Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.
Paris with Kids
I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…
- Beady-eyed kids can tick off sights using the I-Spy Paris book (RRP £2.99). So much better than an app, with entries written in both English and French, this is a memento to look back on in years to come.
- Young fans of the Madeline books will enjoy trying to recreate her 16 mile school trip across the city, which the Wall Street Journal has mapped out. Luckily the sightseeing bus is on hand to save you covering a somewhat scary 16 miles on foot.
- Sandemans New Europe runs popular tours of Montmartre and Versailles where kids under 13 go free. Definitely something to consider if you’re here for a few days.
- Try to pick accommodation close to a Metro station, so you don’t have a long walk to or from the front door. You’ll probably be walking loads in the streets and around the sights, so make it easy on the whole family! And if you’re staying in a hotel, make sure it has a lift, unless you really love dragging everyone up and down endless flights of stairs in narrow old buildings.
- Grab comprehensive child-friendly museum listings from the Visitors Bureau. For a small-scale visit, try the Musée de la Magie (Museum of Magic, 11 Rue Saint Paul), open Weds, Sat and Sun from 14:00-19:00. Entry costs €9 for adults and €7 for children aged 12 and under.
- You might recognise the name Nicholas Flamel from Harry Potter. The real-life alchemist lived in Paris, and you can visit his house (51 rue de Montmorency), which is now a restaurant.
- Challenge fearless kids to tackle the Musée des Egouts, or Sewers Museum, at Pont l’Alma (opposite 93 Quai d’Orsay) – open Sat-Weds from 11:00-17:00. Entry costs €4.30 for adults and €3.50 for children aged 16 and under.
- As my mum has been saying for years, the French do kids’ clothing really well – it tends to be good quality, stylish and age-appropriate, so your child doesn’t look like they’re about to go clubbing. Celebrity parents love Bonpoint (it looks great on Harper Beckham), fashion editors rate Petit Bateau, but local mums head to Monoprix, Du Pareil au Même, Jacadi and Okaidi.
- Teenage girls will love Sephora (56 Rue Saint-Denis, or 70-72 Avenue Champs-Élysées), a make-up store with its own affordable line of cosmetics and loads of other recognisable brands on sale.
Solo Travel Tips for Paris
It’s the ‘city of love’ and the clichéd place to propose. But how can you make the best of Paris when you’re travelling alone? Try these…
- In terms of travel safety, just use your common sense as you would anywhere else. You don’t need to take any special precautions or wear anything in particular; though Parisians are generally quite polished, obviously there are a lot of people who dress down too. I solemnly swear I’ve seen a pair of dungarees worn without irony here.
- It’s handy to know some basic French, and any attempts you make to speak the language will be appreciated, but don’t worry if you’re not exactly fluent. On visiting one restaurant, I didn’t even have to open my mouth before the waiter spoke in English to offer me the English menu. Clearly I don’t look cool enough to be a local…
- Read up on Paris-based novels before you go, or pack them in your suitcase to read in between sightseeing. I love Pure by Andrew Miller, which covers the real life relocation of bones from Les Innocents cemetery to the Catacombs. For fascinating solo travel fiction, try Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys and The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy.
- Take your fiction a little further and track down the real-life locations of Diana Gabaldon’s second Outlander novel, Dragonfly in Amber (dramatised for our screens via the Starz network and Amazon Prime). 18th century Paris and Versailles make big appearances in the story: the Bois de Boulogne is the setting for two of Jamie Fraser’s duels; Jamie pays his respects to Charles Stuart in Montmartre; Jamie is imprisoned in the Bastille (where else?!); Master Raymond runs an apothecary in the Rue de Varennes; Claire and Mary are attacked on the Rue de Fauborg Saint-Honoré. Obviously you shouldn’t need much motivation to go to Versailles! L’Hopital des Anges, where Claire works, and Rue Tremoulins, where Jared lives, are both fictional places.
- Embrace dining alone; it isn’t a big issue here. If possible, pick a restaurant or café-bar with a view, or just settle down with a good book. Don’t feel like you need to rush – take your time and do things the Parisian way. Even ordering a cup of coffee entitles you to stay for at least an hour or more without being harassed by a waiter.
- Take a hop-on-hop-off bus trip or a walking tour to help navigate your way around the city before you go fully independent. Discover Walks has tours covering specific areas, or you can do general tours with Sandemans.
- Eschew couples posing for romantic selfies and visit the Catacombs (mentioned previously), open Tues-Sun from 10am-8pm. 45 minute guided tours are the only option, as the tunnel network is vast, but the cost is pretty reasonable (€8-10). You may have long waiting times, so check with the website or use a skip-the-line tour company (from €28pp).
- Go window shopping – the famous department store Galeries Lafayette (40 Boulevard Haussmann) is a mix of expensive labels and high street brands, with a decent view from the rooftop terrace. Printemps (64 Boulevard Haussmann or 99 Rue de Rivoli) is another department store to check out. Of course, a trip down the Avenue Champs-Élysées should be in your itinerary too, and head to Ladurée at no.75 for a sugar fix.
- Get to know the hidden history of Paris away from the crowds. Rue Pierre Sarrazin, in the 6th arrondissement, has a couple of bookish connections. Louis Hachette opened a bookshop, Brédif, at no.12; he would later found the Hachette publishing company, selling everything from textbooks and travel guides to paperbacks; today it’s known as Hachette Livre, or Hachette Group. At no.12, Pierre Larousse and Pierre-Augustin Boyer began their Larousse and Boyer Bookshop. Larousse dedicated years of his life to writing reference books, including an encyclopaedic dictionary with over 26,000 pages. Funnily enough, he died of exhaustion before he could complete his biggest project, The Great Universal 19th Century Dictionary.
- Visit more obscure sights, like Musée Dapper, which focuses on African art, or Musée d’Art Dentaire Pierre Fauchard, a dental history museum – both in the 16th arrondissement. Also find the two Statues of Liberty hidden around the city and feel super smug.
Hopefully these tips should help you to explore Paris with more confidence… or at least a very big dose of travel inspiration!