During the Easter holidays this year I decided that I’d like to take my five (and half) year old daughter to Paris, just the two of us. Since we’ve moved to London from Canada three years ago we’ve taken full advantage of our proximity to Europe, and have been lucky enough to visit Paris, Barcelona, Ibiza and Brussels together as a family. This was our first major trip (aside from travelling home to Canada) together just the two of us.
The day we arrived in Paris was the day of the Notre Dame fire. Arriving in a city during a crisis like this can be unnerving, and although we did not have plans to visit, we were to go by on our sightseeing boat tour the next day, and it was very sombre. I just want to say my heart goes out to the people of Paris, and all of France.
Although Lydia is an excellent traveller and very patient in transit, I knew that I would have to find the perfect balance of things to do, but not too many activities, for each of our three days in Paris. The first issue for us to contend with was actually the train in, as Lydia often gets travel sick.
Getting to Paris (with a Travel-Sick Child)
The best and easiest way to travel from London to Paris is by Eurostar. We’ve taken the train several times, and if purchased at least a month in advance it can easily be the least expensive option. Unfortunately travel sickness is not immune to train travel, so we make sure that we’re properly prepared in any vehicle. This includes: Travel sick bags (or ask the staff, they were VERY helpful), wet-wipes, and a change of clothes (if worst comes to worst).
Also, we have learnt over the years that there are two types of co-travellers when sitting near a travel sick child: The type that will instantly want to help by handing you napkins, bags or whatever else they have on hand and the type that will do their best to ignore the situation and pray that it stops soon. In both cases, giving a reassuring ‘It’s okay, we’re prepared’ to the vicinity can go a long way to ease the worries of others. Luckily for us, moments later, my daughter will be back to her cheerful self and probably asking for a snack.
Picking a Hotel in Paris
So before you actually head to Paris there is all the planning. The first thing I needed to do was find a central, inexpensive hotel. Not an easy feat in one of the busiest tourist cities in the world. While there are many guides touting the ‘Best Paris Hotels for Kids’ I found that most of them simply boasted of things like pools, and kids menus at the in-hotel restaurant. Something that people tend to overlook when trying to find a hotel for a stay with kids, is that you’ll likely be spending more time in the Hotel Room itself than you would otherwise, as you may need more breaks or simply won’t be going out at night. Nearby restaurants or take-away cafes, Free Wifi, and enough space so you’re not sitting on top of each other are essentials.
As we were looking at the most budget-friendly options, we simply headed to Expedia and narrowed down our search to within our budget, and actually *read* the reviews that included the words ‘kids’ or ‘parents’.
Something that was super-important to my daughter was that the hotel room have a Bathtub. This might seem like an odd request, but she’s recently gotten into Lush products, and a bubble bath and face mask is her idea of a Spa Day – and she was insistent that we have a Spa Day on our vacation in Paris. Luckily this helped further narrow down my search, as there are only so many inexpensive hotels in central Paris with Bathtubs. We found a simple three star hotel steps from the Opera with a surprisingly large room for about £100/night.
Planning our activities for each day was a bit easier to do than finding the hotel, as we already had an idea of what we wanted to do/see. The first on our list was the easiest to pick but the hardest to get tickets to:
The Eiffel Tower with Kids
Visiting the Eiffel tower with kids can be tricky. I should mention here that the very best way to visit the Eiffel tower with kids is Not To Go Up It.
You certainly don’t want to be handling a pushchair around in the crowds, or waiting in a long queue with a cranky child. Worst is that the official tickets sell out months in advance, and the worst possible situation would be arriving the day-of to try and get entry tickets for the stairs. STAIRS with a five-year-old? I don’t think so. In my opinion, save your time and money and spend your time in the wonderful gardens beside the tower. You’ll end up with all those iconic shots of your family and the Tour Eiffel.
My #1 tip here is that there is a small but fun playground hidden away within Champ de Mars. It’s the perfect spot for under-5s to play for a bit while you sit and admire the view. You can get some wonderful family shots here too. My second tip is that on the river-side of the tower there’s a cafe kiosk where you can get some snacks, ice cream or coffees and a small but adorable carousel for the little ones. Again – you can easily spend an hour or too at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and bring home wonderful Parisian Memories without travelling up it.
