The Best Things to do with Kids in Paris

The Best Things to do with Kids in ParisParis is top of most people’s travel wish lists and with good reason – it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But how easy is it to visit with children?

The good news is that the city has more than enough to entertain every member of the family, whatever their age. You can easily combine visits to the cultural sights with trips to the numerous parks and those all-important stops for ice cream and hot chocolate. The trick is finding those activities that children will find fun and engaging. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Paris with kids.

Paris, like most big cities, can get very busy, with long queues at many of the most popular sights. With this in mind I’ve included tips on avoiding queues wherever possible.

Look for the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame

The gruesome monsters at the top of Notre Dame are some of the most famous gargoyles in the world. If you climb all 387 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase you’ll be able to see them close up and be rewarded with spectacular views over Paris. This is the world made famous by Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Don’t miss the chance to go inside the 800-year-old Gothic cathedral where Napoleon had himself crowned. Arrive before it opens to avoid long queues to climb the tower.

The cathedral of Notre Dame is open every day and visits are free. The tower can be climbed every day from 10am until 6.30pm. It is open until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August. Adults, €12; under 18s, free.

Watch a puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg

The beautiful Luxembourg Gardens are home to the oldest puppet theatre in France – there are shows three times a week and every day during the school holidays. These grand gardens, complete with statue-lined promenades, fountains and old men playing chess under the trees, are a Parisian institution and the perfect place for children to let off steam. There’s a good playground, sandpits, a vintage merry-go-round and pony rides. You can even hire model boats to sail on the pond.

Visit the bird market on Île de la Cité

Every Sunday, the flower market near Notre Dame is transformed into a bird market. You’ll hear the squawking and singing of the birds well before you arrive and your children will love seeing all the parrots, canaries, budgies and mynah birds for sale. You can cuddle rabbits here too.

Find the best hot chocolate in Paris

The hot chocolate in Paris is thick and creamy and more like melted chocolate than the watered down version we get in the UK. It’s usually served in a jug, with extra cream to make it even more indulgent. It’s fun for kids to embark on a quest to find the best hot chocolate in the city.

We like the Belle Époque splendour of Angelina’s near the Louvre where Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn used to come. Another favourite is Un Dimanche à Paris on a cobbled passageway on the Left Bank. The rich hot chocolate here comes with the very welcome addition of three miniature cakes.

Brave the underground tunnels of the Catacombes

The bones of over six million people have been carefully arranged along the walls of the underground tunnels which run under the city. These are the bones of the victims of the French Revolution, the Plague and the guillotine. There were so many deaths that by the late 18th century the public burial pits were overflowing and so millions of bones were transferred down into these old mineshafts.

The 45-minute tour takes you down a spiral staircase and along some of the tunnels. You’ll only see a fraction of what is down here – the tunnel network is 200 miles long and during the Second World War they were used as hideouts by both members of the Resistance and the Nazis.

The Catacombes are open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am until 8.30pm. Adults, €12; children, €5. To avoid the queues, get here before it opens or book a guided tour – these cost more but you won’t have to queue.

Watch a magic show in the Musée de la Magie

Best Things to do with Kids in ParisThis quirky museum in the Marais is a must for aspiring magicians. Down in its 16th-century vaulted cellars you’ll find a treasure trove of tricks, props and illusions from the 18th century to the present day. It’s all brilliantly interactive, with distorting mirrors, secret boxes, handles to turn and illusions to figure out.

All kids will love the magic show which is included in the price of the ticket.

The Musée de la Magie is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm until 7pm. Adults, €9; children, €7.

Take the bus around some of the best sights in Paris

Why pay for a sightseeing bus tour when you can go on a local bus for a fraction of the cost? The number 69 bus takes you past the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Marais and Bastille and finishes at the Père Lachaise Cemetery where famous figures like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Jim Morrison are buried.

Be a news presenter in the TV Studio at Cité des Enfants

This science and technology museum is widely considered to be the best museum in Paris for children. It’s crammed with fun and interactive activities to help children explore scientific phenomena. In the area for two to seven-year-olds you can work with other children to build a house or fix a car, take part in circus acts or find objects using your senses.

The five to 12-year-olds can head to the TV Studio to present the news and learn how to use a camera. They can also measure how fast they run and play water games.

