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Know Before You Go: 1st time Paris for families

Apr 25, 2007  NY family of four, including teen girl and tween boy
4.5 of 5 stars based on 122 votes

A list of practical tips and information for families taking their first trip to Paris.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Paris
  • Category: Recent trip
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Shopping, Never been before
  • Appeals to: Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. Paris will not disappoint you

    You are going to one of the most glorious places on this planet, and it will take your breath away. Your kids will fall in love with Paris too. Even if you never visited a single attraction and did nothing but just strolled around and ate at cafes, you would be blissfully happy. (All right, the kids might get a little restless, but who cares? You're in PARIS!)

  • 2. Tourists: They're everywhere in Paris

    If you have kids, chances are you're traveling during summer or a school break. So is everyone else in North America and Europe. Expect the must-see sites to be crowded, so do read your guidebooks and TA for advice on least-crowded times and suggestions.

  • 3. The French are so stylish! How can we possibly blend in with the locals?

    I agonized over what to wear in Paris, and what a silly waste of time that was. I didn't want my family to stand out as tourists, but we were with tourists everywhere (see #2) so how could we be perceived as anything BUT tourists?! Just dress comfortably but not too casually. (By this I mean leave the sweats, shorts, flip-flops and the baseball caps at home. Your kids can probably get away with dressing as they usually do.)

    Note: My husband, son and I didn't rate a second glance from any Parisians (which was fine by us), but our teenage daughter never failed to be scrutinized from head to toe by the Parisian girls her age. Must be a universal teenage girl thing.

  • 4. Encourage your family to speak French

    Do make every effort to speak as much French as possible. Even if that's limited to "bonjour," "au revoir" and "merci," that's better than no French at all. I hadn't spoken French since college, but I plunged ahead anyway. Our kids spoke the few phrases they know and they were always rewarded with a smile. Parlez francais and you will be proud of yourself and your family! Other TA members have reported they believed they got better service when they attempted to speak French, even if they bungled the language.

  • 5. Be ready to walk, walk, and walk some more

    If you've done your homework, you know that Paris is a very walkable city. We walked everywhere, from early morning to late evening. If your family isn't used to walking this much, start training now. And by all means make sure everyone brings two pairs of comfortable shoes!

  • 6. Make a cheat sheet of the attractions you want to see

    Before we left for Paris, I made a one-page table of the major sites we hoped to see. This included Name of Attraction, Location, Hours, Cost, and Tips for Touring. (Basically I just cut and pasted from web sites.) I kept this in my purse rather than carrying a guidebook around. It really paid off one day when it was 6 pm and we had just finished a cruise on the Seine, but we weren't ready to eat dinner or retire for the evening. So I pulled out my cheat sheet, and lo and behold the Musee d'Orsay was open late that night! We bopped on over there and were able to walk right in with no waiting. A minor miracle but all thanks to my organization!

  • 7. Place less emphasis on shopping

    This is a tough one because everyone wants to bring back that perfect something from Paris. What we're recommending is let shopping be a fortuitous happening rather than a planned event. Especially if half of your family hates to shop (my husband and son in our case).

    For example, my daughter wanted to bring home a dress to wear to an event. So we thought let's try shopping at Galerie Lafayette, the French department store. Big mistake. It was like shopping at Macy's in NYC during the holidays. And so much of the merchandise were the same brands we have at home. We wasted a morning there when we could have been seeing more of Paris.

    Then one day we were strolling in Monmartre and happened to pop into a little boutique. Et voila, the perfect dress for only 45 euros. Fortuitous shopping pays off.

  • 8. Discover Monoprix, the French equivalent of Target
    http://www.monoprix.fr/Site/Template/ACCUEIL.aspx?SELECTID=1&

    If you do need to bring back gifts for people back home, head to Monoprix, which is very similar to the U.S.'s Target. There was one close to us in the first arrondisement on Avenue l'Opera, and we purchased makeup, lip balms, cute baby clothes, gift wrap, greeting cards, boys' shirts, fabulous jeans and a sweater for me, and much more there. This store also had groceries. My daughter brought back Bourjois brand makeup, which is made in the same factory that produces Chanel makeup, for her girlfriends. Monoprix's prices are reasonable and it's easy to shop there.

  • 9. Ask yourself: Do we really need to visit Disneyland Paris?
    http://booking.disneylandparis.com/wts/newdlp/jsp/ticksel.jsp?pays=GB...

    We went to Disneyworld in Florida about four years ago and the kids have been wanting to return. So I thought what the heck, Disneyland is so close to Paris, let's go while we're there. It was packed the day we visited; we spent a lot of time waiting in lines. And it's just like Disneyland in the states, though smaller, and the food, surprisingly, is worse. (The Belgian waffles they sell at carts throughout the park taste disappointingly like the frozen ones you can buy in your local supermarket.)

    Did our kids have a good time? Of course. But they would have been happy just hanging around Paris another day. In my opinion, only do Disneyland if you have kids under the age of 10 and they need to be rewarded for good behavior.

  • 10. Public toilets can be hard to find

    Okay, before you start worrying, let me assure you that this probably will not be a problem for you. There are clean public toilets at all the major attractions. But if a member of your family has a bladder the size of a peanut (like our daughter) then just be aware public toilets are not quite as easy to find as they are in the U.S. (We're so used to having toilets available at stores like Target, CVS, Staples, etc.) My advice: Make sure those in your party with the teeny bladders use the restrooms before proceeding to the next destination, and remind them that perhaps they don't need to consume every last drop of that glass of limonade.

  • 11. Find a way to discover the essence of Paris

    You simply must make it a point to break away from the throngs of tourists and find the "essence" of Paris. For me, I think we got a glimpse into this essence when we were walking around the quiet streets of lower Monmartre. For once there were no other tourists around. On the sidewalk in front of a little bistro, there was an ancient poodle holding court while seated on a dilapidated turquoise-blue table; several older men were gathered around the poodle, talking to each other about who knows what. "I have to get a photo of that dog!" I said to my family. "It will always remind me of the true Paris!" And it does.

  • 12. Unfortunately, not everything is beautiful in Paris
    Paris, Ile-de-France

    As in NYC and other U.S. cities, there are homeless people in Paris; there is begging in the streets. If your children are not used to this, you should prepare them that this is something they may see. Mine are used to it, but they were still surprised to encounter poverty while on vacation.