guest post by Cristiana Pambuccian
This is the first time I am writing about traveling experiences. Most of the times I try to give feedbacks as accurate as possible without actually sharing the entire story. This time, however, it’s different because we had a lot of pleasant and unpleasant surprises at the same time.
It is our second time traveling to Paris and, unlike the first time, we planned a trip mostly destined for our child, a 3-year-old boy. We are a family of four: me, my husband, our child and my mother.
Accommodation in Paris
A couple of months before the trip, as soon as we decided to visit Paris again we started looking for accommodation. As in the middle of our vacation, there was the celebration of France (14th of July) everything was quite expensive, more than usual with quite a limited choice.
When traveling with our kid outside Romania, our home country, we prefer renting an apartment, especially if planning to stay for more than a few days. The main requests when discussing accommodation are not many in my point of view, but we are keen on having:
- at least two different rooms – my mother and our child sleep on the same bed and if rooms are not very well separated they cannot rest;
a washing machine – usually we pack light for 3-4 days;
- a hot water shower/ bathtub – I hate cold showers;
- a hairdryer;
- a kitchen with at least a fridge and a cooking machine – my son loves tea, cheese, and salads;
- access with an elevator if the apartment it’s higher than the 2nd floor – it’s hard to carry luggage on the stairs and sometimes also a child;
- a metro station nearby – for easy access to the whole city.
We looked on various sites and renting platforms and we decided to go for Airbnb and rent this apartment. It seemed sunny, with everything that we needed and very, very nice!
We arrived at the apartment and from the beginning, the “Bnbsitter” told us that we need to open the door with a very hard push. I remember thinking, OK, this started well, I am sorry for the neighbors I hope it will be fixed soon. Afterwards, he also let us knows that the washing machine is not working and that it flooded the apartment not long ago. We asked where we should wash our clothes and the answer was at the laundry places. Obviously, this wasn’t nice either but we said ok if we arrive too late we can maybe wash our clothes by hand, it’s summer they will dry quickly.
We then noticed other little things, like a lot of dust under the beds and couch, the lack of air conditioning even though we were on the 7th floor facing the sun all day long, multiple layers of paint on the doors, cabinets that were not closing/opening easily, old furniture etc. This was not an issue either, as we were going to stay there just for a week and we are gone most of the days anyway.
But when we actually started using the sinks, shower and all the other things related to plumbing the nightmare began: there were leaks everywhere, for both bathroom sinks – in a lot of places in Paris the toilet is not in the same room with the shower and luckily for us at least the toilet was working properly. The shower had such big leaks that most of the water was actually pouring on our feet. On top of this, the first day when we needed to use the shower it was stuck in hot water. It had already a lot of tool marks on it and my husband tried for an entire hour to make the water bearable to wash.
Bonus point the shower drain was clogged and the water was draining out extremely slow and eventually, it stopped completely. One morning we found out why: the chicken sink, the shower and one of the bath sinks had the same drain from a certain point on. We know this because the coffee that we threw away in the quicken sink was coming out of the shower drain.
We contacted the owner and he asked when he could send a plumber. We told him that he can come anytime – we trust him that we won’t have any issues with our stuff. But no one ever did come.
In the end, we used the only working sink and we went to shower at a friend’s place nearby. While we stayed in Paris nothing was fixed.
It was our first time renting an apartment through Airbnb and it will most likely be the last. Our experience wasn’t at all pleasant, especially with a small child.
Activities to try in Paris
Leaving aside all those issues with the apartment, Paris was quite lovely, especially through my son’s eyes.
We visited the surroundings of The Eiffel Tower which he particular loved; we bought a small model for him to take home. There is a beautiful view of it from the Trocadéro (also the name of the Metro station) and in the area, there are a few carousels for both children and adults which have a very Parisian feeling. We didn’t go inside as it was closed because of the Fireworks for the 14th of July. It’s extremely beautiful especially at night and every hour the strobe lights turn on.
Also in the Trocadero gardens, you can see the Aquarium. Better look for the entrance on a map because it’s underground and you may miss it. There are a lot of colorful fishes in small and bigger tanks, medusas, shells, turtles quite mainstream for an aquarium. The best of it: the pool where you can touch Koi fish – they are very playful. My son was scared at the beginning but soon he got accustomed to touching them. Remember to wash your hands before putting them in their water tanks.
There is a schedule with little plays/ shows during the week and the age limit – there weren’t any during our visiting hours but they seemed nice from the flyer.
You can eat at the restaurant inside the aquarium which has a beautiful view of one of their biggest shark tanks. When buying the entry ticks, if you also buy the lunch you will have a 20% discount. The quality of food is quite good with a lot of variety – be careful the restaurant closes at 14:00.