The Cité des Enfants is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Adults, €9; under 25s, €7. Sessions last for an hour and a half.

Take a boat trip down the Seine

how to plan a trip to paris with a childMake the getting around part of the fun. Taking a boat trip down the River Seine is a great way to get your bearings on your first day. The boats, which travel from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back, go past many of the most iconic sights in Paris. The tours usually last an hour and the audio commentary tells you more about what you’re seeing.

There are several companies. We liked Bâteaux Parisiens.

Ride on a merry-go-round

Your children will be delighted to find old-fashioned carrousels scattered all over the city, many of which are over 100 years old. Quite a few of them are in front of some of the most famous sights in Paris – the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Hôtel de Ville – so they make a great reward for tired little legs while you’re out seeing the sights.

Make it even more fun by copying the French children and playing the jeu de bagues. You’re given a stick and you have to try and spear the metal rings as you spin around.

Climb up the Eiffel Tower

how to plan a trip to paris with your childMy own children have assured me that you can’t go to Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower. If you really want to impress everyone back home then you should climb up the stairs instead of taking the lift. Not only much more fun, it’s also cheaper and the queues for the stairs are much shorter than those for the lift.

The stairs will take you to the second level and you can get the elevator to the top from there. To avoid the longest queues, book tickets in advance from the website. You can only book tickets online for the elevator. Tickets for the stairs are sold at the Tower.

The Eiffel Tower is open every day from 9am until 12.45am from mid June to early September, and from 9.30am until 11pm for the rest of the year. 

Do a treasure hunt around the Louvre

Paris has some of the best art museums in the world so it’s a great place to get your kids excited about art. If you’re going to one of the big galleries, be sure to take it at their pace. Work out what you’re interested in seeing and just do those. That way you won’t get museum fatigue and you can spend time looking at what you’re most interested in.

My kids loved the Impressionists and the clock at the Musée d’Orsay and then we headed to the wonderful Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s spectacular series of waterlily paintings. This is a particularly good museum for children as it’s less busy and has more space for you to sit and gaze at the massive paintings.

For modern art, head for the Pompidou Centre. Children will love its crazy, colourful exterior and the interactive exhibits in the Children’s Gallery. Be sure to go up to the top floor for panoramic views over Paris and then spend time enjoying all the street entertainers in the square outside.

If you’re going to the Louvre, I’d recommend taking a fun tour like the Treasure Hunts offered by THATLou. In teams of two to four you follow the clues to various works of art in a scavenger hunt around the museum.

Eat lots of cake

With an amazing pâtisserie on virtually every street corner you can feel justified in indulging your sweet tooth while you’re in Paris. You’ll find macarons in every colour of the rainbow, lemon tarts, éclairs, Baba au Rhum and Paris-Brest. They’ll come beautifully wrapped in a pyramid parcel ready for you to enjoy beside the Seine or in one of Paris’s wonderful parks.

Cuddle a cat in the Café des Chats

The Best Things to do with Kids in ParisCat lovers will adore the Cat Café in the Marais where you can find over a dozen cats wandering around, curled up on chairs or sleeping in corners while you enjoy lunch or afternoon cake.

The cats have all been rescued and have been specially chosen for their sociability. They can all be cuddled (unless they’re sleeping) but young children will need to be supervised.

Le Café des Chats is open on Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm until 10.30pm. 

Have an ice cream beside the Seine

Berthillon on the Île Saint-Louis serves some of the most famous ice creams in the world. When you’ve bought yours, follow the steps down to the banks of the River Seine. It’s a lovely spot to eat your ice cream while you walk beside the river, stopping to look at all the barges along the riverbank.

Learn how to make éclairs in a cooking class

Children can have a lot of fun learning how to create their own sweet treats by taking a cooking class. At Cook’n With Class in Montmartre, six to 12-year-olds are taught how to make molten lava cakes and French jam shortbreads. The whole family can take part in a two-hour choux pastry workshop at L’Atelier des Sens and learn how to make éclairs. Both classes are in English.

 

For more tips and ideas on travelling to Paris with kids, take a look at

How to make City Trips Fun for Kids: The Leap & Hop Travel Guides

and How to plan a one-to-one trip to Paris with your child.

