Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Paris En Famille, Part Deux

We had a wonderful time in Paris with our two children, aged 9 and 5. Paris in the Spring is just lovely, even if in our case the weather was unseasonably cold (read: freezing). I took this as sign that we were meant to spend a lot of time enjoying Paris' cafe culture, warming up with hot drinks and the odd pastry (or three). Thanks to budget-friendly accommodation and travel options we were able to spend three full days in the French capital, recapturing in some small way the thrill me and my other half used to feel as young, carefree 20-somethings, exploring the cities of Europe with just a backpack and Rough Guide as hand luggage. Dipping a toe back into the city break experience felt really good and proved to us that with a bit of forward planning and some careful budgeting, it is entirely possible to do it with children in tow. 

Paris seen from the Seine
Now that our kids are older everything is, of course, so much easier. You can travel relatively light, they're able to walk further distances and they'll happily fall into a laissez-faire, continental attitude to routines and mealtimes without too much fuss. My eldest in particular is a pleasure to travel with these days - he's interested in things like architecture, open to trying out new foods and is at his most happy when boarding an aeroplane. That said, it's important to always work towards a compromise when travelling. Not all of our suggestions in Paris were met with approval and you definitely need to factor in some child-friendly activities, such as trips to the toyshop or a visit to the park.

Here's my mini guide to the things we enjoyed that met our criteria for keeping in budget and keeping the kids cheerful... 

1. A trip on the Batobus

The hop-on, hop-off boat which circles the main sights on loop and is cheaper than other river boat options. A day pass for adults costs 15 euros and 7 euros for children under 16 (children under 3 are free). This offers unlimited travel within the day and you can get to all the top attractions including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. It's a really convenient way to get around and your children will love seeing the city from the water.

2. Le Grande Arche

Seen the movie Mr Bean's Holiday? Then you'll know the Grande Arche. As big fans of Mr Bean our two were desperate to recreate the scene when Rowan Atkinson's hapless character takes the wrong taxi and ends up at this amazing piece of modern architecture rather than the Gare Du Nord. It might sound a weird place to add to your Paris itinerary but it really is quite awe-inspiring and a nice contrast to Paris' more historic landscapes. Take the metro to La Defense and exit the station to be met by a dazzling white cube structure 110 metres high that is twice the size of the Arc de Triomphe and big enough to fit the Notre Dame inside. It's stunning. Walk to the top of the steps and look out towards the Voie Triomphale and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.

Le Grande Arche

3. The Eiffel Tower

Mais, bien-sur! No trip to Paris is complete without a trip to this iconic structure. However, a word of warning - the queues for the lifts are crazy. I have been to Paris twice in the last couple of years, both in high and low season, and both times the queues were exceptionally long. It was enough for our kids to see the tower and to play in the adjoining Trocadero gardens, which have plenty of green space and a small children's playground. You can book your tickets for the Eiffel Tower in advance - a must if you're desperate to climb to its summit. 

The Thinker at the Musee Rodin

4. The Musee Rodin

A real surprise hit. We wanted to visit at least one museum while in Paris but didn't want to shell out for the Louvre and join the lengthy queues only to find our kids thoroughly underwhelmed by its artistic splendours. Ditto the Orsay - too busy with streams of tourists and trailing kids on school trips. So we opted for the small but absolutely lovely Musee Rodin, a real haven of tranquillity near Les Invalides. The building - former home of the esteemed sculptor - is stunning, and houses world-famous sculptures such as The Kiss. Rather unexpectedly our children were quite enchanted by the place, particularly the gardens which are tranquil and filled with further Rodin masterpieces, such as The Thinker. 

It's a surprisingly un-stuffy, welcoming place for little ones, with friendly security guards that didn't bat an eyelid at the sight of two English boys playing hide and seek behind the sculptures. There's also a lovely cafe in the gardens, where we enjoyed a cafe au lait while the kids played. Tickets cost just 10 euros for a family of four.

5. Laduree

You're never too young to appreciate the French institution that is the patisserie, and there is no patisserie quite like Laduree. Famous particularly for its macaroons, this temple to indulgence had our kids' eyes popping out. It might be posh but we didn't find it particularly snobby. Granted, they don't like it when you take photos but our children were offered free macaroons and there was no sense that its genteel environs were out of bounds to little ones. I'm not sure I'd take them for a sit-down tea here, but our kids enjoyed looking at the amazing window displays and shelves piled high with sugary confections, including macaroons in a spectrum of pastel hues - we bought a box to take away and enjoyed them over a take-out coffee sitting by the boating lake in the Tuileries Gardens.
Amazing cakes at Laduree

6. The Pompidou Centre

Love it or hate it, the Pompidou Centre has one advantage for families - you can ride the outside escalators, fun in itself for a five year old, and get a ticket to the viewing area where you're rewarded with amazing views across the rooftops of Paris. A cheap way to see Paris from up high.

Writing this post has reminded me just what a wonderful time we had - perhaps it's time to start planning another sojourn in this fabulous, family-friendly city.

To read my previous blog post about Paris and how we got there and stayed their on the cheap, click here

Related post: Eurocamp holiday to Spain

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