PLANNING A TRIP TO PARIS Ahhhh, gay Paris! This enchanting, enormous city can be intimidating to tackle with kids, but having experienced it a couple of times on my own, I couldn’t wait to bring the kids and hubby for their first taste of the City of Light! I knew our plan couldn’t be as ambitious as in my previous times traipsing through Paris, and I have learned what works best for our family in terms of pacing – especially in a big city.
There is SO much to see and do in this historic place that the most essential thing is to prioritize what is most important to you. What do the kids want to see and do? What do they know about Paris already? What can you introduce them to before you go to help them feel more engaged and prepared? Your itinerary depends on how many days you have to play with and also where you’re staying. Stick to 2-3 spots to see per day, and plan at least an hour of travel time in between sites. Also try to plan your daily itinerary based on metro stops and walking proximity. You’ll notice I talk a lot about scavenger hunts – I think they’re a great way to keep kids engaged, curious and learning! This scavenger hunt book series has a great version for Paris. Check it out here: Mission Paris.
Get familiar with the Paris metro (it’s really not hard – and fun for the kids to learn!) and remember to exercise basic safety when riding the metro: keep your valuables close and out of sight, hold hands with kids, stay together, and scan the area for any suspicious activity. Some people report muggings and pickpockets but we have never run into any issues whatsoever. Don’t expect to drive around the city; they have strict rules about who can and can’t drive or park in the city anyway. Just expect to walk a ton and use the Metro! The Paris Pass is a great deal if you’re going to be in the city for a week, but otherwise it doesn’t really pay off with kids. It’s a great deal for fast-pace site seeing and usually that’s too much for the littles in the big city. Here are a few ideas for kid-friendly first-timer’s to-do list in Paris:
- Montmartre (get a portrait drawn!)
- Eiffel Tower (go to the top!)
- Louvre (walk through courtyard or treasure hunt inside!)
- Musée D’Orsay (treasure hunt the impressionists!)
- Notre Dame Cathedral (pay homage and learn about its reconstruction.)
- Arc de Triomphe (go to the top!)
- Bateaux-Mouches (bundle up and try this boat tour at night to see the lights!)
- Sainte Chapelle (most impressive chapel!)
- Palace of Versailles (tour the palace and Hamlet!)
- House of Claude Monet (head outside the city – for Monet lovers!)
- Catacombs de Paris (tour the underground crypts – it’s pricey lately!)
Parks and Recreation:
- Champs de Mars & Trocadero (great Tour Eiffel viewing spots, picnic)
- Luxembourg Gardens (wander, picnic)
- Tuileries Garden (hunt for statues, picnic)
- Bois de Boulogne (relax in a place that feels separate from the city)
- Jardin des Plantes (go in the spring)
- Kid-friendly Playgrounds (they’re not all free)
- Playground GPS coordinates: here along the Seine near Isle de la Cité and here near the Catacombs. Thank you Ashley C for sending them to me!
- Bike Tour
- River Cruise
- Soccer Match
- Cabaret (ok, not with kids…)
- Cheese, Wine & Pastry Tour
- Disney Paris
- Asterix Theme Park
LODGING I recommend finding a place within walking distance from a metro stop – bonus if they serve breakfast or if there is a bakery nearby (that’s all you need in Paris!). We stayed at the Aparthotel Adagio Porte de Versailles when we went as a family with my parents (7 people in 2 rooms), located in the 15th Arr and right next to a tram. It was larger than most apartments, had a breakfast option (we didn’t use it as it was expensive and we love the bakeries), and a convenient kitchenette. I love the Montmartre district to stay with all the restaurants, and Montparnasse is also nice, but you can’t go wrong if you’re in the city. Unless you don’t mind being in the shady district, stay away from Moulin Rouge and the area around Pigalle metro stop, especially with a family.
HOT TIP: RESTROOMS! There are not many restrooms available in Paris so plan your bathroom breaks with your meal stops, or sit down for a drink at a cafe just so the kids can relieve themselves. Did you know you can enter the Louvre Pyramids, walk around and also use the bathroom for free without a ticket? A great spot to pee in a pinch!
