With my family safely at home in Canada, I'm ready to share all the fun stuff we did while they were here. Visiting a city with kids in tow is always more complicated than visiting with all adults in that you have to manage your expectations. I'm a firm believer that kids should be introduced to the culture and history of any place they visit, but the truth is that there are limits to how long any kid can spend in a museum. The trick is to balance more cultural or historical type activities with the types of activities the children are really interested in.
Our group was made up of five adults and three kids aged 2, 6, and 7. My parents and my sister have been to Paris before, which took a bit of the pressure off since they have already seen many of the typical tourist attractions. Still, there were many things they wanted to see and do, and I wanted to make sure that everyone went home happy.
My sister arrived the second week, so we saved some attractions for after she arrived. I'll be writing up some sample itineraries in a separate blog post (or posts), with a mix of our actual itineraries and some suggestions for improvement.
Everyone was jetlagged after an overnight flight, so we kept things local. I took my family on a walk around our neighbourhood and showed them the places we spend most of our time. We live in the 16th arrondissement, so it's not really the most touristy destination. It is a great place for families though, and my kids were excited to show grandma and grandpa where they go to school and daycare.
We took a leisurely stroll down the streets near our house, and ended up in the park near my sons' school. The kids played for a while while the adults caught up. Then, we headed back to the apartment to get everyone settled and unpacked. We ended the day off with another walk to check out the mini Statue of Liberty by Grenelle bridge, and then had dinner at Le Recepteur, a small bistro with fantastic food. They are very accommodating of my son's gluten free needs, and he knows that the steak hache and fries are safe.
The next day we got serious! We took the 72 bus into the city and got off at the Louvre. The kids hammed around for the camera and got some photos of the building and the pyramid. We walked down to the Tuileries and then took in the Fete des Tuileries, an annual summer fair that is held down one side of the gardens.
My husband and I rode the gigantic ferris wheel and took some incredible panoramic photos, while the kids bounced away on nearby trampolines. The fair reminds me of the fall fairs I used to go to in Canada, with lots of junk food and cotton candy, and rides that need tickets to get on. I've seen some people complain online about the price of the tickets, but I found it pretty much on par with other fairs I've been to.
The best part was that there was something for everyone from toddler to adult, so the kids had a great time. There were a few gluten free food options available, but we had packed a picnic lunch so we just bought the kids a slushie. We had lunch in the Tuileries on the chairs that dot the park, using a bench as a table. Then we headed back to the fair.
Finally we exited a Place de la Concorde. We could have walked up the Champs Elysee but my mom was getting tired so we hopped on the metro and got off just a few stops from the Arc de Triomphe. From there we walked to the Arc but didn't climb it since we wanted to wait for my sister to arrive for that. We hopped on the bus and had made our way back home for dinner.
The next day we headed back into the heart of the city. We visited Notre dame Cathedral, but saved the tower climb for when my sister arrived. My niece was amazed with the church and bought a commemorative coin to bring back to one of the nuns at her daycare. After spending about half an hour in the church, we walked the kids around the back and let them blow off some steam in the park behind it.
The Deportation Memorial was closed for the day which was disappointing, but we kept walking, crossing the bridge onto the other island in the city to stop at Berthillon for some ice cream. The sorbets are gluten free safe, and we requested that a clean scoop be used. We enjoyed the view from the Pint Marie before crossing over again.
We continued our visit at the Hotel de Ville, where crews were working on the stage that hosted free concerts that week. After the kids got their fill running through the mist that is installed for the summer, we walked to the BHV department store. In the BHV Homme section there's a courtyard with some food stands. One stand is a gluten free waffle stand that offers up a variety of gluten free waffles for about five Euros. They don't make any non-gluten free ones, so there's no risk of cross-contamination.
After exploring the neighbourhood for a bit, we headed back home for dinner. Later that night we took a nighttime bus ride to see the lights of the city.
Day Four was Bastille day, so we got the kids up early and headed back to the Champs Elysee for the military parade. We managed to snag a pretty good spot near the front so the kids had a good view. On our way there we passed the parked soldiers and firefighters waiting for the parade to begin and managed to get some photos with them. My son was excited to wear a firefighter hat, and my niece was collecting the flags being handed out so she could give them to her friends back home.
