What To Do
This is how we started off Day 1. Notre Dame was breathtaking, as was the line to enter!! There’s no real shortcut here – just know that the line to enter goes VERY quickly so don’t be discouraged that it’s over 3 blocks long. It moves fast and there is no entry fee. We opted out of the audio tour also but it’s a 35 minutes.
Space is limited to climb the 400 steps up the tower, so you must reserve a tour time on the day of your visit. Tours begin at 10 AM and may fill completely by early afternoon during peak season. There are 2 ways to save your place in the virtual line. We did neither;) :
- Download the free JeFile/Duck the Line mobile app. This will allow you to reserve your time starting at 7 AM on the day of your visit.
- Reserve your time at a kiosk near the entry point for the tower.
Unlike other cathedrals, there is no dress code. Check out a FREE guided tour here. Be aware of there are no reservations for the free tour so it’s wise to call ahead for info.
We walked 2 blocks to the Shakespeare Book Store (see pic below) and the adjacent cafe to get a quick bite and to check out the famous bookstore. It was a great meal and the placemats made for interesting conversations.
HIRE A LOUVRE TOUR GUIDE
My top recommendation for families in Paris: Book a 3 hour kid-friendly tour of the Louvre. We booked Cecilia through AirBnB Experiences and it ended up being my 9-year-old son’s favorite part of the trip. Our tour was private and usually is for groups of 5 or more. Our new friend, and Bolivian babe of a guide, started out our day with such energy and excitement. “This will be a scavenger hunt of learning – with treasures, maps, books, and more!” She reminded me of everyone’s favorite elementary art or music teacher. (s/o Mrs. Telford)
This experience will maximize your time, money, learning, weary walking feet, and FUN!
Cecilia had books explaining Greek Mythology with pop-ups, Mona Lisa interactive materials, educational “treasures” for the kids to earn, and an iPad that she let my kids put their crepe paws all over. She was so well versed in the history, art, and layout of the Louvre. Every minute of our 3 hours was spent learning, interpreting, or listening.
This was a lot of walking so make sure to book your tour first thing in the morning so that you can use their best energies. However, our tour began at 2pm, after a morning at the Notre Dame and surrounding areas, and my kids (ages 7 and 9) were fine. She takes every opportunity to rest weary lil feet by sitting in the hidden nooks and crannies of the museum to explain the next stop on the tour.
Furthermore, she was super attentive to the kids. Sam had to go the bathroom “Oh lets go this way, it’s closer!” Max was fading; “Let’s grab a quick snack and sit while I give you a Leonardo da Vinci scavenger hunt!”
We learned more in those 3 hours with her than our entire time in France. Both kids are now versed in the opulent reign of Louis XIV, why Venus di Milo is such a specimen of a woman, and the French revolution.
Without a guide, you will probably go straight to the Mona Lisa – make comments on how small it is and then meander aimlessly through the expansive hallways wondering what the hell you’re looking at and being able to explain almost nothing to your curious and cranky kids.
The cost is 30 euro per adult and kids are free.
FRENCH BAKING CLASSES
I jumped at the chance to be invited into a French home and learn some classic Parisian recipes. Anne’s home was beautifully French, kid-friendly, and charming but the piece de resistance – her rooftop view of the Sacre Cour!
Withlocals is always PRIVATE. Donning aprons, french-press coffee in hand, we made butter “sing” as Anne says as we tried our hand at Parisian-popular Madelines and Financiers. After baking, we enjoyed our treats on Anne’s balcony with a stunning view.
Anne really lets the kids do all the work and is great at explaining the “why” behind the processes and traditions. After our 2 hour experience we left with a bag of our baked goodies and a new friend. She gave us great local food recommendations and because her house is perfectly situated in the center of Montmartre – we had a 2 minute walk to the carrousel at the base of the Sacre Cour.
If baking is not for you, Anne also does a traditional French breakfast cooking experience that I’m sure is equally awesome. Make sure to make reservations ahead of time as she only does one private class per day. Cost is 79 euro per adult and kids are free. Use my Withlocals code to get 15 euro off any Withlocals experience. Anne will personalize the tour for you and your family. You won’t be disappointed. The Withlocals listing is called “Family Baking Time: Sweet Madelines and Pastries”
“SKIP THE LINE” EIFFEL TOWER TICKETS
Of course our kids were pumped about the Eiffel Tower! Make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to go up into the highest part of the tower – the “Summit”. I booked our tickets through Get Your Guide and the “skip the line” tickets were the way to go. We breezed past everyone in line and headed straight to the top for champagne, selfies, and incredible views. I got these about 2 months in advance as they sell out quickly.
