If there’s one thing that stands out from our recent family trip to Paris, it’s how much there is to do within the city limits. We could have stayed for a month and we never would have run out of fun things to do. All families are different, so decide on an itinerary that works for you. Our children are 11, 9, and 7 and we knew that their attention span at museums would be limited. We wanted to keep things light and fun.
Here’s what we did, with some candid commentary and insight. I hope it is helpful!
1. We visited The Eiffel Tower. Let’s face it: The Eiffel Tower is the undeniable symbol of Paris. My children were very excited to see it as soon as possible, and when we first saw it on our cab ride in from the airport, they were thrilled. On our first day, we walked over to it and spent close to an hour looking at it in awe and walking under it. We did not go up the Tower, and frankly I don’t think my kids would say they felt they missed out, given that the line looked as if it extended almost to the border of Belgium. Instead, we got great city views at a few other destinations during the trip. Naturally, there are a zillion souvenir boutiques by The Eiffel Tower and you will see folks peddling their wares all over the place within a few blocks. I told the kids they could get one thing, while reminding them that the prices are highest near the monuments. They were happy to walk through the shops for a while. It is amazing how much kids love souvenirs!
On our last day, we re-visited the Tower at dusk, arriving at about 8:45. At 9:00, for five minutes, it sparkles. This happens every hour on the hour, and it is magnificent. We had lots of photo opportunities.
2. We rode on a Bateaux Mouche. There are several cruise lines available at the base of The Eiffel Tower offering one-hour Seine Tours. This was a great activity for our first day as we were all pretty low on energy. It also gives you a good introduction to how the city is laid out. I would not recommend dining on one of these cruises. I’ve heard the food is very over-priced and not all that good.
3. We visited Musee D’Orsay. Specifically, we purchased English audio guides for each of us and went directly to the 5th floor, where we went painting-by-painting through the Impressionist Wing. It was fabulous. My kids loved it. We saw a few other paintings on the way out, and looked at The Statue of Liberty on the main floor. There was a special Van Gogh exhibit on the first floor, so my husband and son buzzed through looking for the famous self-portrait and Starry night, both of which are housed at Orsay. Orsay is an old train station, and we stood on the open part of the 5th floor looking down, trying to imagine where the trains once were. It’s an amazing building. If you only visit one museum in Paris with kids, this should be the one. (Note, we did not eat there, but I’ve heard the food is quite good if you want to eat and then go back to the galleries).
4. We ate a picnic lunch in Luxembourg Gardens and rented sailboats (twice!). We shopped at our local Monoprix for some basic picnic items: bottles of water, prosciutto, salami, cheese, and some chips. We loaded up on a few fresh baguettes that morning, and packed up our goodies along with a pocket knife and a small cutting board we found in our apartment. There are lots of places to sit, and the kids loved having a picnic. We then rented sailboats. They are little wooden boats, and the kids push them around a big fountain with a stick. You rent them for 30 minutes at a time. It was so much fun that we did it again on our last day. We enjoyed seeing children from many countries enjoying this activity together, and it felt like a true melting pot. (Sidenote: While I don’t list “grocery shopping” as an official activity, my kids loved seeing all of the different things available to buy: everything from yogurt to cereal to candy!).
5. We went to The Latin Quarter to Rue Mouffetard and had crepes in the afternoon. There are plenty of great spots to find crepes, but I love the feel of The Latin Quarter (in the 5th), with cobblestone streets, little restaurants and assortment of touristy yet fun shops. The crepes are big and inexpensive, and there are plenty of stands to choose from. We indulged in Nutella as well as caramel. They were so delicious!
6. We went to The Arc De Triomphe. If you’re looking for a great view of Paris without the Eiffel Tower lines, go to the Arc De Triomphe. I recommend being there when it opens to ensure the viewing deck isn’t packed. If you have a Paris Museum Pass, you can go right to the front of the line. My kids loved walking up all 284 steps (there is no elevator option unless you are handicapped). Once at the top, we took in the fabulous views…
7. We walked from The Arc De Triomphe all the way down the Champs D’Elysees to The Tuileries Gardens. It was a long walk, but the kids loved seeing all the big-box stores and the hustle and bustle. It was a Saturday morning, so we periodically came across different performers, including this woman in her Egyptian costume…
8. We had another picnic in The Tuileries. The kids jumped on the trampolines and rode the carousel. Two friends had told me about this in advance and I totally underestimated how much my kids would love it. You can buy tickets for 5-minute jumps, and they each did it three times. The trampolines are really bouncy, and there are eight in all. I’ve been told it can get pretty crowded on weekends. Also, tell your kids to stay on their own trampoline (even if it’s not full), or the man in charge will start yelling at them in French and they will look to you for translation! Then, we walked over to the carousel and took a few rides. Additionally, there is a great American/British bookstore, W.H. Smith, just outside the Tuileries on Rue de Rivoli that was fun to visit. It also has a great British candy section on the second floor.
