We had rain, we had hail, we had laundry, and boy did we ever have fun in Paris!
Paris, the beacon of class and sophistication and hours upon hours of museum opportunities, is sometimes scary for traveling families. Many wonder if a trip to Paris is worth the effort, and the price tag, with young children. Can I take the kids into the museums without going crazy? What will I feed my picky eaters in a city known for its sophisticated palate? What is there to do with kids in Paris? And, one of the most dreaded thoughts, will I end up spending all my time in Paris in a playground? (Not that there is anything wrong with Paris’ many amazing playgrounds, but it’s not really something mom and dad want to do all day while in Paris!)
This is my nth visit to Paris, and my third with my child. And I can assure you that there is a lot more to kid friendly Paris than parks and playgrounds and children’s museums. Season specific fun like ice skating by the Eiffel Tower or soaking up the sun on a man-made beach by the Siene aside, our nine days in Paris prove that the city can be full of adventures for the whole family.
My daughter arrived in Paris with one single thing on her mind: to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Due to circumstances beyond our control and illness, she has been unable to actually climb the tower in previous visits. This little fact weighs heavy on the kid and she informed us, more than once, that we would be doing absolutely nothing before climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
And so it was that, on our first day in Paris, we headed out to the iconic symbol and, yes, climbed the tower.
It was everything she thought it would be, and more. The views were cool and the elevator ride a trip, but what really struck a chord were the glass platforms on the second level. The kiddo and daddy spent the better part of the day laying on the platforms, playing on the platforms, jumping on the platforms, and just generally being happy and merry that they found a scary looking platform to enjoy.
We did try to go inside the restaurant and have ourselves a meal with a view. Alas, that activity is reserved for those who think ahead and make reservations. Note to self: next time, make reservations. Truth be told, you should always buy your tickets for the Eiffel Tower online and in advance. We did not because, well, because I know the luck we have had with visiting the Eiffel Tower before. But I do highly recommend it for everyone else.
We walked every inch of the tower that we could and even walked down from the second level to the first by using the stairs. Not the brightest of ideas if you are scared of heights, but we did it. I was clinging to the rails, praying, and just generally hoping not to pee my pants on the way down. But the kiddo loved running up and down the stairs (as I inched my way down and gave her plenty of time to enjoy herself) and the views of the general structure were pretty hard to beat (I saw them in pictures afterwards).
Once on hard ground we decided to take the metro to the St-Michel/Notre-Dame stop. Our best friend throughout our time in Paris is always the Paris Metro App. Long gone are the days of carrying around a guide book or a big, hefty paper metro map (though truth be told I do sometimes miss those days). Now I just pull out my phone, open the app, and check out our next stop.
It was Andy’s first visit to Paris and we were happy to take him to Notre Dame Cathedral where, once more, we missed the opportunity to climb the tower (it happened to us the last time we were in Paris too). Yes, this is another thing on our family list that we will just have to return to complete. We did luck out and make it on time for mass. I have mixed feelings about attending mass while people photograph the ceremony and walk around talking, but I guess it’s the price you pay to attend mass at a famous cathedral. Mass was in French, which made it interesting to experience while not understanding everything that is being said. We regularly take Andy to Spanish mass back at home so I guess the kiddo and I both got to feel what it is like to be Andy on Sundays. It’s not bad. It was actually quite an interesting, in a good way, experience.
Afterwards we enjoyed showing Andy around the Cathedral, saying a prayer to the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, and lighting a candle for all our friends and family.
Heading out, we walked over, in the rain, to cross another bucket list item off the kiddos list: viewing the love locks on the bridges of Paris. We were all amazed at the amount of love locks in a small area we visited and even more surprised to find them on several bridges and in random railings throughout the city.
And, because walking is the theme of our trip, we decided to walk over to the Musee de Louvre and then the Place de la Concorde to ride the Ferris Wheel.
Mackenzie and I have this thing where we like to point out “our” window if we lived in an impressive building we walk by. Needless to say, the Musee de Louvre provides many opportunities for us to play this game. As always, the kiddo got the tower and the most beautiful and guilded windows. I live in the dungeons. But that’s ok because our little game gets her to really look at the architecture, structure, and beauty of the buildings we visit. By playing along she notices shapes, difference in sizes, styles of windows, building materials, and, yes, height in comparison to neighboring structures. All because she wants the best room in the house!
