When I told a family member we’d be visiting Paris, she said, “That sounds so romantic!”
To which I replied, “Did I forget to mention we’re visiting Paris WITH our kids?”
So, no romance this trip, but lots of family fun.
It’s a good trade-off.
While I would love to see Paris in the spring, it was pretty special to be able to ring in the New Year (from our hotel room, of course) in this beautiful city.
Here are my impressions of Paris, things we did and my tips for visiting with kids.
(Our kids were 7 and 10 at the time of our visit.)
The subway system in Paris is extensive and we found it to be the easiest way to get around the city.
For a couple of reasons, we did not use a tourist pass (this is the official one) while there, so we bought subway tickets in packs of 10 to save money.
The subway tickets are tiny – hold onto them! And a ‘pack of 10’ is really just 10 loose subway tickets. The ticket below is a child’s ticket, which was 75 cents.
I know everyone has their preferred navigation app, but the Moovit app did a really good job of helping us navigate the
big maze subway system.
I noticed the following things about the Paris Metro (subway system):
- The subway cars are pretty small and can be very crowded. Get ready to get up close and personal with a lot of strangers!
- In general, it’s every person for themselves when getting on and off the subway. In other words, there’s not a lot of consideration for letting riders off before riders board.
- The doors will actually open while the subway car is still moving slightly. We ride a train every day in Ireland and this was enough of a ‘huh, this seems different’ that even my kids commented. Hold onto your little ones.
- Don’t be surprised to see buskers on your subway car. It’s quite the sight (and sound!) to see them carrying around instruments, microphones and an amp. Just politely decline if you don’t want to donate to their cause.
Of course, I’m showing a picture of a completely quiet subway stop! Really drives home the point about it being crowded, right? I believe this was taken at night though.
PICKING A HOTEL
Our hotel selection was the biggest regret about our stay in Paris. It was fine in all ways but one: the inability to secure our belongings. Small detail.
My advice is to make sure your hotel room has a safe before you book it because ours did not. We’ve stayed in so many hotel rooms in different countries over the years. This was the first time we’ve encountered this issue and it could have been prevented if we hadn’t become complacent about checking the room amenities before we booked.
Our hotel did have a left luggage room where you could “lock up” valuables and suitcases, but the online reviews were not good. Two people the week before we arrived had left reviews that things had been stolen when they used this service.
This meant that out of an abundance of caution we took our valuables – like the kids’ tablets – with us when we left our room. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but having those tablets stolen would have made for a VERY long flight home.
Speaking of security, at the time we visited Paris in early 2018, it was very normal to see 4-person military units patrolling the city. I’m not talking about police officers. I’m talking about extremely fit military personnel armed to the teeth with big guns and a lot of bullets. (I blurred out faces in the below photo.)
The patrols were always conducted in groups of four. We saw them at tourist attractions, train stations, parks and along the river. The above photo was taken outside The Louvre Museum.
One of my French friends said to me, “Didn’t it make you feel safe?” And my response was, “Nope! Definitely not!”
It felt like there was something I should be worried about. Worried about what a terrorist might do. Worried about getting caught in between these guys and a terrorist.
I know bad things happen everywhere. I know tourists are a target for criminals. We don’t let that stop us from living our lives and going about our business. Yet, this is the first city we’ve visited in Europe that I felt like I needed to be on high-alert at all times. This sort of militarized presence did not affect how much fun we had, but it was definitely something that took getting used to.
I don’t know how long these troops will remain on patrol, but I believe it has to do with the threat level in the country. It could be different when you visit!
I promise I’m getting to the fun stuff, but I’d like to acknowledge that I have mentioned two negative things in a row. Such a downer!
Truly, that’s not my intent! My intent is to present a real-life perspective because our travels do have a few bumps here and there. Hopefully, someone else can learn from our mistakes, experiences and gaffes.
