04 January 2017

four days in paris with young children

This is for my dear friends, Cara and Evan, who are headed to Paris tomorrow with their 3- and 5-year-olds, but I figured I might as well share it with you, too, in case you have little kids and are planning a long weekend in the city of lights.

We spent the month of September living in Paris with our 1-year-old and 4-year-old, and we fell in love with the beautiful city. With two little ones in tow, our trip wasn't one of leisurely riverside evenings sipping wine (maybe one day!) but one of going to playgrounds every day and seeking out kid-friendly museums, activities, and restaurants. And Paris was much more family-friendly than I'd expected.

So! Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly discoveries in what we feel is the most beautiful city in the world. Enjoy!

(A caveat/warning: we like walking around and getting lost, so when we say nearby, it may be more like a 15-minute walk rather than, say, a 2-3-minute walk. But walking is the best way to discover a place, so try to enjoy the lovely Parisian scenery on the way.) :-)

Great for your first or last day, as it'll be unforgettable:

|   the eiffel tower   |

Built in 1889 as a temporary monument for the World's Fair to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution, it wasn't received as warmly as hoped. The Tour Eiffel grew on people over the years, though, and now, it has come to represent Paris and its cosmopolitan style. It was the tallest building when it was built (at 1,024 feet 6 inches) and is now 1,063 feet with a radio antenna.

In the winter, lines shouldn't be terrible, but they can seem endless in the summer. You can buy tickets online here, but they book 1-3 months in advance. Also, I'd recommend taking the elevator to the top (17€ for adults, 8€ for kids 4-11, 14€50 for youth 12-24, kids under 4 are free), but the top floor is going to be closed from January 9-27 due to building work, so if you're traveling then, remember to check their website to make sure it's open before you go. It's still worth going up to the "second floor" if that's your only option, and it'll be cheaper (11€ per adult), but you can't buy those online. Also, you can take the stairs up for an even cheaper admission ticket (7€ per adult).

We went first thing in the morning, and there was basically no line, so if you go in the low season, you'll be fine even if you didn't plan ahead.

Even though we took the elevator to the top, we still wanted to get the experience of being on the stairs, so we walked from the 2nd floor down to the 1st floor, and while it was windy, it was cool to see the inner workings of the Eiffel Tower. I'd recommend it if it isn't too cold/wet out.

* very important note *
Approach the Tour Eiffel from the Trocadero side, as it will be both easier to find and gratifying to see it in all its glory from across "la Seine" (the river). Easy peasy: the metro goes right to Trocadero, and there is tons of signage for the Tour Eiffel everywhere.

* nearby playgrounds *
The Champs de Mars is the park under the Tour Eiffel, and there is a great playground if you follow the path away from Trocadero. There is also a smaller playground across the Seine on the Trocadero side with a great view of the Eiffel Tower (where the top photo was taken). Just head uphill above the merry-go-round, and it'll be on the left.

* nearby restaurants *
We got comfortable bringing our kids to restaurants, but we were definitely nervous at first. (Bringing Up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything will make you think French kids are perfectly-behaved little fashionistas that relish endive and escargot, but we discovered French kids are just kids, too. So, again, don't worry if your kids are, you know, human.)

Here are two restaurants that we enjoyed near the Eiffel Tower:

Gusto Italia
199 rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris
(Italian, i.e., great for even the pickiest of kids, with outdoor seating. It's so popular, they opened another one across the street at 218 rue de Grenelle.)

Cafe Central
40 rue Cler
75007 Paris
(Classic French bistro with outdoor seating. This little market street is worth passing through and is filled with little restaurants, so if this one doesn't suit your fancy, chances are you'll find another to inspire you.)

|   the louvre   |

The Louvre is way more than just the home of the famous Mona Lisa. 

The Louvre was also a former palace, it is the world's biggest museum, and it is filled with an amazing array of art and artifacts from all over the world. It can be overwhelming (and impossible to see/enjoy all in one visit), so it'll probably be easiest to focus on a few things you want to see and take a break in the middle (or just make it a shorter visit if you have little ones in tow). 

