Traveling to Paris with Four Kids

Bonjour mon amie!!! After the trip I took alone with my kids in March to France, I have been asked by a couple people if it was worth it to bring my kids to France at their ages.  My interpretation of this question is if they are wondering if the kids got enough out of the experience and memories to make it worth the investment of both time and money on the parents part.  And stress. Let’s face it, there is always stress involved traveling with a family and internationally can add another element of uneasiness.  My quick answer is in applying this to my kids is ABSOLUTELY for my 15 and 17 year-old daughters.  My 12 year-old son is more of sure, I think so.  And my 10 yer-old daughter is maybe.  I know every child is different, your 12 year-old could like much different things than mine does. Believe me, I know, each one of my kids is extremely different from the other and they all have the same parents, have lived in the same homes, and ate the same food.  Your kids could be totally different.  So my experience is just that, my experience, but for what its worth maybe it offers some insight or encourages you to have an adventure with your kids.

This trip was a dream of mine.  When I was 11 years-old I was able to travel with my dad to Paris while he had a business trip.  This is one of my  most treasured childhood memories and it completely opened up my world.  I wanted have this experience with my own kids.  I know its a bit strange that we ended up going without my husband, but I am sure as anyone who has multiple kids knows, schedules are complicated. And I was feeling a sense of urgency since we have a daughter that will be a senior in high school next year.   Our options were to travel during spring break or in August.  Well, traveling in August to Europe everything was twice as expense, and with our multiplier of six travelers, that is significant. We might as well just go on two trips.  For our spring break my husband ended up having a huge work presentation two days after we would return, we had hoped he could make some of the trip work, but in the end he knew he would be too stressed worrying about his work it to enjoy his time.  So we ended up going without him, but sharing as much of it as we could through pictures and FaceTime.  Fortunately my kids are at ages where I could travel alone with them just fine. No one ever wander off, they were very loyal little ducklings following behind me every step of the way.  If I had toddlers that would have been a totally different story.

17 Year-Old

The impact that this trip had on my 17 year-old was enough to make up all the investment.  She is very easy to travel with and extremely helpful.  She is better with technology than I am, which I do not believe is unique for a parent-child relationship these days.  There were a couple moments when she stepped in to help me and saved the day.   I also stood back a couple times and let her do some navigating.  Mostly to give her the experience so she had confidence to travel in the future, but also there were times when I needed it.  One was when we were switching trains.  We had 12 minutes exit our first train, find our next train in an unknown train station, and board the second.  She was able to lead the way through the train station while I kept track of everyone and our bags.  We made our train connection because of her.

This trip seemed to have an influence on her future plans.  She will be applying for college next year and she realized that going to school in Europe is an option.  We did a bike tour in Paris and our guide was a college student, he mentioned how much more affordable it is to attend school in the EU than the US.   I can’t remember the exact number but it was something similar to our monthly cell phone bill for his tuition for a semester.  Of course this got our attention, because we are trying to figure out how to work out the massive expense of college.  She also found herself very happy visiting France. She was motivated her to come home and meet with her counselor to see what she needs to do to attend school in Europe.  She has had a couple very positive phone calls with schools and it is in fact MUCH more affordable. Time will tell as to where she lands. And yes, my heart will hurt when she leaves for school, but I will be comforted as long as she happy and progressing, and I get to visit lots.

 

15 Year-old

This was a great trip for us to experience together.  We are bit in the middle of  that fun teenage stage, where she thinks I am WORST most of the time.  We made some memories together that I treasure.   She was easy to travel with and up for almost anything.  She loves shopping and would love to have a career in fashion.  Paris is the place for her. She had a dream of one day living in Paris, and this trip completely reinforced that.  Per her request we spent an afternoon shopping on the Champs-Elysees.  We both enjoyed going into the high end fashion stores, our favorite being Dior, which is as much like a beautiful museum as store.  There is something pretty special about finding common ground and doing an activity with your child that you both really enjoy.  Shopping is it for us.  One afternoon when the other kids needed down time, she and I headed out to the vintage clothing shops.  I highly recommend this.  We both got some great pieces from the Kilo shop.