An amazing garden is The Royal Garden of Medicinal Plants situated between Jussieu and Gare de Paris Austerlitz metro stations. The garden is quite big, it’s almost 400 years old and it has a lot of narrow allies that hide a lot of history. Grading the main alley you will find cubic cut trees, which actually are quite a common trait of Paris gardens but interesting for people that are not accustomed to them.
But more than the gardens there are some very much appreciated child-friendly gems hidden inside: Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, National Museum of Natural History and The Botanical Gardens. Even though there were some enormous greenhouses, we didn’t get the chance to see The Botanical Garden but the first two are quite impressive.
Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes is one of the oldest in the world and because of that has a little bit of outdated feeling to it. It hosts quite a large variety of species, you can find: tigers, frogs, monkeys (even orangutans), a giant turtle, ponies, flamingos, kangaroos, reptiles etc. but no large sized animals. There are a few little shops here and there which even serve a hot meal, but from my experience, they are a little overpriced. It is better you take the food from home as there are a lot of benches and tables you can eat on.
The National Museum of Natural History is really impressive starting with the building itself and finishing with the internal modernistic design, not even mentioning the displays. It’s a very good combination of old and new all the modernization was carefully integrated into the style of the building. As you can see it really made an impression on me.
The first floors, hosts animals that follow the natural habitat logic: ground floor animals that walk the earth, basement – animals that live underwater this area finishes with The Great Gallery of Evolution. And it is indeed great! Near it, some big underwater skeletons mammals can be seen.
Going further to upper levels you ca finds beautiful animal displays including some butterfly series, cellular evolution explanation, fossils, etc.
If you need a break there’s a little cafeteria inside – similar with those in the park.
We also went to some places outside Paris: Thoiry Safari Zoo (Thoiry is actually the name of a nearby castle that is also open for visitors but unfortunately we didn’t have time to pay it a visit) and Disneyland. You will need to allocate one day for each visit.
If you want to visit Thoiry Safari Zoo you need to:
- either rent a car/go by car
- or go by train and take their Zebra Zoo Bus: details (in French) are available here.
We chose the second option, not only because it was less costly, but also because you have a guide in the bus explaining the history of the place and little things about the animals. The zoo actually has two sections:
- one dedicated to safari visiting and
- the second one, a walking zoo where you can visit and access different kinds of animals and activities.
Talking about the Safari visiting, you have to take the one-way road that will bring you around visiting the two main parts of specific animals for certain areas of the globe – African Reserve and American Reserve.
Here some of the animals are coming extremely close as they are quite accustomed to people. All the time you are instructed not to feed the animals – because people do not know what special food programs each animal has – the zoo keepers even had the equivalent of food poisoning for some of them. And more importantly, you are forbidden to leave your car for obvious reasons.
After the Safari, the bus drops you off at the entrance of the Zoo. Most impressive experiences are tunnels near/under the places where the animals live so that on a scheduled time you can see them even 50 centimeters close. There is a schedule with the program on what animals you can have experience with and when.
Inside the zoo, there’s a special section dedicated to dinosaurs that simulate their sounds and movement.
You can find some shops and little restaurants here and there in the park, there isn’t very much choice but the prices are acceptable for France. You can bring your own food from home and if you choose to do so, there are lots of places where you can eat or have a rest.
From the zoo perspective you could also go to Paris Zoological Park which again, we didn’t get the chance to visit. But I presume two zoos per holiday are enough, maybe next time!
For Disneyland, you can actually visit two parks:
- Disneyland and
- Walt Disney Studios
It is our second time at Disneyland and we didn’t visit Walt Disney Studios Park, you need more than one day to visit both.
First of all as a parent, be prepared to leave a lot of money here because the standard tickets are quite expensive: 84 euros per adult and 74 euros per child (children under 3 yo. have free entrance) if you buy them directly from there but if you buy them online you will have a discount. Also, there are certain periods in which you could have special offers and additional discounts but still it’s costly.
Another negative point: be psychically and physically prepared to wait in line even 60-80 minutes for some rides. We went on a Monday and it was extremely crowded, I can’t imagine how it must be during the weekends! They tried to find a solution by giving a limited amount of priority tickets for certain rides that you can access for free. They work like this: you can take a ticket, by using the barcode of the ticket at the entrance (so keep them with you all the time!) from the special machines that are close to the rides you want to use. But there is a trick: you can use them only in the time frame written on them if they expire you need to take others (if available!). Even so, you will still wait in line 15-20 minutes.
Our visiting coincided with the park’s 25th year anniversary and compared to last year a lot of extra shows with a lot of singing and dancing were included in the daily program. You receive the map of the park and the program at the entrance.
