By Amy Suski
To be honest, with the heightened concerns of terrorism, we were a little nervous about taking the kids to Paris last summer. But since my sister lives there with her two boys (as do millions of Parisiennes), we were determined not to let our fears keep us from hanging out with my adorable nephews in one the most beautiful cities in the world. It was sobering to be strolling down a street only to realize we were steps away from the site of a recent atrocity. However, the joie de vie of the city is still very much alive, which I can attest to because it was hard to sleep with all the late night merrymaking in the lively Marais district (where some of the attacks last year occurred and where our hotel was located). Unfortunately, France's tourism industry was hard hit last year, with about a million fewer visitors than expected. If a trip of your own isn't in the cards right now, to show support and help those affected, a list of charities appears at the end of this blog. And now for the fun stuff: let me tell you about our amazing trip!
Where We Stayed
If you have teenagers, you know it can be hard to impress them. But I think we did just that by staying in the truly medieval Hotel Saint-Merry (view from our window above). The interior of the 17th century restored presbytery could have been straight out of Game of Thrones -- complete with carved wood doors, stone walls, and iron chandeliers (see our suite below). As amazing as it was to be awakened by the oldest bell in Paris right outside our window, it was not so fun enduring 4 of the hottest days of the year without A/C (the two units in our suite were both broken). The best we could do was sleep with a wet towel over our bodies, throw the windows wide open, and hope none of the pigeons perched on the roof decided to join us!
In spite of the lack of A/C, I loved that the hotel was right in the heart of the old city, steps away from bustling cafes, shops, and museums, and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking a uniquely authentic experience -- just be prepared to climb four flights of winding steps to get to the family suite. Fortunately, our kids were big enough to (1) drag their own suitcases up the steps and (2) not fall out of the windows (although climbing out on purpose was a distinct possibility).
Walking in Paris
Although we only spent 4 nights in Paris, we made every day count. Paris is a truly walkable city, so whenever possible we tried to walk and see the city up close. On the first day, we came across the famous love locks on the Pont des Arts bridge. So many locks covered the railings that the authorities had recently removed them all, but by the time we visited they were covering up the railings all over again -- a reminder that the city truly is one of the most optimistically romantic places on earth.
Walking also allows you to window shop some of the most beautiful displays of macarons, chocolate and pastries that you will ever see. But believe it or not, due to the gluten and sugar free diets in our household, we didn't sample a single sweet or croissant while we were there. REALLY. It's truly a testament to all the other amazing food, wine, attractions (and distractions) in Paris that I was able to resist.
Views From the Ferris Wheel
Not to sound cliche, but our first night in Paris was truly magical. After getting a light dinner in the sidewalk cafe downstairs (during which we were joined by the neighborhood cat), we walked down to the Seine at dusk, past Notre Dame, past the Louvre, and into the Fête des Tuileries for a ferris wheel ride with evening views to swoon for.
Just as our ride was coming to an end, as if by magic the lights of the Eiffel Tower came on for a picture perfect end to the evening.
Eating In Paris With Kids
With so many restaurants -- ranging from the local cafe to the Michelin starred temples of haute cuisine -- the choice of where to eat can be overwhelming. But with kids in tow and high prices, it was pretty easy to eliminate anything with a dress code or Michelin star.
Fortunately, even the most casual cafe or bistro is likely to have amazing food without breaking the budget. For example, the duck confit at the St Regis cafe on the Ile Saint Louis, just steps from Notre Dame was so good we returned more than once.
Don't expect a special kids menu in Paris restaurants -- usually children just eat the same food as the adults, just in smaller portions. At every restaurant we ate, the waiters were more than happy to split a plate for the kids or adjust a dish to suit a kid's preferences. With frites, chicken tenders, and omelettes on just about every menu we didn't have any trouble pleasing the kids -- and even got them to try mussels and pate.
For extra special dining experiences we descended into the ancient stone cellar of Pain, Vin, Fromage for fondue. The kids loved dipping their own food and the waiter was very helpful in explaining the myriad of cheese choices. A note if you have small children: unlike the bistros and cafes, restaurants usually require reservations and usually don't start seating until 7:00 PM. I also probably wouldn't bring any young children to a fondue place due to all the hot pots and sharp serving forks.
Exploring Museums in Paris With Kids
In terms of museums and kids, my motto is that less is more. Little bites of galleries and discreet exhibits went over a lot better than trying to spend an entire day in a museum. In fact, I wasn't even planning to take them to the Louvre on this trip except that they asked to after having so much fun in the d'Orsay and Rodin Museums. The d'Orsay is a must for all the colorful Impressionist art and the iconic rooftop clocks (below). The kids also really got a kick out of the scaled models of the city and of the Opera (kind of like doll houses on steroids).
The Rodin Museum is a great choice because so much of it is easy to understand and appreciate at any age. Kids can also work their way around the mansion, outdoor gardens, and get a snack in the cafe -- all in just over an hour.
Another good choice is the l'Orangerie-- an extraordinary collection of Monet's floor-to-ceiling waterlily canvases. It won't take long to see but you will remember the feeling of being enveloped in Monet's cool hues for the rest of your life. Just be prepared to keep the kiddos quiet -- I think this particular museum is supposed to be experienced in quiet revery. (Although we were pretty quiet about explaining things to our kids we were shushed more than once!)
At the Louvre, the kids enjoyed seeing the old palace walls on the subterranean level and visiting the ancient Greek and Roman art (which they were studying at school). We also stood on our tip-toes to see the Mona Lisa over the crowds, climbed the stairs past the Wings of Victory, and admired the Venus de Milo -- but mostly we kept the visit short.
For contemporary art, there is no better place than the Centre Pompidou. In addition to the indoor collection, there is a super fun plaza full of cafes, musicians, and modern art. Kids will love eating by the fountain and all the colorful bustle.
Best Paris Garden for Kids
Although Paris is full of beautiful gardens, the most popular park with the kids is Luxembourg Gardens. In addition to being a lovely oasis from the city, these public gardens have a very popular playground, carousel, pony rides, and a boat pond. Just a cautionary note, as in most Parisian parks, there are designated paths and areas to sit but for the most part the lovely grassy areas are off limits.
Our kids spend so much time pushing this one sailboat with a stick that I wondered why we ever started buying them toys with batteries!
Although the enclosed playground charges a small fee, it is totally worth it. All kids need a little time to blow off steam and it has some very cool climbing structures and a miniature zip-line.
Topping Off Our Visit With the Eiffel Tower
By far, the smartest thing we did in preparing for this trip was to book reservations in the family-friendly 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant. By booking online months in advance, we were able to skip the crowded lines on the ground and take the elevators directly to the restaurant. Instead of standing in a 2-hour+ line, we were sipping wine and sharing food out of a picnic basket brought to our table, with a table-side view of THIS (the Trocadero).
After our elegant meal, we visited a new exhibit about the building of the Eiffel Tower and climbed a few flights of stairs to the elevators to the top (an extra fee). One of my children was a little scared of the steep, open-grilled stairs, but we braved it together and once at the top, the views were stunning (if somewhat dizzying).
Visiting the Eiffel Tower was the perfect way to "top off" our family visit to Paris. I know its a city known for its sophistication and romance, but with its outstanding museums, restaurants, and parks it should also be appreciated as one of the best family-friendly cities in the world. And for me, nothing was more romantic than strolling hand-in-hand with my husband, following our excited children as they discovered this enchanting place for the first time.
To learn more about the charities helping the victims of the 2016 terror attacks please visit the sites below.
The opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect those of the businesses or entities mentioned. No compensation or discounts were received on this trip.
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