something that will most likely please the little tikes and will be something different and French at the same time.
Most restaurants have mashed potatoes and veggies, as well as chicken or steak options but this can get pricey. If you don't mind going for Italian, Briciola in the 3rd arrondissement is more than family friendly and has delicious pizza and a free scoop of gelato for the children. But it can get quite packed so if you don't get there early (we arrived at 7:30pm and the place was desserted) on even the more slow days, you may have a bit of a wait.
Basic snacks are readily available at all supermarkets and should be kept on hand to satiate the wee ones should they become monstrous tyrants. Nothing entertains my youngest nephew, Sam, more than a good cracker, and it's great to have some small wax wrapped cheeses to curb severe hunger pangs while you search for a restaurant or boulangerie.
From what my sister and I have done these last few days I really feel that almost anything can become kid friendly. We haven't tackled any museums yet but I do believe that exposing children to these things in small doses can be both beneficial and fun. Here are a few suggestions
- Chateau de Vincennes
- This medieval castle is closed in by large walls and has an old and beautiful church and keep as well as many other structures worth seeing. It is not crowded and so you can let your children run free without worrying about losing them. The history of it can be appreciated because it evokes images of knights and maidens, kings and queens, and even has a sweet little cat that lives within the castle walls.
- Eiffel Tower
- This iconic symbol of Paris is something even children are aware of. It's gigantic and sparkles every hour come sundown. There is ice-skating on the first floor during the winter and many parks surrounding the tower that would be fun to rough-house in come summer. Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended and will help you to skip the long long LONG line for those who don't plan ahead. Doing this sooner, rather than later, gives you more options of what days and times you can go and whether you can go to the summit should you wish to.
- Arc de Triomphe
- Since most children love to be the center of attention, the Arc de Triomphe should help appeal to this ego. In a gigantic roundabout with twelve streets feeding into it, you certainly feel like you are on an island right in the midst of Paris's hustle and bustle. The gigantic arc is almost as famous as the Eiffel Tower and is another monument you can climb to the top of to look down on the city. For people with strollers, wheelchairs, or the elderly, there is a lift sneakily hidden away.
- Montmartre/Basilica de Sacre Coeur
- This is something I have yet to do and am looking forward to but according to Elze it's a must see for my nephews (as well as myself). From her own childhood visit of Paris Elze specifically remembers Montmartre for its old village feel. Moulin Rouge is there and though most children will not be fully aware of its significance, it does have a gigantic windmill and used to have the can-can. Place de Montmartre has artists who will paint your caricature and the beautiful Basilica that sits atop the mountain looks like an enchanted palace. The view of the city from Sacre Coeur is breathtaking and while there is an overflowing amount of steps to reach this single hill in Paris, there is a tiny little train that can pick you up in front of the Moulin Rouge if you need the extra help.
- Though words cannot describe how wonderful this store is it certainly is a place that will delight and enchant all who visit it, especially children. A menagerie of taxidermied animals are arranged in such a lifelike and whimsical manner that it feels as if you've stepped into a freeze frame of another world. The wild animals apparently come from the zoo and so you don't have to feel guilty about supporting poaching. All things are for sale though most are probably out of your budget, the priceless experience of visiting the shop is much lighter on the wallet.
- A boat ride on the Seine will show you all of the must-sees of Paris from the Louvre to the Palais Royal. It's a wonderful culmination of sight-seeing, resting, and pleasure for children since it is a boat ride (which kid doesn't like boats), a place where you can sit (you can bring snacks) and if you don't have an opportunity to visit each and every sight you at the very least get to see them from the beauty of the Seine.
- The Louvre is gigantic, overwhelming, and exhausting and thus may not be for all children. My sister feels that it will be a good experience for the boys and with the Sully wing housing suits of armor and a plethora of Egyptian antiquities, I'm sure they will enjoy the history and mystery of it.
- Versailles is one of my favorite touristy things I've done while in Paris and is something I'm sure the children will enjoy. The palace will appeal to the princess in any little girl and the thrones and armor will play to the knight in every little boy. The expansive gardens are practically made for children and the canals have row boat rentals and remote controlled boat rentals as well. Marie Antoinette's Hamlet is heart-stoppingly adorable and since she spent her royal time playing make-believe there, it is likely your children will enjoy doing the same!
There are many many more sights that children will enjoy and tons of books and websites dedicated to that specific niche of Paris tourism. Because Paris is filled to the brim with parks and gardens (many of which have activities just for children such as puppet shows, giant trampolines, and donkey rides) there is more than enough things that will entertain both you and your spawn while you enjoy your holiday in the City of Light.
(As my nephews and I continue to explore Paris from a child's perspective, I will try and update this list as we go! )