Planning a trip to Paris, France can be a little overwhelming. Most are familiar with The Eiffel Tower, but what else should we do? My family and I spent several magical days in Paris. And while Paris is a city full of romance, it is also a city your children can fall in love with.
While quite a bit of planning is needed to really enjoy your time here, you may want to leave some time in your schedule to allow for spontaneous fun and enjoyment.
A few tips to help plan a fulfilling visit to The City of Lights.
*Decide which section of the city will most suit your needs. The sights of Paris are definitely not in one location.
*Be flexible with modes of transportation. The city is too large to get around just on foot. We used the large Metro System for most of our travel, but did walk a fair amount. If you decide to use a taxi, be sure there is a meter being used, and what type of payment will be needed.
*If you decide to use the Metro, hold on to your tickets. Officers were randomly checking validated billets and there is a hefty fine for riding without one.
*Children under 18 are free in several of the major museums. Be aware of this if considering a Paris Pass or Museum Pass. Many attractions also offer discounted family tickets. So be sure to evaluate your family ticket savings when deciding on an individual Museum or Paris Pass.
*Many of the museums and attractions are closed on Monday or Tuesday; even during peak season. Many museums also offer a monthly entry free to the public. Be sure to check hours of operation when planning your schedule.
*I would strongly consider a walking or bicycling tour (if it is physically possible) when you first arrive. We received so much information in the tours we took, and were able to replicate the directions to our favorite spots on the tours and linger a bit longer. Luckily, Paula can guide you on the tours that are right for you.
1. The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is probably one of the most recognized images in the world. No trip to Paris would be complete without at least a visit to this famous landmark. Many onlookers bring picnic baskets and blankets and linger in its shadow on warm weather days. If you forget a bottle of bubbly or wine to help celebrate your visit, there are swarms of hawkers with buckets of beverages to purchase a bottle or two. If you decide to venture up into the tower, tickets are required. Tickets are purchased by date and time, and also by your mode of transport and level of viewing. For best options, buy your tickets in advance. We chose to ride the elevator, although those who want lots of exercise can take the stairs to the 2nd viewing platform. If you are planning a romantic picnic in front of the tower, do that first. No alcohol is allowed in the tower.
2. French Macaron Making Class
A macaron (not to be confused with a macaroon) is a French meringue like cookie, made from almond flour and filled with a ganache flavor of your choosing. What better place to learn the art of creating these sweet treats than in the city where they originated? We found this cooking class offered in the gorgeous Galeries Lafayette; a swanky 5-story department store. Their flagship store, located in the 9th Arrondissement, referred to as Opèra, opened in 1912, and is decorated in the Art Nouveau style. The roof is dome-shaped and adorned with stained glass. While shopping is probably the reason most patrons are there, there is a glass walkway that gives you a panoramic view of the store.. it’s worth the wait in line. Our Macaron baking class was taught by a French pastry chef from Lily of the Valley Paris; an adorable tea and pastry shop located in the La Marais arrondissement of Paris. Classes must be booked in advance and there is an age minimum. They do offer a class for young children as well, however and classes in a multitude of languages.
What is more whimsical and nostalgic than a ride on a beautifully adorned wooden horse on an antique carousel? You can probably tell by her smile that this was my little one’s favorite find throughout the city. There are approximately 20 carousels in Paris. Our 2 favorites were located just in front of the Eiffel Tower and across the Pont d’ léna Bridge. Both carousels offer views of the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadéro Fountain.
4. Shopping on Champs-Elysées
I know that Paula will die a little inside when she reads this, but I am not a big shopper. Seeing Chanel and Louis Vuitton does not get my heart a fluttering, but I know there are so many people that would not pass up the chance to peruse these famous brands in person in the capital of the fashion world. Fortunately, a credit card is not required to people watch; definitely up my alley. We spent a fair amount of time, window shopping, people watching and just strolling this tree lined street, that is flanked by the Arc de Triomphe on one end, and the Louvre and L’Orange Museum on the other. So worth a visit.
5. Artist’s Corner
This quaint area, found in the Montmartre arrondisment, near Sacre Cour Cathedral was our favorite arrondissement in Paris. While you will also find the famous Moulin Rouge and a variety of unsavory establishments nearby, we loved the multitude of cheese shops, chocolatiers, bakeries and butchers concentrated in this little area of Montmartre. There were several artists with brush and canvas, either offering to paint personal portraits or painting landscapes for pleasure or for sale. There are also little shops selling unique artistic gifts and plenty of cafes and brassieres to choose from.
6. Dining in Paris
I am almost afraid to write this, but here is the truth: my biggest pet peeve about traveling is wasting my time eating mediocre food. I usually spend an embarrassing amount of time researching restaurant reviews and menus prior to a vacation. Paris was overwhelming, however. And the city is so large, I had difficulty coordinating dining options with a daily schedule. Dining establishments tend to close for several hours between the end of lunch service and beginning of dinner service, which varies for each establishment. So I had to let go of my need to control and just wing it. We never ate a bad meal in Paris. Almost all meals were served al fresco on little round tables, surrounded by red rattan dining chairs. Most diners would rotate their chairs to face the street for better viewing. Even my children enjoyed their meals. Good wine, cheese and meat plates, specialty pizzas, burgers, salads, desserts and escargot. We were never disappointed.
7. Napolean’s Tomb
This tiny dictator certainly thought he deserved a massive mausoleum dedicated to himself. Anyone interested in European history and specifically The French Revolution, this is the museum for you. The Army Museum, located in the 7th Arrondissement, is where you find Napoleon’s tomb.
8. Visiting Mona Lisa at The Louvre
Found in the Louvre, this diminutive painting with an enormous following is tough to find in such a large museum; just follow the crowd. The best time to visit her is first thing in the morning, paying for a private viewing or Wednesday and Friday evenings, when the museum offers late hours. Even if you buy a Museum Pass, this does not guarantee you entrance to the Louvre upon arrival. If you are traveling during peak travel dates, buy your tickets( or reserve your Museum Pass entry) in advance.
9. Sailing Toy Boats in Jardin de Tuileries
For a few Euro, and a promise to return them, children can rent a little wooden sailboat and a stick from a vendor in Jardin de Tuileries, adjacent to The Louvre and L’Orange Museum. This was a blessing after torturing our little ones with art for the afternoon. The kids ran around the fountain with several other children, pushing these little boats, laughing, manipulating the current and just interacting with other children. It was pure joy. Worth every penny. There are even seats surrounding the fountain, to relax and enjoy the scenery.
10. Atelier de Lumiéres Museum
This interactive art exhibit was my oldest child’s pick for her birthday. The exhibit pairs famous works of art by artists such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Chagall and Klimt, and projects them into moving works of art, set to classical music. The museum is located in the 11th Arrondissement. It was a relaxing way to spend an hour or so, being immersed in beauty for both eyes and ears. People were relaxed, sitting or lying on the floor, just enjoying their surroundings.