So, here’s one more thing. France was the first country we’ve visited that I had some trepidation about traveling to because we don’t speak French. I’d heard about the French either not liking Americans or not being friendly toward English speakers. And, I understand why they might feel that way.
However, these stereotypes were hard to reconcile in my mind because I have several friends from France and they are the nicest people. Absolutely fantastic.
At the advice of every guidebook and blog I’ve read on visiting France, we all made an attempt to learn a few phrases in French before our trip. Even the kids! Starting every conversation or question with “bonjour” definitely went a long way in demonstrating that we were at least trying to be considerate. (By the way, trying to learn a tiny bit of the language of any country you visit is a good thing.)
My sneaky suspicion is a good chunk of the population in France knows basic English, but some use it more than others. Your hotel staff will most likely speak excellent English. We found the major attractions and train stations to be staffed with English speakers. The place we ran into the biggest issue was at restaurants, so if there was a language barrier I just did a lot of pointing at the menu or at what someone else was eating. One time at a takeout restaurant, the employee wrote down the amount I owed on a piece of paper so that there wasn’t any confusion.
For all the tourism in France, my impression was the French don’t go out of their way to make the experience easy for non-French speakers in terms of signage, public transportation announcements, museum placards, etc. However, for the most part, we received nothing but kindness and patience from the people we encountered in Paris. I hope that’s your experience as well.
Here’s a list of useful French phrases with pronunciations.
Yes, I made a category for bathrooms. We’ve all got to go!
Where I live in Dublin, it is hard to find a public restroom. For all the drinking in Ireland, it’s not a bathroom-friendly place.
This was not the case in Paris. Public toilets are everywhere.
This particular type of toilet takes a few minutes per turn, shall we say. You have to exit the bathroom after doing your business and then wait while the bathroom cleans itself before the next person can go in.
Why isn’t this feature in my bathroom at home?!?!
If you don’t wait, the bathroom will yell at you in a nice French accent until you get out. Honestly, it took us a couple of minutes to figure out what she was saying!
Now, guess what my kids thought was funny to do?
Make the ‘toilet lady’ yell.
Finally, I’m getting to the fun stuff! Here’s what we did and what I would or wouldn’t recommend.
THE LOUVRE MUSEUM
Due to a timing quirk with many museums being closed on New Year’s Day and Tuesdays, we only had one real museum day during our visit to Paris.
Our kids wanted to see the Mona Lisa, so we made a beeline for one of the world’s most famous museums, The Louvre Museum. I wrote an entire post about how to avoid the long lines and make the most of your visit, so I won’t rehash it here. Click over to read all about it!
The Louvre, unless you are traveling with toddlers or care nothing about art and history, is a must-see when visiting Paris.
The Louvre Museum’s website is full of helpful advice! Click here to learn more.
If your kids are like mine, they can only handle a limited number of gardens, buildings and architectural excursions, so prioritize what you want to see before your trip.
Even if you don’t tour all the famous landmarks in Paris, you can at least walk by them. Maybe order a treat from one of the delicious crêpe carts that are everywhere and sit for a spell! You might not get the entire experience, but at least the one you get will be whine-free…and delicious!
That was our approach with the Palais-Royal Garden, Notre Dame, the Pantheon and this monument below, Arc de Triomphe. It honors those who fought and died during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Beneath its vault is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI.
Learn more about visiting the Arc de Triomphe here.
The weirdest thing about our visit to Paris was we didn’t see a lot of kids. Sure, we saw some, but not as many as I’d expect given the time of year and the size of the city. It’s possible they were all at the aquarium though. It was pretty busy!
The Paris Aquarium was BY FAR the most expensive thing we did while in Paris. If you have been to a great aquarium like the one in Copenhagen or Atlanta, this one isn’t going to blow your socks off.
That said, my kids spent a good 30 minutes at the touch tank. Mom and Dad needed a break, so perhaps it was worth the admission fee and the wet sleeves? Plus, the kids listened to 15 minutes of a sealife lecture presented in French. Since they are learning French in school, I considered this to be extra credit!
