Ahhh, Paris; the city of light and the setting of every girls' Audrey Hepburn fantasy. At first thought, it's the last place on Earth you would think of taking a vacation with the kiddos, but let me explain why I think it is EXACTLY the place you should take them.
Call me crazy but I packed up my kids, all three of them, and flew to Paris for a once-in-a-lifetime 10 day trip. We had more than a few bumps along the way (more on that in another post so stay tuned in) but the trip was so amazing I'm trying to convince my husband we need to buy property there. I'm serious, I loved it that much! So here's the run down of what we did and why it worked so well for us.
My husband and I have three young boys. Daschel, our oldest, was 5 1/2 at the time of the trip and our twins, Micah and Quinn, were nearly 3. We also had our nanny travel with us for this trip. Having her tag along evened out our adult-to-child ratio and allowed my husband and I to celebrate our 11th anniversary with an amazing dinner sans children. If you are planning a trip of your own, I would seriously consider asking a family member or friend to join you (I mean seriously, who doesn't want to go to Paris?!). The city has so much to offer and nearly all of it is perfectly doable with kids, but some of the magic of the city happens after the kids need to be in bed. If you have one extra adult to watch the kids, you can trade off a night or two and get to experience some of Paris after dark for yourself! This trip is probably a one time thing for you too, so make the most of it by bringing along a babysitter and don't miss a thing.
Where we stayed:
Our flight from Dubai landed in the late evening, so rather than travel into the city at night and have exhausted, cranky kids, we booked one night at the Courtyard Marriott airport hotel. Then, after a normal night of sleep and full bellies from breakfast, we hopped on the Metro into the city and checked into the most amazing flat ever! I have give a quick shout out to HomeAway.com and Glamaparis.com, the sites where I found the flat. It felt very Parisienne but was plenty spacious enough for our group of six. The highlights of the flat (in no particular order) were the washer/dryer, the three bedrooms (with four actual beds!), the balconies and the location. For us, when traveling with young kids, having a home base is crucial for tired little feet, hungry tummies or for the dreaded meltdowns-- and while most hotel rooms work just fine, there is something to be said for walking in the door and feeling like you are almost home. And let's be honest, Paris is not known for huge hotel rooms, especially for a family of six. The washer and dryer were so amazing to have. I was able to pack us into less suitcases and just brought along a little detergent and I made five days of clothes last for the whole trip. This particular flat ended up being in the most perfect location too, literally about 3 blocks from the Louvre, several access points to the Metro, and surrounded by too-many-to-try cafes. Its location also meant that we could, and did, walk nearly everywhere.
I quickly relished the time after putting the kids to bed to stand out on the balcony, overlook the beautiful Paris architecture, sip some wine while the sun sank into the horizon and listen to the sounds of the city; c'est magnifique!
Where we ate:
The only problem with finding food to eat in Paris is having to decide between the ten places lining whatever street you are standing on. Whenever we got hungry we just stopped and ate at a cafe that looked interesting. All the restaurants had English menus and English speaking waiters, though I promise I used my very poor French as much as possible. Every morning for breakfast the kids went with my husband to the bakery to pick out our croissants or other tasty pastries. For lunch and dinner, the kids were happy eating typical French fare but also got plenty of French fries (they really do taste better in France!) to keep them content. Most surprising was that by the end of the trip all the kids would scarf down the lovely little salads that came with their meals without even being asked. My oldest has quite an adventurous palate so he tried some of my foie gras one day and was excited to try some escargot but we didn't find any on the lunch menus at the cafes where we dined. Even if you have the pickiest eater you will have no trouble finding delicious food everywhere you are. I don't think there is such a thing as bad French food!
What we did:
After we made it into the city, we had a few hiccups that messed up the plans for the first two days (more on that in another post so stay tuned in) but we were able to easily adapt and ultimately hardly missed a beat. We started with a Big Bus Tour of Paris. We walked down to the bus stop, paid our fare for the 24 hour hop on-hop off ticket and waited about 3 minutes for the bus to arrive. The kids loved riding up top (all the buses are double deck ones) and waving to all the people down below when we stopped. The best parts for me and my husband were the audio guide and getting an overall feeling for the layout of the city and where things were in relation to one another. The kids were hit and miss on the audio guide, Daschel loved it and listened to the information about all the sights we were driving around the whole time but for Micah and Quinn it mostly just became a toy, playing with the ear buds and switching through the eight different languages but at least they were content.
For the Louvre, I had a few art pieces that I knew I would be devastated to not see so I made sure we saw those first and then I found several pieces that had back stories that were interesting to the kids and we found those next. I had to see the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa. The kids were excited for Mona Lisa and even though we never made it right up close to her we were able to show them how her eyes track you no matter where you stand to look at her. It kinda blew their little minds. The pieces we took the boys to see were the Raft of Medusa, which has a great story to go with it but it's dark and morbid (perfect for boys), and La Belle Ferronnière, which is sometimes called the sister or cousin of Mona Lisa. We enjoyed a few more paintings and sculptures on our way in and out but didn't linger too long at anything in particular.
I love that about Paris; you never know what sweet beauty you'll find around.
What else you should know:
We traveled in August and we couldn't have had more perfect weather, but it's known to rain quite often in Paris so be sure to pack your umbrella and ponchos for the kids. I also recommend wearing comfy walking shoes. Even if you don't walk the city (which you really should, it's so lovely) you'll be glad no one is whining about their feet hurting. I alternated between carrying my purse and a backpack depending on where we were going on how much of the day we would be out for. We had no problems, but there are pickpockets around so keep your belongings close and be aware of your surroundings. The bus and Metro can get you nearly everywhere in Paris and I've always found that the kids enjoy the transportation as much as the places we are going to visit. I mentioned watching the Hunchback movie but we also read and brought with us Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. We visited all the places in the book (except the zoo) and each night we would read it and talk about where we went that day.
Have you been to Paris with little ones?? What did you think?