Taking KIDS to Paris
Should you take your teens and tweens to Paris? If you do, you may be investing in the creation of future travel loving adults. Or at minimum, you may be opening your children’s eyes to the fact the world is a bigger place than their school, their neighborhood and their city. We took our kids when they were young and here is what we learned.
FOOD, OF COURSE
First of all when it comes to planning my vacation, food leads. You can obviously eat at McDonald’s in France (they call it McDo’s), but that kind of defeats the purpose of going. We ate in cafes, brasseries and bistros, where they were ready for the sometimes finicky palates of the young. It’s your vacation too so I recommend you balance your kids’ dining desires with your wishes! We found many restaurants—even the upscale ones—offered roasted chicken and mashed potatoes for the kids (this was even after a wait staff member whispered to me, “We do not have a children’s menu”). Our 13-year-old son reported that they were very, very good mashed potatoes.
Luckily, our kids are rather adventurous food-wise. Our 11-year-old daughter stunned a waiter in a brasserie by ordering the duck breast. It didn’t hurt that she did it in broken French she learned in school, but he was impressed more by the duck than the French.
When the weather is right, picnics are a great option. We stopped at the Monoprix grocery store and let the kids pick out what they wanted to eat themselves. We typically enjoy checking out grocery stores wherever we travel, as it provides a glimpse into how other countries and cultures live. We also perused the street markets whenever we stumbled across them, and letting kids buy a memento or pick out something they want to eat keeps them from grumbling too much. I highly recommend a stroll on Rue Cler, close to the Eiffel Tower, a street with every kind of market you can imagine: cheese shops, butchers, bakeries, pastries, fish, and cafes to relax in.
The train station that was adds to the attraction at Musee d'Orsay. The ceiling in the restaurant's dining room is another work of art (along with the great food).
If time allows, stick to one cultural attraction per day. We definitely were trying to maximize our time in Paris and I will admit I overscheduled us a bit. The kids seemed to be impressed by the Musee d’Orsay, with the giant clock and a wide variety of types of art, but by the time we got the Louvre they were museum-ed out. Lunch in the middle of the itinerary helps too – the Restaurant du Musee d’Orsay is excellent and feels like you are dining inside a palace.
The Catacombs are super creepy and it is chilly down there; bring a jacket. Stopping to feed the ducks on the grounds at Versailles was a nice after picnic activity. We ate our picnic at the foot of this groomed tree lined area, where we watched a someone having a romantic picnic with a proposal at the end!
A big hit with teens is a visit to the Catacombs, where the bones of 15th century France are eerily piled up in a labyrinth 200+ steps underground. The kids loved it. It’s spooky and creepy and cool (cool as in temperature wise, as it’s pretty far underground). You can buy tickets online now, and maybe miss the hour-long wait we had to endure (although the wait was made better by croissants and baked goods from the Paul bakery nearby).
Burning off some teen/tween energy is a good thing to build into your plans. Being outdoors in a different place, surrounded by people speaking French was fun for all. We visited the Park aux Buttes Chaumont, which is a public park built on a former quarry with a lake and walking paths and things to climb on and explore. Another hit with the kids was a walking tour with a guide from Paris Greeters. The organization provides free guided tours of various parts of Paris along a wide variety of themes, and the four of us got a private tour with a local resident of the suburb of Belleville in a way that we would never have done on our own. He asked for specific interests which meant we saw street art, graffiti and stopped into a fantasy/game trading card store.
We did not go up in the Eiffel Tower on this trip, but we did walk around the grounds which the kids also seemed to enjoy. Instead, we ascended the Arc de Triomphe in time to see the Eiffel Tower sparkling light show, which was a highlight of the trip for everyone.
Historical Paris was a bit of hit-and-miss for us. We had to wait a while to get into Sainte Chappelle, which on a previous visit without children had been a favorite of ours. The kids were not impressed. Ditto the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her date with the guillotine. A visit to Versailles was a little better, partly thanks to a stop in the Angelina café for hot chocolate and snacks (we once had a black cat named Angelina in honor of their dark chocolate drinks). An Angelina hot chocolate is like drinking the most fabulous chocolate bar you've ever had—in liquid form. The grounds of Versailles are immense and provide lots of distraction, and this was the site of one of our picnics. The interior tour was not well reviewed by the kids, since the rooms get quite crowded and shorter and smaller people can have a hard time seeing all that there is to see. The Hall of Mirrors fared better, as it is a beautiful room with plenty of space.
Finally, the intangibles. We rode the Metro/RER almost everywhere we went, which in itself provided an interesting glimpse of Parisian life. We saw street performers in the tunnels and on the trains, which enchanted our 11-year-old. The beggars and homeless, on the other hand, provided a few different memorable experiences. We were able to rent a nice apartment in the 1st Arrondissement which provided a kitchen, plenty of space and wi-fi for private time—and also taught our kids what a five-story walk-up was. In retrospect we probably tried to do too much in too little time. But who can blame us?
Just go! J’aime Paris.