FOOD Keep in mind many restaurants don’t open until dinner time – which is after 6PM. Look for street vendors, bakeries and bistros to save money as a family. You can always find sweet or savory crêpes to keep the kids happy, not to mention various breakfast and lunch pastries and baguette sandwiches that are great for a picnic. In a pinch, drop into a grocery store and grab a baguette and charcuterie options for a light lunch. We always bring our water bottles around with us to save on drinks and Paris is one of those cities you can always find excellent public water. Check out the map here for all the acclaimed public fountains! Our favorite crêperie on the street was definitely Happy Caffé on Rue de Rivoli. This is also a great spot for all the trinkets and souvenirs you’re looking for all on one street! Foods to try besides crêpes: bœuf bourguignon (better than beef stew), escargots, macarons, jambon beurre (delicious, simple baguette sandwich), croque monsieur or croque madame, soup a l’oignon français, cheese, pain au chocolat, éclair, canard (duck), chocolate, Coq Au Vin (better than chicken stew), meringues, and frog legs!
LANGUAGE Do you speak French? Do your kids? If not, it’s a good idea to learn the pleasantries. As we live in Belgium, our kids have French classes and French immersion in school, but I also love to encourage them to practice with Duolingo on their devices. We listen to French songs and the Duonlingo French podcast is great for more advanced learning! I recommend Episode 1: Le Magicien des Baguettes to learn all about Mahmoud M’Seddi and his award winning bakery. He won the Grand Prix for Best Baguette and made bread daily for the President of France for a whole year! Then go find this amazing bakery and taste for yourself – not only was it our favorite baguette, I have never had a better croissant! SO DELICIOUS!
Here are the spots we were able to see with our kids for four days in Paris. Remember that every single spot needs to be reserved in advance, so plan ahead. Don’t waste time standing in lines – because sometimes you still won’t be able to get in!
The Musée D’Orsay is one of several museums you can enjoy in a few hours. Others like this are Musée Rodin (if you’re into The Thinker) and Le Centre Pompidou. Be sure to get a good look at the sculptures outside in the courtyard as they are gorgeous! (see below) This museum was once a grand railway station, and you will feel it when you enter with the iconic clock designs and grand windows. This museum has the largest collection of impressionist masterpieces in the world – and has more metal than the Eiffel Tower! The gift shop here is so lovely – be sure to stop in before leaving. Entrance fees are €13.00 per adult accompanying a child under 18…kids are free! (€16.00 for adults without children)
After going through security, pick up a map and make a plan. Hopefully you already have a list of works of arts to find and discussed famous impressionist artists with your kiddos. Our favorites to find were Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Manet, Klimt, Seurat (paintings), and Rodin (sculptures). It was our children’s first experience in an art museum quite like this so we found it was useful to have an audio guide – great if you’re not in a hurry – or a scavenger hunt similar to this fun one is also useful.
Our 9 year old daughter loved the impressionist paintings best, our 6 year old daughter preferred the sculptures, and our 12 year old son was mesmerized by the enormous, emotional wall murals in the basement. We sat for a long time discussing what happened in each scene and pointing out things we noticed. It’s amazing what kids can pick up on from a work of art! Each of these enormous murals tells a story; we marveled at how this was their version of today’s movies and documentaries.
Keep an eye out for these amazing sculptures and statues. We loved discussing how these works of art came to be and what it takes to sculpt from both sculptor and subject. We learned that you can sometimes tell how a person died by how they’re depicted on their horse in a statue – according to the urban legend, if the statue shows the horse posed with both front hooves up in the air, the rider died in battle. If the horse is posed with one front leg up, it means the rider was wounded in battle. And if all four hooves are on the ground, the rider died of natural causes. Also, side note, if you haven’t realized that there will be plenty of nudity in these museums, prepare yourself (and your kids) for what to expect, and how to use discretion if they get the giggles. It’s Europe! It’s normal here…
Another fun little tour to do as a family is the Bateaux-Mouches. Hop on this tour at various times during the day, but I recommend at or after sunset to get a great view of the lights! There is a guide explaining the places you pass and it helps to do this early on in your tour. Did you know about the free Rick Steves guides on his app? Check it out here to hear his voice telling his iconic stories as you traverse the city!
