How to plan a trip to France, well read on. Life sure does change after becoming a parent. There are many new experiences and many things that one can’t do anymore; late night parties and sleeping in on weekends being few of them ?. But travelling isn’t something you need to give up on. In fact travelling with toddlers can be real fun. We travelled to Europe (France, Italy & Switzerland) with our 20 month old son and it was one of the most fun trips of my life. The highlight of the trip was of course Paris; the most beautiful city in the world. If planned properly, a vacation with a toddler need not be overwhelming at all. Here are a few tips on how to plan for a trip to France with a toddler.
Paris has way too many sights to offer and you can probably spend 3 months there and still not be able to cover and see all. There is a museum at almost every street corner and the Louvre Museum alone can take up to 15 days if you want to see and explore each and every exhibit. But given that we are employed people , with a stipulated number of annual leaves;it was highly improbable that we spend a month in Paris. Not to mention the fact, that Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Vacationing there is not a budget vacation. So if 3-4 days are what your itinerary has for Paris then I have added a short guide for things to do in Paris
Guide to plan your trip to France
1. Reaching France:
A return trip ticket is always cheaper but it may not be always doable. You will have to fly in to Paris and after the end of your vacation, fly back from Paris again. This will need you to plan the trip in such a way that you spend 2/3 nights in Paris when you fly in and also spend the last day at Paris. We did exactly that and came back to Paris 2 nights before our return flight. We Spent the last day roaming around Champs-Élysées, visited the Arc De Triomphe and did some shopping. On the day of our flight we just stayed at the hotel, and left for the airport all ready to face the long flight. There is a Disney land at Paris, you can spend the last day there and end the trip with a bang.
Charles De Gaulle or CDG is the airport at Paris and it is big. (And not very pretty). But it is extremely well connected and well marked. The RER (train) there is one of the best ways to go to the city centre from the airport. Take the RER-B, which goes to Gare Du Nord station. You can get down at any of the other stations which is closer to your hotel. The RER stations are all connected with Paris metro (Subway) too and you can take the metro to get to your destination. Your RER ticket can be used to transfer to the metro. Local Taxis are expensive. The other option is Uber which will cost you around 50-60 €
2. Travelling within the country:
The railway in France is SNCF, and though you may fly in to Paris, be sure to travel to atleast to one of the destinations via the fast bullet train TGV. The French countryside is beautiful and the ride on one of the fast trains is an experience in itself. You can book tickets on the Rail Europe site http://m.raileurope.co.in The 2 main stations for SNCF, which operate the national railways, are Gare de Lyon (trains to Southern France) and Gare du Nord (Northern France)
Tip about traveling with baby: Try not to change the baby’s schedule too much. I mean don’t opt for very early flights or lenghty stretches of journey at one go. Have some down time in between, as much as possible. Agreed that you can’t do much about the timings of international flights but for the other parts of the journey, keep in mind the baby’s schedule.
3. Hotel / Accommodations :
First thing is stay. Paris is divided into Arrondissements and most of the important sights are concentrated within 1st to 10th arr.
it is highly advisable that you stay somewhere close since Europe is a place where you need to walk a lot by foot. Many people choose to stay at Airbnbs when travelling to Europe as they are cheaper and you have a kitchen available at hand. But, even though it is one the most highly visited places on earth, Paris is not very tourist friendly, thus a hotel with a concierge can be useful in case you need help with directions, transport etc. Also we prefer hotels because a big breakfast at the hotel makes it easier for both adults and kids. And later on in the day you can just grab a baguette or a croissant at any of the numerous cafe.
Tip:Paris is not very child friendly, thus check with your hotel before hand whether they have a child friendly room available and only then book the same. Many old buildings in Paris have been converted to hotels and thus they may not have proper elevators or large rooms with beds which can accommodate kids. Keep your luggage light as your hotel may not have any elevators or may only have a tiny lift from the mezzanine floor etc.
Read more about how to make travelling with kids easy. Here are my Tips for travelling with Baby
4. Transport and Getting around:
When you land there get a few maps of the metro (Subway) and RER (train) which are very easily available in the language of your choice at any of the information centres. Paris has a huge metro and subway network and it is very well connected. Buy a ticket book . But note that many of the metro stations are old and don’t have an escalator or a lift. Thus if you have a baby stroller or luggage with you, you will be left lugging it up and down huge stairs. We carried an ultra light travel stroller with us and Luckily in most places some Good Samaritan Or other just came forward and gave a hand when they saw myself and tall A pulling the stroller up and down the stairs.
Other than that it is fairly easy to walk around with a baby stroller.