DIOR, Champs-Elysees

 

12 Year-old

Okay, so 12.  This is when it gets a little more questionable about the worth of the trip.  My answer is still yes for my son.  But traveling with him was not stress free.  I think in nutshell a trip to Paris involves A LOT, A LOT of walking.  There really is no way around it.  We did take the metro often, but even still this all involved a lot walking to the stations and up and down the station stairs.  I added in an occasional Uber when it made sense time wise and it didn’t completely break the bank.  This coupled with jet lag, left him exhausted at times, one time in particular there was a bit of a meltdown at the Eiffel Tower. I doubt he will ever see a picture of the Eiffel Tower without thinking of that special moment :).  But he did it, and he is always so happy and excited to show off his pictures of our trip.  He was the one that surprised me the most with speaking French.  This is a kid that has been in speech therapy since he was 3 years-old, and he made the most effort to speak French while we were there. As we were flying to Paris he turned to me and said “The French speak very romantic, I guess you would say.”  He asked me to teach him a couple very basic statements, like “please,” “thank you,” and “can I have?.”  He had no fear, he would walk into a bakery and order what he could using his minimal French, at one point he turned to me and said “I really need to work on my accent.”  It was true, he did, the accent is hard.  But the storekeepers loved him, they were very patient and seemed so happy he was trying.  This made the meltdown worth it.  One thing he lost his mind over was seeing the fancy cars throughout town. We had the most luck when walking through the Place Vendome and the Champs-Elysees, in case you have a car lover too.

Place Vendome

10 Year-old

I am so glad she came. It makes me so happy to look back at our pictures and see her big smiles.  But I think it was much more exhausting than she had planned for, as mentioned above there was A LOT of walking.  She is up for just about anything except walking :).  She was a trooper and then of course not a trooper at times.  She seemed to enjoy herself most of the time but added in her fair share of complaining. To be fair, maybe the trip would have been better for her if she weren’t having to keep up with her older siblings.    Her absolute favorite thing we did was the trampoline park in the Tuileries.  I think we went there 3 times.  Both she and her brother loved it.  It isn’t anything fancy, just a set up with six very bouncy individual trampolines.  The men that run it are very kind and everyone is happy.  And they do let your kid stay on the trampolines for two turns if you ask.   I enjoyed my time sitting watching them in the idyllic park.  It can be as little as a 15 minute jump if there isn’t a line or you can take as many turns as you would like to pay for.  It could be definitely used as a good bargaining chip to keep a child going through a museum.  It costs maybe around 3 euros for a turn jumping.   I also recommend getting a lunch of croque monsieur and a crepe at the take away restaurant in the Tuileries that is about a 5 minute walk from the trampolines.

 

This was our lunch spot in the Tuileries, insert yourself and your family here 🙂

 

Our highlights:

SACRE-COUER

3/4 my kids loved climbing to the top of Sacre-Couer.  This was amazing.  My child and I who are nervous about heights struggled a  bit, but I think it was still worth it for all of us to go.  Its an incredible view and climbing the tiny narrow steps was a cool experience.  Also I don’t believe it was very expensive or that we waited in line longer than 20 minutes.  I was surprised that the line was so short because the area around the church was completely and utterly packed with tourists.

Sacre-couer

 

VERSAILLES

Versailles holds up to its reputation most definitely. This is not technically inside Paris, but it is easy strait forward train ride from the city center.  Due to a series of events we ended up taking an Uber. My daughter wasn’t feeling great that morning, so I hired an Uber to drive us to the train station.  That morning many roads in Paris were blocked and the driver was unable to deliver us to the train station.  He offered us a discounted rate to drive us all the way to Versailles.  It worked out great for us.  But I don’t believe the train is bad, so Uber or train works.   If you are going, I recommend allowing the entire day.  We did not have enough time.  We were there for about 5 hours. We had to wait for about an hour for tickets (I bought mine online, and the kids were free but I could not for the life of me figure out how to get a ticket for them on the website, you might have better luck).

After walking through the palace, we needed food and that led to another 45 minute wait for takeaway.  We just saw the grounds briefly, and they are the most spectular part.

