The sun is out and I’m sure lots of people have Paris on their minds! Here are our family tips for visiting the City of Love!
A huge group of people are all hurrying towards the same destination. We are in theLouvre Museum in Paris, famous not only for its art, but for its starring role in The Da Vinci Code, and we are moving along at speed to see one specific painting.
Except, of course it is not just any painting: the Mona Lisa is probably the most famous piece of art in the world. It is over 500 years old and has been housed in the Louvre since 1797. Despite the many objects on display, no one seems very interested in anything but the woman with the enigmatic smile.
When we actually find her, on a wall, behind a rope, she looks a bit smaller than I expected (only 21 by 30 inches). She’s also covered with bullet-proof glass.
Jess, Robert and I wriggle through the many people staring and taking pictures. We try to get an uninterrupted view, but it’s tricky with so many mobile phones in the way.
This museum, with its long queues and hordes of tourists, was not, as you may have guessed, the highlight of our trip to Paris, but it felt like something which had to be done. Luckily, once we had ticked it off our to-do list, we could enjoy some of the other treats on offer.
Of course these included the iconicEiffel Tower, once the tallest building in the world (it’s over 300 metres high). It should be top of every first-time visitor’s list, although it is extremely popular and if you just turn up, your heart will sink at the sight of the incredibly long queues. To avoid those, make sure you buy a ticket online in advance, and when you arrive, look for the signs for “Entree Visiteurs Avec Reservation”. You can find more of our tips for visiting the Eiffel Tower with, or without kids, here.
It’s ironic that the Tower, built by Gustave Eiffel for the World Exhibition in 1889, was meant to be temporary and there were complaints that this huge “object” was not a suitable fit for Parisian architecture. Fortunately, those grumbles are long gone and the Tower has become a symbol of the city, hovering into view pretty much wherever you are. If you want to take the perfect photograph, you might want to walk over to the Trocadero after your visit.
The Eiffel Tower more than lives up to the hype, and so does its home town. This so-called city of light is not only known as a place for lovers, but for artists, gourmands and shopaholics.
That doesn’t mean we fell in love with it instantly. In fact, we found Paris less friendly than London (although I’m a Londoner, so might be biased) and a bit confusing because lots of places are closed on certain days – Victor Hugo’s house and the Musee D’Orsay on Mondays, the Louvre on Tuesdays – so you have to plan ahead.
It’s also one of the priciest cities in the world. We were shocked to find that a soft drink or hot chocolate cost more than €5 and I had to bite my tongue when my daughter wanted a macaroon and I saw that it cost €6, or over £5 for one biscuit!
But those things apart, Paris certainly has a lot to offer. The city is actually a collection of villages (or arrondissements) and you can stroll round the artists’ area of Montmartre before taking a short cable car ride up to the beautiful Basilique do Sacre-Coeur (where you can see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night) or saunter through the beautiful Tuileries gardens.
Shoppers should take in the Marais district, which is also full of galleries and cafes, while families should take advantage of the fantastic parks on offer, from ones you just fall upon by chance (such as just outside Victor Hugo’s house) to the spectacular, such as the Jardin D’Acclimation, which is worth a visit on its own. Robert has written his own post about this.
We also enjoyed seeing the famous Rodin sculpure of the Thinker at the Rodin Museum. We loved walking around this museum as there are so many sculptures to see outdoors. It was already closed for visitors inside when we were there.
Walking is a particular pleasure because you keep coming upon remarkable monuments, such as the 23 metre high Obelisk, which was originally located at the entrance to Luxor Temple, in Egypt. We also walked past a memorial to Winston Churchill.
One of the most impressive is the Arc de Triomphe, even though it’s right in the middle of traffic chaos. Built by Napoleon, it’s situated in the centre of the Place de L’Etoile (which means “place of the star”). Twelve grand avenues, including the Champs Elysees, radiate off it, to form, funnily enough, a star.
However, our favourite part of our Paris trip was not on dry land. It was a sightseeing cruise along the River Seine in a boat, the famous Bateaux Mouche.
This 70 minute ride, which costs €12.5 per adult, is a must-do, as it’s relaxing and informative, with fantastic views. It is wonderful to see so much, from Notre Dame to the fortress of the Conciergie, and all from an angle you could never see on land. It really is the best way to see the city.
PS We went to Paris via Eurostar and thought it was a fantastic way to travel and far more relaxing than flying!