On our way to Tanzania for a week-long safari, we decided to open up our layover in Amsterdam and spend two days in Amsterdam and two days in Paris. Thanks to the high-speed Thalys train, we were able to get from Amsterdam to Paris in about 3 hours. We arrived to Paris around midnight, when the kids’ exhaustion and jet lag morphed into giddiness. Nothing like a 1am dance party in Paris.
We found a hotel that had three beds per room just outside of Paris’s main train station. This was great because it was much cheaper than being in the middle of the city, but connected us via metro line. It was also nice to be able to check our bags at the train station after checking out of the hotel, so that we could head back into the city before our train left.
Another bonus: that train station (Gare du Nord) is a stop on the L'Open open-air bus tour, which leads me to my #1 piece of advice for doing Paris with kids: use the open-air touristy bus to get around to all of the destinations. Yes, it’s horribly tourist and cliche but it’s also incredibly convenient, straightforward, and educational. We started our first day trying to navigate the subway system and it was frustrating and time-consuming. And the Metro in Paris is not the most scenic way to see the city. So mid-day we decided to pony up for six tickets on the open-air bus, and it’s the best decision we made. Being able to hop on and hop off at our leisure, while letting someone else navigate the city, made for a more relaxing and productive day.
The bus line we chose, L'Open, traverses the entire city and made stops at every place we wanted to see. But the ride is a journey in and of itself, because there is so much to see from the top of the bus. L’Open offers headphones to each passenger so that you can listen to a little history lesson on each site you pass, and they even feature a special channel just for kids. The interludes include quaint French music to get you in the mood.
Our first stop was the Louvre museum. We decided not to tour the museum – it is vast and gorgeous but our museum stint the day before was a lesson that our kids are not quite of the age where a museum holds their interest. Instead, we walked the grounds out front, letting them play tag in the garden mazes, and strolling up the pathway to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Along the way is a great park where kids can let off some energy.
Around lunchtime we hopped off the bus and found a cute cafe for lunch. The food in Paris is phenomenal. You can hardly walk down the street without stumbling into a cute cafe with outdoor seating.
This salad with goat cheese toast may be the best meal I had in France.
After lunch we hopped back on the bus to kid an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t get off because we decided we wanted to experience going to the top at night during the light show.
After a few more sights on the green line of the L’Open tour, we hopped off at Notre Dame.
From there, we took the Lover’s Bridge over the River Seine, where you can see all of the lover’s locks.
We strolled along the river for a bit, where people were setting up to picnic at sunset.
We walked for a bit, and then decided to take an hour-long Seine River cruise at sunset.
The boat, like the bus, was another great way to see the city. We got another view of the Eiffel Tower, and many other great sights.
My kids were still jet-lagged so a few of them took a nap. We also did a lot of napping on the bus. Those little bits of sleep seemed to recharge them throughout the day even though we had been up until the wee hours the night before.
After our boat cruise, we headed to the Eiffel Tower.
We took the elevator all the way to the top, and the 11pm light show started just as we got there. Perfect timing.
For our second day in France, we slept in quite a bit, and then headed to a cute corner cafe for breakfast. We dropped our luggage at a locker at the train station, so we could spend the day seeing the city before our evening train back to Amsterdam.
After that, we got back on the bus. We decided to have a more relaxed day, since we’d been able to squeeze in so many sites the first day.
Our first stop was to Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful spot in front of a historical mansion, perfect for strolling and sitting.
We chose this spot because we had heard it had a great play around for kids, and it did not disappoint. The play area cost 2 Euros per kid and was well worth the price.
They played for about an hour an then we hopped back on the bus. Our intention was to ride around the southern part of the city, but a few stops in and we had to disembark because the streets were closed for a parade. As it turns out, it was the Paris PRIDE parade. We watched for a bit, and even walked with them for a stretch. It was a fun and positive vibe, and an unexpected treat.
Since our bus route was foiled, we grabbed a metro up to our next destination: the Church of the Sacred Heart.
The church is at the top of a very steep set of hundreds of steps. I recommend coming in the back way, because these stairs wind a bit and kids won’t realize how far it is to the top. Then you can walk down the front stairs, stopping to enjoy all of the street performers on the way down.
After the church we hopped back on the bus and took it to the train station, grabbing some French bread for the road.