I was itching to take the children to Paris. I know the city well; I used to live there. We’d visited loads of times as a couple. But children and Paris? My husband thought my half term plan was madness! I knew it could be hard work and I knew it risked being unrewarding. The children were going to be tired after 6 weeks at school. It had to be a holiday. So this is what we did (or occasionally, should have done).
The main places we visited could all form a post in their own right. See the bottom of this blog for a brief child-influenced comment! Separate posts on some will follow.
For now, I want to focus on how we made Paris a family-friendly destination, whilst keeping the experience authentic.
- Most importantly, we stayed in an apartment. Having agreed to stay in a part of Paris I didn’t know very well and which was a little off the beaten track – but not much – we considered two options – http://www.all-paris-apartments.com/en/paris-apartments/ref_3841/#reviews and http://www.i-escape.com/appartement-blanc/overview. For no good reason we stayed in the first and it served us well. Having done a number of city breaks with children in hotels it was nice for all the reasons that self-catering holidays are good for families: nice to have some space; nice not to have two rooms on opposite sides of a hotel; nice to get up and shower and breakfast and play, all at the same time; nice to eat in when the kids were too exhausted for a restaurant meal… Like so many Parisian (/European) apartments the entrance was nerve-rackingly unpromising. Once through the typically difficult to open front door, the accommodation was well-equipped and modern. The apartment is within a 15 minute walk of 3 metro lines and right on the bus route for the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and many other top sights. A couple of doors down was the patisserie/boulangerie, then a bar, across the road was a super-market. At least 3 decent looking restaurants (we went to none) were close by. On the Friday night I was kept awake by a neighbours party. The rest of the family were fine! On Saturday I feared a repeat, but all was silent. I suspect we were unlucky and the minor disturbance was a one-off.
- We constantly reminded ourselves that this was going to be different from previous visits. We found out about child-friendly destinations, without giving in to the temptation of the waterpark or the aquarium (although they did look fantastic!)
- We didn’t try to do too much. We identified one key thing to do for each half day, or day, and then went with the flow. The flow was sometimes supported by having identified a few fun rest points (e.g. Arenes de Lutece or Double Fond). And going with the flow is pretty easy in Paris where there is always an open cafe nearby and where bistrot food is mostly good and a croque monsieur and chips is pretty much ubiquitous!
- We made the daily travel part of the adventure. Sometimes we walked a little to avoid being underground too long. That enabled us to use neighbourhood playparks that we would have otherwise missed. When we walked about a mile underground at Chatelet-Les-Halles we made a game out of how many ticket barriers we went through before getting to the platform. Taking the bus meant we saw the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and got a ride along the river. (Most of the bus system uses electronic signs to tell you how long you are going to have to wait and where you are once you’re on the bus, making it easy to use even if you don’t speak the language or know the city. The best way to pay for Parisian public transport is to buy “un carnet”; or actually one for the grown ups and one for the kids. Un carnet is a pile of 10 tickets. The saving isn’t huge, but the convenience is – you can use the tickets on most of the public transport and avoid queuing each time.)
- We avoided queuing with a little pre-holiday planning. Guessing the queues for the Eiffel Tower would probably be enough to dampen anyone’s spirits we booked on-line in advance. Knowing we wanted to go to a magic show, we reserved seats. Even though, as it turned out, there was no need, it meant on the day we could turn up just minutes before the show started, safe in the knowledge that the children would not be disappointed.
These are the main places we visited:
- Pompidou – go for the wonderful views, the enchanting and puzzling Gallerie des Enfants, or just for the intriguing external appearance and the wonderful Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle fountains just round the corner to the south.
- Musee de la Musique – wonderful museum of musical instruments. Lots of buttons to press and music to listen to. Not as interactive and child-friendly as I had expected, but we were surprised to find that our children spent a good 90 minutes there before asking if we could go elsewhere.
- la Geode – go for the amazing architecture (one of the world’s largest geodesic domes) and film experience, but the film will probably be in French (you are in France afterall!).
- the Eiffel Tower – yep, fun, not much to add. But don’t but a ticket to go all the way to the top. Rumour has it that the lift from the middle to the top is often out of action, but getting a refund on a ticket to the top is squirmed out of on a technicality. This was our experience. 20 Euros down the drain!
- magic shows – go to Metamorphosis for a fabulous show. It will be mainly in French, but levitating looks the same in any language. The main man will speak a bit of English (and other languages). Expect to be teased about your “non-Frenchness”! Go to Double Fond for a drink and a close up card trick or two. Be prepared to request a trick at your table!
- Sacre Coeur – go for the views over the city, the funicular train ride up the hill. Expect to queue for the funicular longer than it would take to walk! Be prepared for the over touristy, but (for me) still irresistable Place du Tertre.
And what will we do next time? Find an apartment to rent in the north as close as possible to Parc de la Villette – an open area full of follies, wonderful playgrounds, gardens – and focus on Cite des Sciences et de L’Industrie and Cite des Enfants .