Seven Must-Do’s for Families in Paris

Paris is magnifique, perfect for family members aged 2-92 to explore. My family recently had the pleasure of doing just that, taking in the city’s most famous spots and discovering some unique ones along the way as well. Our must-do family activities in Paris? Voila!

1) Cruise around by bus.

It might sound like a tourist trap from hell, but I followed the advice of a sophisticated friend who said riding the Big Bus (one of those on-off thingies) on her first day helped her get the lay of the Parisian land. Night tours are especially twinkly and feel oh-so European. While you’re at it, spring for the Paris Pass, a multi-use pass that gets you into almost every museum and big attraction in the city, plus lets you skip the line at many..

2) Be selective about your tours.

Through the Louvre. Through the catacombs. Through the vineyards outside of Paris. Take Walks, an upscale tour company with highly trained guides, does more than point out the femur bones and the Mona Lisa. The company specializes in really teaching visitors about the history behind the sites. In the catacombs, for example, we learned about living conditions in the Middle Ages and the effect of the French Revolution on the cemeteries; at the Louvre, our tour guide showed us political paintings that were, in effect, “fake news.” No, I don’t know how to say that in French. And no, you cannot touch the bones or the Mona Lisa. While Take Walks might be best for people 12 and up, that’s partially because of the walking (super bumpy in the catacombs), the education level they’re aiming toward (high) and the creepy aspect (bones, people, at least in the catacombs).

3) Take a private cooking lesson with a French chef.

Now, this is one for the kids, or at least for those of us who act like them around French pastry. VizEat can set you up to learn to cook the way the French do, in a quaint Parisian apartment (I’m pretty sure it was not a garret, but I’m also not totally sure what a garret is), with an actual French chef. Named Alexi! I know! I’m fanning myself, too! We made French meringue and financiers, and while our piping skills were not top notch, we sprinkled cocoa and colored sugar like we’d grown up at the knee of a French pastry chef. Plus, we got a laminated recipe card to bring home! We’ll see how the piping goes in Philadelphia . . .

4) Wander the Paris Flea Market at Saint Ouen.

Step one. Locate this market, which is only open on weekends. Step two. Find the good stuff. Parisian friends of ours said that the typical “flea market” goodies – think tube socks and pirated CDs – are on the outside, then the reasonable stuff is in the middle ring, and the super expensive Marie-Antoinette-sat-on-this items are in the center of it all. Step three. Make your family members transport your finds. We stuck to the middle ring and came home with real French copper pots and pitchers. Which my fiancé had to carry all the way out of the market, in the rain, and then onto the plane the next day . . . Well, I think it was worth it. Some other essential Paris Flea tips: Bring cash. Scoff at the first price the vendors quote you. Do not lose your children (they will never find their way out of the labyrinth of Saint Ouen).

5)  Sleep in an oohlala canopy bed.

Now, when you go to Paris, everyone has a different opinion on where you should stay. My advice? Location doesn’t matter – the Metro takes you everywhere, and remember that Paris Pass? It has an unlimited Metro ticket included. But why, why, why would anyone want to stay in some modern, Americanized hotel? This is Paris, people! We found Les Dokhans, the cutest little boutique Starwood property near the Trocadero Metro stop – I’ll explain in a minute why that’s awesome – and got to ride to our room in a Louis Vuitton trunk elevator (I swore it was real, my fiancé shook his head), sleep in a canopy bed, and look out at Paris from our Juliet balcony. I swear it had all been there for 400 years (I don’t actually know this, and I don’t think they had Louis Vuitton back then, but it felt like it).

Rooms are reasonably priced, and the floors of the hotel are small, so you’ll feel safe reserving two or three for your family.  And – Trocadero is the place in Paris to get a photo with the Eiffel Tower behind you. It’s ginormous there. You can see the light show that happens every hour. You don’t have to climb with ninety-billion tourists who want to spit from the top. Parfait.

6)  Skip the hotel breakfast.

When in Paris, do like the Parisians do – as in, put on your beret, stroll down the sidewalk with your bouledogue (French bulldog, naturally), walk into any patisserie, order hot-out-of-the-oven croissants, stand at a little table with a bitter coffee, get flaky pastry all over yourself, swear that you’ll never leave this amazing city. My patisserie recommendation? Fou de Patisserie, for everything from eclairs to tarts. But seriously, you can’t go wrong. It’s like Parisians are born with the “baking pastry” gene. They’ve all got it. Like tying scarves. It’s a thing.

Want more ideas for dining? No problem, because we ate our way through Paris. Start at Chez Phillipe for puffy and perfect cheese and chocolate souffles – lobster and salted caramel also grace the menu. For the quintessential French roast chicken, try Dourant by Antoine Westermann – it looks fancy, with white tablecloths and candlelit hush – but the food is classic, delicious, and relaxed. And that chicken! When you’re at Paris Flea, check out Ma Cocotte, and order a full, three-hours worth of baked camembert, pate, cornichons, and perfectly crispy frites. Craving crepes? In Paris, crepe carts are like hot dog trucks in New York: There’s one on every corner, and they are all simply scrumptious.

7) Just wander.

One thing we love about Paris (and Europe in general) is that the city is walkable, and people really walk. They stroll. They window shop. For some bizarre reason, they always carry baguettes in their messenger bags while they do it, but you can skip that accessory. Or not. Our favorite neighborhoods? The Marais: charming cobblestones, tons of tiny shops, zillions of restaurants (all of which serve pate). The Tuileires: Gorgeous gardens, antique Paris, and a giant Ferris wheel from which you can see the whole city. St. Germain: art, and passion, and cafes in which to sit and watch the bouledogues (that’s bulldogs!) walk by.

Bon voyage!