Learn more about visiting the Paris Aquarium here.
BASILICA OF SACRÉ-COEUR DE MONTMARTE
Yes, we took our kids to church. It’s not all crêpes and aquariums for them! Ha!
We ended up visiting this gorgeous church right when Mass was about to start and since it was raining cats and dogs, we decided to sit and watch. The service was all in French, of course. About the only thing I understood was, “amen.”
The church has a famous pipe organ and when it started playing as the priests began their procession down the aisle, my kids were whispering to me, “Why is this music so intense?” The pipe organ definitely set a dramatic tone for the service!
The picture below is of one of the side sanctuaries – not sure of the proper term.
To learn more about the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur de Montmarte click here.
Most of us will only visit Paris once in our lifetime, if at all. For that reason alone, visiting the Eiffel Tower is a must if you go to Paris. You’ve got to do it!
Our kids have plenty of energy, so we walked up the tower instead of taking the elevator. Although, an elevator that goes up at an angle would have been cool to experience too. There is a lot to learn while up there and the views of the city are incredible, even on a cloudy day.
Click here to read all about my tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower, including what to do if you don’t get advance tickets online.
To learn more about the Eiffel Tower, visit their official website.
There are a few reasons why we like to visit local parks when traveling. First, they are easy on the budget!
Second, parks and playgrounds are always a hit with our kids. They forget about all the walking they’ve done and how tired their feet are if they get a chance to play on a playground. Funny how that works!
Third, there are usually fewer tourists at these parks, so it gives us adults a chance to slow down and get a glimpse of what life is like for the locals. For some reason, this always seems to enrich my travel experience.
On this trip we visited six or so parks in Paris – some that we sought out and some that we stumbled upon. Our favorite, by far, was the Parc de la Villette. It is the largest urban cultural park in the city.
The best part of the park for our kids was this huge dragon slide! In person, it is the most awesome, statement-making playground structure in the history of playgrounds. I couldn’t even get the slide all in one frame it’s so big.
There’s really a lot to do at Parc de la Villette and we spent several hours there exploring. If you do go into the mall, just a heads up that security personnel will do a bag check upon entry.
Click here to learn more about Parc de la Villette.
The strangest park experience we had was at a really cool park near The Louvre called the Jardin Nelson Mandela.
How neat does this playground look? It was incredible!
Here’s the strange part. The playground was staffed and the staff wouldn’t let parents into the playground. I’m not sure if parents leave their kids there and go for coffee or what?
I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the kids, so I just
did some stretches in case I needed to vault over the fence to rescue them watched them over the fence. I didn’t feel like they were unsafe. I wouldn’t have let them play if I did, but this was an instance where the language barrier prevented me from really understanding the situation.
The kids had a great time, but they said the staff was ‘watching’ them. Granted, they were the only kids in the playground and that did appear to be the job of the staff!
To learn more about Jardin Nelson Mandela click here.
For other parks in the city, click here.
Planning is definitely important when traveling to a foreign country. Most of the oops moments I share in these posts are because of our lack of planning!
However, the most memorable moments of our travels usually happen by accident. When we have time to explore, to wander, to soak in the atmosphere – that’s when we’re unexpectedly delighted by some shared experience.
On our trips our kids will ask, “what are we going to do today?” And then they inevitably groan when I reply, “We’re going on an adventure!”
It’s true these ‘adventures’ often mean mommy and daddy are winging it and have no set plans that particular day!
We’re looking for something we’ve never seen or done or would rarely get to do at home.
It’s how we stumble upon parks, carnivals, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It’s how we meet interesting people and find cool street art. It’s how we slow down and get to know a city. It’s how we make room in our trip to be spontaneous.
Our day might start with groans because my kids like to know what to expect, but without fail it ends with happy smiles because in a new city, especially Paris, you can always find ways to be unexpectedly delighted.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoy traveling, check out one of these posts!