Paris is always a good idea, whether it’s your first trip to the city or a return visit. And as an entry destination to exploring Europe, a trip to Paris really makes a good first impression on teens. It wows everyone with its iconic sights (who doesn’t get a shiver at that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night?), and done right, it’s an easy place to mix elegance and refinement with edginess and adventure. Here’s how to tackle the City of Light with teens if you only have three days.
Paris is divided into neighborhoods called arrondissements. Depending on where you’re staying with teens, you can either walk or ride public transit to all the major sights. One of our first stops in Paris was the closest Metro station to our rental apartment, where we got three-day Metro passes for everyone in the family. (These can also be included in a Paris Pass … more on that below). Once you’ve got your ticket to ride, it’s very easy to get around.
When travelling with teens, its important to get them excited about the destination right from the start. Introduce teens to Paris by ticking off some of the big boxes on your first day. Head to the 7th arrondissement on the first morning to tour the major sites around the Eiffel Tower by taking a bike tour. We try to always start our visits to major cities with bike tours, because it’s a good time to eyeball other attractions we want to return to later. Fat Tire Tours offers English-language tours that appeal to all ages. You’ll cover a lot of ground and the teens will get to stretch their legs and feel some freedom. During the tour, you’ll see the bike pathways along the Seine, the Place de la Concorde and all the major buildings around the Champs de Mars, and get a taste of Parisian street food in the Jardin des Tuileries. Not into biking? Fat Tire offers walking and Segway tours also.
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The Fat Tire tour won’t include ascending the Eiffel Tower (though there are photo ops just below it), so grab a baguette and cheese along Place Joffre or Champs de Mars and tour the tower in the afternoon. Book ahead of time to avoid the worst of the lines, and be sure to get the option of going all the way to the top — teens won’t want to miss it.
End the day with a Metro ride to the Montmartre neighborhood (Chateau Rouge stop), where you can climb the multiple steps to Sacre Coeur cathedral and see the tower from a different vantage point. Wait long enough to see the Eiffel Tower lights sparkle on the hour (after dusk), then stroll through the artist haven of Montmartre to find yourselves some dinner. This area is touristy, but in a lively, edgy way that resonates with teens. The cafes on the hill have great moules frites, but mostly menus in English to cater to tourists; walk down the stairs to the neighborhood just below for a more authentic Parisian vibe.
After getting the big picture of Paris, it’s time to dig deeper into its treasures. This means museums, which can sometimes make teens groan, but not if you do it right. Get a museum pass with the Paris Pass to skip the lines (you’ll wait in the security lines only), and definitely don’t try to tackle everything at the Louvre, d’Orsay or Rodin museums. Instead, start at the Louvre with three to five must-sees in mind. (For most people, these include the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, for starters, but you decide.)
Set a time limit for the museum interior, perhaps three to four hours, then head outside, where the Seine and the Jardin des Tuileries await. Find a crepe stand for a blissful (and inexpensive) lunch, and stroll along the river east toward Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter. Look for the booksellers that pop up along the street, and stop into one of the many cafes in this elegant yet cozy part of the city.
Typically, we’d advise exploring Notre Dame (no line with the Paris Pass), but during its reconstruction, not only is it closed but streets surrounding it may be closed off. Regardless, its worth it to wander over and then dip into Shakespeare and Company, the English-language bookstore near Saint Michel. Walk across the river at Notre Dame to find the famous Hotel de Ville. There are many dining options in this area, including more street vendors. Look for dried fruits and candies for sale here too.
Time for another museum … see how they’re broken up with outdoor venues in between? We opted for the Musee d’Orsay, which specializes in Monet and Van Gogh. This museum, housed in a beautiful railway station, is much smaller and more manageable than the Louvre, and it’s easier to find new favorites in addition to the most famous paintings. Nearby is the Rodin museum, which is ideal on fair-weather days; you can explore most of the sculptures in the courtyard gardens here.
In the afternoon, it’s time to get out of museums again! Most teens will appreciate the spectacle of the Paris catacombs, which are located in the 14th arrondissement. Take the Metro there easily, getting off on the Denfert-Rochereau stop. The catacombs are self-guided and not terribly well organized. Upon arrival, visitors queue for a timed entry number, then return during that window to purchase tickets and enter. During busy seasons, book a Viator tour, which will take care of the entry time for you. You’ll also get a guide who can tell you more about the catacombs. We opted to tour solo, since we were visiting during a non-peak season, and it took us about an hour to walk through this maze of tunnels under the city, filled with bones. Creepy? Yes. Kind of awesome? Also yes. Young kids can easily get scared, which makes this a great stop with teen kids.
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With more time for your trip to Paris with teenagers, incorporate a day trip to Versailles, or shop ’til you drop at one of Paris’ famous department stores, like the Galeries Lafayette. Teen foodies may want to take a food tour or cap off your stay by indulging in a meal at one of Paris’ Michelin star restaurants. It’ll make you thankful you brought your teens and not your toddler!
With three kids (two of whom are teens), we opted for an apartment rental in Paris instead of traditional hotel rooms. We stayed in the Montmartre neighborhood, which we found to have plenty of affordable grocery stores and delis. Our apartment was a 5-minute walk to the Metro line, which took us anywhere we wanted to go in the city.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Amy Whitley.
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