A Paris Cheat Sheet
We just came back from two weeks in Paris with our four year old son Alex (see my other post on all the design I saw). This the second time we’ve gone to Paris with Alex. It is a city we know pretty well from travel prior to having kids (and in fact, we’ve stayed in the apartment we rented before we had kids, so that helped us have courage to try it with Alex). There is something magical about experiencing a city through the eyes of your children. Especially returning this year, he had memories of our trip last year (he talked about the carousels and the Eiffel tower for a year straight!) Those were the first things we did when we arrived this time! Our general approach to traveling with Alex is to do all the things we do in NYC, just in a different city. So we spent most of our time in Paris outside, at the parks and playgrounds and we don’t have high expectations for his or our stamina. A number of people asked about the plane and kids (pack five or so new small toys in a separate pouch for that awkward time waiting to take off and to land – make sure they wear soft waisted/comfortable clothes – bring layers and a soft blanket from home on to the plane – try to travel with nap time – bring lots of snacks you know they like, more than you think you’ll need – I even pack Amy’s Mac n Cheese in our checked luggage so Alex will have familiar foods a few nights). In terms of jetlag I can RAVE about melatonin. Our pediatrician recommended it and it really helped us adjust Alex in both directions whenever we travel across time zones. I’d give him the dose and he’d be asleep in under 5 minutes. We use it for three nights on both ends of the trip.
We rent this apartment. Cheaper than a hotel, lots more of space, privacy with sometimes screaming children, a refrigerator, a kitchen, multiple rooms so mom and dad can have some vino after kiddos go to bed. If you can find a rental with a balcony or garden, all the better (and let me know!). If we go back to Paris again, I’d probably want to stay in Canal St. Martin area — it’s a little cheaper and very kid friendly. This apartment is pretty kid-safe (although there aren’t any safety bars or screens in the windows, so better for very little kids).
Maps and Apps. We loved the Trip Advisor Offline City Guides App. This genius app doesn’t use any data from your phone plan. Instead, it uses the built in GPS to direct you to good restaurants around you and generally help orient you. So you can use this when your data is turned off. Then, I swear by the Paris Practique Maps, which are detailed maps by arrondissement. You can find them on Amazon or any bookstore in Paris. Technology seemed to fail me a lot on this trip. I bought a international data plan, but, often found myself without a cell signal. So the map was literally a life saver.
Raingear. It rained a lot on our trip. I packed these Aigle boots which I loved. It seems to rain in waves in Paris, so if it rained, we’d just pop into a cafe and wait it out.
Backpack. A friend once joked that she officially gave up her pre-baby self when she bought a backpack. But there is no denying the appeal of having both hands free to wrangle kids, so I bought this Brooklyn Industries backpack literally 15 minutes before leaving for the airport and I ended up loving it. It was roomy, hip and didn’t SCREAM (maybe just winked) “tourist”.
The insanely good ginger/pistachio short bread at Claus.
A dinner at home, with market chicken and potatoes.
We cooked a lot at home. Shopping for food is a pleasure in France; the markets, the exoticism of mundane items in the Franprix and Carafor. Alex and I went grocery shopping everyday and we’d buy all sorts of new things and try them out. Weird cereals and cheese, candies and crackers. We’d also shop the markets, but that is a slightly more chaotic farmer’s market-esque experience and a little more challenging with a 4 year old. So Tim, whose french is better than mine, did more of our market shopping.
We embraced the picnic Having dinner by the Seine is our favorite thing to do; sometimes I make tuna pasta, or penne arrabiata and take it down to the Seine. The french have a lovely and relaxed approach to picnics. Nothing fancy or overdone, just being outside. Most times we just buy sandwiches, a bottle of wine and a bag of potato chips. Hordes of Parisians and tourists from everywhere congregate by the Seine in the cool evenings, playing music, eating and drinking. It feels like one big party. Also, our apartment has no air conditioning, so the Seine was also a dramatically cooler spot to be!
That being said, here are the Paris restaurants we recommend:
I HIGHLY recommend Itineraries in the 5eme. The meal was as close to perfect as I can imagine. I ordered two desserts. That good. This is also half a block from our apartment… (Thanks Joanna for the tip!)
Ten Belles (iced coffee! all the treats!)
Balthazar (in basement of The Bon Marche)
Paul (this is a chain, and everywhere, but, really dependable if you’re having a melt down)
Pamela Popo (order the steak for two!)
Bread and Roses (mini chain)
Blend (gourmet burgers)
Anna and Joe’s pizza (great atmosphere but soso pizza by NYC high standards — great pizza by paris standards)
Mems Le Bistrot (really family friendly in Le Canal St. Martin)
The Police Museum (A little blood thirsty but Alex was young enough to enjoy all the weapons but not understand some of the more violent aspects might not be great for slightly older kids but would probably be awesome for 8+ and tweens and my dad loved it!)
Centre Pompidou – Alex loved riding the escalators and tolerated a fair amount of actual art; amazing views of Paris.
Alex at the Jardin d’acclimatation !
Stuff to do with kiddos:
Note that many museums have a handicapped entrance where you can skip the line if you have a stroller (!!). We did this at the Louve and the Pompidou.
The Jardin Luxemberg has a playground where you pay a euro and the kiddos can’t escape (and parents can have a cafe for a euro) while watching the kids. We met up with Ashley and Aron who happened to be in Paris at the same time and had a blast watching our American kiddos dive right into the action. It’s amazing how much of children’s play transcends language. We had a very funny cross cultural moment when a little french boy sat in our stroller and would not budge. Ashely saved me after I’d exhausted my french and the little boy still wouldn’t get out of our stroller and Alex was getting angsty that there was a stranger in his stroller. With Ashley’s superior French and Aron’s scouting we eventually we solved the mystery of why he was sitting in our Red MacClaren stroller when we found another identical stroller in another part of the park — I pushed him in our stroller to it and he JUMPED out and got into his and we were on our way.
Eiffel tower (buy tickets ahead of time online!) We did not do this, but watched many families skip the line …
The Tulleries has an awesome playground
Jardin Des Plants Zoo (the red pandas, the flamingos!)
Jardin d’acclimatation (wonderful playgrounds, water play, rides for children –d I’d say rides are for the 2.5 and older set) but the playgrounds are good for all ages. This is a full day — it takes about 40 minutes to get there and bring a picnic — lots of places to eat and the food there isn’t great.
Bon Marche Food Court
Cos (women’s clothes)
Monoprix (the French equal of Target; I bought lots of clothes for Alex)
HEMA (house wears)