We didn’t have time to tour the Louvre museum on this trip but we plan to make it back to Paris again (since it’s so close to where we live) and devote a full day to the Louvre and a full day to Versailles! Still, even without heading into the 8 miles of rooms inside the museum we had a blast outside with the pyramids. The kids got such a kick out of making funny photos in the courtyard that it was one of their favorite memories from Paris! (Remember this is also an awesome free potty break spot – just go down under the Louvre and use the restroom in the lobby. Perfect if the line isn’t too long!)
Clearly it didn’t get old…I had to drag them away!
Even without entering the Louvre you can talk to the kids about the statues, arches, and incredible palace that surrounds you. The Louvre was built in the early 1100’s as a fortress to protect the city, and was gradually built more and more grand and what we see today was mostly built between the 17th-19th centuries. It would take 200 days to see every work of art if you spent 30 seconds in front of each piece! Some people prefer taking a guided tour through the Louvre and I know they have great options for families, so check it out of if it’s too daunting to tackle on your own! If you make it inside the Louvre, be sure to entice the kids with another scavenger hunt like this one here. Things not to miss:
- Winged Victory
- Venus de Milo
- Mona Lisa (try not to be disappointed by how small she is!)
- Apartments of Napoleon III
- The Mummy (and Crypt of the Sphinx)
- Liberty Leading the People
- The Coronation of Napoleon
- The Raft of the Medusa
- Sleeping Hermaphroditus
- Portrait of Louis the XIV
- Les Salles Rouge
- Le Gallerie D’Apollon
- The Grande Gallerie
- The Pavillion des Sessions
Arc de Triomphe
This was also a highlight for the kids – and even more than the Eiffel Tower for my son, as he’s afraid of heights and this was just enough to be a thrill and not too scary. It is possible to take an elevator to the top if you have special needs but otherwise, expect to climb the 284 steps to the top to enjoy the rewarding view! We have seen many arcs in the world, but this one takes the cake. It is the world’s largest triumphal and truly stretches the gaze upwards. Inside is a museum of sorts, and videos where you can learn about the history of the arc and various arcs in the world. The shop here is also nice! Lots of unique souvenirs to peruse. Remember to discuss the significance of the eternal flame that lies over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the first World War.
On top of the Arc you can see the “etoile” or star of streets branching out from the great roundabout around L’Arc de Triomphe. There are twelve streets that radiate outward – see if you can spot various landmarks in the city like Montmartre, Notre Dame, La Défence, La Tour Eiffel, and Les Invalides (with a gold dome, where Napoleon is buried).
Montmartre is a must see in Paris! There is lots of fun shopping in the district and the views from high on the hill are iconic. Sacre Coeur is a beautiful cathedral crowning the hill – some say it resembles a wedding cake! You can walk up the (270) steep steps or take the funicular for one metro pass – a great deal if you have the unlimited metro pass! Keep an eye out for the love locks.
In the Place du Tertre you will find it bustling with artists eager to sketch your portrait. Prices range from €20-€60 – but you will find the most accomplished artists sitting in a spot around the square. Be sure to get a good look at all the artists and watch them work before selecting someone to draw you or your children. There is a big difference in abilities and styles and you will see that quickly!
The great, iconic cathedral is being renovated in great haste for the the upcoming olympics in 2024. If you visit before then, it will still be under construction, but it is still worth visiting to wander around and read all of the impressive and informative billboards. It is already much cleaner than I remember from our visit in 2019 and even when I was able to enter in 1998! They have done a beautiful job refurbishing this legendary place. Be sure to watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame so the kids have a sense of the inside as well! Another good movie to watch is Leap! It takes place in the late 1800’s when the Eiffel Tower was being built!
This small Chapel on Îsle de la Cité is worth the visit. It was commissioned in the early 1200’s by King Louis XIV to hold Christs’ Crown of Thorns and is an absolutely stunning spectacle of stained glass. Children are free, and adult tickets are €11. This can be a quick visit, and worthwhile if you’re already nearby at Notre Dame.