The park is divided into various sections with different themes and right in its center, there’s the famous Disney castle. At its edges there’s a train line is surrounding the park – you can ride it by going at the different stations in the park.
An interesting experience is the boat ride which actually simulates a Huckleberry Fin adventure on the Mississippi River. It looks exactly like in the movies: 3 floors of beautiful white wooden frames and the big wheel at its end.
Everything is very nice and very well maintained, they perform maintenance on all the attractions from time to time. Last year, for example, certain rides were closed because of this.
There are rides for all ages, for both: children and adults – for some of them a minimum height is required.
Before closing hours (11 p.m.) there are fireworks but it was too late for us to stay.
What other children friendly places to visit or activities to try in Paris?
- A riverboat tour;
- A hop-on-hop off bus;
- Cité des sciences et de l’industrie & La Cité des enfants;
- Louvre – there are small sections also for children.
- Pompidou Centre – it has an area especially dedicated to children;
- Parc de la Villette;
- Jardin d’Acclimatation;
- Le Palais de la découverte (Discovery Palace);
- Le Musée des Arts et Métiers (Art and Design Museum);
- Le Musée de la Magie et des Automates;
- Le Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac;
- Musée des Arts Forains (Fairground Art Museum);
- Le Musée en Herbe – Modern Art explained to children.
If you research, you will surely see also other museums recommended to be visited with children, like Musee d’Orsay. We tried it together with our little boy but on top of having a constant fear of him ruining some famous picture he didn’t have the patience to stay, he is (still) too small for this so we left without visiting much. For us, it didn’t work maybe it will work for you. Just the building itself is a nice place to visit – its initial utility was a train station but has a very good out of the ordinary adaptation. Definitely is a beautiful place to go with older children especially if they have a little interest for art.
Food to try in Paris
Regarding culinary experience we didn’t try a lot of local specialties, we were thinking to go to a local restaurant but it turned out impossible with our visiting schedule. However, I still discovered a thing or two. Compared to our country (Romania) the sushi and Japanese food, in general, is much more affordable than other dishes. They also have a huge variety of cheese, especially yellow hard cheese that we brought also at home. Another thing that you can try is the patisserie products which are to die for (they invented their name) and all the bread and baguettes. I like sweets and pastry products quite much and for me, this was a little heaven.
Compared to our country (Romania) the sushi and Japanese food, in general, is much more affordable than other dishes. They also have a huge variety of cheese, especially yellow hard cheese that we brought also with us back home.
Another thing that you can try is the patisserie products which are to die for (they invented their name) and all the bread and baguettes. I like sweets and pastry products quite much and for me, this was a little heaven.
Another sweet that you could try is “tarte Tatin”, a ‘reversed’ French apple pie which they serve with sour cream. You would say it’s just an apple pie, but I don’t know exactly what the recipe is, but it tastes divine!
Getting around Paris
The transportation in Paris is quite easy, especially for trains and metros, there are signs everywhere sometimes it’s a little crowded but considering that the city is number one on most traveler lists I think it’s normal. Compared to last year it was much easier because we didn’t need the stroller, but if you do need one be prepared to carry it on a lot of steps as most places lack an elevator or are closed.
If you stay more than 2 days it’s cheaper if you buy directly from the airport the week pass. It covers everything in and around Paris: most of the trains, RER, buses, and metro. It’s advisable to already have a passport picture with you, as apart from being quite expensive sometimes there are enormous queues. We made them last year and we continued to use them this year.
When to visit Paris?
Another advice that would have been really useful for me: pay really good attention to the weather, last time we went at the end of May/ beginning of June and most of the time it was raining. During a week only two days were acceptably warm and the others were really raining. In some morning there were 10 degrees Celsius so a rain jacket and a sweater are always a must to visit Paris. If you are coming from warmer places be really careful.
Other useful tips for visiting Paris with a kid
Also if your child is very young and he likes to play, put some extra time in your program, he/she will stop from time to time to enjoy its age. And even though there are not so many playgrounds near touristic areas, the little one will find something for sure!
Don’t forget to take sunscreen lotion and use it during the day, the temperature differences were sometimes even 20 degrees between afternoon and early mornings and I could feel the sun really burning at its peak.
If you are thinking to rent an apartment, as we did, ask the owner to let you know if there is something not working maybe for you it’s important. Also just to be sure, ask for solutions in case something is not working properly. Some owners have more places to rent and maybe they can offer alternatives also let them know what is important for you, maybe it can be fixed before your arrival.
Bottom-line except for the apartment the trip was quite nice, we were lucky to have a wonderful weather with just a little bit of rain. Therefore, there is a high chance we will return a third time to visit all the places that we missed or we could try a weekend break without our kid to visit the rest of grown-up places!
Enjoy your stay and have awesome vacations!