We took the kids home for a rest in the afternoon before heading out to the fireworks that evening. The sun goes down really late during the summer in Paris, so the fireworks don't start until almost 11 p.m. We headed back to the bridge and laid down a blanket so the kids would get a good view. The fireworks were incredible and lasted almost 45 minutes! Our two year old fell asleep, but the older kids stayed up for the whole display. I can honestly say I'm ruined for fireworks from now on!
Everyone slept in the next morning, and then we went grocery shopping. The gigantic Carrefour near my place has just about everything one could ever want or need, plus they offer delivery for 10 Euros. Typically I shop a bit at a time and just bring my little cart with me, but seeing as I was buying for 8 people and my family is used to North American style once a week shopping, we opted for delivery. They delivered within the hour, so we ended up having the afternoon free.
We decided to head down to the Canal Saint Martin, an area my parents hadn't visited the last time they were here. I also wanted to check out Helmut Newcake, which had been closed the last time I was in the neighbourhood. We started at Place de la Republique, where the rally took place after the Charlie Hebdo murders. The statue is still covered in posters and graffiti, and is a sort of makeshift memorial to those who lost their lives that January morning.
We then walked to the canal, which is a peaceful break in the busy city. The canal is narrow, and has locks that open and close to allow boats through. There are high bridges that cross over it, and the kids ran up and down each one. We watched a big boat make its way through, and the kids enjoyed seeing the water levels rise and fall so the boat could pass.
A street away from the canal is rue Bichat, with several small eateries. Helmut Newcake is located there, which is a 100% gluten free bakery and café. It's quite small, but the service is friendly and the pastries are fantastic. Highly recommended if you're in the area. We stopped for a quick lunch of quiche and salad, and then indulged in a pastry before continuing along the canal. About 15 minutes up the road the canal turns, and there's a big park that's perfect for a picnic or just for relaxing.
We let the kids run around the park for about a half hour before heading back to the subway and the ride home. Everyone was tired that night, and the kids went to bed early. My dad and I took a late night walk around the neighbourhood and stopped at a local bistro for a coffee. My dad and I can drink coffee pretty much any time day or night, and it was nice to sit and have an uninterrupted chat with him.
Day Six was a lazy day. It was my dad and sister's birthday, but since my sister wasn't due to arrive until the next day, we held off on the celebrations until the weekend. My dad took the kids out for a walk in the morning to the local bakery, and then we spend a lazy morning in. We got caught up on laundry, cooking, and cleaning as well. Later that day my mom and I headed out to the Beaugrenelle Mall and then stopped for a smoothie. In the meantime, my dad and my husband took the three kids to St. Perine park, a large public park in the 16th arrondissement that has open spaces, playgrounds, and places to ride their scooters. It was great to be kid-free for a few hours, and to spend some alone time with my mom.
The day trouble-I mean my sister-arrived! My sis arrived in the morning, so we spent an hour or two just catching up and letting her get her stuff organized. Then we took her for the same orientation walk we had taken my parents on so that she could familiarize herself with the neighbourhood.
It was a hot day, so we broke out the kids' swimsuits and headed over to the Parc Andre Citroen in the 15th arrondissement. It's a huge public park located where the old Citroen car factory used to stand. Now it boasts open green space, waterfalls, gardens, and play areas. There are also water spouts that kids run through (despite the Interdite signs just in front). Tethered in the middle is a huge hot air balloon that takes visitors up for panoramic views of the city.
The park is also the only park in Paris that fronts directly onto the Seine, where visitors can head out to the quay and spend time by the side of the river without leaving the park itself. There aren't many tourists there because the 15th doesn't boast many tourist attractions, so you're surrounded mostly by locals. That means that the park rarely feels overcrowded, even on really hot days.
The kids had so much fun that week, and I felt that we were really able to balance out adult activities with kid ones. Since this wasn't their first visit here, I had a bit of freedom when planning out the daily activities. If it had just been adults, we would have crammed more into each day, but this was a good balance for the kids, and they rarely complained as a result.
Check back again soon, because I'm going to be posting all about our second week, as well as adding some sample itineraries that are a mix of what my family did, and some additional suggestions for those who may be visiting Paris for the first time!