PARIS – with children!

Posted on August 4, 2013

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“Paris with children? Oh, you must be going to Euro Disney? No?? But what will you do?” Well, actually, quite a lot! In fact we had a wonderful, often magical time.

1. How to get around

We flew with Easyjet from the UK to Paris and got a great deal by booking pretty far in advance. I really wanted to go by Eurostar but it was so much cheaper to fly.

From the airport in Paris we were picked up by Family Twist who were fantastic. The driver was waiting for us in the arrivals hall, the car was just outside the door complete with one car seat and two booster seats and we were dropped to our destination in no time. It was so easy and really took away the slight concern over a) being ripped off by airport taxis, b) would there be a vehicle big enough for the 5 of us and c) would they have car seats available.

And then for the rest of our stay we travelled by Metro.

Our metro stop!

There were  A LOT of steps between trains and with a stroller it sometimes did feel like a lot of work to carry it up and down the numerous flights of steps. But it was also very easy – the trains were really regular, not overly crowded and whizzed us to each of our desired destinations easily. People were really kind as well, often giving up their seat so I could sit and hold our two year old on my lap.

2. Where to stay & eat

We booked an apartment with www.housetrip.com as we wanted to stay as if we lived in Paris.

Stairs to our apartment!

We stayed in the Montmartre area which was slightly out of the main centre and really lively and friendly. There were patisseries every few metres (so bad for the waistline – I became slightly addicted to pain au citrons!) and lots of greengrocers and delis.

Beware the lethal French patisserie!

For vegetarians eating in Paris it isn’t always that straightforward and it was great to be so close to the patisseries to able to pick up baguettes for a lunchtime picnic in the centre. It was also much cheaper to buy them out in Montmartre than near the tourist centres.

Picking up baguettes for lunch in Montmartre

That said we did eat out – there were little bistros serving big bowls of pasta, we had vegetarian Chinese one night (Tien-Hiang) which was delicious and also a great curry – there were lots of Indian restaurants around.

3. Things to do

Well no trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. It sounds cliched to say that but it really didn’t disappoint. We arrived there at around 6pm (it stays open until midnight). The plan was to just see it, not to actually go up, but our 6 year old was adamant he wanted to go up so we eventually decided to go for it. I would say it took about an hour from the time we started to queue to being up the top, which I thought was pretty good and the queue moved really quickly through security, ticket buying etc. We did take the lift – too many stairs with little legs!!

I think this was a great time to visit as the crowds were diminishing and there was something so magical about being there as the light was starting to fade and the air was still. We sat in the little park just outside the Eiffel’s big legs to have a picnic afterwards and the tower looked beautiful. I had a wave of happiness about being there and whispered in my two year old’s ear, “we are so lucky to be here”. I will remember this moment forever.

We also visited the Louvre and the Orsay Museums. Our children are still very young – 6, 4 and 2 so we didn’t want to spend long walking around as we knew they would find it “sooo boring!”. So we talked to them beforehand about the Mona Lisa, how it was such a special painting and all about her smile – luckily they were then really excited about seeing it and pushed their way through the crowds to glimpse her.

Heading to the Louvre
So excited to see the Mona Lisa!

And the same with the Orsay – Our 6 year old had looked at Monet’s works at school so we focused on that for the trip and made a beeline for his paintings.

The fabulous clock in the Musée d’Orsay – the building used to be a railway station.

My advice would be, if you have young children (and even if you don’t!), don’t feel guilty about only targeting a specific piece of art. These museums are vast and stacked to the rafters with amazing art and just getting to and from the piece you’ve decided to see will mean you will see so many other works along the way.

Something else we did in Paris which felt really special was to leave our family lock at the footbridge over the Seine, just outside the Musée d’Orsay.

People carve or write their names on locks, attach them to the bridge and throw the key into the Seine. We came prepared with locks from home (although there are sellers on the bridge if you decide to impulsively do this!) and we wrote our names on our lock. Our children absolutely loved this – looking at all of the other locks and then knowing our family lock was going to be there for us to think about when we’re at home.

Positioning our lock
All the locks with the Musée d’Orsay in the background.
Throwing the key into the Seine!

We walked to Sacré-Cœur on Sunday morning which was really atmospheric – I told my children to listen to the organ playing and smell the rich incense burning to help them try to remember the moment. It was very hot and busy but the views across Paris made it all worth it.

At Sacré-Cœur with views of Paris behind us.
Inside Sacré-Cœur

After Sacré-Cœur we took the Funicular train down to the streets below and visited the J’taime wall made up of “I love you” written in over 250 languages. There was a small play area there where we set up camp for awhile with some gorgeous fresh food from a nearby Greek deli while the children played.

Jumping…why not!…at the J’taime mural
J’taime!
Small playground

There was so much more we could have done but we were only there for a few days…and it’s good to leave a few things for the next trip!

4. Top Tips with children

The Tuilleries Park which is next to the Louvre is a fantastic place to decamp. They had a playground, an arcade of games and activities, water pumps to fill up bottles and flasks, carousels and my absolute favourite – a lake with boats to hire.

We paid 2 Euros and I really felt I could have been in the 1800s when we picked our big, old-fashioned wooden boat and two wooden sticks. Our children spent the longest time running around the large pond, pushing their boat with the sticks to make it drift away again. There were seats for adults to relax in and watch. I would definitely recommend shunning the more contrived activities on offer (ghost train, bumper cars etc) and spend your time doing this.

Paris is expensive so buying snacks – biscuits, crackers, drinks at little supermarkets like Carrefour as you go along definitely helps.

Children are free entry into nearly all of the museums and under 4s are free on the Metro.

5. What to buy

We were travelling super light and didn’t have space to buy a huge amount. We did come home with the obligatory mini Eiffel Tower and keyrings from the sellers outside the Louvre but what the children really loved was having their names drawn by a street artist just outside the Eiffel Tower. It was very reasonable – 5 Euros each and the artist was amazingly quick and did a great job. She wrote the date and ‘Paris’ at the bottom and our three loved watching her draw and the crowds gathering around to watch too.

Family Twist provided me with a discounted rate and Paris Info provided me with tickets to the Louvre in exchange for my review but all views are my own.