"He's already discovered a love for pain au chocolat and is itching for more!" my father beamed upon arriving at his Paris rental apartment earlier this month. He was referring to my 6-year old brother who was about to embark on his first trip abroad and had evidently adjusted to local tastes quite nicely, straight off the plane.
Everyone had a mission on this trip - my father and step-mother were intent on spending time in museums and cathedrals, my little brother was keen on eating, seeing the Eiffel Tower and meeting my cat, and I was ambitiously hoping to take them to some of my favorite haunts, from coffee shops and restaurants to parks and passages. I wanted them to get a sense of how we live, abstract as it may still be for non-urbanites.
Everyone had some concerns about how the little one would fare with the jet lag and robust activity but much to our surprise, he soldiered through each day with energy to spare most evenings (thank god for snacks!).
On the downside, we were pummeled by rain on eight of the nine days of their trip and while the cooler temperatures were a welcome respite from the cloying humidity they're used to in Philadelphia, it was a serious nuisance. It did, however, motivate us to museum-hop and make clever use of fleeting moments of sunshine.
And at the end of nine consecutive and amusing days with a six year old, I came to several realizations:
1// Parisian children rarely dine in restaurants. Not only did we take him to more sophisticated establishments (where he did just fine), we were the only group requesting glasses of cold milk everywhere we went. It certainly made the waiters smile....
2// Even the most well-behaved children are a LOT of work. Traveling with them? Kudos to all of you.
3// (The reason for this post): I can finally make a few recommendations on visiting the city with kids from firsthand experience. And with that, five musts:
1/ Don't be too ambitious and manage expectationsIt's normal to want to cram in as much activity per day as possible to make the most of your stay. But kids don't have the same tolerance for long walks and museum outings as adults and have no compunctions about making their boredom known. Plan each day wisely - one museum, a fun park for kids, a nice lunch and more games/playtime for the little one(s). If a nap fits into the schedule, even better.
2/ Identify fun alternatives to major sites (and avoid long lines)
Check the website for advanced Eiffel Tower tickets today and you'll be faced with the same frustration we were- no tickets available in the forseeable future. For them, no tickets were available for the duration of their trip and none the rest of the summer. If you're really committed to seeing some of the most visited sites, plan to arrive before they open and queue for tickets. Or, have a backup plan that won't involve too much idle time.
A few ideas: climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for beautiful views of the Champs-Elysées and beyond, the lines are generally shorter; watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour, every hour, beginning at sundown from the plaza at Trocadéro (what's more, it's free and a stone's throw from Carette tea salon! Skip the savory, order the pastries); see the city from the Ballon de Paris in the Parc André Citröen which is also used to detect air quality in the city.
3/ Don't overlook the simple things
Specific activities will surely vary based on the child's age but my little brother had a grand time playing in sandboxes in the Square du Temple with Parisian kids aged 4-9, chasing pigeons in front of Saint Sulpice, in Luxembourg Gardens, in Place des Vosges, in insert-open-space-here, and riding on the city's many carrousels (most interesting in design but his least favorite: the vintage carrousel in the Luxembourg Gardens; the city's oldest). Storytelling on our long walks across town also held his attention - thanks to my friend Bryan Pirolli for teaching him about the Knights Templar, the guillotine and all about France's many kings - as did hopping from one Buren column in Palais Royal to another.
4/ Dinosaurs make everyone happy
And not only dinosaurs but skeletons of thousands of animal species. Equally as impressive as the display it the building that houses it: The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, part of the National History Museum and located on the edge of the Jardin des Plantes (5th arrondissement), was built for the 1900 World Fair and has since remained one of the city's least talked about cultural destinations. But since my brother is well-versed in Dinosaur history and taxonomy, we knew it had to be part of the itinerary. As it turns out, it's a museum fit for the whole family. All of us were enthralled by the extensive array of specimens and got a kick out of being schooled on dinosaurs by a six year old. You can continue the visit to this area of the city with a stroll through Jardin des Plantes and a tour of the menagerie, one of the oldest in the world.
The Natural History Museum
The Skeleton Garden in Paris
5/ Snacks, snacks, snacks!
What prevented a number of near meltdowns? Ice cream, pain au chocolat and other forms of chocolate. I'm not suggesting you pump your kids full of sugar however, allocating time for snack breaks that appeal to both kids and adults will keep everyone in good spirits. And if you're graced with warm, sunny weather, you'll be thankful for ice cream pit stops. The best on this trip:
Du Pain et Des Idées
If in a jam and need a place with frequent locations: Amorino. Not my favorite but sure to do the trick.
Any other MUSTS you'd add to the list? You can see some of the highlights of the trip in my digital book with Steller by clicking the image below!