Traveling to Paris for the first time is always special, no matter your age. Maybe you visited Paris the first time as a child, and later with your significant other. Down the road you may find children added to your own travel equation, and you'll want your first Paris trip to be memorable and as easy on the family as possible. We've compiled some tips and recommendations for activities from our fellow family travelers that we feel you'll find extremely useful during your time in Paris and beyond!
Our traveler Mom, Anna, told me that they started setting travel expectations with their kids before they ever left home. She happened upon a great travel blog that had great resources for them, and they even watched some of the videos with the kids so they could have a preview of what was to come. The site she recommended is here: https://www.youtube.com/user/travelwithkids
Don't plan much for your first full day in Paris, especially in the morning. Let your kids sleep in until they naturally wake up. This will help immensely in offsetting any jet lag. Be prepared to go a bit more at their pace for this kind of trip. It won't be as important to see and do all of the top attractions as it will be to help cultivate their love of travel and adventure.
This was also great advice from traveler Mom, Anna. (We actually devoted an entire blog post to her tips because they were all so useful! You can find that HERE.) Ensure that you have at least 1 thing planned for the kids each day. Peaking their interest will keep them excited for each new day knowing an adventure is to come. And this should make them more patient with the items on your list that they might not be as interested in. This doesn't have to be as big as Disney, it could be spending some time in one of Paris' many parks, or making a stop for a special sweet treat for the kids to enjoy.
I’m a huge fan of leaving time for flexibility in the itinerary, especially if you come across something you want to do once you are already at your destination, but I also know that skipping the planning can mean missing out on the best a city or country has to offer. It also usually means spending a lot more money than you have to. I recommend having a list of 1-2 attractions or neighborhoods to explore each day and one free day per week to relax or do something unexpected. Check opening hours to ensure that you know which days the attractions and activities you want to do are open. Also make sure to book any plane or train tickets well in advance, as prices can skyrocket at the last minute. We find minimum one month in advance is best, even longer for some locations and times of the year. Most of all, I especially recommend planning some of your meals out in advance. For more info on that, check out our restaurant guide here. This is our general restaurant guide, we have listed some below that we know to be especially great for kids as well.
Many tourist attractions are crowded, and a large stroller will only add to any annoyances you experience. If you're taking public transportation, the buses and metro are also crowded. And while there are escalators to be found in the metro stations, they're not always readily available which means you have to take the stairs. There are many cobblestone streets as well. Trust me when I say you'll want a compact one that's extremely easy to break down.
This one might seem biased since we are photographers, but because I'm a photographer, I hold a personal testimonial of how much my travel photos mean to Doug and I. There's been many times that when I go back through our photos years after a trip, that I remember special moments because of the photo itself. So please don't forget to take pictures along your journey. I treasure the photos I have of my first time to Paris when I was 9 years old. I can vividly picture the photo of me standing with my family at the Eiffel Tower, and also at the carousel by Sacre Coeur. I also treasure the photos we've had professionally taken during our travels. We can certainly help you with that part! ;) We'd be so honored to update your family photos while you're in Paris! It will be one of your most memorable family photos ever!
This may sound crazy at first, but our fellow Mom traveler, Meredith, said it worked really great for them. They departed the U.S. around 10 or 11pm at night and landed in Paris around noon Paris time. For the kids it was their normal time to be sleeping so they slept the full 8 hours on the flight because most kids can sleep through anything. By landing in Paris in the afternoon, they were able to go and check into their hotel right away. The kids didn't feel too tired, so they hit the road running, and climbed up the Eiffel Tower on Day 1! See Tip 2 though, don't push too hard, make sure they get a good night's sleep the first night in Paris to help them reset and avoid jet lag. Even for Doug and I, this is our preferred flight time because if you land too early, it's really hard to get through the first day without feeling like a zombie. You should stay awake in order to reset to Paris time. If you must nap, don't do so for longer than an hour.
Parks: There are an abundance of parks in Paris, which should make it easy for you to find one regardless of where you're staying. One of the best parks for children is Jardin du Luxembourg (6th arr). There's the historic Medici Fountain, the large fountain in the middle of the park that often has the antique sail boats the kids can push around, there's a playground, an antique carousel, puppet show, swings, basketball, petanque courts, pony rides...you name it!
We also love the Tuileries (1st arr). In the summer time there's a full blown carnival from about end of June to end of August. There's always a carousel and a trampoline area too. Bonus if you can spot the goats that act as the lawnmowers for the grounds! Tip: they're usually grazing in the ditches.
Parc Monceau (8th arr) is a more local park, but is very beautiful and worth a visit if you are near it!
Jardin des Plantes (5th arr) has the largest botanical garden in Paris - great for the adults, but also a zoo for the kids!