I scheduled for us to see the equestrian show.  I loved it, the arena that it was in was stunning and made me feel like we had gone back in time.  My 10 year-old also loved it.  But the other three, not so much.  Its a bit of a slow moving show that is very artistic. And I forgot horses aren’t as entertaining for my teenagers as when they were 6 years-old.  I had thought that the kids would be free, they were not and I believe it ended up being 70 euros for their four tickets.  I totally recommend it if my description sounds like something you would enjoy and its in your budget.  But hindsight, I probably should have just rented bikes on the grounds with my crew and all would have enjoyed that.  I did that once with friends and it was magical.

HIDDEN SECRETS BIKE TOUR

Hidden Secrets Bike Tour through The Latin Quarter and Le Marais.  This 4 hour tour was a great time.  Our legs needed a break from walking and it is pretty special to ride a bike through the cobblestone streets of Paris.  When I booked this, I thought surely we will be on bike paths.  Traffic in Paris terrifies me.  Not only were we not exclusively on bike paths, meaning we were riding with traffic through the streets of Paris, our guide recommended I ride a tandem bike with my daughter on the back.  Okay…

But, it was really wonderful, and the flow of traffic started to make sense to me.  I think I only made one other driver mad once, well at least that they communicated to me their frustration to me, I felt pretty good about that.  Our stops were very interesting and our guide offered a lot history.

Paris bike tour the Latin Quarter

One of our stops was the Church of Saint Sulplice, anyone      remember this from The Davinci Code?

We had one of our favorite meals in the middle of the ride in the Latin Quarter.  There was a square with several takeaway restaurants that cater to college students and that was right up our alley, quick, delicious, affordable food.  We chose the pizza at a cafe, Amore E Gusto and enjoyed every bite.

We traveled through the Le Marias and saw sights like this:

and this:

Part of the tour focused on the Jewish quarter of Le Marais, our tour guide offered a lot of history of what took place there during World War II.  It was sobering to be reminded of this history while standing where it took place.  But also a valuable reminder of the importance of respecting and cherishing all.

A less important, but still a lesson that should be noted, I learned  from our tour guide about using the bathroom. Public bathrooms are hard to come by in Paris. You can order a takeaway coffee at a bar and they will let you use their bathroom.  The coffee is just 1-2 euros and is totally worth even though I don’t drink coffee.

Le Marais Bike Tour

My son was checking out a local school soccer game.

DAY TRIP TO MONT-SAINT-MICHEL

Mont St Michel

Seeing Mont-Saint-Michel was enchanting.  This is a unique place rich with history and is located in Normandy.  It is a tidal island, so depending on the time it could be surrounded by water or by land.  It currently has an active monastery surrounded by a small town.  I love, loved this day.  The visuals made my eyes and heart happy.

I waffled on how to make this experience happen. In the end I just signed us up for a day tour.  I believe I got 10% off because I had booked my bike tour with the site Viator, and then they offered me 10% my next tour booking.  So that saved a bit. I would definitely recommend the tour. It isn’t a strait shot on the train from Paris.  I am so glad I turned the navigating over to someone else.   Instead of figuring out connecting trains and buses, I just had to make sure we met the tour bus at the right time and my work was done.  They provided a very comfortable hired bus to drive us the four-hour trip to the island.  I was worried this would feel like wasted time or the kids would get impatient, but it actually turned into nice down time.

We stopped in the middle at the world’s cleanest gas station and got some snacks.  We are not above gas station snacks and most definitely not above them in the world’s cleanest gas station in France.  The scenery was nice along the way.  But then you hit this area close to the island and its rolling hills, with stone farms, and sheep throughout.  IT IS MAJESTIC.

Towards the end of our ride there, our bus driver gave us an overview of the history of the area.  My oldest daughter was so excited, like visibly excited, she said how much she loved sitting there listening to the history.  She is our reader.  The others weren’t jumping up and down about how exciting the information, but they didn’t complain. Sometimes that is all the affirmation I need that they are having a good time.   They liked the experience.  The island was full of charm, cobblestone streets, and stone homes.

I loved the exquisitely simple architecture inside the abbey.

Mont Saint-Michel

And the views…

We enjoyed a nice lunch and a candy shop for those who weren’t so motivated by the historical aspects, and I left knowing my life is a little better with this memory.

SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY BOOKSTORE

If you need a quick and fun activity, I recommend a pop into this historic bookshop. It is located in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank.  This is such a charming store with history and books!!! They don’t allow photographs inside, but believe me its worth a peek.  They have a lovely children’s section along with books for every other age, so we all loved it.  And any situation that encourages reading over electronics makes me feel better about my parenting.  A win all around.

Where we stayed:

In Paris we stayed in a lovely apartment in the Le Marais through Airbnb.   It was charming and clean, plenty of room for all 5 of us. There were two bedrooms, and fold out sofa.  Just one toilet, but two showers. Which is pretty standard in France and is still a bit of a mystery to me. I picked this place because it had great reviews (which ended up being accurate), it had a very generous cancellation rule, and it allowed us to drop off our bags early.  I found the host, Vincent very kind and easy to work with.  It was in a very central location that made getting around very easy.  There was a nice grocery around the corner, along with a gelato shop that made the stay easy and sweet.  This little courtyard to the entrance of our apartment made me smile every time we got home:

We all loved the interior.  My oldest girls got to stay in this unique bedroom that was tucked down a spiral staircase:

It had a great kitchen and a washer and dryer.  I always plan on doing a couple loads of laundry to allow for more space to bring treasures home.

 

I loved the living space with big windows that opened out onto the courtyard.  It was the perfect place to rest during the trip.

 

 

Recommendations:

Don’t try to see everything. It won’t happen.  Don’t make this your goal.  If you have a sense of urgency to hop from one landmark to another I believe you will miss the beauty that is found in the in between.  Also schedules are weird in France.  Things are closed, transportation can be unpredictable, I am not sure it is possible to stick to a schedule especially traveling with kids in Paris.  It is true I am not the best planner in the world, but even my oldest daughter who is a tedious planner realized really quick that there is a lot of unpredictable factors involved that a loose schedule was the only option.  My goal was to have one big sight or item on the agenda for the day, this was about right, and it even felt a bit aggressive sometimes.  But we did see something new each day, we didn’t feel pressured to move onto to something else and it allowed time for us to stop in unexpected places or revisit the ones we really enjoyed.  It also let us be present and soak up the experience.

Map out good, solid takeaway restaurants.  This is of course depends on how your family eats.  I have pretty picky eaters.  I did enjoy some of our long sit down meals, but there were a lot of times when I just wanted to fill everyone’s bellies and get onto some activities.  Also the sit down meals can add up really quickly and with picky eaters often they would just end up getting really expensive chicken nuggets and fries.  I do love experiencing good food while traveling, but it also needed to balance that with keeping everyone happy.   I don’t feel like I mastered feeding my kids when we were staying in the Le Marais in Paris.  Surely everyone got fed, it just cost me more money than I thought it would.  We bought cereal at the grocery for breakfast and tried to buy takeaway from local restaurants for dinner when everyone was tired, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.  Pizza worked for takeaway from a sit down restaurant.  But in my experience many of the French Cafes aren’t equipped to package up a takeaway meal, so that I wouldn’t recommend.  We of course loved a pop into a bakery for treat or grab a fresh crepe from a street vendor, but weirdly there were times when I couldn’t find them just when we needed them.  As mentioned above we loved this takeaway pizza we had at Amore e Gusto in the Latin Quarter.  We also got some dinner one night from L’As du Fallafel, it was delicious and they had fries and chicken nuggets which is great for three of my kids. If I were to do this trip again, I would have taken the time to research the restaurants better for my crew in accordance with where we were spending our day.  It would have been even better if we had stayed close to a good takeaway restaurant. However, I did love our airbnb with or without a good takeaway restaurant, so I am torn on that one.

If you are traveling with a bigger family like ours and you find a good Uber driver get his/her card.  You can request a XL uber on the app that will seat upto 6 people. I used the Ubers for rides when we had our luggage with us.  We had great luck with all except one ride picked us up from the train station and the car did have 6 seats in the back, but no trunk.  We had to pile our bags on our laps.  Earlier in the trip, we had a great driver that gave us a bit of tour while we were in his van, and his van had plenty of room for us and our luggage.  He gave me his card and it made it easy to schedule a ride with him to the airport.

 

I hope this helps you to take an adventure and thank you for taking the time to let me share this special trip with you!!

 

 

 

 

One response to “Traveling to Paris with Four Kids”

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