We took the kids to Paris last summer, and they loved it. Here’s our highlight reel, which includes ideas for what to do if it rains, what not to do on Bastille Day, and of course hot chocolate, hot chocolate, hot chocolate.
Day 1: Exploring Passages in the Rain
To avoid the rain, we explore the Grand Boulevards and the sheltered passages. The passages are basically glass-roofed shopping arcade alleyways from the mid-to-late 1800s, some with impressive ironwork and mosaics. We explore Passage des Panoramas and Passage Jouffroy, where my book warns that you can lose yourself here for a few hours. I can see why. There are fascinating stores with antiques, rare books, and old-fashioned candy, and I finally have to drag my husband Mark and 7-year-old daughter Julia away from the boxes of antique postcards.
For a midday snack we Uber to Angelina which is known for their hot chocolate and made by basically melting down a chocolate bar. Since they’re known for that I had no choice but to try it. I would have been “le rude” not to. (We end up getting hot chocolate three times in Paris. Angelina’s was the best.)
Day 2: Sailing Boats & Shell Games
We start the day at Le Jardin du Luxembourg, and the kids sailboats in the pond. It is the highlight of Paris for me. Mark and I simply relax on chairs to watch and it’s so peaceful. We eat a snack at La Ruche a Miel, an Algerian tea house, and sip mint tea and try all sorts of Algerian sweets.
Day 3: Lovin’ the Louvre
We take the Louvre’s Muse tour with our guide, Guillaume. The cost at first seems rather exorbitant, but it’s highly recommended by two friends and is named by all of us as a highlight of the Paris portion of our trip. The tour is organized as a treasure hunt where kids solve clues along the way. Highlights include the Code of Hammurabi, the Arago line marker (basically the French version of the Prime Meridian before it was moved to Greenwich), and my favorite, the massive Mesopotamian sculptures. The latter I would never have thought to go out of my way for, so kudos to Guillaume.
After the tour, we play the card game Guillotine (appropriate for Paris) for a bit, and then attempt to see the Louvre on our own. We have a new appreciation for how easily Guillaume maneuvered around the complicated museum layout. Eventually, we find the Egyptian sarcophagi, but by then we’re DEAD tired…
From the Louvre we pass through the gauntlet of Eiffel Tower replica sellers to the hedges of the Tuileries Garden. My son James (Julia’s twin) LOVES hiding inside the hedges and to his delight, we agree to play hide and seek. During the game, we keep stumbling on replica sellers peeing in between hedges. (Gross.)
Day 4: Exploring the Islands
We spend our day on the two islands in the middle of the Seine: Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint-Louis. We begin at Sainte Chapelle, a 13th-century church with one after another after another of amazing floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows. It’s definitely the underappreciated gem of Ile de la Cite compared to the other more famous church.
To wait out the line at Notre Dame (a.k.a. the more famous church), we walk to Ile Saint-Louis to relax inside Berthilion with some of their famous ice cream and Parisian hot chocolate. When we return to Notre Dame the line isn’t that bad, and we notice that the gaggle of Americans behind us in tube dresses are not allowed inside. Notre Dame: Slut-shaming since 1345.
We cap off our day with an encore of Breton-style crepes at Chez Imogene (the kids love the cheese potato and bacon crepe) near our apartment. I realize when we get home from the trip that eating dinner each night in our Canal St. Martin neighborhood away from the center of things might not have been the best plan. We never really experienced Paris as “The City of Lights.”
Day 5: Bastille Day, Schmastille Day
We’re in Paris for Bastille Day which sounds great except things don’t work out so well. We try to walk across the Pont Alexandre III, regarded as the most ornate bridge in the city, but it’s closed due to either the earlier military parade or the fireworks that evening. Next, we find out that the area by the Eiffel Tower is closed and so is Trocadero, the best picture-taking spot. It looks like there will be no “squishing the Eiffel Tower” photos for us.
Standing at the outside edge of the roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe, we are blocked by the unbroken, eight-lane stream of traffic with no apparent way to get across. Mark wants to try to run across and repeatedly suggests that we “just Frogger it.” (He later claims that he was joking.) Fortunately, we eventually notice a staircase to a tunnel below the traffic and we take that instead.
We take the Metro to Jacques Genin, a high-end chocolatier for a chocolate snack. Julia is unhappy at first as she hates chocolate (can’t be my child), but then gets free pâtes de fruits from our server. We drink our third hot chocolate of the trip and finish our snack at 7 p.m. And dinner is still to come after 9 p.m. – such is our schedule in Paris.
Our dinner at Le Relais Gascon in Montmartre is a salad topped with fried potatoes, our restaurant’s specialty. You got potatoes on my salad! You got salad on my potatoes! Mark isn’t as impressed but I declare it the best meal in Paris. We walk all the way up to Sacre Coeur and scramble to find a spot to see Bastille Day fireworks. We had heard this was a good place to watch, and we had zero interest in the other suggested spot—camping out by the Eiffel Tower in the mid-afternoon and waiting until 11 p.m. for the fireworks to start.
We are baffled as to why this is a popular firework watching spot since the fireworks are really far away and we can’t even see the Eiffel Tower. We leave before they’re even over. Le letdown.
Day 6: Au Revoir
I’m determined to make an Eiffel Tower run the morning before we check out, so I wake early, hike to three bakeries to get pastries for breakfast (the first two are still closed from Bastille Day. The French are pretty loose about things like shop hours) and pack three suitcases. Mark questions whether we’ll have enough time for the Tower, and I’m like, “After all this, you’d better believe it!”
After we Uber there we have at most 20 minutes. We don’t have enough time to go to the Trocadero but we do walk around next to the Eiffel Tower and the nearby bridge crossing the Seine. And we finally get our requisite pictures with the Eiffel Tower!