Get Your Guide also does a 2 hour guided tour which includes a “skip the line” pass to the summit also but we were fine to just roam around and read on our own.
Try and book your Eiffel Tower tickets as the first thing you do in the morning so you’ll avoid the lines. At the base of the tower, get a sandwich or hot dog to-go and eat your lunch in the nearby parks with a gorgeous view.
Make a quick stop after lunch to ride the carrousel at the base of the tower on the Seine river side. It’s too charming to pass up.
I love gardens and the kids needed some runaround time. Luxemburg Gardens is great to have a crepe and coffee from a little kiosk and to just roam around and enjoy. It was a welcome change from a sit down restaurant and the kids happily ran free for 2 hours. Grab some food at the market if you want to bring a picnic.
There are little boats on the water that kids can steer but they don’t run all year. Take a cab to the gardens and spend some chill time sitting in the hundreds of available chairs, soaking up the perfectly manicured gardens.
SEINE RIVER DINNER CRUISE
Our river tour docked right next to the lock bridge so that was a fun bonus – across the street from the Orsay Museum. There are usually illegal vendors selling sharpies and locks for pretty cheap so just hang out for a little bit and they will materialize. We had fun tossing our keys in the river and checking out all of the lovers locks.
We all really enjoyed the 75 minute dinner cruise at night and did NOT LIKE the river cruise during the day. In fact, we fell asleep. It was terrible. The audio guides didn’t work, you can’t see any of the buildings, and the staff was terrible. However, the dinner cruise was a hit!
The food was good for a set menu but the novelty of eating and cruising was a blast for the kids. If you have special food needs, make sure and check the pre-set menu. You get either salad or soup, chicken or beef, chocolate or tarts.
It was awesome to cruise past the Eiffel Tower lit up at night and the boat passes this magical view twice as it loops around to return the same departure dock. I booked the cruise through Get Your Guide and it was a pricey at 45 euro per person – but the kids absolutely loved it.
Where to Stay
Paris hotels and families are not compatible. It’s frustrating. VERY few hotels can accommodate two people and luggage much less a family of four. I found a fab hotel with a two room apartment and we loved it. It was incredible by US standards so I was doubly impressed I was able to snag this in Paris.
We had our own personal spiral staircase that led upstairs to the parents room with a full and fantastically appointed full bath with double sinks. We also had a balcony upstairs with 4 sliding glass doors overlooking the courtyard with two darling bistro tables with chairs.
The kids had a separate half bath and tv downstairs and shared a bed.
The breakfast was included and was FANTASTIC. Probably the best I’ve had at a hotel with 2 custom coffee machines and the coolest dining room. They also served snacks and drinks for free throughout the day and evening and we got to forego lots of restaurant desserts for their free cookies;)
The downfall of 34B – pricey at around $300 night and the location was not walkable to anything but restaurants, albeit great ones. For Paris, $300 a night for an apartment is a good price but if price is important check out cheaper AirBnBs options. However, if you want the hotel perks, I highly recommend the “Apartment” at Astotel 34B.
1…Paris is EXPENSIVE. It is the most expensive city I’ve ever been to. I’m not sure who gave me this advise but it’s so true:
Pack half of what you think you need and double the money.
Nothing could be truer in Paris. If you feel like you’re getting ripped off – it’s just the going price in most cases. Make a trip to the market to save money on meals.
2…There are so many destinations that are close to Paris for side trips. We chose Brugge Belgium (see our 2 night itinerary here) for many reasons but it was after probably 20+ hours of painstaking research. Email me if you’re curious about side trips that will and won’t work for kids:)
3…Paris is NOT a walkable city. It is big and things are far from each other. Account for a lot of time for Ubers, navigating public transport systems, and traffic. The Hop-On-Hop-Off buses are great both for sightseeing and for getting around. Try to pick a hotel or Airbnb that has you close to one of their stops and you’ll make great use of your ticket.