15 Tips on Planning Paris Family Trip
Updated: Jan 2
1.) Jet lag is real, children don’t time change immediately. If you’re from the west coast, you will feel the 9 hour difference. You will be an early bird, up at 3/5am. Plan to see sights in the morning before the crowds. But also plan on taking naps in the afternoon especiall with small children. We stayed for 8 days, I don’t think we fully adjusted to the time. Plan to stay longer so you can adjust.
2.) Hotel or Apartment? There are daily farmers markets in Paris, having an apartment will allow you to buy local fruits and produce and cook your own meals. For us, with a small child, the apartment was a clear choice. We want to have more space, privacy and a kitchen to cook simple meals. We still went out for lunch and dinners, to experience cafe culture. Having a hotel, you can take advantage of all the restaurants in each neighborhood.
3.) Which neighborhood to stay? Paris is broken up into 18 arrondisment or neighborhoods. As long as you are near a metro you can get around easily. Protip: Lines 1 and 14 are automated if your exit is on these lines, you can get around even if there’s a metro strike. We stayed in Montmartre on line 12 Lamark-Coulaincourt exit, when the industrial strike happened our metro was closed. Montmartre is like a village within Paris, very bohemian, artsy and also famous for Sacre Ceour basilica. We explored our neighborhood on foot during the strike, luckily it was our last day.
4.) If traveling as a family, definitely talk about individual expectations. What kind of experience do you want to have? What is the top attraction that each individual wanted to see? Do you want to see as much as possible or do you want a slower pace? As a family with smaller children, we definitely did not plan to see everything in 8 days. We plan on going back and exploring other neighborhoods and different countries. Its more important to us to spend time with each other, its a vacation after all.
5.) Metro or Uber around? Even with a stroller and stairs, we chose to take the metro. Its so easy to get around by metro. Each neighborhood metro station adds another layer of history, and architecture to exploring Paris. For example, we appreciated the art nouveau style signage around Montmartre metro stations. We used taxi and Blacklane private car app for airport transport. Use only legitimate Taxis, the cost is €50 flat rate. The Blacklane app is a private company that was not affected during the industrial strike. Its a little more money, but I wanted peace of mind that we are not going to miss our flight home. I found Uber was not reliable, we ordered one that never came.
6.) Paris pass or ala carte? Touristy lines are really not my style. Again for a family with a small child, we like to have the flexibility of going on our own pace. If you plan to see lots of museums, get the museum pass instead. Definetly buy tickets in advance if buying ala carte.
7.) Navigo Decouvert Card or a Carnet? A Navigo is a weekly metro pass that is unlimited use from to Monday-Thursday. You fill it up again every Friday, its like a commuter card. A carnet is a set of 10 tickets (€16.90) you can buy at a discount, each ticket is a €1.69
We opted for the carnet, because the Navigo has initial cost I didn’t want to pay. Use the Navigo if you’re going to be in Paris for more than 2 weeks. Navigo card is good for 10 years, its non transferrable, with your picture on it. At first the Navigo sounded like great savings to me, because it is unlimited rides. But we were only in Paris for 8 days. Also we used 2-3 tickets per day per person, we only saw 1 attraction per day. We like slow travel.
8.) Listen to Podcast “Join us in France” for more tips and local flavor by someone who is in France. Annie Sargent has great tips, and will advise you on real expectations about going to Paris. Part of the fun of planning a trip is the anticipation and learning about the city through research. I recommend at least 1 month planning. There are also Facebook groups dedicated to families who travel, and girls who travel with a capsule wardrobe. I packed for the family and coordinated our outfits so they go well in pictures. Each of us had a capsule wardrobe that fit in 2 small suitcases. We checked the bags for convenience, but we could have used it as carry on. Traveling in the winter, uniqlo thermals and down jackets are a must.
9.) DSLR or iphone only? I brought both, pictures are important to me. I used the DSLR because Isabelle can’t sit still, and the bigger camera has a faster shutter speed to capture her. I used the IPhone for videos and when its easier to whip it out. I found if you turn on “live” capture on your iPhone you can choose “key image” when the original image is blurry.
I think most people can get away with just an iphone.
10.) Taking the bullet train Eurostar from Paris to London was one of the highlights of our trip. The 2 hour ride is relaxed and allows you to spend more time together enjoying the scenery. I highly recommend taking a day trip to a nearby country, and get another stamp in your passport. For example its only 1.5 hours to Brussels. You can find great deals if you purchase tickets in advance.
11.) What “pasalubong” or souvenir can you take home? I went to the local Monoprix to get souvenirs, I found the items here are more affordable and authentic— as its the actual items that Paris residents buy. Monoprix is like their target. I bought tins of sardines, soaps, french terry wash cloths and other unique items. I also got macarons and chocolates from Arnaud Larher. For Paris fashion, I skipped Gallery Lafayette and opted for unique boutiques around Montmartre. I also found La Picine, which is an outlet store for designer labels. I scored a really well made wool coat for a fraction of the price. La Picine has branches all over Paris, including Saint Germaine du Pres and Montmartre. I bought more french wine at the airport because i could only fit 1 bottle into our checked bags.
12.) I used my Bank of America card to pay for things. Even at the farmers market, the fishmonger was taking cards. It would be a good idea to have cash on hand for small items and tips. You can get Euros at the atm when you get to the airport. For example the Boulangerie and Patisserie was quite annoyed with me for paying with a “carte” for baguettes that was €1-2. At the farmers market, we loved squeezing our own oranges for juice for €4. French cheese like camembert are around €1.90 at the “supermarche” but more at the specialty cheese shops. We tip €1-2 for restaurants because tip is included in the price of the meal.
13.) We found food was definitely a lot more tastier in France. At our Montmartre neighborhood, you can find fruit and vegetables stands in almost every block. Instead of junk food, we found fruit vendors in front of the metro station.
14.) Everyone in Paris says “bonjour” and “bonsoir” its like a greeting to say hello and good evening. My husband spoke Canadian french, but I tried french too! I did live in France for a semester in college. Bonjour will go a long way, we found people were friendly to us when we greeted them.
15.) Apple maps was everything exploring Paris. I saved our Paris apt. as a favorite and searched for restaurants, supermarche, shopping areas etc. This way you don’t have to fold maps and look like a tourist. You can screenshot when you have wifi, so you don’t need data plan. I purchased International Daily Passport Data plan from AT&T ($10 a day) but I ended up using wifi.
16.) Between my husband and I, we lost 7 lbs. combined spending Thanksgiving in Paris. We think we won this one. We are home now and could not believe the amount of walking we did. We felt like we ate like a pig, eating all the bread, pastries, and chocolates!! Prepare to walk your butt off and climb those stairs! Get stylish walking shoes like the one from Cole Haan.