I’ve always dreamt of visiting Paris someday, and I always had an idea of what the “city of lights” would be like in person. I imagined people dressed in that effortlessly chic, iconic Parisian style, strolling past a backdrop of impossibly beautiful buildings. There would be flowers on every corner, along with baguettes and croissants, and the air would smell like sweet almond macarons. At night the city would sparkle and glitter; cobblestones reflecting light from the same storied street lamps I’d seen portrayed in thousands of paintings. I assumed after one visit I’d never want to leave, and inevitably I’d join the ranks of countless other writers, artists and romantics who came before me and instantly fell under the spell that is Paris.
When I officially booked my tickets to Paris, France and got that confirmation email, my heart leapt. It was 3:16 in the morning, and I had a moment of pure excitement combined with raw terror. “Never make a big decision after 2:00 am,” I always told myself. But it was done. I was going to Paris, along with my friend Rachel and my 2 and 1/2 year old daughter. I would’ve loved to take the rest of the family as well, but my husband couldn’t take off the hours from work and my 15 month old was just getting over a nasty bout of Roseola and hand, foot and mouth disease and needed to stay home and rest. Looks like it was going to be me and my oldest, exploring the City of Lights.
Going with a toddler changes things. I knew that. I knew if she decided to throw a fit in the middle of the Louvre they may ask us to leave. If she was loud in a restaurant they may ask us to leave. I’d never been to France; maybe they aren’t as lenient with children as we are here in the United States. I had no idea what to expect.
I Googled “traveling with kids” and came across a bounty of articles. Some were really encouraging, but most just doled out advice with the tone of “If you absolutely must take your kids, I guess try to keep these things in mind.” One by Rick Steves, one of the most esteemed travel bloggers there is, opened with, “When parents tell me they’re going to Europe and ask me where to take their kids, I’m tempted to answer, ‘to Grandma and Grandpa’s on your way to the airport.'” Well okay then.
But damnit, I love taking my kids. We took Leila to Greece when she was just 8 months old, and even though she doesn’t remember it, we do. It was part of what made that trip so amazing for us. I was bound and determined to conquer Paris with a toddler.
We arrived late afternoon, and immediately fell in love with the little home we’d be staying in. It was small, filled with plants, had a balcony, and was everything I thought of when I imagined myself living in Paris. If I were to go apartment hunting here, this is the place I’d have put down a deposit for.
Our first morning in Paris was gray and raining, but we weren’t about to let that keep us inside. We set out to prove we could explore the city with a toddler, and as it turns out, it really wasn’t that difficult. Paris is incredibly family friendly! The first place we came across an adorable little park in the middle of the city where Leila chased some birds then waved at some 2nd grade children on a school field trip. She spent much of her time splashing in puddles, then later when the sun came out we ducked down into a little alley and played with some more birds.
One of our favorite parts of Paris were the unique passages. Here in the United States, we don’t have anything like this. We came across them in many places in Europe, but Paris made an art out of it. A passage is basically a place in the middle of the city where a door opens and leads you a walking path. It can be covered or open, with many of the covered passages containing shops and businesses. Open ones are often used by a collection of apartments, like a private shared courtyard. They’re all different, and every one is fascinating. We were specifically on the hunt for one called Passage L’Homme, one I had found described online as a “hidden greenhouse” of sorts.
We set off in the rain, and it took us a good 15 minute walk from the house. When we finally found it, it was locked. Thankfully, a kind local could tell we were curious, opened the large door and gestured for us to come inside. We did, and after he closed the door behind him the sounds of the street instantly faded into nothing. All you could hear were the raindrops hitting the budding leaves of the plants. It was obvious the residents liked their peaceful escape from the city, and we did not want to disturb that, so we made a point to stay for only a bit, and explore as quietly as possible.
Another favorite passage was Passage du Grand Cerf, a gorgeous, high ceilinged covered passage with a checkered floor. Inside were plenty of tiny shops and most importantly, restrooms open to the public! Restrooms are not as easy to come by as here in the US, so this was a big score for a newly potty trained toddler. After exploring in the rain, this proved to be the perfect place to dry off for a second.
Of course we had to stop by the main tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame. I’m happy to say they aren’t exaggerated in the least; they really are just as breathtaking in person as everyone describes. Even the Eiffel Tower, which I’ve seen thousands of times in photographs and on television caused my heart to leap into my chest when it first came into view. It was enormous, with surprising detail. It really is an architectural and artistic feat. With the rainclouds at our backs and the sun on our faces, we spent most of the day exploring the area, constantly stopping to grab a photo with the tower in the background. What can I say, we’re tourists, and the Eiffel Tower is an iconic tourist destination. Of course we were obsessed!