As my daughter already had her heart set on travelling up the tower, I could not dissuade her. About a month before our trip, we tried our luck with the official site (and failed). So, I then had to go on a hunt for an inexpensive guided tour option. The benefits to going with a guided tour is that they have a dedicated entry lane, an allotment of timed tickets, are available up to and including a week before if you’re lucky. You’ll also get more information from a tour guide about the tower itself than you may otherwise as there aren’t any audio guides or tour guides otherwise. I was happy with the company we went with, and Lydia was overjoyed with our tour guide.
The most interesting part of visiting the Eiffel Tower for my five year old was the diagonal-travelling, double-decker elevators. Kids seemingly understand feats of amazing engineering accomplishment and this was no different. Sure, the view was spectacular, but the ride up and down was the best part, for her.
Dining in Paris with Kids
I am very lucky that I do not have a fussy eater. Also, luckily, when it comes to French Food, it’s all pretty palatable for young eaters. Frites, Sandwiches and Pasta is usually on the menu at any Brasserie. The trick, it seems, is trying to find one that’s not absurdly expensive. Although I am usually the type to plan every meal in advance, in the end, we went for a walk around our neighbourhood and found a spot we liked in our budget, and ate there twice for dinner. Generally speaking the French do not eat breakfast, and restaurants may not open until early afternoon, so the first thing you should do is stock up on healthy snacks and keep a stash of them in your hotel room or purse to feed the kids in the mornings. I made the terrible mistake of arriving for lunch at 11:30 and was advised to go on my sightseeing cruise first, as they “recommend” we eat later.
About four days before our trip, and after a marathon session of watching MasterChef Junior, Lydia turned to me and asked “Mom, is there anywhere in Paris that kids can go with adults to taste different cheeses?”. My jaw hit the floor, and my eyes filled with tears of pride. Within minutes I was researching. Luckily I found a small family-owned cheese shop near Les Halles that had awesome reviews, and seemed very kid-friendly (not to mention Tourist/English speaker friendly!). They were amazing, helping us pick cheeses that we would both enjoy (nothing too pungent). If you’re looking for a casual spot to take kids for cheese tasting, I cannot recommend Fromagerie Danard enough.
Sightseeing in Paris with Kids
There are two methods of sightseeing that I have found most effective when travelling with kids. Bus and Boat. The first, would be an open-top bus tour, there are a couple of companies to choose from but each of them offers a child ticket, and usually some sort of perk like colouring pack or audio commentary specifically for children. Again, my daughter loves Audio Tours, so this is a really fantastic way to keep her busy while seeing the city. Luckily the weather has been kind, and the open-air top keeps her from getting travel sick.
The other option is by boat. You’ll see fewer landmarks, but it’s a fantastic option if you’ve already done a bus tour or don’t feel like commiting to a full day of touring. Most boat tours depart from the Eiffel Tower so it’s a great location to get both done, and that’s what we did on our trip. We also got a package which included lunch at a riverside cafe.
The final option would be to do a brief walking tour. There are multiple family-friendly tours to choose from and I would suggest one that travels near the Opera House, Near the Louvre or of the Champ Elysee, depending on the age of your kids, a little bit of shopping can be fun too. Speaking of the Opera House – it’s one of the absolute best places to take Children – the children’s audio guide is interactive and hosted by the Phantom of the Opera. If you have a kid that likes Audio-tours as much as mine, this is probably the best one in Paris.
Kids and French Language
One of my favourite parts of travelling to Paris with my child was teaching her different words before and during our trip. As she already knew a few food items, it was fun teaching her a few new words while we were there. This can be a really fun game if you sit down and make a list with them about the words they want to learn each day. Lydia learned a lot of travel words, Pont (bridge), Gare (Station) and Velo (Bike). She also loved learning French food items, and even started ordering her Jus de Pomme for herself.
If you have a child who’s interested in languages, or different cultures, Paris is an amazingly family-friendly city and I hope to go back soon.
About the Author: Chantelle Otto is a Canadian Expat living in The United Kingdom. She’s a full-time mom, freelance blogger, and Christmas fanatic. As the owner of AllThingsChristmas.com she spends most of her time thinking about holidays and traveling around London and Europe with her family. Get in touch on ChantelleJoy.com