I’ve been to Paris twice before having kids — once with friends during college, and once with my husband after we first got married. We returned to Paris recently with our 7- and 5-year-old after snagging an awesome last-minute flight deal over a long weekend, and it turned out to be my favorite visit of all. There’s something about having kids in tow that forces you to slow down and simply enjoy being in Paris. We limited our sightseeing and stayed away from the crowds, and spent more time just lingering over meals and enjoying the beautiful settings. Here are some ideas for how to spend a few days in Paris with kids … start planning ahead for spring break!
Day One: Spend the Day at Le Jardin du Luxembourg
Hands down my favorite activity during the trip was visiting Jardin du Luxembourg. The park is a wonderland for kids, and the setting is absolutely gorgeous. I expected something like Central Park, but instead what we found was a manicured mini Versailles. Sailing wooden toy boats around the fountain at the center of the park is a classic past-time for Parisian children, so of course we wanted to participate. For 3.50 euro, we rented a boat and a stick for launching it.
We also enjoyed the old-fashioned carousel in park for 1.50 euro each. I’ve seen my share of old-fashioned carousels, but this one takes the cake, dating back to 1879. The hollow wooden horses are faded and marked, and there’s no platform (the horses dangle from the roof) and no organ music. Instead, the children sitting on the outer perimeter receive sticks that they use to spear rings held out by the ride operator as they whirl around. So charming.
Luxembourg also boasts the best playground I’ve ever come across. It costs 1.50 euro to get in, which I found odd, being used to free access to playgrounds, but it was well worth the money. Besides the usual slides, teeter-totters and jungle gyms, there was an awesome zipline course and the largest sand pit I’ve ever seen, complete with a structure that contained scooping and lifting equipment.
Also at Luxembourg is Le Théâtre des Marionnettes, an adorable looking puppet theater that we unfortunately didn’t have time for. If you can read French, a schedule of the shows is on the website!
Day Two: Climb the Eiffel Tower and Take a Boat Ride on the Seine
Despite having been to Paris twice before, I’ve never climbed the Eiffel Tower — I’ve always been afraid of the crowds and wait time. But it turns out that now you can purchase online tickets in advance! They do sell out quickly, though, almost as soon as they become available, so you’ll have to plan ahead. We arrived for our scheduled visit at 11am, skipped the ticketing line altogether, waited about two minutes to get on the first elevator, which ascended to the middle of the tower, then another five minutes for the elevator from the middle to the top.
Coming back down, we took the elevator part way, then walked down the stairs the rest of the way. It’s not difficult at all to climb down, and it’s awesome to be able to examine the tower’s design up close.
Right by the Eiffel Tower are about a half dozen Seine river tour companies, which is definitely a touristy thing to do, but turned out to be a great activity for the kids. It was nice to just sit and relax for an hour with some snacks as we sailed around and saw some sights that we didn’t have time for, like Notre Dame and the Louvre. Sailing underneath 20 of the 22 bridges that cross the Seine was also really neat, as you get to see their unique features up close. We chose to sail with Vedettes de Paris, but all of the companies seem more or less the same.
My favorite meal of the whole trip was at Le Petit Cler, a cute little bistro located on a charming street about a 10-minute walk from the tower. Great food, good prices, and an incredibly pleasant wait staff. I have no idea how the French earned a reputation for being snobby or rude; everyone we met was kind, patient, and friendly to the kids.
Day Three: Visit Some (Smaller) Paris Museums
I didn’t want to visit Paris without going to at least one museum, but also didn’t want to deal with the crowds at the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. So after doing some research, we visited the Musée de l’Orangerie, a tiny museum bordering the Tuileries that features an amazing set of Monet’s waterlily paintings, among other Impressionist works. The museum is so small that we were in and out within an hour, including a trip to the gift shop. It was the perfect amount of time for the kids.
We also made a trip to see the Centre Pompidou, but from the outside. The building is so wacky that I figured the kids would love it. They did, particularly the inside-out escalators that you can ride for 3 euros each.
A block from Pompidou is the Stravinsky Fountain, with its whimsical water sculptures, and it’s a great place to sit down and have some street food as a snack or light lunch (the crepe stands are a must-visit). There are tons of restaurants in the area as well.
Where to Stay and Eat
So I may have found the best hotel in Paris. By all accounts, Parisian hotel rooms are tiny and cramped, and ours was by no means large … but it was a suite! The kids got their own room with mini-twin beds, and my husband and I got a whole room to ourselves. The king-size bed did take up the entire space, but it was still a room of our own!
The Hôtel Excelsior Latin in the Latin Quarter (6th arrondissement) is charmingly decorated, with Belle Époque details and updated fixtures in the bathroom. The completely modern, yet super-cute, closet-size elevator was a source of endless amusement for my whole family. We also loved how centrally located the hotel is, right near several Métro stops, restaurants and attractions (including Le Jardin du Luxembourg!).
I had high aspirations for eating at the best specialty shops in Paris: Ladurée for macarons, Poilâne for baguettes, Angelina for hot chocolate, Marie-Anne Cantin for cheese. We ended up making it to none of these places, since walking even a few blocks with two small children can be a daunting trek. But the food in Paris, especially the bread and pastries, tend to be pretty good everywhere. You’ll find perfectly divine croissants, ham and cheese sandwiches, and hot chocolate even at chains like Eric Kayser and Paul (we loved both). As for macarons, there was a well-placed Ladurée stand right after you come through immigration at Charles de Gaulle airport, so you can we tend to your macaron needs right out of the gate!