Our recent trip to Paris was just about perfect. We were taking our children, ages 6 and 8, to a city that we both love. I had been several times in my 20s, first while backpacking around Europe and back several times with my sisters. My husband and I were last there in January 2001, the year the euro went into effect. When we were planning our summer holiday this year, with full knowledge that we were going to England, where my husband was born, I started dreaming about a return to Paris. We also planned to visit our friends in the South of France, near Avignon, and circle the country in a week.
We were traveling from London to Paris, so we booked our Euro Star tickets online. It’s much cheaper if you purchase them in advance. It’s important to remember to get to the train station in time to go through passport control and customs. Also, the food and drink on the train is kind of pricy, so it’s best if you bring some snacks or sandwiches along with you. My son was really excited to go on a fast train.
When we first started planning our trip, we realized that we were going during a high tourist period, right before Bastille Day and Tour De France, and that booking a hotel room would prove difficult. So we immediately started looking for an apartment, which also wasn’t easy at that point. My husband tried several sites and finally booked using Centre-Paris. We found a large studio in the Bastille area for $85 a night. There are several advantages to getting an apartment over a hotel room. For one thing, you can make your own meals, which can save a considerable amount of money. For another, you tend to get more space in an apartment for the kids to play in and move around. We were right near the best patisseries and French bistros and were truly living amongst the natives. The downfalls? Broken lamps, a television that wouldn’t work (probably for the best as we were really able to unplug), a need for an extra sheet. Unlike a hotel room or hotel, you can’t really have things tended to as quickly, but we weren’t really bothered. The people at Centre-Paris did bring us some light bulbs the next morning, so they tried. (Unfortunately they just left them by the door, without fitting the lamps which we couldn’t figure out how to do. And they didn’t fix the TV, nor bring a sheet).
The first thing we did before we ventured into the city was to buy a Visit Paris transit pass. You can buy a daily pass (we bought a 3-day pass) that provides unlimited use of the Paris metro system. For 3 days, we paid 20 euros each, children are half price. You can get a 1,2, 3 or 5 day pass. It really pays for itself as the metro is the best way to get around Paris. Cabs are expensive, the average price per ride running 12-20 euros. The metro is easy to travel with children, but at the end of a long day, it is practical to remember that the walk ways are long to get from one platform to another. Make sure they save enough energy to get home. My kids really enjoyed the lively music in and around the train station and on the trains: jazz, accordion players, guitarists.
There are so many brilliant sites and landmarks to visit in Paris. The question is which ones will your kids appreciate and which can you not miss when given only a few days to visit France’s capital. We started our visit with a magnificent boat ride on the Seine. Bateaux Mouches, supposedly the city’s cheapest boat ride charging 11 euros per adult, 5.50 per child. The ride is 1 hour and 10 minutes and takes you all along the River Seine, riding by the city’s most beautiful edifices like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the D’Orsay, the Louvre and more. It’s a great way to take in the city and get orientated. We took some wonderful photos on the boat and the kids loved sitting on the top level.
Our next visit was to the Musee D’Orsay. Tickets are about 5 euros but our friend paid a few extra euros at his hotel so we could bypass the line. Just opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum was installed in the former Orsay railway station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. The building is truly a “work of art” displaying collections of art from the period 1848 to 1914. The art is phenomenal an my daughter, an art lover, really enjoyed real pieces by Monet, Degas, Renior and her personal favorite, Mary Cassatt. What a wonderful feeling it is when your own daughter educates you about an artist. As for my son, he has a few sensory issues and our trip to the D’Orsay was hard for him. It was crowded, and his behavior shortened our visit but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
We got to the Eiffel Tower around 5pm. The lines were long…very long. I had not booked tickets online in time, but I do suggest it if you know of your plans ahead of time. You go right into a special line, which is far shorter than the others. You have two choices: you can either walk up to the 2nd level (around 450 steps) or take an elevator all the way up. Seeing that we had 3 young children in tow (our friends’ son is 7), we chose to wait to ride up. That wait took about 2 hours. But believe it or not, it went quite fast. I took the kids for a ride on the nearby carousel (3 euros each) which took up a chuck of time. As for the trip up itself, you take two elevators – one to the 2nd floor, then one to the summit. The views at each level are breath-taking and it is quite an experience, one my kids will most likely not forget. I, for one, shall not be doing it again in my lifetime but I’m certainly glad I did it. The looks on their faces at the top were priceless.