Tour groups will usually head straight for Leonardo da Vinci's La Gioconda painting (Mona Lisa's proper name), and it is the world's most famous painting for good reason (more here), but it can also be insanely crowded. And be prepared to see a smaller painting than you might expect. When you enter the Denon wing and finally find the room with the plexiglass-encased Mona Lisa, don't be surprised if your kids prefer looking at the huge painting across the room, The Wedding Feast at Cana, with a big feast and dogs sitting at people's feet.

The "big three" (i.e., most popular pieces) that everyone rushes to in the Louvre are La Gioconda, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. They're all worth seeing, but the rest of the museum has so much to offer, too. (And it'll be way less crowded in other areas!)

Our kid-pleasing favorites were:

- turquoise griffins and other mythical beasts from Persia (Sully wing, ground floor).
- the Medieval Louvre (Sully wing), an underground fortress right beneath the museum, complete with huge walls and a moat.
- the Egyptian sphinx and mummies (Sully wing, above the fortress).
- the larger-than-life Assyrian bulls in the Cour Khorsabad (Richelieu wing, ground floor). Count the legs and see if you notice anything odd.

Here are six things you may not know about the Louvre, and it might be more fun for kids if you follow one of the Louvre's themed walks called Visitor Trails, where you search the museum for horses, women, things that are oversized, or over a dozen other options.

* nearby playground *
The Jardin de Tuileries right outside the Louvre has a playground, carousel, and trampolines (that you pay for), and there are tons of scenic places to just sit and relax (or run around).

* nearby restaurants *
We ate our first restaurant meal in one of the Tuileries outdoor restaurants, and it was a low-pressure way to experiment with kids and Parisian restaurants. With decent weather, I'd have planned a picnic and sat in the chairs around one of the fountains. If the weather isn't cooperating or you don't have the bandwidth to plan anything, the Louvre has several different options for food. Universal Resto was recommended with cuisines from around the world.

|   sacre coeur   |

You get a great view of Paris from up here, and it's free to wander around. What we really enjoyed was the nearby Place du Tertre, which was filled with painters painting, and the picturesque winding little streets. Yes, it's touristy, but so are most things worth seeing in Paris.

* nearby playgrounds *
Our kids enjoyed running around on the grass slope in front of the white basilica, and there is yet another carousel there, too. It was the one in "Amélie" if you're a fan. There is also a playground right next to the Abbesses metro station with the love wall that says I love you in a ton of different languages.

* nearby restaurant *

We loved this restaurant, and my kids loved their Croque Monsieurs without the ham (i.e., a Parisian grilled cheese). Outdoor seating or indoor seating with a great mural on the wall.

Le Rendez-vous des Amis
23 rue Gabrielle
75018 Paris

|   notre dame   |

Notre Dame Cathedral is another one of Paris' iconic attractions, and it's free to go inside and admire the stained glass and cavernous interior. You could watch "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" to get in the mood if your kids are old enough, too.

From here, you should head over to Ile Saint-Louis to visit an adorable little island with a tiny main street and the best ice cream in Paris. Then, stroll along the Seine and enjoy.

* nearby playground *
There is a playground right behind the Notre Dame, and it's a great spot for a picnic.

* nearby restaurants *
There are a ton of bakeries nearby, many with lunch specials and sandwiches. We tried a few and enjoyed them all.

Berthillon (ice cream)
31 rue St-Louis en l'ile
75004 Paris

Le Sarrasin et Le Froment (creperie)
86 rue Saint-Louis en l'ile
75004 Paris

Other places of note:

Musée d'Orsay
This is my favorite art museum in Paris. An absolutely stunning collection, so well curated, and it's in an old train station that is a sight to behold on its own.

Rodin Museum
This sculpture museum is manageably small and filled with beautiful work, including the famous Kiss and the Thinker in a lovely manicured garden outside.

rue Mouffetard
This was my favorite street in Paris. It was an old winding market street, and it felt like it was probably just like that hundreds of years ago. There's usually a little farmers market at the bottom, too.

