Taking the kids to Paris? Say au revoir to the city's famed romance those intimate bistros and late-night strolls and focus instead on the family-friendly stuff. Some suggestions: Must-see Eiffel Tower...
Taking the kids to Paris? Say au revoir to the city’s famed romance those intimate bistros and late-night strolls and focus instead on the family-friendly stuff. Some suggestions:
Must-see Eiffel Tower
You must go up the Eiffel Tower, no matter how long the lines are and you will have to wait, and wait, in summer in lines for tickets and the tower’s elevators.
It’s worth it. The Eiffel Tower is the icon of Paris; the bird’s-eye views from its 1,052-foot top are astonishing; and kids love the metal-strut construction it’s like a giant Mecano toy.
Be prepared to wait in line for an hour or more in summer to board the two elevators to get to the top. You could take the steep stairs to the tower’s lower two levels (at 311 feet and 410 feet) great for energetic kids but access to the third, top level is by elevator only.
No advance or timed tickets are sold, but there are some line-beating techniques:
Night visit: Go at dinner time, when the tour-bus hordes have dwindled, or later at night for a city lights view. The tower is open until midnight on many summer nights.
Dine on high: Make a lunch reservation at one of the Eiffel Tower restaurants that has separate elevator access to the lower levels from the tower’s south leg. You’ll still have to line up on the second level for the elevator to the top, but you’ll beat the ground-level chunk of the line.
The very elegant, and expensive, Jules Verne restaurant on the 410-foot second level of the tower has excellent views and food. It’s a true haute cuisine splurge; more than $50 per person for lunch. The more informal, and child-friendly, Altitude 95 restaurant is on the first level (so named because it’s at an elevation of 95 meters, about 311 feet).
Eiffel Tower information: www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/
For children, even fussy eaters, Paris can be culinary heaven.
Breakfast can be pain au chocolat, a pastry with chocolate in the center, or other pastries from cafes and bakeries. (Most hotel breakfasts are over-priced and scanty.)
For lunch or dinner, bistros or cafes serve the classic steak and frites, delectable French fries, and pasta, salads and sandwiches. For snacks, there are excellent bakeries everywhere let the children gnaw on a foot of baguette.
Or, if nothing will do but fast, familiar food, there are McDonald’s scattered throughout Paris, including in the popular Latin Quarter.
Ice cream is an art form in Paris, especially on Ile St-Louis, the half-mile-long island in the Seine in the heart of city. The Berthillion shop, tucked among the posh apartments and boutiques, creates rich ice cream and other decadently sweet marvels. Or buy a cup or a cone from the cafes that dot the island.
Where to stay
Paris hotels can be expensive: A small room in a standard hotel near Place St-Michel, in the popular Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, easily can cost $200 in the peak season.
You’re paying for location, location, location: From Place St-Michel, major sites such as Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre and Orsay museums and the Eiffel Tower are an easy walk or a quick Metro ride away. Stay farther from the center, and you can pay less.
My family stayed at the Hotel D’Albe just steps from Place St-Michel. Rooms are small, but comfortable and, thankfully, have air conditioning, useful since the tourist-thronged streets are noisy at night and Paris summers are hot.
For stays of more than a few nights, consider renting an apartment. You’ll get more space and save money by doing your own cooking. Do a Web search for “Paris apartment rentals” or “Paris vacation rentals” and you’ll find dozens of rental agencies.
Many grown-ups could spend days in the city’s astonishing range of museums. Most kids won’t last more than a few hours a day. Don’t miss these:
The Louvre: For a kid-friendly, speedy visit to the Louvre, a vast art museum with miles of galleries, head straight to the Denon wing, which contains Leonardo Da Vinci’s famed Mona Lisa. If you’re traveling with teens who have read the thriller “The Da Vinci Code,” they can reconstruct what happened where in the book’s Louvre scenes.
The museum, like the Eiffel Tower, almost always has lines. Try going at the end of the day just an hour or two before closing to beat the crowds. Go during one of its evening openings. Or use an alternate museum entrance, such as that in the adjoining Carousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall.
For hours, a map of entrances and more, see www.louvre.fr/louvrea.htm.
Musée d’Orsay: Across the river from the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay has a world-class collection of Impressionist paintings, modern sculpture and more.
Older kids likely will enjoy the representational paintings and giant sculptures, and almost any child will want to check out the back of the giant clock in the building’s facade. Time once was of the essence in this building, which was a turn-of-the-20th-century railway station before being converted to the museum.
