Just before we moved from England to Germany (with a brief four months stateside in between), we decided we needed to take the Eurostar from London to Paris. With a big move and job transition on the horizon, we weren’t sure when the next opportunity to visit would present itself. We went at the end of February, 2015. My mom flew in from Virginia and met us at London Kings Cross station immediately after her red-eye flight landed. We then crossed the street to St Pancras International, where we took the relaxing two hour journey to Paris.
We chose to use Airbnb for our Wednesday to Sunday stay. For three adults and three small children, this was the perfect option. We often choose Airbnb over a hotel for the convenience of having a kitchen, more space, and getting a more “local” experience. Here’s the beautiful apartment we stayed in, right in the center of Paris in Le Marais. It was close to a metro stop, many patisseries and brasseries, lots of shopping, and walking distance from several monuments and tourist highlights.
Thursday, our first full day, we headed to Notre Dame first thing after breakfast. I must admit, I didn’t realize what a steep winding stair climb we were in for when we agreed to our son’s request to climb to the top! My tip: Wear practical shoes. I was wearing comfortable pointed toe flats but, with an eight month old baby strapped to my chest in a sling and holding a four year old’s hand, there was some tricky footing involved! The staircases are narrow, steep, and typically quite crowded. At one point, the elderly gentleman in front of us paused and was breathing so heavily that I can recall praying he wouldn’t topple backward on us! Overall, the breathtaking view was worth braving the stairs with kids. Our son loved it much more than we could have imagined, and he was just shy of his 5th birthday at the time. Our eldest daughter was 2 1/2, and she also thought it was awesome. Based on our experience, we would give it five out of five stars for doing with small kids.
After we made our way back down, we decided to forgo the inside of the cathedral and take our very hungry kids to lunch. We wandered into Cafe Le Petit Pont, where I honestly wasn’t expecting anything spectacular, considering it is situated so close to a major tourist attraction. It ended up being very good, and even had a children’s menu (rare outside of chain restaurants in Paris). I can see why it has a mix of reviews; while our service was good and our food was well prepared and delivered timely, it did seem as though it was partially dependent on our server! In Paris, like many other european countries, restaurant staff earn an actual salary and aren’t working extra hard for a good tip. You may get the “Paris experience,” as they say and have a seemingly rude or snobby waiter. Consider it part of the fun and have another glass of bordeaux!
*Travel tip: When you enter a restaurant in Europe, think of it like you’re a guest in someone’s home. You are on their turf, and you get the kind of service they have on offer- whatever that is! You don’t demand things or have a million special requests and requirements when you visit someone’s house, so keep that in mind when you’re a restaurant patron. If you need something, by all means ask, but patience and minding your tone will ensure a much more pleasant experience for you.
We were all pretty wiped out after lunch and spent the rest of our day with a stop for coffee, some window shopping, and drinking a ricard pastis. We spotted a local butcher shop a block from the apartment that was selling herbed rotisserie chicken and decided it would be perfect for an eat-in night. We grabbed a baguette from the neighboring patisserie, and dropped into the grocery store next to it for salad, wine, and camembert cheese. A very relaxing evening and dinner at the bargain price of under 25€ for the whole family.
*Tip: Need a latte? Request a “Café crème.”
After enjoying morning pastries and coffee Friday morning, we set out on foot toward the Eiffel Tower. It was a bit of a hike to be honest, but it was a beautiful day and our kids are used to long distances. We walked along the Seine on our way and stopped at the Pont des Arts bridge, also known as the “love lock” bridge, where people padlock their love for all time. Well, until last May at least, when the city removed the heavily weighted rails that had become a hazard. We had read that they were removing them soon, so we did the obvious American touristy thing and locked ours on just in time! Yeah, yeah, I know… cheesy and supporting what some call vandalism. Our lovelock wasn’t meant to last beyond last May, but we have a picture to remember it by.
When we FINALLY arrived at the Eiffel Tower (a cool five miles later), we took a million pictures and walked through to the carousel on the other side. Our daughter still talks about that carousel ride! As we were walking under, our son said, “Let’s climb to the top!” Seriously? You just walked five miles after climbing Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday and walking all over afterward, and you want to climb the Eiffel Tower steps? I hate to admit that we didn’t indulge him this time, but we were all so exhausted and we didn’t think our girls could handle it. There is an elevator, but there was about a two hour wait in line. Next time we will make sure we do the climb.
We grabbed lunch at a non-memorable or noteworthy restaurant, and then let the kids play on the playground by the tower for a few minutes before our slow journey back along the seine. There are some very cool play areas if you walk along the water instead of the upper sidewalk. We passed the Louvre, which was exhibiting the Mona Lisa at the time. We were disappointed to skip stopping there, but the line was very long to get in and we just didn’t think it would go smoothly with very tired young children.
That evening, we had made dinner in the apartment for the kids and my mom and I went out for dinner after they went to bed. I remember laughing in disbelief that I was headed somewhere for dinner at 9:00 at night, a time when I’m normally tucked in for the night! We stopped in a nearby brasserie and sat outside. It was chilly and our waiter was like a caricature of a snooty french waiter. There, in this hole-in-the-wall brasserie, I had the best Confit de Canard I’ve ever had. My mom enjoyed the Soupe à l’oignon (french onion soup). Two dishes you should definitely order when you’re in Paris.
On Saturday, we took the metro to see the Bastille. We were kicking ourselves for not taking the metro the day before to the Eiffel Tower, even though we did get to see quite a bit on our long walk! The metro is easy to use and I highly recommend taking it to get around when traveling with kids. Our family loves seeing how different the trains in every big city are. It’s also a great teaching moment to include the kids in navigating the city.
We stopped in many cafes that day and indulged in a very slow Parisian afternoon. We packed up for our journey home the next day, and then Ben and I went out for a dinner date while my mom stayed with our sleeping kids.
First thing the next morning (Sunday), we headed to the famous Marché Bastille before our train ride back to London. Open only on Thursday and Sunday, this french food market is not to be missed on your trip to Paris! We enjoyed coffee and crêpes as we perused the dozens of stalls displaying fresh fish, meats, breads, confectionary, produce, wine, and flowers. It is an experience for all of the senses. We went home with a fair amount of groceries to prepare for dinner, as well as some delicious pastries fruit to enjoy on the train.
And that was it. I think we enjoyed Paris as you should- slowly. It isn’t so much a place to cram in a ton of activities, but more to take in the culture and experience a different lifestyle. So, while I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a “child-friendly” city, I think children can adopt Paris-friendly behavior when the parents plan well and mind their children.
*Tip: Speak quietly! When we visited the US last summer, we couldn’t believe we never noticed how loud we Americans are! Lower your voice enough that people at your table can hear you clearly, but those at the table next to you cannot. We teach this practice to our children at our dinner table at home. It’s much nicer to have people staring at you because they think your children are well-mannered and charming than obnoxious and sloppy!
Have you visited Paris with small children? What were your favorite things to do?
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