Exploring the “City of Lights” With Kids

When I planned our trip to France, I knew that we must spend some time in Paris, but that I would probably need to adjust my expectations. I could imagine a trip where I was able to linger in cafes, browse shops at leisure, spend hours in museums, savor restaurant meals, maybe even take in some nightlife. Yet, with two elementary kids in tow, that simply wasn’t going to happen. We chose to approach Paris with an open heart and an open agenda, and the end result was four perfect days.

There are so many wonderful neighborhoods to stay in that it can be hard to choose. We ended up renting a small flat in the Latin Quarter, and we loved the neighborhood. Also known as the 5th arrondissement, the Latin Quarter in Paris is home to the Sorbonne University, as well as many cafes and bookshops. Our host was wonderful at putting us at ease before our arrival. He knew that it was our children’s first trip abroad, and he suggested we book his driver to get us at the airport. It was one of our bigger splurges on the trip, but worth it.

Our very first night in Paris, we were lucky to meet up with a distant connection from my hometown, Henri. I had heard tales of Henri from my brother’s trip to France in his early 20s. Henri was like having a distant French uncle you met for the first time. He was persistent, generous, and extremely kind. He met us at our flat on his day off, showed us how to use the Metro, took us on a walking tour, entertained the kids in French and English, introduced them to le diabolo grenadine (here is a good recipe to try), and even treated us to dinner. I will never forget his generosity and hope that our paths meet again.

The Latin Quarter was, in my opinion, a perfect neighborhood for a family visiting Paris for the first time. We were only a few blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg) and enjoyed the park every day. Favorite memories include renting toy boats, playing in the playground, and picking up a picnic at the local cheese shop to enjoy in the park. Also, being a university neighborhood, there were quite a few affordable ethnic restaurants in the area. One night we had sushi and another it was vegetarian Tibetan. Fun fact – did you know that playgrounds in France charge a small entry fee? Neither did we. But the modest fee helped to keep the playground safe and clean.

Each day, we explored Paris on foot and via Metro, and decided to take in the sights without spending a lot of money. We were fortunate to experience the Notre Dame before it burned, scale many steps to the Montmartre (stopping at a café with a view for dinner), and – although we were disappointed to not go up on the Eiffel Tower – we found just basking in its glory and snapping some awesome pictures was enough for us. Note – if you do want to go on the tower – make sure to book very far in advance or be prepared to wait in a very long line. We knew our jet-lagged 6-year-old couldn’t handle the wait, and unfortunately, all preordered tickets were booked four months before our trip.

The nice thing about exploring Paris on foot is that you just stumble across treasures you didn’t even know you were looking for. Such as the most wonderful macaron shop, Laduree. Prior to our trip, I did not really care for macarons. That was because I had never tasted the ones in France.

Last but not least, although we knew it would be challenging to go to an art museum in Paris with the kids, we had to go to at least one. We felt the Louvre was too formidable for our younger child and chose the Musee d’Orsay for its more manageable scale. We were not able to linger as long as we would have liked, but the whole family enjoyed the visit. Another unexpected perk was that children under 12 are free in museums in France.

Someday, I hope to return to Paris with my grown children, when we can linger and savor a little more. For now, it was just a taste, hopefully seeding more experiences in the future.

Next, we were to board a train to the South of France, and on to the Riviera… Our adventure had just begun.

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