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How to make City Trips Fun for Kids: The Leap & Hop Travel Guides

Taking your children to visit cities can be a real headache. You want to look at the sights, see the museums and enjoy the food but you don’t want crotchety kids moaning about how tired and bored they are.

When you’re travelling with children, particularly if you want to see the cultural sights,  you need to find something to engage their interest.  I always try and hunt out the stories that will make the place, the history or the art come alive and turn it into a fun experience for all of us. We’ve gone hunting for dragons at the Brighton Pavilion, found out about the King who chopped off queens’ heads at the Tower of London and searched for the sea monsters carved into the stone in the cloisters of a Lisbon Monastery.

Travel is the best possible way to teach your children about the world they live in as they get the chance to explore different cultures, learn about history and try new foods. But it’s not always easy. You have to change your pace when you’re travelling with children, take things slower. You can’t walk around for hours. You also need to factor in tiredness, hunger and boredom thresholds.

But when you get it right and you see that excitement in their eyes when they’re experiencing something for the first time, you realise that far from slowing you down, travelling with kids can be even more rewarding than it was before.

The wonderful Leap & Hop travel guides are brilliant at helping to turn a grown-up trip into a fun adventure for children. The books include guides to the cities of New York, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong. They’ve been created to help kids get involved and excited about their travels with fun, interactive activities.

The Paris guide is wonderful. It’s packed with information about the city, with games and activities on every page to help kids discover more about where they’re visiting.  You can go on a scavenger hunt around a department store, take a quiz walk around Montmartre, design clothes for the fashion capital of the world and hunt for the ‘mascarons’ (carved faces) on the Parisian buildings you pass. There are spot-the-differences, colouring pages and word searches and it’s all really colourful and beautifully illustrated.

My kids and I loved the idea that you can turn the book into a very special travel scrapbook of your trip. There are places to stick ticket stubs and souvenirs, draw pictures or take photos of what you loved and hated eating while you were there.

The book is so jam-packed with information and things to do that you couldn’t possibly do it all on one trip so there will always be something to save for your next visit. The books are aimed at 7 to 14-year-olds although younger children would be able to enjoy some of the activities with their parents’ help.

My 10-year-old was delighted with it. “It’s an amazing book!” he told me. “You’d know every corner of Paris when you finished doing it.” He’s really excited about using it when he goes to the city for the first time.

The books have been written by Isabelle Demenge. She wrote her first guide to Cambodia when she couldn’t find anything suitable for her three children, aged 8, 6 and 3, for their family trip to the country.

“I wanted to make sure that the kids could enjoy the temples so I tried to think of activities that they would enjoy for each temple on our list: treasure hunts, i-spy games and doodle prompts. It was a big hit with my three boys and their two cousins and so every year I wrote another book for them for our big family vacation.”

Her boys loved the book so much that she now writes one every time they travel anywhere – even for a long weekend. There are now nine books in the series and Isabelle is planning more. “It’s great to see how all three of them are interested in different sections of the books,” she says.

You can buy the books from the Leap & Hop website for HK $170 (about £15). They are also available on Amazon. I’ll certainly be using them with my kids and I think they’d make wonderful presents for children travelling to those destinations.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post. I was very kindly given a copy of the Leap & Hop guide to Paris for the purposes of review. All opinions are, of course, my own.

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Airbnb: Is it worth the hype?

If you want to stay in an apartment or villa on your next holiday, chances are you’ll consider using Airbnb. The room-letting website has experienced a massive growth since it started in 2008, with over 40 million people all over the world using it to find a spare room or property to stay in while they’re travelling. It’s so popular it’s used in the English language as a verb: “we’re airbnbing it on the Algarve this summer.”

Staying in a rental property often works out quite a bit cheaper than a hotel, particularly if you’re doing your own cooking, so it can be a fantastic option if you’re on a city break. Paying less for accommodation sometimes means that you can afford to stay an extra night or two.

But how good is Airbnb? Does it justify all the hype? We’ve stayed in a lot of rental properties over the years, particularly in the UK as we usually book a cottage somewhere over the Easter holidays. We’ve stayed in some wonderful places, like the Cumbrian house in the Bronte sisters’ old school, the gîte in Brittany where we were invited to dinner with the owners, and the cottage in Cornwall set in parkland safe enough for the boys to go out and explore.