A little history talk, a little art introduction, and before you know it we were past the Musee de Louvre and on our way to the Place de la Concorde. The ferris wheel only goes around twice. It’s redeeming quality, aside from the great views of course, is the fact that it moves very, very slowly. Truth is, you can hardly feel the movement. This is definitely a bonus if someone in your party happens to be scared to death of ferris wheels but loves their daughter enough to go on it with her.
Given the downpour in Paris, we decided that a hop on/ hop off tour might be a fun way to spend a few hours and see the city from the dry comfort of a bus window. We were wrong. The rain made for some ridiculous traffic all over Paris and all we managed to see were the cars in traffic and some sights we would have enjoyed much more from the sidewalk. Lesson learned.
Chilled to the bone from the cold bus, we decided to get off at the Champs Elysee and walk over to Laduree. We are all sugar addicts and the macaroons, chocolate tarts, and heavy hot cocoa did not disappoint. In a turn of events, the hot cocoa was actually too chocolately for Andy and Mackenzie. I had theirs.
Laduree, in it’s extravagant luxury and décor, was an amazing experience. But, we did leave feeling kinda broke. And so it was that we became those tourists and ended up eating dinner at McDonalds. Yes, we were in Paris, on the Champs Elysee, ordering our McDonalds dinner from a giant iPad looking screen. It took us several minutes to figure the whole thing out. So, we were those American tourists having junk food for dinner and we couldn’t figure out how to actually order our meal. It’s a good thing we can laugh at ourselves. You can laugh along with us by watching this video of our order “attempts”.
We did finish our day at the Arc de Triomphe.
We gave the hop on/ hop off bus another try (we had bought the two day pass), only to find ourselves spending time stuck in traffic again. The torrential downpour had us feeling bleh to say the least so we tried our best to enjoy the bus tour.
Eventually we just gave up, grabbed some food, and walked around a bit. Cold and just not feeling it, we decided to head back to the apartment and just hang out and regroup. We did manage to eat some delicious pastries along the way and hit the supermarket for some supplies. Hey, not all travel days can be winners. And that’s ok. Of course, with late night snacks that look and taste like these, who can really complain about anything?
After our little “down” day yesterday, we woke up feeling happy and ready to take on the day. We eat our breakfast and jumped at the chance to go out and see Paris. Paris was raining.
But that’s ok, we walked to the metro and headed off to the beautiful Cite stop where we walked around and made our way to the Conciergerie. This beautiful Gothic palace houses the jail where Marie Antoinette spent her last days. Used as a revolutionary war prison, the Conciergerie houses artifacts from the time period and reconstructed prison cells.The kiddo was impressed at the difference between a prison cell used by a “typical” prisoner, one used by a wealthy prisoner, and the one used by its most famous prisoner, Marie-Antoinette. From our worldschooling perspective, the Conciergerie was a great chance to talk about freedom, social status, revolutions and why they occur, what the French wanted and what they got, and the concept of power.
At the end of our fascinating and educational time at the Conciergerie we decided to take the metro over to the Musee d’Orsay. A little more rain, a little more time in lines, and voila, we were in!
It’s important to note here that, just like the Eiffel Tower and most places of interest in Paris, you CAN buy advance tickets to visit the Musee d’Orsay. We do not because I like the flexibility of choosing, last minute, to do or not to do something. Andy was getting annoyed at all the lines (the kiddo was not because she knows how we do it). In hindsight, it’s important to talk to your travel partner about what approach you are going to take when traveling: planner or seat of your pants. Mackenzie and I are happy to be spur of the moment travelers, but the hubby seems to like plans. All good things to know as we plan our ultimate adventure.
Of course at this point we were hungry and we made a beeline for The Cafe Campana. It is here that we had the most amazing tropical fruit sorbet. We highly recommend ordering this off the menu the next time you are in Paris. It is delicious! The restaurant itself, which we were not able to eat at because of time constraints, looks amazing as well.
As always, we purchased the headphones and used them extensively throughout the museum. If I had to offer just one piece of advise to families visiting museums it would be to purchase the headset/ audio guides. The information on these makes the art come to life and much more interesting to children.
