Paris With Kids: A Family-Friendly City Break
One of the things we enjoy about living in Dubai is the proximity to Europe and how travel has become less of a big deal. A weekend in Rome or the South of France isn't such a crazy idea (and it has happened). Paris is seven hours away and I've been lucky to visit twice this year in winter and spring. Of course, I use the term big deal quite loosely because when you add a child of any age to the equation, all of a sudden the flight plus airport time, transfers and general holiday enjoyment comes down to military grade logistics. I'm a planner and dont leave much room for error. I still get major flight anxiety, especially on solo flights without my husband and pack and re-pack overhead luggage for weeks prior to departure. Call it OCD. I'm paranoid about being without options. These include play-dough, sticker books, puzzles, favourite teddy bears, mini cereal boxes, water bottles, nappies, long life milk, spare clothes for us both a blanket etc. And trust me, I do use it all.
Flight aside, holidays are all about the destination and having fun. And we've learnt Paris is an incredible place to visit with children. The culture, history, beautiful food, language, excellent parks and green spaces can be appreciated by all ages. Find an apartment on the Île de la Cité or Île Saint-Louis for convenience you can walk everywhere from there or Le Marais or Saint-Germain-des-Prés around Saint-Sulpice.
Out of interest don't be deterred from visiting or staying in ultra glam hotels with children in tow. We were surprised how accommodating they are. We stayed at Le Bristol for just one night and they personalised Olivia's bed linen with embroidery, and tucked Hippolyte the gardening soft toy rabbit into her cot. The hotel has a kids club, and the two in-house cats (Fa-Raon and Kléopatre who wear Goyard collars) provided endless entertainment. It's worth visiting, even for morning or afternoon tea your children will be enthusiastically welcomed, presented with colouring-in pad and pencils and encouraged to play with the cats in the very beautiful and spacious courtyard garden.
Here are my favourite things to do in Paris with children:
In the warmer months, book a table outside at Le Caveau du Palais and enjoy the beautiful Place Dauphine on the Île de la Cité. This wonderful old restaurant is sophisticated with a relaxed atmosphere and serves excellent classic dishes. Children can run around the square between courses. 17 Place Dauphine, Île de la Cité.
If you can steal yourself away from the incredible Merci (see shops) head downstairs to La Cantine Merci for some of the best salads in Paris. The industrial-style dining area has ample space for prams and overlooks the kitchen herb garden. The food is delicious and healthy. You can walk in, but better to book a table to secure a spot. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, Haut Marais.
Don't be put off by the fact the Obama's dined here La Fontaine de Mars hasn't been affected by an onslaught of tourists. It's the real deal, complete with red and white checked tablecloths, local diners and courteous waitstaff. It's a must if you're after a classic French bistro experience that feels a bit special. My daughter, who generally doesn't eat, devoured the beautiful duck confit we were tempted to return again the next day! It's also a short walk from the Eiffel Tower. Book in advance. 129 Rue Saint-Dominique.
On the other end of the spectrum is Loup. A really cool restaurant with suckling pig on the spit, share plates and a focus on organic produce. I loved everything from the branding to the interiors and fun staff. It wouldn't be out of place in Sydney or Melbourne. Great for lunch and next door is the best and oldest Parisian cookware store E.Dehillerin. It's a decent stroll from the Tuileries. 44 rue du Louvre.
Whether you plan to visit two or ten galleries, buy a Paris Museum Pass. It will guarantee entry without queuing to 60 museums and monuments in and around Paris. It's worth the investment and saves the stress of entertaining children while you wait in line with everyone else for 45 minutes+. If you're travelling with a pram, keep in mind most lifts are slow and small (but dont let it deter you).
The manicured gardens surrounding the 18th century mansion Hôtel Biron, which houses Musée Rodin, are as beautiful as the mansion itself. And perfect for playing hide and seek or as Olivia and I did, ring a ring a rosie around seminal works such as Le Penseur (The Thinker). I'm not sure other museum visitors thought the same, but we loved it. It's spacious and not overrun with tourists. Located near Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, it's perfect to visit after lunch at La Fontaine de Mars. 79, rue de Varenne.
Located in the Marais, The Musée national Picasso-Paris has reopened after a full-renovation and features 500 works by the artist. It's worth visiting just to see the beautiful Hôtel Salé, in which the museum is housed. The modern minimalist interiors and stairway are magnificent. Then walk to Rue de Rosiers and enjoy one of the Marais famous falafels for lunch. 5 rue de Thorigny.
The intimate scale of Musée LOrangerie makes it an achievable gallery to visit with children. You wont spend hours in search of particular exhibitions or get lost trying to find an exit (heres looking at you Le Louvre). Monet's magnificent and epic masterworks Nymphéas (Water Lilies), painted in the artist's garden at Giverny and donated to the French state, are gobsmacking. Located in the Jardin des Tuileries.