They haven’t all been perfect. Like that place in Devon where the kitchen roof started leaking after a heavy rain storm or the cottage on the Isle of Wight where the dust on the sitting room sofas was so thick my husband nearly had an asthma attack.

We’ve often booked through Owners Direct, a rental company where you deal directly with the owners. It usually works out cheaper than booking through a cottage rental company.

Airbnb works in a similar way so I was interested to see how it compared. We had the ideal opportunity to judge for ourselves as we’ve used it three times in the last few months, staying at three very different properties in three separate countries. Here’s what we thought.

How does Airbnb work?

Airbnb is an online home rental community, with over 2 million listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries. You rent a room or an entire property from a local host. You can choose from treehouses and caves to boats, cottages or apartments. In some places you need only stay for a day, in others you can stay for several months.

LISBON

The trip

City break for a family of four

The space

A two-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a 17th-century building, with a dining room, well-equipped kitchen and light and airy sitting room with comfortable sofa and chairs.

The apartment was clean and stylishly decorated. We particularly loved the sitting room with its big windows overlooking the area. The apartment was a really good size for the four of us and made the perfect base for exploring Lisbon.

The location

A Photo Tour of LisbonGreat. On a traffic-free street in the Bairro Alto, a picturesque historic neighbourhood in the centre of the city. We could easily walk to many of Lisbon’s sights and the tram and metro stops were close by. Good restaurants and cafés were only a short walk away. Some of the bars in this area can get quite noisy at night but our bedrooms were tucked away in the back of the building so we were never disturbed by noise even on the Friday and Saturday nights.

The welcome

The hosts could not have been more helpful or welcoming. They responded very quickly to all my questions before our arrival. We were met at the apartment and given useful tips about the area and a booklet filled with recommendations of places to go and good restaurants.

When we experienced electrical problems we called the host and he explained how to sort it out straightaway. When I asked about taxi companies for our journey back to the airport they booked the taxi for us.

The cost

We paid £352 for four nights including all fees.

The verdict

The best possible first experience of Airbnb. The apartment was first rate and the hosts were wonderful. It worked out a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel and we had much more space.

PARIS

How to plan a trip to Paris with a childThe trip

Long weekend stay for a couple

The space

Apartments in Paris all seemed to be a lot more expensive than those in Lisbon. For almost the same price as our large two-bedroom apartment in Portugal, I booked a small mezzanine apartment on a quiet, residential street in the Latin Quarter.

It was a small room with a kitchen counter on one side, a sofa, small table and stairs leading up to the mezzanine where the bedroom was located. Your head touched the ceiling two-thirds of the way up the stairs and once in the bedroom it was only one metre from floor to ceiling so you had to crawl in and out of the bed. The sofa wasn’t very comfortable so we never felt like lingering there.

On the plus side, the apartment was clean, relatively stylish and had a particularly nice bathroom. We were really impressed that we could make free international phone calls.

The location

Near Les Gobelins metro station on the southern edge of the 5th arrondissement. We were near good bakeries and a couple of fantastic local bistros and only a short walk away from the rue Mouffetard where you could find great foodie treats in the market.

I love walking around when I’m visiting cities so I would have preferred a more central location. It was a 40-minute walk from Notre Dame so we needed to use public transport more often than we have been used to when staying in Paris.

The welcome

The host emailed us a really useful list of personal recommendations for restaurants, museums etc after we’d booked. I’d have loved a copy of this in the apartment too. We never met the host. The key was left in a safe box. We tried contacting the host on her mobile during our stay because the TV wasn’t working but she didn’t call us back.

The cost

We paid £257 for three nights including all fees.

The verdict

Compared to our experience in Lisbon, this was a disappointment.

THE SUFFOLK COAST

The trip

A week beside the sea with a family of four plus dog

The space

We often book a week in a cottage in the UK but this was our first time with Airbnb. We needed a cottage nice enough for us to want to spend a reasonable amount of time in as we would be eating most of our meals there and spending our evenings curled up in front of the fire.

This was a lovely cottage, with two good-sized bedrooms, a sitting room with sofas and log fire and a large well-equipped kitchen diner including a cupboard filled with board games. It was all beautifully decorated. There was a small garden, with garden furniture and a shed full of crabbing gear.