On the outskirts of Paris you also have two large forests - the Bois de Boulougne (16th arr) and the Bois de Vincennes (12th arr). You can often find the pony rides here as well, and there are also row boats to rent at the Bois de Boulogne. The Bois de Boulogne is about 2.5 times larger than Central Park, (the Bois de Vincennes is actually the largest park in Paris). It's a beautiful park to take a leisurely stroll through nature, and even have sneaks of the Eiffel Tower from certain areas.
Boat Tours: One of the best ways to see Paris is by water, and there are several boats that make regular trips up and down the Seine. The Batobus has several stops along the river so you can hop-on and hop-off at various attractions throughout the day. If you’d prefer a continuous cruise, the two largest and most well-known options are Bateaux-Mouches and Bateaux Parisiens, both of which offer lunch and dinner cruise options as well.
Carousels: There are many that can be found throughout the city, but some of our favorite include the one at the base of Sacre Coeur, of course the two carousels at the Eiffel Tower (one is at the base, the other across the river at Trocadero), and honestly when it is there, the one at Hotel de Ville has a magical backdrop. There's also the ones we mentioned above in the Tuileries and Jardin du Luxembourg.
Cooking Classes: Paris has a never-ending love affair with food, so it should come as no surprise that there are a number of cooking and baking classes and tastings available. One that has been recommended recently is a chocolate making class at Choco Story. The kids are certain to remember this one!
Polaroid Tour: Children should be at least 11 yrs old for this one so they can manage their own camera. This is actually a sister business of L'amour de Paris, another way for us to help you enjoy your experience in Paris. We'll bring the cameras and film and do a walking tour with you, while helping guide you to take one of a kind Paris images that you'll have to take home at the end of our time together. You can email us through LDP to schedule, and you can check out all the fun here at My Paris Snapshot.
Disney Paris: If you have the luxury of time while you're in Paris, we definitely recommend Disney if you're fans. Most of the Disney employees also speak English. And I find Disney Paris to be very easy to navigate easily through both parks.
Bike Tour: If the kids are old enough and confident on a bike, the bike tours are a fun and easy way to see Paris. I went with my best friend and her 12 year old and we had a blast! We went on the Paris Charms & Secrets Tour and we had electric bikes which made the hills a breeze! We opted for their Secret Places tour to see more off the beaten path areas of Paris. The tour guide was perfectly entertaining! The Fat Tire Bike Tours are also very reputable. If you are in Paris on a Sunday, I recommend Sunday mornings for the bikes because the city is very quiet in the early hours and thus less traffic.
Driving Tours of Paris: See more of the city by hiring a personal driver to escort you around, often in unique vehicles. 2CV cars are the classic French choice, but horse and carriages are also available.
Perfume Class: Learn about the origins of perfume and cologne, then make your own personal fragrance under the tutelage of a perfume expert. One of our family's highly recommends, l'Aurore . I loved hearing them each recount their experience and the fun they had in naming their perfumes.
Hot Air Balloon Rides: Due to strict no-fly laws over Paris, there are no good options for this, but there are a few interesting alternatives. Ballon de Paris is a tethered balloon that lifts you gently up into the air and back down to get a 360 degree unobstructed view of Paris from above, while Aerfun, located just outside the city, takes on a ride through the countryside and over some beautiful Chateaux.
Meet the Locals: This company has been highly recommend by one of our families with a 4 & 6 year old, that had an incredible time on the walking chocolate tour in St. Germain. Months after the tour the 4 year old is still talking about memories from the tour!
Restaurants: Treize au Jardin - This restaurant is not your normal French restaurant as the lady that owns it is from the U.S. You can expect some southern charm and French flair. So if you're in need of speaking English, this would be a great stop. The food is delicious (honestly I think of good Southern food back home, because I have had delicious chicken and waffles here) and the drinks are yummy! But the reason it stands out to me for a family stop is because while we were there with friends that had a baby with them, they literally held the baby for a little while so Mom and Dad could enjoy their lunch unencumbered. They went above and beyond to ensure they were comfortable! It's also very near to Jardin du Luxembourg so this could be a great lunch or dinner spot after exploring the gardens.
Le Restaurant in Musee d'Orsay - a great stop after touring the museum, and kids tickets are free at this museum! The Musee d'Orsay is more easily manageable than the Louvre, but if you don't have time for both, go see the Louvre pyramid and the beautiful courtyard.
We will work on adding more to this section for recommendations of restaurants that are particularly well suited for children, though I must tell you, the food culture in France is very different than in the States, especially for children. You won't always find a kids menu at all the restaurants here because the kids are expected to eat normal food, same as their parents.
Notable Mentions: Montmartre area - a smaller quartier (neighborhood) that is bustling with activity. The perfect pit stop for crepes, or an ice cream stop. You can also get a sentimental souvenir silhouette or sketched portrait of your children in Painter's Square for a very reasonable price.
Selecting macarons at Laduree, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle from Trocadero, Saint Chapelle, and lots of fresh chocolate croissants!