We just returned from an 8 day trip to France with our 10 and 13 year old. I am not a travel blogger by any stretch, but I thought it was worth sharing the information I gleaned along the way before I forget it all. As well as so many crowd sourced tidbits I may have not gotten to take full advantage of but they should not go to waste.
Why France? I felt the NEED to visit Europe and France was calling to me. An energy vibration I was picking up after not leaving the country for 3 years. TBH I would have gone solo but it felt cruel to leave the kids and hubs behind. This was a last minute booking. We had been waiting on the kids passports to be renewed and I didn't feel confident booking anything until I had passports in my sweaty little hands. The minute they came I looked up flights and the best ones were the day after their school let out. If I waited any longer the prices would have been higher and the streets even more crowded than they already were. I shoehorned the trip in between other summer plans. If I had planned better, I would have booked months in advance, at more appropriate dates, for a longer stay. But this was the best I could do at short notice and it was way better than not going anywhere.
We flew with French Bee because it was a non-stop flight from LAX to Paris-Orly. It was a new to me airline and I had uncertainties because the NY-Paris route reviews were dismal and the LA-Paris route was too new to have reviews. I chanced it and to my delight they were lovely. No issues boarding. Friendly staff. Clean new planes. In flight entertainment. You had to buy any and all snacks and drinks besides water and pay for luggage and seat assignments, but that's ok. I'm used to that now with domestic flights. It was a smooth ride. Upon landing in Orly, also a nice newish small airport, we got through customs quickly and walked out to fetch a cab to the city. I had been about to order a car service in advance for 70 Euro but never pulled the trigger. I'm glad I had not because it was a flat 37 Euro trip to the city. I would have felt like such a fool. There is also an 11 Euro train but as a family of 4 it was cheaper for us to go by cab.
Our first 3 days were spent in the Marais which is an older part of the city whose smaller scale buildings and narrow roads were never torn down and rebuilt in the Haussmann style like the rest of Paris. Its quaint, its full of character, and its very hip. Like the Brooklyn or Lower East side of Paris. I LOVE this neighborhood. Sweet walking streets with upscale boutiques and eateries, pretty young things walking around, in spitting distance of the Siene. It was also historically the Jewish neighborhood and it retains a few traditional middle eastern eateries like the famous L'As du Fallafel (totally as good as they say and worth waiting in line for), Miznon around the corner, and more as well as the (free) Jewish Museum. I enjoyed our days walking around this neighborhood. Its an effortlessly cool area. The Picasso Museum (less diaries and photos, more famous works please) and the Pompidou Center (great fun, many thrilling pieces, my favorite! Not to be missed views of Paris from the 5th floor terrace) are both here and easy to get through in 90 minutes each.
Finding accommodations for a family of 4 was tough in France. Most hotels cater to couples and most Airbnbs are entire houses/flats for larger groups. There also feels like a few scammers who have listings that are "new" and too good to be true. The pictures are stunning and the prices too low. They get photos from real estate listings, make fake postings, take your deposit and then delete the postings. Beware. I lucked out with this small apartment in the Marais. It functions as an Airbnb but feels more like a hotel because they have a few units in the same building all decorated alike and hosted by the same company. It was set up with everything we needed and more. It felt bigger than it was and was more tasteful in person than the photos let on. The street was a quieter one across from a park but a block in any direction to bustling and interesting corners.
We would start the mornings by letting our kids sleep in and walking down the block to the local boulangerie for fresh baguette and delicious pasteries to bring back to the room along with cheeses. Truth be told, my kids weren't used to walking as much as we asked them too and got nada from absorbing the streetscapes. In the afternoons they wanted to go back to the Airbnb and get a break. Alec and I felt good about leaving them on their own to unwind and doing the smaller museums on our own. They were a 5 minute walk away. We would come back after our afternoon outing and take them out for dinners which they enjoyed very much.
Dinners are funny in that anything decent opens at 7:00 pm only and most people don't show up until 8:30/9:00 because the sun doesn't set until 10:00. But if you want to go at the more popular times you need a reservation which was tricky for us because you have to call during lunch time and speak in French. We opted to go as soon as the restaurant opened to get a table, knowing it wouldn't be as lively. We also noticed that the service was laughably bad. They wanted you to sit and wait as long as possible between courses and not ask for anything like more bread or water so they willfully avoided eye contact. Getting the bill and then waiting for them to come back and take payment was excruciating. It was kind of hysterical and part of the experience.
The best restaurant we ate at in this area was Chez Janou (their mousse is famous). It was perfection. Like a 60s time capsule of Parisian cafe society and I loved it to bits. Around the corner from the Place des Vosges, arguably the first planned urban park. The public square oozes sophistication and worth a drop in.
A few people recommended Cafe Charlot and I did not get it at all. The food was simple and frankly disappointing to me but my kids enjoyed the food and happy hour mocktails very much. Go figure. We tried to eat at the very tiny and traditional Robert et Louise but no luck. Next time we will make online reservations in advance. Doh. We did enjoy Les Philosophes: it had wonderful sidewalk dining and even though the dishes were unimaginative, its one of the first farm to table restaurants in Paris and I liked the story there. Other restaurants in this area that were recommended but we didn't have time to go to:
Le Loir dans la Théière (best desert ever),
Oyster Club (name speaks for itself)
Breizh (the kids will love the crepes here, they only have salty and sweet crepes. You might have to wait in a line or try to reserve, not sure they take reservations.
Grand Cafe Tortoni good for coffee.
Baba Marais : Mediterranean and kosher
Le Perchoire Marais rooftop restaurant and cocktail bar, great view of the city hall and Paris rooftops
Georges is a rooftop cafe in the Pompidou Center if for city views
Le Marché des Enfants Rouges is an open air food market/hall a lot like Chelsea Market in NY or Grand Central Market in LA if you want to see a mix of local fare.
Fleux was a cute home store to visit along with Merci in the upper Marais. I wasn't blown away by the shopping here. They had a lot of the same chains we have like Anthropologie, Uggs, & Stories, Lululemon, and the local brands were a homogenized versions of the same shops we have here. Globalization took away a lot of regional quirkiness we would find before and that was disappointing. But also ok because I certainly don't need more stuff.
Besides screen time and bribing our kids to go on walks with us with carbs, we did book a walking tour to take them on for an overview of the main attractions without signing up to do the overtly touristy activities. Best Bits of Paris was 4.5 hours with Johan (Claire's partner) was very much worth it. The time flew by and we really did get an enjoyable overview of the important monuments and places along with flash mini history lessons. Plus a stop for crepes.
More museums in this area if you have a lot more time than we did and less whiny children:
Louvre - its massive and the lines are insane. I wouldn't bother even trying during the summer. On a sad wintry day, sure thing.
Musee d' Orsay - Chock full of Impressionism. I really wanted time in here, but alas it wasn't meant to be for this trip.
Rodin Museum - pretty and small. I think you have to be in the right mood. Close by is the famous department store Bon Marche. Its known for its iconic escalators. We popped in but they were covered in banners on both sides, kind of ruining it for me. Be aware it may not be worth the stop.