The location

Perfect. In the centre of the delightful village of Walberswick, near the excellent pubs, cafés and playground on the village green. Even better, we were only a short walk from the beach.

The welcome

The host was very quick to respond to our queries and allowed us to bring our dog with us. We didn’t meet her because she lives abroad. The key was left in a safe for our arrival. In the cottage there was a useful booklet filled with details of local attractions.

Not having the owner around was a disadvantage. The host responded quickly when I reported a couple of small problems but the company managing the cottage never turned up to resolve the issues despite us leaving phone messages.

The cost

We paid £781 for seven nights including all fees.

The verdict

Mixed. This was the most we’ve ever paid for a week in the UK in April and usually we stay in a three-bedroom property. We did love the cottage. Its seaside location was the best we’ve ever had but another time I would look at properties with different companies as well as seeing what Airbnb can offer.

In all our UK cottage holidays, this was the only time we’ve not been greeted on arrival or had problems dealt with straightaway.

AIRBNB: THE LOWDOWN

The good

  • The impressive website. It’s easy to use, there are lots of good quality photos of each property and you can see where the various places are located on a map – particularly helpful when you’re deciding where to stay in a city.
  • The smart messaging system which you can use on your phone makes it easy to contact the host before and during your stay.
  • The choice: with over 2 million listings, there’s a vast amount of properties to choose from.
  • The flexibility: you can rent a whole house or just a room, for a day or for several months.
  • The connections with locals: I loved the idea of getting to know your hosts and living like a local.
  • The reviews: Guests and hosts alike are encouraged to write reviews and these can be useful when deciding where to stay, especially if they’re detailed.

The not so good

  • Too much choice: There are often so many properties available that it can take ages  deciding on the right one for your trip.
  • Payment: You have to pay the full amount when you book, even if you’re not travelling for several months. With other companies we have always paid a deposit and then paid in full four weeks before our trip.
  • The extra fees: You’ll need to pay cleaning fees (from £24 for Lisbon to £70 for Suffolk) and Airbnb’s service fees on top of the rental price for each property.
  • Don’t assume that Airbnb will be any cheaper than other rental companies. It’s best to shop around for the best deals.
  • Not all hosts will be able or willing to give you that personal touch Airbnb prides itself on. We only had connections with local hosts on one out of three of our experiences.
  • The lack of arrival treats: I’ve read other reviews where guests have been left wine or other goodies on arrival at the property but this wasn’t the case for any of our three stays. This was the first time we’ve not received anything when we’ve rented a property. In the past we’ve had teabags, biscuits or local chutneys and cheeses left for us. In one cottage we arrived to find the table laid with everything we needed for a cream tea. That made us feel really special and we were disappointed not to have anything similar through Airbnb.

So after three separate stays, do I think that Airbnb is worth all the hype it gets? To be honest, I’m still undecided. I think it’s a brilliant option for people looking to rent a room in someone’s house, providing great opportunities to meet locals if you’re actually staying with them.

As a family or even when travelling as a couple, I’d be more likely to book the whole property rather than just a room. We had a fantastic experience in Lisbon and despite our disappointing stay in Paris I’d definitely consider Airbnb again for a city break. It worked out as a much more affordable way to stay in a city and we had a lot more space for our family. But I don’t think that Airbnb is so good that you should ignore what other companies have to offer. Next time I’ll be looking at other property rental websites too.

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Airbnb: Is it worth the hype?

 

 

How to plan a one-to-one trip to Paris with your child

Introducing your children to some of your favourite places is one of the thrills of being a parent. It’s wonderful revisiting those places you’ve loved with your own children and seeing them for the first time through their eyes.

I took my 11-year-old son, Edward, with me to Paris a few months ago. It was his reward for working hard for his exams but we both got a lot out of the trip. Travelling one-to-one can be a great way of bonding with your child as you get to spend some time alone together and create some really special travel memories. Here are some tips on how to make the most of the experience.

Let them get involved in the planning

how to plan a trip to Paris with your childGet your child involved in planning what you do and see while you’re there. Going on a one-to-one trip with a child will be a very different experience to going on your own, with a partner or with girlfriends. I know Paris really well – I’ve lived there and visited on numerous occasions – but this was my son’s first trip and he had very clear ideas about what he wanted to do. Edward was desperate to do all the touristy things I hadn’t done in years: climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, go down the Seine in a boat and visit Notre Dame.

