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Unlocking Family Adventures in Paris

Lillian enjoys the Seine river trip.

Story and photos by Chris “Chez” Chesak

We didn’t choose Paris; it chose us.

We had exhausted most options from our family ‘bucket list’ of destinations and had given up on any ‘big’ trips for our girls’ spring break. We would settle, it would seem, for a camping trip or maybe a local ‘staycation’. Then my wife, who can surf the web with more tenacity than a Trojan virus, snagged some great prices online for both flights and a hotel, and we were suddenly Paris-bound.

While Paris hadn’t been tops on our list, we had an absolutely brilliant time there as a family.

Day one, we immediately hit the Metro and headed to the Eiffel Tower. We had no interest in actually going up into the tower (we felt that it was too expensive and the lines were long, unless you booked in advance), instead taking a short cruise along the river Seine.

While some travelers pooh-pooh ‘mass tourism’ opportunities like a river sightseeing cruise or tour bus, we love taking advantage of them early in a trip. They are a clever, convenient, and informative way to get an introduction into your new surroundings, learn a bit of local history, and – most importantly for us – get a sense of what attractions we would target for more in-depth exploration in the next few days.

Our girls explore the artworks of Versailles.

Topping that list of targets was The Louvre museum. It was fantastic, overwhelming, and, as you might suspect, a total madhouse in some areas. We made sure to go on a weekday when we thought the crowds might be thinner, but until you’re able to make your way into the lesser traveled areas of this massive museum (with 70,000 pieces of art spread across more than 650,000 square feet of gallery space), you might sometimes feel like you’re in a stampede. They do, after all, have some 8.8 million visitors/year. The museum (whose initial structure started from a fortress castle) is amazing, chock full of antiquities as well as the renowned works of art that you’d expect. We fought the crowds for the obligatory view of the Mona Lisa, but enjoyed ourselves much more in the lesser-traveled areas. I especially loved walking through the old moat and exploring the original castle building.

As a family though, we enjoyed The Louvre’s gardens even more. There were cafes nearby, both in the gardens and across the bordering streets, fountains, a massive Ferris wheel that our girls loved, and – perhaps best of all – an array of in-ground trampolines that kids can bounce on (for a small fee).

Families ascending the stairs in the Arc d’Triumph

Another great family activity was the Arc de Triumph. We assumed that it was simply that – a big arch – and that we’d show up, take a photo and move on. We didn’t realize that you can actually enter it, ascend the extensive spiral staircase and enjoy a small museum near the top. Then you can ascend even further to the rooftop observation area. Note that there is no elevator though, and we counted some 160+ steps, both up and down.

Some of Paris’ lesser-known attractions were great fun too. I was fascinated by the sewer museum (our girls thought it ‘stunk’, of course), the Musée Grévin wax museum was fun (although the majority of the figures are French celebrities), and we had a sweet time at the chocolate museum, ‘Choco-Story’.

We concluded our Paris stay with day trips to both the Normandy beaches and Versailles Palace. Versailles is accessible via the normal metro system and is massive. The grounds are so large that they used to have mock naval battles in one of the pools. We rented a golf cart to help us explore as much of the grounds as possible.

Lillian honors the U.S. dead from Omaha Beach.

The next day, we took a commuter train to Bayeux to explore Omaha Beach. While I’m a military history buff, I was afraid that the rest of my family would be bored. But after almost a week in the city, everyone was relieved to get out into the country. Key was to do a half-day tour of Omaha Beach, as a full-day tour would have made a very long day for the kids.

While Paris wasn’t on our list, it certainly won us over and we look forward to more explorations of France, hopefully soon!

If You Go

We booked off-peak flights to get some great rates, in our case flying Thursday to Thursday.

Our Ibis Hotel was very reasonable but… you certainly get what you pay for. While it was a two-room family ‘suite’, it was cramped and with zero amenities. The hotel was also overrun with high school tour groups.

I can’t recommend enough the ParisPass, which is absolutely a must for anyone visiting Paris. For one price, it includes a metro pass, and ’fast passes’ to all the major attractions over two, three, four, or six days. Be sure to lock down the most expensive attractions (like Versailles) early, before your ParisPass runs out.

Note too that the pickpockets in Paris are no joke. While we felt like we were alert, they stole 900EU from a fellow traveler on our very first day. The way they lifted his wallet from his front pants pocket was truly masterful and he didn’t suspect a thing – until it was too late.

We were able to save a bundle with our modest hotel and great airfares, but the cost of food for a family in Paris will certainly stack up on you. In hindsight, we would have much preferred an AirBnB or family-friendly HomeAway.com rental, so that we could have had groceries in the refrigerator and just whipped up at least some quick breakfasts and the occasional lunch or two.

Since there is a direct flight to Paris from our airport, we might use that flight to access other parts of Europe too, flying into Charles De Gaulle International, then taking trains to other destinations in France, or other countries nearby.

Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak is Executive Director of the Family Travel Association and a 15-year veteran of the travel industry. While he’s lived all over the U.S. and traveled to nearly 30 countries, he has the most fun when he’s exploring with his wife Sally, and two daughters. An avid outdoors person and writer, he’s happiest on a trail, on skis, or nestled into a sleeping bag. But, he’d be totally content in a sweet chateau on the Normandy coast too.

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