My little secret to getting the kiddo to enjoy our museum time is as follows: first, introduce them to the museum, its history and art collections, before you leave home. Knowing what to expect is sometimes half the battle. Second, make it fun. I always turn our museum visits into a game. Create a scavenger hunt of the top pieces of art you want to visit, put together a coloring book of the art that’s most impressive/weird/beautiful and see who can draw them as close to the originals, give the kids a camera and have them take a picture of their favorites in each room and see who has the most similarities to mom/dad to win, or just play I-spy as you walk around the museum. I have used all of these ideas and many more throughout the years and find that they make a huge difference both in her demeanor during the time in a museum and in how much she actually takes away from the experience.
We spent hours at the museum and eventually walked a few blocks and made our way home. Paris at night is just enchanting and while an RER station is right under the Musee d’Orsay we ended up walking over a few block and just enjoying Paris all lit up. Admitedly, this is because the RER line was closed down for some emergency. But I choose to remember the walk as an option we wanted. It’s all in your perspective right?
Laundry day. Because anyone traveling on one backpack per family member knows that eventually you get tired of washing everyones clothes in the sink and you are willing to pay to have it done by a fast and thorough machine. At least this is my personal experience. Plus, laundry day in a foreign country is an amazing educational opportunity. The language, the way to load it, the soap and products available, the money and price, and just figuring out how to actually do the laundry. I love these moments of figuring out daily life stuff in another country. You can watch the video here.
We also moved to a different apartment today and so doing laundry just seemed fitting. Getting to the new place took the better of two hours. It’s not even that far of a move, but we did do it during rush hour traffic, by bus, so traffic was really to be expected.
Arriving at a new Airbnb is always a fun experience. In our case, our walking and stair climbing theme continued with eight flights of circular, old style stairway to climb to the top of the building and back down. We have one heck of a view of the Eiffel Tower though!
Dinner included a lot of walking along ridiculously cute and lit up streets until we found a place where we “felt” right. The food was delicious.
Today is the day I get to cross off one of MY bucket list items: the Musee des Egouts de Paris– the Paris Sewer Museum and Tour. Yes, on my family adventure I really, really wanted to go into the Paris sewers. I’m pretty sure the family thought I was kidding- until we walked up to the kiosk and paid for our admission.
It’s awesome! We never truly stop to think about what happens to our waste water, or how it even gets from point A to B, or who cleans the system, how it works, or, really, anything related to the topic. But, the sewers are an integral part of our daily lives and the functions of our cities. The Musee des Egouts does a magnificent job at placing artifacts and reality next to each other and giving its audience a glimpse into a real working sewer while keeping the tour entertaining and educational. There are crawl spaces and tunnels to discover, informative videos to watch, a working sewer to listen to and smell, giant displays to help anyone who can read or even view a picture how sewers have developed through time and what life would be like without them, and plenty of interesting tidbits along the way.
We probably spent two and a half hours underground and definitely came back up thinking about what we had learned. The rest of the day, and really the rest of the week, was spent pointing out different things that we had learned about in the Musee des Egouts. When we saw trash on the road, or oils, or a non-working toilet, it usually led to a conversation about what he museum taught us about the impact of these on the sewer system and the city.
The Musee des Egouts is both entertaining and educational and we all highly recommend you visit.
When we came out of the museum it was actually not raining! Amazed, we decided to walk a few blocks and enjoy the sights as we lingered. Eventually it started to rain again and we dashed for the metro heading to Centre Georges Pompidou.
Modern and thought provoking, the Centre Pompidou was a great family choice. Our family ideas on art vary greatly and this museum allowed some to expand their ideas while others got to enjoy the pieces. Anytime a place can create conversation about art in the family it is a hit with me.
A quick trip to the monoprix and a stop for some crepes and we were off to head home and get some rest. We actually weren’t even that tired, it had been a fascinating day, but our feet could not handle one more step. Note to self: next time we plan to walk for miles on end, let’s try some conditioning before we leave home! For three people used to driving their car to the corner store, Paris has given us a lot of walking miles!
The first thing we do every morning is look out the window to check out the Eiffel Tower (yeap, still there!) and check out the wind situation. Why the wind? Well, because the kiddo really, really, really wants to go on the Ballon de Paris. Situated on the grounds of the Parc Andre Citroen, and three blocks from our current apartment, the ballon has been immovile due to windy conditions for several days.