Don’t plan every minute of your trip

You should definitely do some research before you go, make lists of the things you want to see, check out opening times and book tickets for sights like the Eiffel Tower to avoid queuing when you get there. But don’t plan your days so rigidly that you don’t leave any spare time for doing something on the spur of the moment or wandering around and getting a little lost in Paris’s enchanting streets and alleyways.

If you’re open to possibilities you might discover some wonderful place you haven’t read about. It’s these chance discoveries that can be the highlight of your trip. Don’t just follow the guidebook either. Often the best way to get to know a place is to listen to the locals once you’re there. Where do they eat? Where is their favourite place to visit?

Choosing where to stay

You’ll want to travel all over the city and visit sights in lots of different areas during the day but I didn’t fancy venturing too far away from our hotel at night so it’s a good idea to pick a base – whether hotel or apartment – in an area which has a lot going for it so that you’ve got restaurants, cafés and sights right on  your doorstep.

This isn’t difficult in Paris, where so many areas have an individual, villagey feel to them. Good areas to look at include the Marais (where we stayed. Take a look at my guide to the Marais for more information), the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.

Don’t try to do too much

Don’t try to fit too much in. It’s better to see one or two things well with an engaged and interested child than rush around all the sights with a child who is tired and grumpy. You won’t see anything properly and you will both be miserable. Travelling should be a pleasure, not an endurance test. If you’re going to a museum, plan something relaxing to do afterwards like finding the best ice-cream in Paris (try Berthillon on the Île Saint-Louis) or head to Angelina’s on the rue de Rivoli for the most divine hot chocolate you’ll ever taste. Don’t just rush from sight to sight.

Choosing the right place to stay

It can get pretty tiring spending the day sightseeing even when you’re having lots of treat stops for ice-creams and hot chocolate so it makes sense to base yourself in a hotel or apartment that is nice enough to provide a much needed sanctuary when you need an hour’s break before going out again.

We chose to stay in the wonderful Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais which has all the charm of an 18th-century Marais town house with its antiques and chandeliers. Edward and I delighted in returning here to put our feet up after a day’s sightseeing with a pot of tea from room service and a parcel of cakes from the local pâtisserie before heading out again for the evening.

Make getting around part of the fun

how to plan a trip to paris with a childMost cities are best experienced on foot and Paris is an absolute joy to walk around. You’ll find unexpected delights every time you turn a corner. But when you need to travel that bit further, make getting there an event in itself. On our first afternoon we took a boat trip down the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back, past many of the most iconic sights in Paris. It was a great way to get our bearings on our first day and see some of the sights before deciding which we’d like to explore further.

The other great way to get around is by bus. There’s no need to pay for a sightseeing tour when you can go on a local bus for a fraction of the price. The number 69 bus route is particularly scenic as it takes you past the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides, Saint-Germain-des-Près, Pont Neuf, the Marais and Bastille.

Try to avoid queueing

Long queues can sometimes spoil a good trip, particularly when you’ve got children. Try to avoid queues by booking online for sights like the Eiffel Tower. There are also clever ways of avoiding the very long queues for museums like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Follow the wonderful tip I was given: Go to the Cour Napoléon, the main courtyard with the Pyramid in front of the Louvre, and head for the shopping centre downstairs. Here you can buy tickets for most of the museums from a small tobacconist and then join the much smaller queue at the museums for people who already have tickets.

Don’t overdo the museums

Like a lot of first-time tourists to Paris, Edward wanted to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I managed to convince him to go to the Musée d’Orsay instead. The Musée du Louvre is rightly one of the world’s most famous museums but it is massive and you need a whole day to do it justice which wasn’t an option for us on a weekend trip. Plus, the Mona Lisa is always surrounded by tourists and it’s so small when you actually get up to it that it’s almost a let down after battling through all the crowds.

The Musée d’Orsay, while still huge, is more manageable and there were enough famous paintings in there to satisfy Edward: Van Gogh’s Self Portrait and Starry Night, Manet’s Olympia and Monet’s Rouen Cathedral to name just a few.