I remember visiting the Catacombs in 1998 and spending hours walking along the dark, dank, underground tunnels. This time, in 2021, they have done considerable upgrades and the tour is only about one hour long. It is very well done and includes an audio guide – but also is the most pricey attraction in Paris now at €29 for adults and €5 for children! I think this is worth seeing once, but it may not be your kids’ cup of tea. Be sure to discuss the history as much as possible before your tour as it can be overwhelming to see so many bones. The tunnels are said to hold the bones of over 6 million people – beginning in the late 1700’s after the Bubonic Plague for 25 years. They were first open to the public in 1809 and have been a fascinating piece of Paris history ever since! Something to note: the audioguides are not included with the child’s ticket. I was upset about this, as that is something the children usually love – but they wouldn’t allow kids to have the audio guides. So instead we shared and let the kids hold the audioguides. Again, there is a really cool gift shop at the exit of the Catacombs here, but this may not be worth it for the short tour and overall expense. You have to decide!
The Eiffel Tower
This is the MOST iconic thing to do in Paris. I have been up three times – morning, afternoon and evening, and I can honestly say it doesn’t matter when you go as long as you can bear the weather! It is beautiful no matter what, and no matter when. It is so impressive to walk underneath the Eiffel Tower and look up into its vast belly. I promise it is much higher than it looks when you make it all the way to the top! Opening times are from 9AM-12:45AM.
Keep in mind there are different ways to visit the Eiffel tower. You don’t have to go up at all – you can just go through security and walk underneath it at the foot of the tower. (Plus it’s another great place to use the restroom if you need to for free!) Another option is to go up to the first level that has a restaurant, shops, museum, and lovely views. The second level is the next option, and you can either take the stairs for a small fee €3-7 or take the elevator with reserved tickets for €4-11. Admission to the 3rd floor (not accessible by foot) range from €8-17, depending on age of guest. Children age 3 and under are free!
Tip: Most people miss out on the first floor but there is much to see and do here, including walk on the see-through floor! There are dining and drinking options on the tower but they are pricey. Unless it’s a very special occasion, I wouldn’t plan to eat on the tower, especially with kids.
Tip: Lines can be VERY long to get back down the elevator from the 2nd floor. On both recent occasions I have taken the stairs, which takes about 20-30 minutes depending on how quickly you can descend 674 steps! Mentally prepare to take the stairs and give yourself enough time to do it safely with kiddos. It actually provides great views and is fun to see the inner workings of the tower!
CHATEAU DE VERSAILLES
If you plan to visit Chateau de Versailles, ensure it is the only “big” thing planned for the day. It will take time to get there from Paris – about one hour on the RER C Train. From the Chateau Rive Gauche station it is about a 10 minute walk to Versailles. You will enter the grand courtyard and join an appropriate line with your ticket (unless you have scheduled a private tour, in which case you will meet your tour guide). Expect to spend 2-3 hours touring the enormous palace, learning about the incredible history. Audioguides are included in admission prices for ages 7+ and are a must! Children under 18 are free, but general admission (including palace gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet) is € 20.00 for adults. Expect to spend at least another hour touring the gardens and beautiful Hamlet designed by Marie Antoinette. Hopefully you have good weather for this! TIP: Keep in mind there is additional admission if there is a musical garden fountain show planned, so double check the schedule before you go.
Must see in Versailles:
- Hall of Mirrors
- Museum of Carriages
- Marie Antoinette’s Estate and Hamlet
- Royal Chapel
- Grand Canal and Gardens
- Royal Opera
There is something beautiful about each Arrondissement in Paris. Even the metro stops are a destination! The most beautiful Metro stops are Louvre-Rivoli, Concorde, Cluny-La Sorbonne, Pont Neuf, Palais Royal, Liège, and Hôtel de Ville. Great neighborhoods to wander are around Îsle de la Cité, Montparnasse, and down the great Champs Elysées. For a whimsical afternoon, wander around colorful Montmartre. Hunt for the best bakeries, spot statues all over the city, and refuel with as many crêpes as possible! TIP: If your children are too small to handle all the walking, I recommend baby wearing instead of using a stroller – it is much easier on the metro!
When in doubt, grab a few berets, duck into a cafe and people watch. The “Big Bus” tour is always a win for kids, too! Let kids choose a special pen and little notebook as a souvenir and let them keep track of all the wonderful things you have seen and done. Let them take photos, too! Keep an eye out for street artists and musicians, and just enjoy the grand flair of Paris. This is a trip that will be as memorable as you make it – but it IS a lot of work in preparation to make sure things go smoothly. Remember, expectations are everything, so make sure yours are realistic for the type of travelers you have in your family. Get familiar with the area, have all your reservations in order, be flexible, try to relax and have a great time!