Le Petite Palais turned out to be one of my favourite destinations. There were few people when we visited, the art is varied and beautiful and it was manageable with a child on the run. The small inner outdoor garden is tranquil and lush with ponds and overflowing greenery. Make time for morning tea at the little café. Avenue Winston Churchill.
Surely the 260 black and white striped octagonal Colonnes de Buren or Les Deux Plateaux by artist Daniel Duren are one of the most photographed symbols of Paris? A must visit for a photo-op jumping off a small column, or simply to give your children a place to blow off steam. Just a short walk from Musée du Louvre, the Palais Royal gardens date back to 1633 and housed royal families up until Versailles was built. The gardens and fountains are heavenly and there are lovely cafes nearby. While the gardens open around 7am, most cafes wont serve your espresso and croissant until 10am. Nearby Café Le Nemours in Place Colette was an exception. My best advice is to make your first coffee at home - a lack of caffeine early in the morning was our constant gripe!.
The Tuileries and Carousel Gardens separate the Louvre from the Place de la Concorde and are somewhat of a cultural walking place for Parisians. The stunning formal gardens have stood the test of time since 1664. Children will love the puppet theatre, vast play area with swings and climbing equipment and model boats on the ponds. If you have dog-loving children, head to the dog area towards the Louvre end of the gardens.
Jardin du Luxembourg bordering Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter covers more than 60 acres. It saved us on many occasions thanks to the enormous purpose built (paid) play area. Perfect if your children need serious playtime. The garden boasts everything from a geometric forest, to large pond with remote controlled boats, beehives, greenhouses, an orchard, chess tables and tennis courts. Not to mention 106 statues and the beautiful Fountain Médicis with resident fish. Go to nearby La Mediterranée for an exceptional seafood lunch (recommended for sleeping or older children). Rue de Médicis/Rue de Vaugirard.
Merci is somewhat of a concept store sensation. Housed in a renovated 19th-centry wallpaper factory in Haut Marais, the vast space brings together the best in fashion, design and household goods with a focus on supporting emerging brands. Dedicate a morning here you won't leave empty handed and enjoy lunch in the Cantina (see restaurants). 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais.
Bonton is a three-story kids concept store located a few blocks from Merci. It sells a ready-to-wear collection, bed linen, furniture, Bazar toys, and even has a photo booth and hairdresser. They wrap even the smallest purchase most beautifully and pop it in a Bonton branded calico shoulder bag. I could spend hours here. 5 Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, Le Marais. Don't miss BONTON Bazar either. It stocks surplus items at sale prices. 82 + 84 Rue de Grenelle, Saint- Germain.
Le Bon Marché is the oldest department store in Paris. It is achingly beautiful with the best edit of everything. The childrens department on the 3rd floor is swoon worthy, and mothers don't go past fashion and shoes on the 1st and 2nd floors. My heart stopped. Also go to La Grand Epicerie for serious food porn and La Table for lunch. 24 Rue de Sèvres, Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
Oh Colette could you be any cooler? This cult store sells everything from toys to magazines, furniture, jewellery and luxury fashion for men and women. Not particularly pram friendly (there is a lift, but I lost serious street cred pushing it around the store). Visit the water bar at the lower level for the full experience. 213 Rue Saint-Honoré.
Out of town
After her divorce to Napoleon in 1809, Josephine lived at Châteaux de Malmaison. She purchased it in 1799 and apparently spent a fortune on renovations and planting an extensive garden. I spent the majority of our morning running with Olivia who was in search of baby small rabbits. It was so nice to breathe in the country air with few tourists around. The chateaux itself was intimate and stunning in its simplicity. A good option if you're not up to enormity of Versailles. Avenue du Château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison.
Don't expect an exhibition dedicated to a brands heritage at Foundation Louis Vuitton. A chic (and subdued) silver LV above the entrance and cluster of the famous LV trunks mounted on the wall at Le Frank restaurant are all the branding on display. Commissioned by LVMH to design a signature arts centre, architect Frank Gehry has conceived a truly incredible building in the Bois de Boulogne. See it to believe it the architecture is stunning. Be warned however they don't allow prams throughout the exhibitions and Le Frank restaurant (where we enjoyed one of our best meals in Paris) isn't particularly child friendly.
For some serious antique-ing don't miss a trip to Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (140 rue des Rosiers). You'll wish you were taking a shipping container home. Lunch at Ma Cocotte and try the 7 hour cooked lamb - les enfants might love it too. 106 rue des Rosiers.
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
Words and images: Georgia Macmillan