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.
Musee Orangerie - all the museums we went to you could buy tickets at the window but this was the only one you needed to buy online in advance and we didn't know. I missed this one but will be back. Its in a back corner of the Tuileries Garden and has a few massive Monet waterlilies on display. I'm sad we didn't get to go in because its the only museum my kids were agreeable to.
Carnavalet Museum - small museum for the history of Paris if you are overwhelmed with art.
Pinault Collection - a new museum that opened recently
Museum Cognac Jay - Decorative arts from the 17th century
Louis Vuitton Foundation is a museum and cultural center a little outside the main city that came highly recommended. Modern architecture designed by Frank Gehry with contemporary exhibits. Its on the list for the next visit when we have more time.
Obviously strolling through the perfectly manicured Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens was a dreamy highlight.
Even more suggestions from my Parisian friend...
In the 6th arrondissement:
This is a great area to walk around in, it's full of art galleries and cafes between the metro Sevres Babylone and the Seine.
Le Bon Marche (24 Rue de Sèvres, 75007 Paris, France) and its food sister store next door, La Grand epicerie. If you get food from the food store you can go have a picnic close by in an enclosed garden, Jardin Catherine Leboure( 929 Rue de Babylone, 75007 Paris, France). Really good ice cream shop is also down the street, one of the oldest in Paris with very unique flavors, Le Bac a Glaces (109 Rue du Bac, 75007 Paris, France).
Citypharma (26 Rue du Four, 75006 Paris, France), if you need french pharmacy goods this is the cheapest place in Paris to get them. All the creams etc are here. Buly (6 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France), you absolutely have to go to this beautiful store. Its amazing, I guarantee you will love the look and everything inside. Studio 7L, cool bookstore (7 Rue de Lille, 75007 Paris, France)
I recommend the following restaurants in this area:
Apetit (72 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France), they are vegan and everything is delicious. Very good daily lunch option.
Anima (78 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France), if you are in the mood for Italian style
Simple (86 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France), fresh things every day and really yummy all around.
Mamie Gateaux (66 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France), they only serve lunch. Every day it's different fresh quiques and cakes. Relaxed vintage feel.
Le Petit Verdot (75 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France), more fancy but very very good food. This one is open for lunch and then closes and opens again for dinner. Need reservations at this one.
Sip Babylon (46 Bd Raspail, 75007 Paris, France) really good people watching over a glass of wine or coffee.
In the 7th arrondissement:
The Eiffel tower and Napoleon's tomb is in this area. Great street to walk around after visiting the tower is rue Cler or rue Dominique. They are both filled with food stores, restaurants and little stores.
Le Petit Souk (117 Rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris, France) cute kids shop
L'Ami Jean (27 Rue Malar, 75007 Paris, France), great little restaurant.
The second part of our Paris visit was in Montemarte. It has such a rich romantic history that we thought it would make sense to spend time there too. It was ok, but I did not like it as much as the Marais. The main part between Moulin Rouge and Basilica Sacre Ceour is extra super cheesy touristy and crowded. Like NY Times Square or LA Hollywood and Highland tacky. I was disappointed and do not recommend staying there. The hotel we were in was called My Maison and it was terrific, but they have other locations I would prefer to see than the one in Montmarte. Chicly decorated, very thoughtful touches. Quite comfortable.
Once we got off the main tourist corridor I did find the quaintness of Montemarte. Its situated on a hill away from the main part of the city and attracted many artists of the day due to the lower rents and freedom to indulge in their bohemian expressionism away from judging eyes. The area on the backside of the Basilica is very beautiful with picturesque plazas and narrow streets. Van Gogh lived here along, with Picasso and Toulouse Lautrec of course. Later it became a stronghold for anti-establishment artists and writers like Camus. The area is rich in history which is wonderful. It boasts the last remaining Art Deco metro stops in the city. I found a sweet traditional restaurant called Poulbot that was a good time.
A small museum I was enchanted with a little south of in the Montemarte neighborhood was the Gustav Moreau Museum which is a house museum that opens to two upper floors of amazing gallery space. You can see his original furniture and mementos as he lived with them which is intriguing to an interiors enthusiast. Then move up to a gallery space showcasing the span of his professional symbolist painting. Just WOW. Gorgeous work, well curated, with a stunning spiral staircase connecting the gallery spaces. I loved it so much and highly recommend it if you can get to that area.
I would spend a day here and that's all. Once we had our fill, we found ourselves wandering back to the Marais where we liked it best of all. The walk between the two areas is very interesting and invigorating each and every block. When those little feet got tired we would Uber back (the app works in Paris) or try G7 which is their local service and cheaper when I compared.
That is a very rapid fire overview of our visit to Paris. I wish we had twice as and sadly we left many many stones unturned. But that's also the greatness of visiting Paris. I already have a list of things to see and do when we come back. Which we certainly will. And by then there will be even more new things to add to the list.
Were we crazy enough to squeeze in the French Riviera on this trip? Yes we were. That is its own blog post.