If you follow my Instagram you will have seen that we had a mostly wonderful Christmas in Paris. I received loads of messages from people who were thinking about visiting but weren’t sure if the children would handle it so I thought being a blogger and all I might share my experiences and top tips for visiting the city of light with children!
Paris has always had a special place in my heart. My aunt lives there so I’ve visited from a young age. The Cheltenham Papa proposed there and we’ve shared lots and lots of special memories.
I find it a much more peaceful city to be in than London for some reason. I have about a gazillion phobias, one of which is claustrophobia and I find the space and the light in Paris’s public spaces much more enjoyable to spend time in.
So when to go? Any time really – the only time I’ve not had so much fun when we’ve visited was when it was really really cold and really really wet but that could happen at any point over the winter so if you want to seize the day just take a chance! It was magical being there on Christmas Day this year. The weather was perfect and the absence of traffic meant that just exploring the city was an absolute pleasure!
How to get there? Train, plane or car are your choices. We’ve done the Eurostar many times and I find it the most relaxing way of travelling but it’s not always the cheapest or the fastest. Often the cost of getting to St Pancras on public transport alone is more than the journey to Paris! This year we flew direct from Birmingham to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport which was quick and fairly straight forward. The RER (train) straight into the city centre was also really easy and cost about 10 euros each (tiny ones are free.)
Where to stay? You’re spoiled for choice – when I was doing my research I saw masses of great Air B n Bs which can be a brilliant option when you’re travelling with young children. Having a kitchen and being able to make your own food will save you a lot of money. On this occasion we opted for a hotel – partly because we left booking very late and partly because I was ready to NOT cook!
We chose the Hotel Britannique on Avenue Victoria mainly because I loved the look of the quintessentially French décor and because I felt the location was exactly where I wanted to be. One road in from the river, a short walk from Notre Dame the infamous cathedral and the Louvre and the gardens that are fantastic for children and begin just beyond it. Shopping and restaurants were excellent and it was about 20m from a very central and well serviced Metro stop. I’d definitely recommend it for a mid range option – their interconnecting room was compact but perfect (fyi you’ll find most hotel rooms in Paris pretty small.)
How to get around? The Metro is so easy and much more modern and clean than the Tube. We travelled with a lightweight buggy and didn’t find getting around too much trouble at all though it’s worth bearing in mind we do have four fully grown humans in our party to share the load of lifting and carrying. You can purchase a ‘carnet’ at most newsagents and stations for 14.90 Euros. This is a book of ten tickets that are valid for a single journey anywhere within central Paris.
It’s definitely worth noting, if there are three or four of you, that the cost of an Uber taxi is probably on a par with the cost of three or four tickets. Depending on traffic and how much shopping and paraphernalia you have to carry this can be a really convenient alternative. We didn’t do this a lot as most cars won’t seat five but the times we did use it we found the app really easy to use and the cars and drivers were always great.
What to eat? All the pastry and all the bread! Well you certainly could do that and most of us without a gluten intolerance would certainly get stuck in pretty quickly! But actually most of the bistros and brasseries that are located all over the place serve some great salads or meats which can be accompanied with green beans or salads – so when you start to crave some health it’s there to be found. There are supermarkets dotted about – if you fancy a straightforward baguette with ham and cheese – you’ll save a small fortune by grabbing these in the supermarkets and boulangeries and eating them on a park bench. You’ll be doing really well to get any meal in central Paris in a sit down environment for less than 10 Euros but they do have a fairly relaxed attitude towards sharing so don’t feel you need to order anything for little people – they can pick at yours.
For breakfast most places will serve a set menu where you can choose a pastry, hot drink and a glass of juice for around 10 Euros. An alternative to the pastry is the tartine which is half a tiny baguette smeared with delicious French butter and served with jam – that was a big hit with us. Oh and don’t be afraid by the basket of pastries they automatically plonk on your table – you only pay for what you eat! If you are looking for somewhere special we’ve enjoyed La Scossa on Place Victor Hugo a few times and my aunt recommends Le Petit Retro just up the road from there too. Generally children are made to feel very welcome in Parisian eating establishments.
What to do? Well any guide book will tell you about all of the tourist stops on the tour of Paris – obviously The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Sacré Coeur… the list goes on! But for us it’s more about just walking around and sapping up the atmosphere.
We always find something interesting to do or watch in the square in front of the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville), at Christmas there is usually an ice rink (though not this year) and a free traditional carousel for the children to enjoy.
Walking from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe is wonderful. The Tuileries are a beautiful series of green spaces that just represent Paris to me. The green chairs dotted around are the perfect place to take a rest and people watch while the children enjoy some time running around chasing pigeons. The towering Place de la Concorde then makes way for the Champes Elysées – the grandest and widest avenue which houses all of the designer stores before ending in the traffic chaos that is the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
I would suggest climbing the Arc de Triomphe for your view of Paris. Obviously it’s not as high as The Eiffel Tower but the queues are less and sadly with the onset of terrorism in recent years the grounds beneath the Eiffel Tower have lost some of their magic as it’s now enclosed by heavy security (which I don’t doubt serves it’s very important purpose.)
At Christmas it’s also a joy to take a walk and enjoy the festive windows of Le Bon Marché and Printemps (both big department stores.)
And of course it would be mad to go all that way with children and not take a day to visit Disneyland Paris. Be warned you will haemorrhage money from the moment you arrive but it’s very easy to get to on the RER (about a 30 minute train drive)! You spend almost all the time you are there outdoors so do dress appropriately and be prepared for it to be very busy and for there to be a lot of queuing. It’s terrible value for money really but if you can afford it those little smiles and twinkles in their eyes will stay with you forever.
And with the onset of the dreaded croup arriving three days into our stay here’s the tip you don’t want to be trying to figure out while you’re in a foreign country. The number for an ambulance is 15 and local Doctors practice at surgeries all around the city – your accommodation should be able to point you in the right direction. Out of hours children are only treated at the Hopital Necker which is a paediatric hospital with an out of hours emergency doctor drop in service. It was excellent – the staff spoke brilliant English and for now our EHIC cards meant that the cost of our consultation and all the necessary medication was only about 70 Euros which was money well spent.
I hope that’s helpful? It’s the most beautiful place and as long as you lower your expectations of what you will achieve during your break I think it’s one of the best cities to visit with children.