Unless you plan on spending most of the day in a particular museum it’s always a good idea to decide which painters and paintings you really want to see and just do those. That way, you and your child won’t get museum fatigue and you’ll be able to spend time looking at the things you’re most interested in. Edward was keen to see the Impressionists so we did the large gallery on the fifth floor and a couple of other bits and pieces on the other floors. Obviously we had to see the clock too.

The advantage of pacing ourselves and just seeing a few chosen things in the Musée d’Orsay meant that after a lovely lunch in a café in the middle of Jardin Tuileries we felt up to wandering over to the Musée de l’Orangerie to gaze at Monet’s wonderful series of Water Lily paintings in their specially designed gallery.

Bond over books – or whatever the two of you have in common

It’s great when you share an interest with your children. Edward and I both love books so it was always a must for me to take him to my favourite bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, which is tucked away beside the Seine on the Left Bank. We spent ages wandering through the book-lined rooms and up the winding stairs where we found a white cat curled up on one of the beds. Edward loved the idea that book lovers and aspiring writers can sleep in the beds here amongst the bookshelves on the condition that they read a book a day. He nearly moved in there and then but eventually settled himself down with a book on one of the comfy day beds.

We even managed to find a bookshop to have our dinner in one evening – the wonderful La Belle Hortense in the Marais, which doubles up as a wine bar at night.

How to plan a trip to Paris with your childPlan something that’s especially for them

Make your trip even more special by finding an activity perfectly suited to your child’s interests. Edward’s really into magic so we visited the Musée de la Magie which is a fantastic museum for kids whether they’re aspiring magicians or not. There’s a live magic show and an impressive display of props from famous magicians like Robert Houdin. It’s a brilliantly interactive museum too, with lots of handles to turn, magical mirrors to look through and illusions to figure out.

 

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Five Fantastic Reasons to go to Provence

Provence, in the South of France, is perfect in so many ways. Its perched hilltop villages, fields of lavender, stone farmhouses, great local markets and vineyards make it one of the most picturesque parts of France. The food and wine are delicious, there are Roman ruins and castles to explore and life is that little bit more laid-back so everyone is more relaxed.

We spent a week exploring the Vaucluse area in the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains in the north west of Provence. Here are some of the things that made us fall in love with the area.

THE WALKS

In an area this gorgeous you’d be mad not to want to explore as much as you can on foot. We found some lovely walks through pretty hilltop villages, like tiny Séguret, with its picturesque old houses, narrow streets and 12th-century church. If you follow the path further up the hill, through the cypress and pine trees, you get to the ruined castle at the top. Our two boys are used to walking but it’s always easier to entice them with the promise of a castle at the end – or an ice-cream.

In these hillside villages we spent most of our time clambering up paths to get to the top of the hill, past olive groves and vineyards. The view from the top was always breathtaking – terracotta-coloured houses, other towns clinging to the hillsides and Mont Ventoux in the distance. We usually set off in the morning when it was cooler and worked up an appetite for lunch.

THE FOOD

It has been said that if the French love to eat, the people of Provence live to eat and Provence certainly has some of the best food in France. Families here don’t rush their meals. They linger over the food, chatting and enjoying the meal and the wine.

Eating out in France is an event for the whole family. When the French have lunch they have a proper lunch. On our first couple of days we kept looking for cafés where we could get a quick sandwich but the only places we could find served un menu du jour, a main course and pudding.

It worked out more expensive than we’d planned – the four of us couldn’t eat for less than €50 – but it was a delicious treat. We had steak one day, fresh cod or a big Chicken Caesar Salad the next, followed by Crème Caramel, Raspberry Cream or Tiramisù.

The boys ate brilliantly: they polished off fish cooked delicately with a bit of oil and lemon and that classic on French menus for children: steak hâché, which is basically minced steak in a burger patty, usually served with chips. They finished everything that was put in front of them, licked their lips and wondered what was for pudding.

The 11-year-old was determined to try steak in all its variations, from rare to well-done. He was particularly keen to try it bleu, even after I’d explained that rare steak in France means that the cook has just placed the meat on the frying pan for an instant before putting it on the plate. He enjoyed it and we were delighted that he wanted to try everything.

