Playdate in Paris: Tips for Traveling with a Child in the City of Lights
July 2019 was the hottest summer on record in parts of Europe. Our family was fortunate that the week we were in Paris, highs were only 88-90, not in the upper 90s as it had been the week before and would be again after we left.
Our travel group consisted of a baby boomer grandmother (myself), forty-ish parents, and seven-year-old Anja. Traveling with a child in high heat and high tourist season, we were looking for an alternative to standing in line at the main tourist attractions.
Our challenges fell into two categories: 1) dealing with the heat and 2) dealing with the crowds. Keeping everything child-friendly was a given. This was Anja’s first trip to Paris! We weren’t planning to fill our days with a rigorous itinerary of “must-see” Paris sights; rather, I hoped Anja would get a feel for the scope and beauty of the city, and simply have fun.
There were two things Anja especially wanted to do: visit Monet’s Gardens at Giverny and go up the Eiffel Tower. Beyond those specific destinations, my idea was to focus on parks, gardens, and playgrounds.
By the first of June, we had our plane tickets and accommodations planned and paid for. I had been enjoying the discussions on the Wanderful Women Who Travel Facebook page and decided to reach out to the community to ask for tips and hints for avoiding the long lines at Anja’s wish-list destinations, and so much more!
Here are some of our best strategies and tips, with thanks to the Wanderful community for help with the crowds!
Canal Swimming in the Bassin de la Villette
This was an absolute life-saver for us. We rented an Airbnb flat in the 10th arrondissement in the northeast of Paris. Situated along the Canal Saint-Martin, this is where young urban professionals gather to hang out with friends in the evening.
We were a short walk from La Baignade, a free public swimming area built into the Bassin de la Villette. The area is secure and clean with three swimming pools, showers, lockers, clean bathrooms, and changing areas. It is very much off the beaten tourist track, a true local Parisian experience, and a cool blessing at the end of each hot day.
Did I mention it was hot? It took a few days to adjust to the time change, yet we were doing our best to make the most of our days in Paris. Everyone was tired at different times and in different ways. Potential for whining and general grouchiness was high, especially at the end of the afternoon in the low energy time before supper.
But instead, picture a cheerful, harmonious three-generation family, keeping cool and smiling in chest-deep water, happily tossing a squealing child to one another in the company of local Parisians who were just as grateful for the cool water and moment of relaxation.
We ended every hot day just like this! Swimming was a touchstone for us. It was a time of refreshment and renewal.
Carousels: A Quintessential Part of Parisian Childhood
Carousels are a quintessential part of childhood in Paris! There are beautiful double-decker, Belle Epoque carousels everywhere – in parks and near tourist attractions. We never said “no” to a carousel ride. We rode carousels in Montmartre, the Tuileries Gardens, at Trocadero across from the Eiffel Tower, and in Parc de la Villette.
On our last evening, we were hot and travel-weary. Anja had a sore throat. We were staying near the Eiffel Tower that night, and the walk down the Champs de Mars was discouraging. Dusty. Crowded. Access to the tower restricted. We had promised a carousel ride, and we needed some supper. We asked Anja which she would like to do first. “The carousel,” she said without hesitation. “It might lift up my spirits.”
If you’re looking for the best carousels for your child(ren), there are some great spots that will take you off the beaten path
We explored Parc de la Villette, near our flat in the 19th arrondissement with the canal running through it. A huge futuristic park built on reclaimed industrial land in the 1980s, this park is home to music venues, a science museum, and a series of themed playgrounds. Anja enjoyed the large sculptural steel dragon slide in the Garden of the Dragon, but best were the two carousels!
The Carousel Jules Verne is a large, beautiful, double-decker Belle Epoque-style carousel decorated with scenes from Verne’s novels. Among the traditional horses and circus animals are a series of imaginative vehicles including Nemo’s Nauticus, a hot air balloon, and a rocket ship. It’s impossible to choose which to experience, so you might need to ride this carousel twice! Then jump on the fabulous flying swings next to the carousel! Though not strictly a carousel, the flying swings were from the same era, decorated like a fancy cake, and great fun!
An iconic formal French garden in the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens are home to the oldest carousel in Paris with the added bonus of pony rides on weekends. It’s a beautiful place, especially if you’re traveling with children. Watching the children playing with model sailboats in the circular pond in the center of the Garden is another quintessential Parisian childhood experience.