For a reward, go for lunch or afternoon tea at the Restaurant du Palais d’Orsay within the museum. The high-ceilinged dining room, once the restaurant of the railway-station hotel, is an elegant riot of gilt décor and mirrors, paintings and potted palms. The dark-suited, haughty waiters just might crack a smile for kids. Museum info: www.musee-orsay.fr
Pompidou Center: See some modern art and roam through the avant-garde building, including “exterior” escalators in transparent tubes at the Pompidou Center. Built in the 1970s and recently refurbished/expanded, the cultural complex includes the National Museum of Modern Art, cinemas, performance halls, restaurants and shops. In the plaza out front there are kid-friendly street artists musicians, fire-eaters, mimes and more.
Pompidou info: www.cnac-gp.fr
Museum pass: If your family or at least some of you plan to visit a lot of museums, consider getting a Paris museum pass for the adults (children under 18 get free admission to most museums). Called the Carte Musée et Monuments de Paris, it’s valid for one, three or five days at major museums and monuments in and near Paris. The passes can be bought at museums or tourist offices in Paris, or through Rail Europe which sells them in the U.S. as part of other travel packages (see www.raileurope.com/us/rail/passes/paris_museum_pass.htm)
Paris is laden with Catholic churches, havens of history, art and spirituality, that you can drop into as you explore the city’s neighborhoods. Quick visits may help avoid the children’s “not-another-church” lament.
There are two don’t-miss churches in the heart of Paris on the Ile de la Cité, a small island in the Seine (joined to the even smaller Ile St-Louis by a pedestrian bridge).
Notre Dame cathedral is the centerpiece of Paris, a 12th-century Gothic marvel in stone. Roam inside, but wait in line out front to take the kids up one of its towers, up more than 350 narrow steps for a close-up view of the church’s flying buttresses and grimacing gargoyles.
The small church of Sainte-Chapelle is a 10-minute walk away. This 13th-century royal chapel, tucked into a courtyard, is a wall-to-wall kaleidoscope of stained-glass windows of Old Testament scenes, bathing the chapel in multihued light.
Music-loving families should get tickets to one of the evening classical concerts held in Sainte-Chapelle; there’s a ticket window near the entrance to the chapel.
Walk, walk, walk: Central Paris is compact, and you can roam the city streets or walk along the banks of the Seine. Take a good map since there’s no grid pattern to Paris streets. I found “The Paris MapGuide,” a slim paperback with detailed maps and basic tourist info, to be excellent (Penguin, $10).
By boat: Tour boats ply the river. They’re expensive, but worth taking once for the relaxing view of the city and a quick look at its many riverside monuments on the multilingual narrated voyages. Or you can hop on the Batobus, a river shuttle boat between major sites, www.batobus.com.
By bike or blade: Some roads in the heart of Paris, including along the Seine, are closed to vehicles on Sundays and holidays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and open to pedestrians, bicyclists and in-line skaters. It’s called the Paris Respire (Paris Breathes) program and runs year round (more limited in winter). Stroll or rent a bike or skates and join in. Get info at www.paris-touristoffice.com/.
Want to skate through the heart of Paris? Experienced in-line skaters could join an informal group that whizzes through central Paris from 10 p.m. each Friday, dubbed “Friday Night Fever”: www.pari-roller.com. Or for a somewhat calmer Sunday afternoon city skate, see www.rollerscoquillages.org/.
Metro: The Metro is far easier for visitors to navigate than the buses; the in-city lines (and RER commuter trains) go anywhere you’ll want to go. Skilled pickpockets sometimes prey on the tourist-frequented lines, so be cautious.
Taxi: For a night-lights treat, hire a taxi to take you on a circle drive past the Louvre, up the Champs-Elysées, past the Arc de Triomphe, and the grandly-lit Eiffel Tower. Figure to pay about $25-$30, starting and ending at Place St. Michel. Be aware that most taxis only grudgingly take a fourth person in the front passenger seat.
Accent on Disney
Last, but not least, you could take the kids to Disneyland Paris (www.disneylandparis.com), easily reached by a commuter train which stops near the entrance. You can buy combo transport/Disneyland tickets at Paris metro and train stations.
Although smaller than Disney theme parks in the United States, you’ll find all the familiar faces and places.
There’s Mickey Mouse and Indiana Jones, Main Street U.S.A. and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle enjoy the differences as you visit “Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant.”
Kristin Jackson: 206-464-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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