Our long lunches worked well for all of us. The weather was sunny so we ate outside and enjoyed the experience of sitting together as a family, chatting about what we’d seen and tasting each other’s food. If the boys got restless they were able to wander around the courtyard – or wherever we happened  to be – in-between courses.

THE ROMAN RUINS

Our most memorable day in Provence was visiting the Roman ruins at Vaison-la-Romaine. The ruins here are amazing. There was an important Roman city here and it’s the biggest Gallo-Roman site in France. Archaeologists have uncovered entire villas, shops and an amphitheatre and visitors can walk around the whole site.

There is a good museum with statues, mosaics and domestic objects found in and around Vaison, with a helpful audio guide and an excellent film which shows you what the site would have looked like in Roman times so that when you walk around afterwards, you can tell whether you’re in the kitchen, dining room or study.

The ruins are divided into two separate sites, the Quartier de Puymin, containing the museum and amphitheatre and, across the road, the Quartier de la Villasse, with its colonnaded main street, shops and large villas. Tickets for the site are valid for 24 hours so it’s a good idea to do as we did and explore the site in two visits, one in the afternoon and one the following morning.

We were particularly impressed with the Quartier de la Villasse. When we visited in the morning there was hardly anyone there so it felt like we had the whole site to ourselves. The boys clambered over the ruins, found a secret tunnel, sat on the Roman loos and pretended to be Romans in their own house.

It was one of those brilliant trips as a family where every single one of us was completely engaged and interested. We weren’t doing it for the sake of the children and they weren’t trailing after their parents. We all loved it.

THE WINE

Most of the restaurants throw in a quarter litre of wine as part of their menu. Here in Provence, it’s not just a treat to have a glass of wine with your meal, it’s expected. Our waiters asked us not what we wanted to drink but whether we wanted white or red wine. One lunchtime, when I said I didn’t want wine, I was asked what I’d like as my apéritif instead.

Here, in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône, the wine is fantastic. In the evenings us adults shared a half litre of the local red for €7, knowing that it would be delicious. It’s a good job the wine was so reasonably priced, given that we were struggling to pay less than €12 for a main course anywhere.

We went wine tasting in Gigondas, a charming village near where we were staying. Gigondas, a full-bodied, Grenache-based red wine is every bit as delicious as the more famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape but it’s not as much on the tourist circuit so it tends to be less expensive and the village is certainly not as busy to visit as the touristy Châteauneuf.

We visited the wineries of Gabriel Meffre and tasted at least seven different bottles. They were more than happy to open lots of different vintages for us despite the fact that we’d told them we could only buy two or three bottles (rather than the crates that other customers were going away with).

The boys found an adjacent room with comfy chairs where they curled up with their books. We were there for just over half an hour so I was mortified to hear my youngest telling a friend of mine that he’d just been on “a wine holiday”!

THE INDEPENDENCE

Five Fantastic Reasons to go to Provence

Our boys are at that age, 9 and 11, where they’re both desperate for some independence. It’s something I really struggle with as a parent because much as I want to give it to them, I find it difficult because of worrying about strangers accosting children and busy roads etc. It’s all too easy to want to keep them safe all the time, to keep them inside the house or in a fenced-off garden.

But in Provence it felt as if we all took a big step. We allowed them to go alone to the pâtisserie every morning to buy our pastries for breakfast. We went together the first few mornings and tried to impress on the boys the importance of looking left and right when they crossed the road. But it felt safe enough. We were staying in a quiet village called Sablet – they only had to walk down the road and cross from one side to the other. The trouble is our two, like a lot of children, don’t believe in walking when they can run and they seem remarkably incapable of looking before they cross a road.

Nevertheless we sent them off with a pile of Euros in their pocket and stayed in bed, sipping tea. It felt like a real treat. The boys relished their new-found freedom and took great delight in presenting us with their horde of pastries: almond croissants, pain au chocolat, apple turnovers, pastry twists with almonds, apple and chocolate.

I don’t know what the reaction was at the pâtisserie every morning when our two turned up and tried out their basic French. Harry admitted later that one morning, a queue formed out of the door and onto the pavement while Edward insisted on asking the baker eight times (Harry counted!) if she was sure she didn’t have any pain au raisins. Apparently he didn’t believe her as she’d produced some just out of the oven only the day before! I bet there were a fair few comments about the little English boys that morning.

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