Seeing the other children with their boats, and spying the clearly-marked sailboat rental kiosk, Anja was confident and clearly getting the hang of Parisian life as she reached right into her cross-body bag to pull out a 5 Euro note, and picked out her boat. The picture of Anja sailing her boat in the Luxembourg Gardens warms my heart!
Carnival and Ferris Wheel in the Tuileries Gardens
From the end of June to the end of August, there is a family-friendly carnival in the heart of Paris. Some of the rides involved getting splashed, which was pleasant in the heat. The location is elegant, and the carnival was a huge hit with Anja. Although it was expensive and the adults tired of it rather quickly, the views from the ferris wheel made it all worth it. We saw a good number of iconic sites from the air, including the incredibly long lines of people standing in the hot sun to get into the Louvre!
Never Say No to Ice Cream
We certainly don’t!!
Berthillon Glacier on the Isle Saint-Louis is considered by some to be the best ice cream in the world – with the attendant long lines to prove it. We were fortunate to find a world-class ice cream parlor calledLa goutte de laitin Montmartre, near Sacre Coeur, instead. The quality of the ice cream and sorbet was superb, and the flavors were interesting, imaginative, and delicious.
Mostly though, we just stopped at whichever ice cream cart, kiosk, or truck took our fancy. One really pleasant moment was sitting at a table in the shade after sailing boats in the Luxembourg Gardens, eating ice cream, taking in the Latin Quarter atmosphere. Another such moment: enjoying artisanal ice cream from a cart outside Monet’s Garden, drinking in the charm of the village and the country air.
For adults and children alike, ice cream is the answer on a hot day in Paris!
Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny
One of the most beautiful gardens in the world, in my opinion. This was at the top of Anja’s wish list for the trip, and I was worried about the lines and crowds in July. I turned to the Wanderful community for hints and tips to minimize the obstacles and maximize the magic of the place. Tips from the Wanderful community introduced me to the concept of
We left Mama and Daddy to take some Paris time for themselves, while Anja and I were off to our big adventure! Giverny is about an hour outside Paris by train and bus, but we were picked up at our flat, and driven through Paris and the Normandy countryside in stress-free comfort in an air-conditioned, eight-seat van. Our eyes grew wide when we saw the long line of people standing in the sun, waiting for admission. Our driver shepherded us to a side entrance for groups and tours, and we had a couple of hours to ourselves to explore the house, the two gardens, the gift shop, the village, and, of course, eat ice cream.
This pricey luxury was well worth it for us and a splurge I highly recommend!
The Eiffel Tower
Going up the Eiffel Tower was also high on Anja’s wish list. Even with advance tickets, the Wanderful community warned me that security and entrance lines could be hours long.
Best tip? Go first thing in the morning, ahead of the crowds and heat!
After a long day of train travel back to Paris from Burgundy and the Alps, the family made our way down through the Champs de Mars to the Eiffel Tower in the late afternoon. It was discouraging, especially in contrast to the gorgeous French countryside. Hot, dusty, crowded, too many wire fences and security walls ruining the view. Lots of lines, very confusing. Hordes of tourists.
Happily, the scene at nine o’clock in the morning was entirely different –the air fresh, the lines short. Anja was game to walk up the stairs (a much shorter line than for the elevator), and was beaming with joy when we reached the first platform and the spectacular view. We had met her heart’s desire!
Playdate in Paris with the Wanderful Community
Within a day or two of coming home, a mother posted on the community Facebook page that she was in Paris with her English-speaking child. Would anyone want to meet? I wrote to her, “If only this had been last week, we’d have loved to meet you for a playdate in the park.” I told her about swimming in the canal. I mentioned the post to Anja.
“Would you like to have a playdate with a little girl in Paris?” Definitive answer: Yes.
I am sad that this playdate didn’t actually happen. In the future, I’ll definitely plan a meet up through the Wanderful community!
The bottom line: I have mixed feelings about the trip. We saw a lot of Paris, and did some great things. Summer was a hard time to go, frankly. But like millions of others, that was the time we could all get away. It was too hot, and it was too crowded. Swimming saved us from the heat, and we managed to enjoy a couple of priority destinations by strategizing how we’d manage the crowds.
But overall, it was fun to seize the opportunity to seek out “Parisian childhood” activities with Anja and as a family.
Next time, I’ll be using the Wanderful community right from the start as a resource, not only for information and advice, but also for a playdate in Paris!