On our second day, we wanted to slow down and decided to spend the day in the older part of town called Le Marais, which at one point in time was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. On the way, we strolled through a market called Fauborg St. Antoine and gazed hungrily at the cheese, pate and other French delicacies.
Rue des Rossiers is a street lined with Kosher restaurants, Judaica shops, Jewish museums and more. I felt right at home there and was so happy when we stopped for Israeli food in a popular bistro. I separated from my husband and son and strolled the quarter for several hours with my daughter, who seemed to appreciate the history and cultural flavor, as well. We did some shopping at the local Judaic store, as well.
Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris and was a good place for our kids to run around after several hours of shopping and sight-seeing the area. We tried to visit Musee Picasso, one of my favorite Picasso museums, but unfortunately, it is closed until 2013. The outdoor buskers in the area that day were stunning. We watched a wonderful old-time band called the Riverboat Shufflers and a classy female duo of opera singers.
We topped off the day with a visit to the Arc de Triomphe and witnessed the ceremony for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then we strolled down the Champs des Elysses. Touristy and crowded, it wasn’t a highlight of our weekend but was something we wanted to see and do.
On our last day, we ventured to Montmartre and walked up the steps to the Sacre Coeur. Upon seeing the cathedral, my daughter stated, “Daddy, I thought this was in India.” Proof that her mind was definitely in travel mode on this trip and that we’re raising a little traveler. We stopped in the local market to get the kid’s portraits done (10 euros each). The prices ranged from 10-50 euros but we settled on a lovely artist who drew each one’s characture quite skillfully. He drew my daughter in front of the Eiffel Tower and my son playing basketball, also in front of the Eiffel Tower.
There were two items that my daughter wanted during our visit to Paris: this picture and a musical snow dome. I could not deny her either and both came at a price. The snow globe cost 20 euros, and we found it in the Notre Dame area.
After that, we headed to the Musee Rodin, but it was closed (on a Monday). Note to self: check times and days carefully of landmarks you want to visit prior to your trip. I clearly did not this time. However, the surrounding neighborhood it’s in is lovely and was perfect for an afternoon stroll. So we headed to the Luxemborg Gardens, the second largest park in Paris and my personal favorite. The park is the garden of the French Senate, which is itself housed in the Luxembourg Palace. It’s full of gorgeous statues, tennis courts, chess players, a small pool for children and plenty of space to run around. To say that it’s gorgeous is an understatement.
We closed our trip with a visit to the Notre Dame and Hotel De Ville, two places you can’t miss on a trip to Paris. By that point, my kids were exhausted. It was time to go home.
You are probably wondering why we didn’t hit the Louvre on this trip. How could we not introduce our children to the finest museum in Europe? For one thing, the D’Orsay is pretty wonderful and we did take them there. For another thing, we’ll be back. I’d like to make our next official trip back in about five years when they can better appreciate what the city has to offer. This was a sampling. When traveling with kids, you have to pick and choose the sights you want to see very carefully. My kids are decent walkers, but they’re not terrific walkers and we have to be destination focused the whole time. By mixing up our trip with a boat ride, a trip up the Eiffel Tower, lots of stops to eat and drink (stay tuned – I have to dedicate an upcoming blog to the food we ate in Paris!), historic sites, art, culture, play and resting in the city’s beautiful parks, our kids were able to sustain their energy and make it a great weekend for all of us.
Disclosure: I personally paid for all components of this trip out of pocket.