My good friend and author of the Ciao Bambino! book series, Danna Leahy, visited us in Switzerland this summer with her 7 and 10-year-old kids in tow. As part of her itinerary, she planned a four-night stop in Paris.
When Danna explained what she planned to cover during her time in Paris, I laughed. I know the Type A mom personality — ahem — well, as I look in the mirror each morning. Our husbands tell us that we pack too many activities into short periods of time. True.
Danna determined what she wanted to cover in Paris six months before her arrival. She meticulously worked through every detail to ensure she would leave the city satisfied and this is exactly what happened. The Leahy family had an extraordinary time in Paris, covered an unbelievable amount of ground, and had fun doing it. Impressive!
This itinerary is based on a visit with school-age kids. If you are visiting Paris with toddlers and little kids, the itinerary may change significantly.
Big splash on arrival: I wanted to give my kids a big splash Paris attraction on arrival so we headed straight for the Eiffel Tower. From the top of the tower the kids had a birds-eye overview of the entire city and this got them excited for the their visit.
Refine see and do list: There’s an endless number of things to see and do in Paris. Create a top ten list and know that you may only visit seven of the attractions, particularly over the busy summer months.
Incorporate variety in the daily schedule: I was careful to balance iconic sights, museums, and outdoor activities into each day instead of doing too much of any one thing. Use a map to plot what you want to see geographically. This is easier to do once you arrive and have a feel for the lay of the land and what the distances mean.
Take advantage of the Metro: We never took a cab in Paris except from the train station on the day of our arrival. I recommend getting a Metro map and multi-ticket books (adult and youth available) soon after arrival. We purchased the 10-pack book which saves money and allows you to avoid buying tickets each time you want to use the underground.
Buy Paris Museum Pass: The Paris Museum Pass is a no brainer for value and time savings, particularly if you expect to visit two or more attractions per day. At that point, you’ll at least break even and more importantly, you won’t have to stand in line at the majority of sights which is a huge benefit during busy tourist periods. Go to the Paris Museum Pass website to determine what is and is not covered.
I found that I was more forgiving about leaving attractions early when they were not engaging my kids with this kind of ticket (vs. digging my heels in when I just forked out money for individual entrance tickets). In addition, the pass allows you to revisit museums like the Louvre. This is huge! It takes the pressure off seeing everything at once and makes re-entrance seemless.
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Eat a big breakfast at your hotel: We had an amazing all-inclusive breakfast each morning at our hotel, the Brighton Hotel. It’s much easier to have stamina for a busy tour schedule when everyone is well-fed. Our nutritional breakfast allowed us to feel good about a grab-and-go lunch and avoid multiple sit-down meals each day.
Paris is perfect for quick meals as street vendors and bakeries selling crepes and sandwiches are plentiful. Kids — even picky eaters — can find things they like. Sweet treats for breaks are easy to find too.
Don’t count on helpful front desk staff for tour advice: Unless you’re staying at a 5-star hotel with a dedicated concierge desk, don’t count on your hotel staff for insight.
We arrived in the early afternoon and had half day to get acquainted with the city. We kicked off our tour at the Jardins des Tuileries — a perfect spot for people watching and settling in. Then we headed out for the 45-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower from there.
A long walk across the city works well to get an idea of directions and distances in the city. We pre-booked our tickets at the Eiffel Tower which I highly recommend! There is a weather risk in this strategy, but we saved an hour of waiting in line. The reservation (no additional fee) allows you to head straight to the platform where you take a second elevator to get to the summit. At that point, you still need to wait in line to get to the top (45 minutes), but we still saved an hour of time.
Finally, we ended our day with a stroll and dinner on the Champs–Elysées. We were lucky to find Bistro Romain that night with nice outdoor seating, a kids’ menu, and value-oriented pricing.
We started our day at Notre Dame. If you’re interested in religious relics, there’s a fantastic special exhibit (for an additional fee) with a chalice, medallions from the Pope, and the crown of thorns. We also liked the crypt.
We walked back via the Conciergerie, a former royal palace and prison. It’s not a must-see attraction, but my kids enjoyed it, particularly Marie Antoinette’s cell.
We continued our day with a Louvre tour with Paris Muse. We all enjoyed this engaging tour; my recommendation for parents is that if there are specific things you want to see, be sure and reserve time to revisit the museum. The Paris Muse tour follows a specific agenda and your “list” may not match theirs. After multiple visits to the Louvre, we found that the afternoon is less crowded than the morning.
We concluded our day with an evening Bateaux-Mouches tour. This was a hit for all! We all appreciated not walking at that time of day and the seeing the sites in the evening is an entirely new perspective. You get a particularly great view of the Eiffel Tower — the lights on the tower start twinkling every hour on the hour in the evening.
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We spread out our iconic Paris monuments and on day three, the Arc de Triomphe got a close inspection. We walked right in with the Museum Pass and headed to the top. The view is slightly different than what you see from the Eiffel Tower; it’s not a must-do but if you have the ability to skip the line it’s worthwhile.
We did some Right Bank wandering and included stops at the Opera House and Madeleine. We proceeded to the Musée d’Orsay. One nice thing about this museum is that the kids recognize the Impressionist art. It’s a more intimate museum focused on painting versus antiquities; I’d recommend using an audio guide to keep kids engaged.
A surprise hit for all was the Musée de l’Orangerie featuring Claude Monet’s masterpieces. The huge scale of the paintings at eye-level enables kids to see all the intricacies and get close to the action.
We wrapped up our time in Paris with a visit to Montmartre and the incredible Sacré-Cœur Basilica. In a 72 hour itinerary, you’d be out of time. With an additional half day (which we had), we opted for another visit at the Louvre and wandering at the kid-friendly favorite, the Jardin du Luxembourg.
I thought Paris would be more about shopping, but my husband and kids had zero desire to do any of that with so many other things to see and do.
Photo Credit: Danna Leahy
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