Do's and Don'ts for Paris with Kids
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
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Hi, I'm Alexis and my husband and I love traveling with our four kids. We travel a lot but Paris was our first big European trip. Looking back, I think we showed up unprepared. All we heard before our trip was wonderful, romantic, and glamorous things about Paris. Traveling with kids can be really fun, but you have to be prepared. Most of my tips pertain to everyone, not just individuals with kids. I want other families to be prepared for Paris, so I am going to give you the real scoop on going to Paris with kids.
Paris is the city of macarrons, love, and every girls' dreams ...well...hmmm. Paris is Paris. What could go wrong? Let the games begin. I've put together some do's and don'ts in order to better prepare you for all the less romantic things about this famous city. Here are my family's "Dos and Don'ts " for Paris with kids.
Do not bring large or wheeled bags.
Most of the sidewalk in paris are crowded, cobblestoned, and not smooth. AIrbnbs are usually a walk up that requires stairs. There might be an antique elevator...avoid that (more on this later). Carting a huge bag around Paris is nearly impossible and you'll look silly.
Do pack a weekender bag you can carry on your shoulder
You are more likely to be allowed to carry your bag onto the planes, even when other small rolling suitcases are checked at the gate. These bags make getting from plane, to train, to taxi, to walk , to subway much easier. I am a strong believer that you never need a large bag for any trip, so if you pack smart, you should be good (think minimalist). It also frees up your hands for a fresh croissant and your child's hand. You will usually see the french looking very chic with a weekender bag and a small personal item.
Do not Stay in Arrondissement 1.
This is the very center of the city and the heart of the flood of tourists. Yes, you are walking distance to the Louvre and other major tourist attractions, but with that comes all the tourists. It is hard to find restaurants that aren't tourist traps and the streets are full of trash from parades /protests, and the flood of people that tramp through these parts each day. Currently, the Louvre has an overtourism problem right now, so this entire area is packed with other trourists. Because of all this activity, there are often military and police walking around with huge autmoatic weapons. This might take away a bit of the charm for you.
Do stay within the first 20 arrondissements making up the capital city of France.
This allows you to be close enought to tourist attractions and still experience some of the charms of paris. Staying a little further from the main tourists' spots allows you to stroll down some less crowded streets with charming cafes and shops. They are less likely to be tourist traps. The further you get away from arrondissement one, the cheaper hotel prices will be as well.
Do Not Expect Public Transportation to Run Smoothly.
Trains stop and run late, and often times the transportation employees will give you no explanation. We had train delays and boats brake down with no cause. Most buses at the heart of the city are jammed packed with people and tricky to navigate with kids .
Do plan on walking whenever possible.
When in Paris, be like the French and stroll everywhere . Bring a stroller and baby carrier so you can experience the city as you walk to your desired destination. What other way to find cute cafes and charming boutiques? The line for subways outside of Paris main train station is so long, we opted to take a taxi to drop our luggage off at our accomodations. If you are staying close to the train station, walk (especially if you brought a weekender bag with you).
Do Not Only Go to Famous Tourist Attractions
Yes, the Eiffel tower , Notre Dame (tear), Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysee, Palace of Versailles.... are a part of history and some of the main reasons people come to Paris. Don't under estimate the charm of people watching and strolling though these beautiful streets. We got to the Louvre and went straight to the Mona Lisa. It was crowded and we had other tourist destinations on our list, so we left right after. We basically paid to get in and check off a box. The Champs Elysee is a bunch of expensive chain stores and Mcdonalds. The cafes along the Champs Elysee are mostly tourist traps. Just skip this famous street entirely, unless you want to see if the Zara in Paris has different things than the ones at home.
Do participate in some of the simplest pleasures of the Parisian lifestyle.
Go to the Tuilerie Gardens and Luxembourg Garderns and picnic. People watch to see how the french really live. The playground in Luxembourg garden is amazing, complete with vintage carousel. The gardens have a little lake to sail tiny sail boats. My kids could have spent hours there. Visit some of the less well known museums like: Musee d'Orsay, Musee de l'Orangeire and Musee National Picasso Paris. My kids' travel journals about Paris are all about Shakespeare & Co, bookstore. That was my favorite place in Paris as well. Don't miss it. There's a vintage typewriter kids can type on, a real cat that lives there, and this adorable bookstore will fill everyones water bottles up with ice cold water (there are signs at the door for this). Super cool book shop with an old feel. There are tons of places like that in Paris...seek them out!
Don't skip the Eiffel tower because you see a huge line.
Due to security purposes you can no longer walk right up to the Eiffel Tower. You have to walk through security. People see the long line at security, followed by the line to go up the Eiffel Tower and decide to skip going up the Eiffel Tower. Instead they opt to admire it from a distance. Don't skip it. The Eiffel Tower was one of our family's favorite things in Paris. We saw two people proposed to at the top. The views are amazing and everyone is drinking champagne, because that's what you have to do at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It's a rule (my rule)! Unless you have mobility issues, do not wait in the elevator line to go to the top.
Don't skip anything just because you see a large line. The Louvre will walk you to the front of the line and through a separate entrance if you have a stroller (feel free to put your 12 year old in a stroller...got to do what you got to do). The Notre Dame has a huge winding line but it moves quite quickly. Also, consider going to mass there. Arc de Triomphe line is small and moves quickly. If you really want to go somewhere, it is doable. Prior to each excursion, have your family come up with an amount of time you are willing to wait for certain attractions. If the wait is longer, you can get out of line and move on with your day.
