Paris with a toddler

by Amanda Hayward
Stripes Europe

It’s great to take family vacations but when it comes to pleasing the little ones, it can be exhausting and by the end of the vacation, parents are in need of another. Surprisingly, Paris has a lot to offer for children; you just have to know where to look and what to do. Here is my first experience in Paris with my husband and toddler, with ways I would have done it differently and great tips on what you can do.

First “Day” in the City

We stayed at the Hotel Château de Sancy Marne La Vallée; it had an outdoor terrace, horseback riding and bicycle rentals for you to peddle along the vineyards. It also offered a traditional (but pricey) French breakfast delivered to our room which was great to share with our child. The hotel was located about a half hour from Paris so we ventured to the nearest train station for what we thought would be a quick trip to the city.

A couple of missed trains and a long bus ride later, we finally reached the Eiffel Tower at 5 p.m. By then we were too exhausted to sightsee and it was getting chilly, so we gazed up at the tower, said “wow,” then found the Bar Brasserie La Mascotte within walking distance. We did our best to enjoy a glass of wine as our attempt to share a pasta dish with our exhausted toddler ended in an epic battle. We also discovered that many French restaurants don’t have child seats, so consider bringing a travel booster or a have a stroller handy.

Things to Do

Mastering the train system gave us an earlier start on day two, and we discovered a lot to do in the City of Lights with our little man. Next to the Eiffel Tower is a traditional carousel with colorful horses and elephants — a perfect setting for pictures and seeing that big smile on your toddler’s face. Afterwards, maybe grab a pizza or Italian Panini at one of the nearby food vendors. The cold winds and long line to go up the Eiffel was a lot for our hungry little boy so we never reached the top. You will be surprised how many people don’t go up the tower on their first Paris visit due to similar reasons. A second or third trip to Paris usually results in the extra effort to finally make it up the elevator. It was nice to just take some pictures, walk around Champ de Mars (the open greenland below the tower leading to the river) then afterwards, grab a bite to eat.

Parc Monceau is one of many gorgeous parks in Paris and only about a 15-minute walk from the Eiffel. It has beautiful flower gardens, historical statues and plenty of little playgrounds. Don’t be surprised to catch the locals eating their lunch on the green or going for their daily jog. Our little boy rode on a cute, little merry-go-round a few times for about 4 euros, had fun at the playground and then blew off some steam chasing pigeons while the hubby and I enjoyed a leisurely walk. Other popular parks for children include the Jardin du Ranelagh and the Jardin du Luxembourg, although unique in their own ways, both share similarities like pony rides, ice cream, cafés, playgrounds and carousels.

Standing at 164 feet tall, the Arc de Triomphe is Paris’ second most iconic monument, with centuries of military history from Napoleon’s victorious days. It was an enjoyable sight for us, but to get a closer look, you can visit the ground floor for free or walk up 284 steps to the top for 9,50 euros. For people with limited accessibility (such as yourself if you have your little one), an elevator will take you up mid-way to the arch so you can still enjoy a picturesque view of the city.

If I Could Do it Again, I Would...

Do Disneyland Paris – Disney-themed resorts, the park, an easy shot to the city by the RER trains … what more could you ask for? Disneyland Paris offers packages that include a Disney-themed hotel, dinner, breakfast, tickets to the park and babysitting services. Enjoy a peaceful dinner and watch your toddler’s eyes light up all at once. Check out some great family package deals and more information at DLP Guide.

Find the right kid-friendly restaurant – Our last night in Paris I really wanted to eat at a nice pizzeria or enjoy a reasonably priced restaurant with French cuisine where my toddler would be welcomed with open arms. Instead, we grabbed whatever was convenient and ended up at a fast-food pizza joint. Many French restaurants don’t have the traditional kid’s menus like mac & cheese with fries, so try to avoid the extra stress and let your little one eat off of your plate. Good family-friendly restaurants include Le Relais de l’Entrecote, which offers tiny French bites for your toddler, and Les 400 Coups, close to a great park called Parc des Buttes- Chaumont; They offered homemade French cuisine and both a child’s menu and play place.

Visit more parks – When in doubt, find a park; that’s my new motto. Instead of dragging our toddler around town and attempting to eat at too many restaurants, packing a few PB&J’s and watching him explore more parks would have been ideal. Sometimes those experiences turn out more enjoyable then saying you saw the Eiffel Tower.

Devour a crepe – Yes, I know. Who goes to Paris and doesn’t eat a crepe? This girl. Don’t pass up one of those delicious French crepes with warm Nutella and fresh banana — your toddler will thank you for sure.

Plan our route – Not knowing which train to take and asking the French which bus goes where was a time-toll. Buy your train tickets in advance and look up bus routes once you reach the city. Try booking your rail tickets on Rail Europe. It’s easy to navigate and you may find some good saver deals. Once you’re in Paris and sightseeing is on the agenda, look into purchasing the Paris Pass that gives you unlimited access and discounts to some top attractions. Finally, for stress-free travel in the city, purchase the Metro Pass (which happens to be good for the duration of your Paris Pass), which gives you unlimited access to the city’s public transportation (RER, metro, buses, trams and SNCF) and comes with a guide so you know which to take and when. 

That’s my Paris trip in a nutshell. Would I do it differently? Of course I would. Was it a good experience? You bet. My advice — enjoy the little smiling moments with your toddler more than anything, that will be the crème de la crème of your Paris adventure.

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