Embarking on a nearly 2-week trip to Barcelona and Paris with grandparents and young children in tow seemed risky — a wonderful idea in theory but a challenging plan to execute. We would make lifelong memories, certainly, but what about varying interests and attention spans? What about navigating and figuring out transport, long admission lines and food choices as a larger group?
In the end, with adequate planning, the rewards were priceless. The memories of taking a cable car up to Montjuic Hill in Barcelona; of walking through La Sagrada Familia as the afternoon light streamed in; of riding a riverboat up the Seine; and of going on a scavenger hunt in the Louvre are such gifts. How fortunate that my two kiddos saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time with their grandparents present to share the wonder and marvel of it all with them!
But it took major planning. We created a detailed daily itinerary and mapped out walks or rides to restaurants in advance. Managing expectations and building in flexibility was also key: Maybe we wouldn’t do everything, but we’d enjoy what we did and do it together! Here are my best tips from our extended family European trip.
For the adults and the kids alike, finding parks and open spaces daily served us well, breaking up the sightseeing and providing a bit of a respite. In Paris, we had intended to stop only briefly in the Luxembourg Gardens, but ended up staying longer to watch the kids sail boats. Another day the kids and I wandered the Jardin des Plantes. The lovely atmosphere and charm of European parks and gardens also makes it worth seeking them out in their own right.
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As expected, any kind of boat, bus or train ride proved to be a big hit with the kids, especially our 4-year old son. But honestly, even the adults loved them. In Barcelona, we went on a private sailboat excursion with Blue Magic Cat for two hours one morning. Being on the water was restorative and the experience ended up as one of our favorite activities; our kids still remember our captain, Señor Miguel, who let them each have a turn at the wheel.
Traveling between Barcelona and Paris with Rail Europe was also incredibly easy and seamless as a group. The journey became part of the destination as we chatted and played cards with the French countryside rolling by. We departed Barcelona Sants train station in the morning and were in Paris by the afternoon. The next day, we boarded the local Bateaux Mouches and cruised up and down the Seine for an hour.
Though it was a big splurge, we knew that having a guide or two would really make or break our visit to some of the sights, and we wanted everyone to get something meaningful out of seeing these historic places. We opted for a private guide to tour us around Sagrada Familia through Icono Serveis Culturals. She really brought the church alive, explaining the architectural and religious aspects in a way that engaged all ages.
Similarly, we chose to try a family-friendly scavenger hunt through the Louvre, which was super fun for our 4-year-old and 8-year-old, but also for the adults. Along with all the art history, our guide knew which corridors to take, which to avoid, where to pause and sneak a bite of chocolate in, and ultimately, how to make the most of our two hour visit. We also knew that if the children really weren’t enjoying the experience, one of us could step out with them and let the guide cater the tour to the remaining adults.
While it’s natural to want to hit the blockbuster attractions, for kids, some of the smaller sights can be just as appealing and enjoyable (often with fewer crowds). Our son was glued to the children’s audioguide at Casa Batllo in Barcelona, and lamented to us all how sad it was that Gaudi died after getting hit by a tram. I was blown away by how much he retained! We were also among just a few visitors at the gorgeous Art Nouveau Sant Pau Recinte Modernista. In Paris, we visited the Arc de Triomphe as well as Saint Chapelle, both of which are part of the Centre Des Monuments Nationaux network in France. With advance tickets (minors under 18 are free at both), the lines were manageable and we were able to have a more intimate visit with fewer crowds.
Given the enduring charm and beauty of Paris’ streetscapes and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, we decided to have some family photos of our entire clan taken while there through Flytographer, which connects travelers to local photographers for short photo sessions in hundreds of destinations around the world. No having to stop strangers or one of us missing from the photo!
The temptation to cram in more cities and cover more ground was certainly there, but we also knew we would be dealing with jet lag and traveling as a larger group. The biggest advantage we gave ourselves was time: time to explore, time to stop for countless ice creams and time to linger in parks. Because for multigenerational travel, less is more — it really is.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Tanvi Chheda except where noted.
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