Do walk to the very left of entrance and get in the line to walk up the Eiffel Tower.
The "walk up line" is much shorter then the elevator line. Walking up the tower is part of the fun because you feel like you accmplished something when you get to the top. Put your tiny tot in a backpack and climp on up. Pump your kids up beforehand making it a cool challenge to "climb the Eiffel Tower". Near the very top there is an elevetar that everyone has to take to get to the tippy top. This line is very short and fast. In the middle section there are interesting displays of the history of the Eiffel tower, bathrooms (make your kids go), and a cafe.
Do not assume your airbnb has air conditioning
Europe does not have air conditioning like the states. We decided to go during a heat wave. Our airbnb was 2 stories on the six floor of a walk up with only one window air unit. It was miserably hot. I soaked our jammies under cold water and we slept in them wet ,so we could get a little sleep. Not enough gelato in the world to cool us down . If you go during a hot month, you want to be able to get a break from the heat at some point.
Do stay in hotels that advertise air condintioning.
If you rent an apartment, check to make sure there is AC. Send the owner a personal email asking for a guarantee that it is cool (pun intended) in your accommodations. Read the comments on the booking website.
Do not assume everyone in Pairs is rude
We had some kind moments where a stranger gave us a seat on a bus. A women helped us call emergency services because they only spoke french (more on that later). The French culture is different. People don't smile for free like the states. There are good kind people everywhere and Paris is no different.
Do be prepared for not overly friendly people
Paris is so crowded and individuals don't have to be nice to get tourists' business. If you lived in Paris and had to deal with a flood of tourists on a regular basis, you wouldn't have a constant smile plastered to your face either. You will get a mix of all personalities, so just go with the flow. Don't take it personal.
Do not assume emergency services speak english
Most european countries all know and speak English. Most places we have been have english instructions and announcements. In Germany most folks are delighted to practice their english with Americans. This is not the case in Paris. Some people are very helpful and will be patient with my choppy french (I took it for 6 years...I should be much better). There's a lot that aren't. Emergency services does not have an English option (crazy).
How do I know this fun fact?????
My 12 year old went in a glass elevator in our airbnb (alone) and got stuck in there. The elevator broke and we couldn't get him out. It was 100 degrees out and heating up quite quickly. We had to stop a french women who could help us call 112. If you should ever find yourself in this weird situation, don't call for emergency support, call the number on the elevator door for the service man to come help you. I guess this is a common occurence because the fire station across the street wouldn't help us ( also not very nice) and said to call the elevator company. Emergancy service line told us to call the elevator company. Within minutes of calling the elevator company, they showed up and had him out in under a minute....Why do these things happen to us?
I still don't ride elevators in Europe (except the cool one in the Louvre). Even though this wasn't funny at the time, shortly after it became our favorite story. Hopefully, you find it funny and no matter what happens in Paris, at least you can say your kid didn't get stuck in an elevator.
Do not forget your kid's activity bags when you go out for the day.
The plane ride is over, but there will still be times kids have to wait. Most Paris attractions have lines and it's much easier for kids to keep a positive attitude if they have something to do.
Do bring all those quiet activities for waiting in lines
I let my kids find a spot out of line where they can sit and get a small activity out of their bag while the lines inches along. Each morning I have the kids put a couple activities (Ex: travel journals, sticker books, chapter books, small figures...) in their mini backpacks. For the little guys I bring an easy chapter book to read to them while waiting in line. They have their own light (this is key) activities for entertaining themselves in their own bag. When kids are tired, they aren't always motivated to take the initiative to entertain themselves. That's when I pull out an easy chapter book that grabs their attention. For my preschoolers, I love Jeronmio Stilton books and Magic Tree house. They are such quick chapters, that it grabs everyones attention.
For more on activities and day bags for kids , check out this blog...
Do not only visit Paris in the Summer
Summer is when everyone is on school break, so EVERYONE will be there. Prices for hotels and events are higher. Temperatures are unpleasant when touring old buildings and staying at airbnbs with limited central air. You can make it work, if this is the only time you are available, but be open to other possibilities. We went in the summer, which is probably why I have so many do's and donts' for Paris.
Do plan a Paris trip in the Fall
The fall in Paris is beautiful. Ticket prices are cheaper. Accomodations are less. Less tourists to share the beauty of the city with and.... less heat.
Do not take your rose covered glasses off during this trip
Paris is supposed to be one of the most romantic cities in the world. I find a city charming when it still feels a little like a secret place that I fell in love with. I don't want to share the same love with everyone in the world. Paris felt like a wonderful place that everyone REALLY wants to love. Honestly, it gets so much hype that it can be a bit of a let down when you get there. Keep those rose covered glasses on and be positive. Things might not be as magical as you build them up.
Do enjoy yourself in this city with a twinkling tower.
Don't predetermine in your mind what you think Paris will be like. Read current blogs, not old. Talk to people who have been there within the last six months. Ask for recommendations for places to stay. Relax and don't overschedule yourself. Let yourself find your own beauty within the city. You don't have to do what everyone else has done, because that IS where everyone else will be. Make this trip your own! "Paris in always a good idea" - Audrey Hepburn
What are your tips for Paris? Did you love it? What were you most surprised about? What questions do you have for me?