Traveling with Tiny Ones in Tow?

If you’re heading to Paris with kids under 5, read on.

As the mom of a 9-month-old Parisienne, I’ve learned some of my own “trade secrets.”  Paris can be tot-friendly, if you think ahead about your family’s needs.  Here are a couple of tips to cover the basics.

Sleep

Your first big decision when organizing your trip with les petits is where to stay. If you want to live like a local, rental apartments are a great option.  Airbnb and Paris Perfect make it relatively easy.  Try to book in central Paris to keep your transportation time shorter for briefer outings.  Keep in mind, too, that many Parisian apartment buildings don’t have elevators.  As someone who lives in a fourth floor walk-up, I recommend finding a rental where you won’t be lugging your stroller up a narrow spiral staircase that looks charming only in photos.

Most big hotels don’t have this elevator issue. If you’re booking at a smaller boutique or budget hotel, however, ask about the size of the elevator.  They can be the size of a phone booth, and larger strollers won’t fit.  Check ahead if the hotel will let you keep your stroller in reception.

Another bonus for hotels: unlike apartments, they’re more likely to have cribs to borrow. Some reliably baby-friendly hotels I like are: Four Seasons Hotel George V, Gardette Park Hotel, and Crowne Plaza Paris Republique.

If you’d rather not rely on the hotel—they might not “guarantee” an available crib—you can borrow from a baby equipment rental service, like Kidelio.  Reserve a travel cot, delivered to you, or free to one of three different pick-up locations in Paris’ 10th, 12th, and 17th arrondissements. If you’re taking a taxi from the airport, you could swing by to pick it up, but check the hours of your location.  Most businesses here in France do not keep the open-all-the-time convenient hours you might be used to.  It makes the “finding missing supplies” part of parenting a bit more stressful here.

 

Getting Around

Unfortunately, apartments aren’t the only places in Paris with accessibility issues. Lots of metro stations don’t have either elevators, or even escalators.  That can make navigating the underground feel like an uphill battle, literally.  I opt for a baby carrier when taking public transportation for short outings.  Find the nearest metro stop near your hotel/apartment, and take a moment to plan out your possible routes, even before you arrive.  We like the Citymapper app for that, since it gives both metro and bus options.

Don’t underestimate how tired you all might get, even more so than when you travel at home. That’s when a light-weight stroller will come in handy.  Be mentally prepared to navigate very busy sidewalks, where babies often do not get right of way.  Your little one might love bouncing on the bumpy cobblestone, but a stroller in Paris is work, and will demand a significant amount of your attention, too.  Hands-free baby wearing can be more relaxing, and it will allow you to take in more of the city.  You’ll need your hands, after all,  to navigate your map/smartphone/wallet unless you have a travel partner who wants to do that all for you.

If you do take the metro, keep in mind that children under 3 ride free. Single tickets for kids age 4-10 are full price, so buy a carnet, or book of tickets, discounted for this age group.

If you’ve brought your car seat for the plane, or other leg of your journey, I don’t recommend relying on helpful cab drivers to accommodate you, for short trips within the city.  Taxi drivers in Paris are not universally reliably patient, shall we say?  There are taxi companies, like G7, that provide car seats if you make a special request, but be prepared that it will take time to arrange for them.  In general, plan to spend twice as much time getting to your destination in Paris.

Read more about getting around the city with strollers (including the more baby-friendly bus option)  here.

Where to Eat

Parisians are serious about their food, and upscale restaurants are considered to be a peaceful break for French parents.  Don’t plan on bringing your little one to an expensive bistro or a Michelin star restaurant.  Paris has plenty of other wonderful options for tiny diners where you can eat well, too.  Even if the staff is family friendly, most establishments won’t have highchairs or booster seats. My husband and I usually either find a table with space to park the stroller between tables, or we make room on our laps!

Cafés are the most flexible option, since you can roll up to the terrace (some are even heated).  That way, you don’t have to navigate a stroller through a crowd, or through a tiny entrance door.  Space is tight in Paris.  If you need to eat at odd hours, look for cafés that offer service continu (non-stop service) between lunch and dinner.

Gardens and parks are good options to grab a bite, from French-style tapas at Rosa Bonheur in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont to baguette sandwiches in one of the Tuileries Garden’s cafes.  Read more about our kid-friendly eating recommendations here.

Breastfeeding in public in Paris is always fine. The one thing nursing moms need to worry about is remembering travel adapters for any electric pumps.

What to Do

Finally, your accommodation is booked, your stroller or carrier (or both) is ready to go. Now comes the best part—planning activities.

On a sunny day, a trip to the Jardin de Luxembourg is fun for the whole family. There are puppet shows and pony rides, but its biggest draw is the Grand Bassin, a duck pond with miniature sailboats. Toddlers and kids love playing with these colorful bateaux, and babies love to watch.

Another must-see site is the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a charming amusement center made just for little ones. Kids can’t get enough of this playground, which boasts everything from classic carnival rides to landscaped gardens.  It’s in a giant verdant park (Bois de Boulogne) that’s worth the trip outside central Paris, especially if you plan to make a half-day of it.

Other excellent outdoor destinations are the Dodo Carousel at the Jardin des Plantes, the sprawling Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and the Paris Plages, pop-up beaches on the banks of the Seine that make an appearance every summer.

And, of course, come rain or shine, you can always rely on museums to keep kids entertained. Little kids will love the Museum of Natural History, the Rodin Sculpture Garden, and the Musée en Herbe, a modern art museum specifically for aspiring art connoisseurs between 3-10 years old.

Your little ones can make great museum companions—even on our Paris Muse tours. Whether you’re interested in an adult tour or a family tour designed for your older kids, babies and kids under 5 are welcome to join, but we’ll need to know beforehand. We have a select group of guides who know the best stroller shortcuts.  You can be confident that you and your little one are in experienced hands— no matter where your culture adventures take you.

Have a more specific question?   If you want more detailed info about traveling in France with kids—we like Club Bebe Voyage.  It’s a community of knowledgable, can-do families, with tons of travel experience.  I’ve seen posts for kid-friendly tips about lay-over activities in an Ecuador airport.  These parents get around!

Author Kelly with her baby–enjoying the view of Notre Dame Cathedral.