A friend of mine recently asked me if I could give her any advice on seeing Paris with kids, and as I thought about her request, I realized that maybe a blog post might be the best way to do that. When I think back to our few days in Paris, there was lots I wouldn’t have blogged about at the time because it was just so hectic. One of my two Paris posts acknowledges that in my current state of exhaustion, I am blogging only because I’m afraid the day “might get lost in tomorrow”. And that is exactly what often happened while we were travelling – we’d move on to the next place after a whirlwind trip, and by the time we had Internet access again (or time), we were somewhere else, experiencing something new. There are actually lots of locations and experiences that got lost along the way.
Anyway, I digress. I will attach some websites and blogs at the end of this post with the really practical information, but here’s what you REALLY need to know. The secret to being able to motivate a tired child to push themselves that little bit further, and actually – and here’s the key – WANT to go to see the attractions you want to see is advance preparation.
My advice would be to start a few weeks before you travel. Read stories and watch movies set in Paris.
If you read Madeline, then you’ll be able to visit the Eiffel Tower, or go stand on the Pont Neuf and look at the Seine while they marvel at how that little girl survived her fall into the rushing water.
If you watch Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, then you’ll be able to spend an hour at Notre Dame Cathedral soaking up the wonder while they pretend to be Esmerelda and Quasimodo and chat with the gargoyles.
And there are so many more – The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a book with lots of graphics, but is also a movie now, too. Set in Paris. My 11 year old just read a book called My Secret Guide to Paris, which made her want to go back – it had a little French phrase to learn at the beginning of each chapter.
The picture book Adele and Simon has a list in the back of all the monuments they visit while looking for all the things Simon lost on the way home from school.
There are also the fantastic Not For Parents Lonely Planet travel guide books – and there’s one just for Paris! These travel guides are packed full of colourful images and fun facts for kids. And naturally, the fact that they are NOT for parents makes them all the more appealing.
Even books and movies for older teens can really add some extra magic to the experience – The Davinici Code might entice them to want to visit The Louvre, even if they’re not really interested in it’s cultural significance. They even have a tour specifically geared toward “cracking the Davinci Code“.
The other rule we tried to follow while travelling was to intersperse kid-friendly attractions with the cultural non-negotiables. So, if you can’t actually convince your kids that visiting a particular museum or building is a good idea, then find a reward outing to promise for afterwards. Like the home-made ice cream shop in Paris with 70 flavours of ice cream, or a playground, or a boulangerie, or even – God forbid – a Disney shop. Whatever you have time for. It’s amazing how much even a half hour of running around or playing or eating yummy treats can improve your kids’ frame of mind, and willingness to cooperate!
Another tip is to alternate indoor with outdoor attractions – one of the places we didn’t get to was Monet’s Garden, and I wish we had, really. Not only is it a beautiful and culturally significant place, but it is also outdoors, offering kids a bit more freedom to explore. Ditto for the Palace at Versailles. A real-live palace – that’s the stuff of fairy tales. But again, it offers the opportunity to explore outdoors – we didn’t even go in, and it was well worth the visit!
Speaking of exploring, be cautious of how much of it you do on foot – we made the mistake of looking at our maps while in Paris, and thinking things looked “close enough to walk”, so sometimes didn’t bother with the Metro when we really should have. By the time we had walked, we had used up a lot of time, and almost all the kids’ available energy – not good. Kids with no energy and aching feet are not the sort you want to tour Paris with.
I think one of the most exciting things for our kids in Paris was going out at night – which you don’t always think about doing when you’re travelling as a family. Usually, after an exhausting day of touring, you just want to get everyone into bed, but even a short excursion in the evening can energize everyone. Our kids loved being on the street in front of the Moulin Rouge after dark, and even though it might seem a bit sketchy, what with all the peep shows and neon naked ladies, our apartment was just a couple of blocks away, and we felt quite safe strolling there in the evening. You can get a surprising amount of mileage out of standing on the famous Metro vent while the wind blows your hair straight upwards! (Not to mention the interesting conversations provoked by the neon ladies)
Another thing we tried to do, but for reasons beyond our control (see Paris is Closed Today) were not able to, is visit the Catacombs. What could be cooler than thousands of skeletons in an underground city? That’s a whole new level of creepy!
I guess it’s all about being creative, and making some compromises – you won’t get to see everything you want to see, but you might be able to infect your kids with the travel bug that will make them want to return and see it all some other time.
Or you could just do what my friend Kim suggested when I asked for her travel wisdom – let the kids plan the trip, and if you’re good, maybe they’ll let you tag along:-)