9. We did a drive-by (on feet) of Musee de L’Orangerie. This was a fabulous use of our Paris Museum Pass. L’Orangerie is a 5-minute walk from the trampolines in The Tuileries, and features huge murals of Monet’s Water Lillies on the first floor and Paul Guillaume’s private art collection is in the basement. We breezed through the line, and spent about ten minutes on the first floor and twenty minutes in the basement including (of course!) a brief stop in the gift shop. If you find yourself in Paris without kids, definitely allocate more time for this museum. I absolutely love it as well as Musee Marmottan in the 16th.
10. We did a drive-by (on foot) of Notre Dame. Find me a kid who likes church and I’ll tell him to have fun standing in line for an hour and a half to visit Notre Dame. Or, give the same kid a few coins to use the binoculars in front to see the gargoyles up on top and he’ll be perfectly happy. In all seriousness, if you do want them to go inside or make the ascent to the top, plan to arrive early. It’s one of the most visited sites and it is indeed very beautiful in person. We were also there over a school vacation, so I am sure it would not be as bad if you went during a quieter time in Paris. Be sure to go around back into the little garden and take pictures from there. It’s really pretty, and much less crowded.
11. We visited Le Marais and Place des Vosges. I’ve been to Paris several times, but had never been to Le Marais until this trip. Long thought of as the aristocratic district, it is home to many art galleries, upscale boutiques, and cafes. Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris and it is absolutely beautiful. It was fun to wander the streets, stop at a chocolate shop (there seems to be one on every corner in Paris!), and just check things out.
12. We visited Galeries Lafayette, shopped a bit, and then took in the views from the roof. This gorgeous department store is located at Boulevard Haussmann. Go to the 7th floor viewing area for a great vista of Paris, and a super look at the Opera, right next door. It’s one of the best tourist secrets to know! Then, shop on the 6th floor for great souvenirs. I love their Paris t-shirts as they are high-quality and soft.
13. We walked over the famous “Lock Bridge.” This was great. My kids loved seeing it, and looking at the thousands of locks that have been placed there. All of the keys have been tossed in the Seine, indicating pledges of eternal love for all of the couples who have put the locks there. Let’s hope all of those romances last! I’ve never seen so many locks in one place!
14. We visited Deyrolle, considered by many to be the “oddest shop in Paris”. This was a hoot, and frankly, pretty cool. It was right in our neighborhood, so if you find yourself in the 7th, stop in for sure: http://www.deyrolle.com/magazine/. Deyrolle is a taxidermy shop, where you can purchase anything from a stuffed giraffe ($50,000) right on down to tiny bugs for $3. When I say anything, they have practically any animal (stuffed) that you can imagine. I can promise you’ve never seen anything quite like this!
Things I would skip next time:
-We visited Centre Pompidou. It was fine, but my kids weren’t all that taken with the modern art. Personally, I’ve been to several modern art museums and I’ll still trying to figure out what the big deal is. Regardless, Pompidou is a fun building to walk by, perhaps on your way to Le Marais.
-We visited Les Arts Decoratifs, which is a small museum associated with The Louvre. It was OK, but a bit boring. Other than that, we skipped The Louvre which was a good move with my crowd. I’ll encourage them to spend time there in college or something. It’s enormous and overwhelming. There was no way we were going to tackle the Mona Lisa line with our brood!
Things I wish we had done:
-The Montparnasse Tower- This is in the 6th, and it is the only skyscraper in Paris. The elevator is the fastest in Paris, and will whisk you to the top in 38 seconds. Once there, you can enjoy 360-degree views. http://www.tourmontparnasse56.com/en/#/tour/description
-I would have liked to have gone to The Rodin Museum. The gardens and building are lovely. We simply ran out of time as well as museum energy. I’ve also heard their audio guide for families is quite good. http://www.rodinmuseum.org/
-Several people told us to go to Le Jardin D’Acclimation but we never made it. http://www.jardindacclimatation.fr/
When they are older:
-I would love to visit both Vaux Le Vicomte (http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/) and Versailles (http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage). If you have access to a car or driver, I would take young children to Vaux Le Vicomte over Versailles in a heartbeats as it is smaller, very stunning, and is typically much less crowded.
-I debated vistingThe Catacombes, but I think that is best suited for older kids or a family with younger boys. http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/
I have two daughters who have a lot of bad dreams, so seeing all of those skeletons didn’t seem like such a good idea!
-Someday, I hope to be back in Paris with college-aged kids (if not sooner), eating 5-course meals and drinking fine wine together!
Coming soon: My final post on the trip, Dining & Shopping.