Paris is a gorgeous city. Wandering the streets and stopping for a crepe, kouignette or café is something that everyone should experience at least once in their life. It is also a great city for kids, with plenty of open park space for running, interesting options for transportation and many museums that can hold little ones’ attention. But, the city is best experienced with some careful pre-planning, especially when your travel party includes kids. Here are 5 of my best tips for visiting Paris with kids:
#1 Visiting Paris with Kids – Be polite and Parisians will be kind.
Have you ever talked with anyone about plans to visit Paris? If so, chances are you’ve met with stereotype that all Parisians are rude and dismissive of American tourists. I’m here to tell you there’s no reason to believe that the stereotype will impact your trip to Paris. First, you must understand that Parisian sensibilities about public behavior are different than the general American understandings of what is acceptable. Admittedly, I am about to outline stereotypes of my own, but I argue that working with, instead of against, the expectations I describe will allow you to enjoy a vacation in Paris. ;) Parisians dress with elegance, comport themselves around the streets, shops and restaurants with a somewhat subdued manner and appreciate the practice of treating all service providers with respect. A quick cheat sheet for success when choosing how to act and dress in Paris:
-If you have to choose between ratty shorts, a bright logo t-shirt (please don’t even consider the huge American flag shirt hanging out at the back of your closet) and clunky sneakers or a comfortable sundress with supportive, but attractive, flats- go for the second outfit.
-If you can either shout across an entire restaurant to gain the attention of a member of your party, or walk across the room to talk to them in normal conversational tones- take a walk.
-If you can either get mad at a shop clerk for not initially responding to your question in English, or apologetically pull out your few hard earned words of French in order to attempt to communicate in the language of the country you are a guest of- study that phrase book.
Although we did meet with a few surly people during our stay in Paris, there were no more of those types than at any other tourist destination we have visited around the world. Constantly dealing with travelers isn’t any easy job. Help the locals by showing that you are making an attempt to respect their sensibilities and customs and you will be pleasantly surprised at the response.
*As a bonus tip- teach the kids to say hello, please, thank you and goodbye in French and your travel group will earn a few extra brownie points. Everyone loves polite children.
#2 Visiting Paris with Kids- Study and understand the metro system in advance.
I am not an authority on metro systems, but I have used a few around the world at this point. I found the Paris metro system to be the least intuitive to use. That is likely largely because I speak no more than 20 words in French (and most of those are ballet terms that are of no common use in a dialogue situation!) but I think that the ticketing system was also a bit convoluted. Thankfully, I had done enough research before leaving home to understand the basics and be able to purchase the correct tickets, with the help of some (friendly!) metro employees, but it would have been less stressful during our trip if I had done a little more precise planning of how to get fro place to place on the system. Also, certain lines of the metro are packed during rush hour. Our Eurostar train from the UK dropped us off at Gare du Nord at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we literally had to push our way onto the metro car. Also, be aware that it is very common for metro personnel to either go through trains or wait at exits to check for validated tickets. Be sure to validate your tickets, keep them with you until you exit the metro/the tickets are expired and do not place them near cells phones or coins as doing so can damage the technology that indicates the tickets have been validated. Check here, here and here for more Paris metro information.
#3 Visiting Paris with Kids- Buy tickets online ahead of arrival whenever possible.
You know how you’ve been dying to see Paris for years? So have a lot of other people! Thus, the tourist destinations are super crowded, especially during high season but even in the dead of winter. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, Versailles and many other locations to allow you to purchase tickets ahead of time. This can cut down on line wait time and at certain locations will even guarantee you a specific entry time. Waiting in lines with kids is generally not the best way to spend your vacation time, so I do my best to minimize the necessity of line time as much as possible!
#4 Visiting Paris with Kids- Consider skipping Versailles if you are visiting in the winter.
As much as I loved the experience of touring inside of the palace of Versailles, the travesty of waiting to get inside has me recommending against it for winter time visits. We visited Paris at the end of December. The temperatures hovered around freezing, stiff breezes were nearly constant and to add a touch more misery, on the day we visited Versailles there was a constant strong drizzle as well. No problem, right? It’s an indoor location. Perfect for a crummy winter day! Except, it isn’t. Even with pre-purchased tickets all visitors must queue outside in the vast courtyard. There is no protection from the wind, nor the rain. We huddled with our 7, 4 and 1 year old children- trying to protect their faces and hands for about an hour. Needless to say, it was a tense time. And then the train was 45 minutes late to our station on the return trip. Hold out for nicer weather for the Versailles experience!
#5 Visiting Paris with Kids- Paris Disney is a great day trip.
Our trip to Paris included Christmas Day, and so as a gift to the kids we planned to spend one whole day at Paris Disney. Getting there is relatively easy from the city center, just get yourself to the RER A train line toward Marne-la-Vellée. Total travel time for us from the Latin Quarter to Disney grounds was about an hour. The RER lines do require a different ticket than the metro lines, so be forewarned! We found the Disney experience to be relatively similar between California and Paris, perhaps with slightly shorter wait times. Cast members in general had no problem helping us in English and most signage was in both French and English. The Disney magic was palpable and we made memories that the kids are still talking about, almost 3 years later.