This morning, however, we were overjoyed to see it IN THE AIR when we looked out the window. A quick online check to make sure it was open for business and we were off to the park! We, of course, took the long and back ways to get to it but we arrived in time to buy two tickets (of course I wasn’t going on!) and the kiddo and Andy were off the ground! You can view their adventure from my vantage point here.
And, when I say off the ground, I mean HIGH up in the sky. Andy said it’s a good thing I didn’t go on the ballon because I would have cried myself silly. I know he’s right. We all have to know our own limitations. He and Mackenzie had a blast. She could not stop talking about how high they went and how much fun it was and how kinda scary it was when everyone in the basket was standing on the same side and it felt like they were all going to fall out. Mmm. You can view their adventure from inside the ballon here. Another bucket list item off her list and we were off to the RER bound for Versailles.
Less than half an hour after sitting on the train we arrived in Versailles. It was much faster than we had anticipated, until the ticket line. Again, as always, you can buy tickets ahead of time and online, saving yourself and your family the aggrevation of standing in line, again, with hundreds of your new friends. But, there we stood, in line. It’s ok, we had hours to spend at Versailles.
First item of business: food.
Yes, you may have noticed a trend. Our scheduling means that we almost always arrive at our destination hungry. Good thing we like to eat out. This gets expensive but hey, gotta eat. We walked around the gardens on our way to a pretty outdoor restaurant. Yes, outdoors. The gods blessed our chosen day to tour Versailles with georgeous weather and we were determined to make the most of it.
We walked around outside, we ate sitting outside, we toured the gardens, we even rented a golf cart to tour the larger estate. The golf cart was an excellent choice! Upon arrival at Versailles you will receive several maps of the premises. You may also make the mistake to think that you can, slowly maybe, cover all the ground with your kids. I’m here to tell you: not likely. Rent the Golf Cart. You can see from our video that it’s actually quite fun!
You can tour the grounds from the comfort of your cart, with music or corresponding audio, as you enjoy the sights with no whining or tired feet. When you reach something you want to see, say, The Grand Trianon or Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, you can simply park your golf cart and go inside to enjoy the sights.
Having toured and enjoyed the grounds of Versailles, we eventually made our way back to the Palace to go inside. First, we stopped and got some macaroons to enjoy. Just because it’s France and we can.
The Palace did not disappoint and it felt like each room was more impressive than the last. It was busy, but nothing we didn’t expect. And worth it.
One of the things that made the Palace of Versailles more engaging and child friendly was the audio app. The night before our trip to the Palace I went online and downloaded the Chateau de Versailles App into everyone’s iPhone. Armed with a full battery (and a portable charger just in case), we walked into the Palace, put on our headphones, and listened to the audio tour with delight. I can not, again, express how much more enjoyable museums and historical sights are with the audio guides to explain the history and interesting tidbits to us. We found the Versailles app very thorough and enjoyable.
On our last full day in Paris I screamed at my family: “why don’t I ever get to eat what I want?”
It’s true. In a family of picky eaters, I am the only one who consistently eats whatever is in front of me. So, I loose the food battle. Always.
Well, I wasn’t about to let it happen in Paris. I wanted Indian food. Yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to pick this particular battle with that particular food choice in Paris. But, I wanted Indian food. I had seen the restaurants around town and just been craving Indian food. So I shamelessly took a cue from my family and whined and behaved like a baby about it. And, guess what? I had Indian for lunch that day. Even more importantly, the both liked it too. And they didn’t die by letting me pick the restaurant. And did I mention that they liked it? Yes, they liked it and we all ate like kings. There are several interesting lessons in there… but we’ll leave that for another day.
Not happy to let me have all the spotlight, Andy took the biggest blow on our trip today.
From the moment we decided to come to Paris, his one wish has been to visit the Catacombs (I did a great job talking them up). So we put it on the plan and it fell on Day 8. Yipee! But, his darling wife (me) did not realize in all the planning that Day 8 is a Monday- the one day of the week that the catacombs are closed. I went online just to double check that I had the right metro stop written down for the catacombs and… oh no! I saw that they were closed. Epic fail. I felt like the biggest looser for the rest of the day.
Departure day should never really count but when it includes a brisk morning walk to the metro, a tour of Gare du Nord, shopping for food to take on a train ride, speaking French to get around and order food, and watching the family giddy with joy to be boarding a train bound for Amsterdam, I decided to count it!
Au Revoir Paris. We’ll be back soon!