The Louvre was high on the list, but on the way there we accidentally got lost in Rue Saint-Honoré, an elite shopping street where we were obviously in over our heads. Leila caught a much needed nap in the stroller while Rachel and I window shopped $5,000 shoes and $3,000 purses. Just as we were leaving the priciest street we have ever been on, we popped into a little bakery where Rachel ordered a giant, pistachio macaron for us to share on our walk to the Louvre. It was my first French macaron, and while I’ve had macarons before, none of them have tasted like this. It was crispy and chewy and creamy and I literally have open tabs on my computer where I’ve been researching macaron recipes because this thing continues to haunt my dreams. Lucky for me my husband is an exceptional baker and all I have to do is send him a quick recipe over text and the finished product will magically appear in our kitchen a few days later. So fingers crossed I’ll be reliving this experience sooner than later!
This gave us us a quick energy boost as we passed through the entrance at the Louvre. You could see the iconic triangle on the left side of the square, but what really caught my eye was the sheer size of the museum itself. I thought the Louvre was a single, reasonably sized building, not a network of astonishingly gargantuan structures that bordered the square on all sides. They just kept going, and going, and going, and going! Leila continued her nap while Rachel and I explored. She woke up as we were leaving, just in time to run around and stretch her legs a bit!
Notre Dame was one of the stops on the list I knew we had to see, but I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to see. I was having flashbacks of when Leila was 8 months old we were in Athens, and my stepdad was the only one adamant about visiting the ruins. We all went along just to humor him and let him have his fun, but it turned out to be our favorite parts of the trip. These amazing structures built years ago hold so much history and so much wonder. I knew Notre Dame would surely have a similar effect.
And I was right. It was stunningly beautiful. The stonework is incredibly intricate, and seeing the gargoyles up close sent a chill down my spine. Everything was so appealing yet slightly terrifying at the same time. Even Leila kept pointing to the gargoyles and saying, “Ooooh! Scary, Mama! Is scary!”
We spent the rest of our time walking along the Seine, stopping here and there to let Leila play in a small field or a closed alley. We passed flower shops and more cafes, and even tracked down the row of uncharacteristically bright, beautiful homes in Rue Crémieux.
Part of the fun of Paris is just getting lost in the city. On our last night, we spent the evening exploring back alleys and just as the sun was setting we came across the cutest little cafe/flower shop combination called “Les 2 au Coin”. Have your cake and coffee, then buy a potted plant on your way out the door. Hands down my favorite accidental discovery of the city.
When I say Paris is just as I imagined it, it may be easy to assume I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. There really are flowers and coffee and pastries on every corner. People really do have a sophisticated, chic style they wear with confidence, and the city really does shimmer at night. It’s gorgeous in every possible way, and as an artist and a writer, I get it. I understand why people are so enamored with the city and why so many of them will do anything to live there.
If you’ve ever wanted to visit Paris, I beg you, find a way. Don’t put it off. It’s one of those places that will influence everything in your life; your sense of style, the food you eat, everything! In a good way, of course.
And if you’re planning on bringing kids – DO IT. Leila had so much fun, and I had so much fun because she was there with me. The first time I heard her mumble a barely discernible “Merci beaucoup” I about burst into tears. She not only had fun in a new place, but she was learning aspects of another culture, in that place. Paris was beautiful, and I’m so thankful I got to experience it with my oldest daughter. If possible, bring the kids!
Tips for Visiting Paris, France:
Have a Google map at hand. Paris is so beautiful, it’s easy to go down one street, see something interesting and go down another, and before you know it you’re completely turned around. Get your map out and drop a pin before you leave your hotel so you can always easily get directions back. Check out my Paris Walking Guide here for a map to all the best places!
Invest in a good stroller. Getting around the city with a stroller was not too difficult, but the sidewalks are much narrower than here in the States, and the cobblestones can be difficult to navigate in a low quality stroller. Mine was not up to the task, and even though it got the job done it wasn’t pretty; Leila looked like she was going vibrate right out of her seat more than a few times.
Keep your belongings close. Paris is notorious for pickpockets and scammers, so don’t be too cavalier with your things. Keep your cash and cards in a small, cross-body purse, or better yet put them in a money belt and wear it around your waist under your clothes.
Don’t pet peoples’ dogs. This was something we discovered throughout all of Europe actually, but it was incredibly evident in Paris. In America, if you walk your dog outside you expect it to be pet by strangers. You stop for kids and anyone who throws an adoring eye in your direction. A dog is an invitation to a conversation. In Paris, it is not. Dogs and their owners are one entity, and you should absolutely keep your hands to yourself.
Don’t worry if you can’t see everything. Every city has it’s attractions, but the list in Paris is long. You can’t possibly expect to see everything in only a week or two, or even a month. See what you can, but don’t rush it. Part of enjoying Paris is just sitting and relaxing with some coffee and an exquisite baked treat of some kind. Grab a crispy baguette, some quality cheese and get lost in a book for a few hours!
Enjoy your trip!