The Avenue des Champs-Elysées is the famous avenue full of glamorous shops, and while the Arc de Triomphe is at the end, I don't feel this is a must-do unless you're an avid shopper. If you do want to go, the Renault store is a great pitstop for kids. There are kid-friendly activities everywhere, from a coloring table and a game where you jump for a prize (we got a toy car) to a free photobooth and tons of cool moving demonstrations.

Centre Pompidou is a modern art museum, and while there is a little interactive area for kids, the rest is definitely geared for adults. With that said, it has an outdoor sculpture garden over a pool of water and another pool of water with a statue in the middle upstairs, plus (duh) a vast collection of modern art. Happy Nouilles nearby had delicious handmade noodles and indoor/outdoor seating. Keep walking, and you'll get to the Arts & Métiers Museum, which was also awesome and had lots of hands-on interactive exhibits for kids.

Palais de la découverte
We really wanted to visit this science museum in a beautiful palace, but it was being remodeled while we were there. So, please let us know if you visit how it was! :-)

Marché Beauvau Aligré
This is a farmers market near where we stayed (near Bastille), and it is filled with beautiful produce. Nearby is Blé Sucre, a bakery with amazing croissants and sandwiches.

Du Pain et Des Idées
This is considered by many to be the best bakery in Paris, and it's near the locks of Canal Saint Martin, which are fun for kids to watch. Get the escargot rolls, and you'll want about five more. They even have a picnic bench outside so you can buy, scarf down, and then go back inside to buy more.

Jardin Villemin
This playground, also near Canal Saint Martin, was one of our favorites with its rolling grass hills and a pirate ship, plus plenty of space to run around.

L'As du Fallafel
Best falafel in Paris, and it's in the old Jewish quarter, which is cool to visit. The Picasso Museum is also nearby, and the Marais neighborhood is fun to explore, too.

Le Pavillon des Canaux
This quirky house-turned-cafe/restaurant was our favorite eatery in Paris. With artistically designed places to eat in converted bedrooms and even an old bathtub, this place was just dreamy, and with a location right on the water, it was perfect for hanging out. Outdoor seating was great, too.

Here are some additional tips for enjoying your time in Paris:

public transportation tips:

- If you have a stroller, the buses in Paris are fabulous and go everywhere (even to the top of the Sacre Coeur hill, rendering the funicular unnecessary).
- If you don't have a stroller, the metro is an even faster way to zip around town.
- With little kids, you likely won't be hitting up a ton of attractions each day, so the day passes probably won't be worth it. Instead, get a carnet of 10 tickets, and you'll still get a discount. Adult tickets (1€80 per ride) go down to 1€41 per ride with the carnet; child tickets (required for kiddos 4 and up) go down to 7€05 for ten tickets. (For single tickets, kids 4 and up pay full price, so it pays to plan ahead.)

language tips:
- Locals appreciate it when visitors make an effort to greet them in French. A "Bonjour, Madame" or "Bonjour, Monsieur" (pronounced miss-yur) goes a long way towards building goodwill. Aside from hello (literally "good day"), "merci" (thank you) is almost the only word you have to know.
- If you want to get fancy, "bon soir" (pronounced swah) means good evening, "bon nuit" (pronounced nwee) means good night, and "au revoir" (pronounced oh rev-wah) means goodbye.
- "Parlez-vous anglais?" (pronounced parlay-voo anglay) means "Do you speak English?" And you'll be surprised to find (especially in touristy areas) almost everyone does.

and most importantly...
- If you're visiting Paris for a short time, try to relax and just enjoy being there. Don't worry if you don't get to see every single attraction. Consider enjoying the lifestyle and pace of life equally important (or even more so!).

"C'est la vie" (pronounced say la vee) means that's life, and it helps remind us to not get too dramatic about anything. So, no matter what happens, just shrug and say, "C'est la vie," and you'll be Parisian in no time. :-)

I was rushing to finish this before my friends arrived in Paris, so I'm obviously not including everything. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions for you, and I'll do my best.

Happy travels! And happy 2017! :-)

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