Tip : A stroller is a must as most of the time Baby A fell asleep while we were walking around the museums or on the road. He would doze off comfortably while we enjoyed the sights. Remember to keep a light stole in your bag at all times
Carry a baby carrier with you too as in some places stroller may not be allowed though we faced this only at the Vatican in Rome and nowhere in France.
Uber is another option and it is less expensive than Taxis but note to ask whether your driver has a car seat for baby. We did take a few Ubers when we didn’t feel like taking the metro.
French Food and wine don’t need any mention and as far as baby food is concerned it is easily available too. Carry a banana and some cookies and sweet treats in your bag at all times. Trust me it comes in super handy when you are walking around Louvre admiring the sights and your toddler doesn’t find it so beautiful. A chocolate or a sweet treat makes them temporarily happy and it’s ok once in a while to keep your sanity. Do check my points on travellling with kids to know how to keep them Engaged. Tap water is drinkable so just keep filling your bottle. Streets are lined with cafes where you can get excellent coffee or a baguette. Eat locally to find real gems, I loved something called a coffee cream, which I had at a small bakery. Baby A ate with us and had a bit of this and that everywhere. Bread and butter and cheese were readily available so were eggs ; he likes all these things and feeding him on the go was not a problem.
Tip: Go for the house wine at the restaurants
6. Planning your itinerary:
when with babies / toddlers know that you will not be able to visit everything, and you don’t need to. Don’t over tire yourself or the child by starting your days too early and trying to see all the sights. Let your child have proper shut eye and rest. A rested child is gonna be a happy child.
There are too many things to see in Paris; choose 10 of the things that you want to visit. And further choose the top 7 ; you will probably not be able to see all 10.
7. Things to do in Paris :
Here are the sights that we chose to see in Paris
- Eiffel Tower
- Louvre Museum
- Jardin De Tuileries or Tuileries Garden
- Notre Dame
- Arc De Triomphe
- Musée D’Orsay
- Jardin du Luxembourg
- Sacré Coeur Basilica
a) Eiffel Tower : plan your trip to Eiffel Tower sometime in the late afternoon. That way you get to see it in daylight and also enjoy the night lights
Tip: Pre Book your tickets online beforehand to avoid hour long queue. You will get to the first landing without any queues and save atleast an hour. Same goes for the rooftop restaurant, book your table online in advance for a dinner there.
Buy a Paris Museum Pass, from the website. this allows you to visit and revisit Museums and many other attractions. http://en.parismuseumpass.com
b) Jardin De Tuileries or Tuileries Gardensis a great place for kids and my son thoroughly enjoyed there
c) Jardin De Luxembourg or Luxembourg Gardens : are also beautiful and spending an evening there was great fun for our baby
d) Louvre Museum:
The first time you are there you could opt for the Muse Guide at the Louvre, as it is vast and very easy to get lost in. With kids, it will be easier if you follow a smaller path and visit only the selections. If you have something particular you want to see which is not on the guided tour, I will suggest coming back to the museum later; preferably alone.
You can bike around the city with one of the biker tours as Paris is very biker friendly. One site I found which rents out bikes is Fat Tire Bike Tours. But with a kid the better option could be one of the Hop On Hop Off Buses or just take the local bus (it is way cheaper).
e) Pantheon: The facade of the Pantheon in Paris is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. It is situated in the 5th Arrondissement on Montaigne Sainte-Geneviè . It is a beautiful and majestic building.
f) Versailles and other cities:
You can take a guided tour to Versailles for a day trip if you are spending at least 4 days in Paris. Else you may consider leaving it. Given that it has vast gardens, and sees huge crowds, it can be very tiring for kids if you try to cram it into an already full itinerary. Train ride to Versailles takes 40 mins from Paris
Tip: When at Versailles take the little train to tour the gardens.
g) Cruise on River Seine:
There are trips offered on the River Siene including dinner on the cruise. You may choose that option but book only if you are sure your child will let you have a relaxed dinner. There is no point in feeling frustrated when it doesn’t turn into as expected with a wailing and cranky or overly excited toddler not in the mood for a candlelight dinner.
h) Other Cities on the French Riviera:
Nice:After Paris you can take the TGV train to Côte d’ Azur and spend a day in Nice. It is a beautiful coastal city, apt for a luxurious vacation.
Cannes: Cannes is a beautiful beach city on the Côte d’ Azur which boasts of being a luxury vacation destination.
Lyon: Lyon is the gastronomical capital of France and boasts of many beautiful landmarks including the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Bordeaux , Lourdes, Marseille or Strasbourgare few other cities which you may choose to visit.
Hope these points come in useful when you are planning your trip to France. Do check out my tips on travelling with a baby
And my travel with a baby packing list:
Until next time , Love Smita.