24 hours may not seem like a long time to explore a city but when you have determination on your side…anything is possible!
Before this past summer I hadn’t been to Paris since I was a child; and my lasting memory is of heavy rain, wet jeans and a bright red anorak that meant I could easily be spotted for miles (oh the fashion sense of the young!) so when we were discussing our summer road trip plans I knew that somehow, somehow we needed to factor in some time spent in the city. I have always wanted to return and see the beautiful side of the city that I’ve heard many people mention. It also seemed crazy to me that we would be less than an hour from the Eiffel Tower whilst we were in Disneyland and potentially not even see it.
In the end, our accommodation in Paris: the Hotel Vivienne, became the very first thing we booked out of the whole three week trip. That’s how determined I was to ensure we got to spend at least a little time in the city.
Knowing that we only had a limited amount of time to explore, we tried to really squeeze every single second we could. Our trip actually equated to arriving mid-morning on a Saturday and leaving shortly after lunch on Sunday (but that doesn’t make for a snappy blog post title does it?!) so on our first day we set off from the South at around 6.30am and arrived to a grey and drizzly Paris just after 11am. It was the thought of wandering around with tired children, getting more and more wet and increasingly (by default) miserable, which led us to make a last minute decision…one that turned out to be the best thing we did.
Hotel Vivienne is located in the 2nd Arrondissement and is fantastic if you want a whole stretch of restaurants just a short walk away. It’s also just 20 minutes walk from the Louvre. As hotel’s go it’s pretty basic and I didn’t love the set up of the family room which had the kids right by the door. Ordinarily we would have insisted they swap with us but the sofabed was also right under the air-conditioning unit which meant it was much cooler on that side of the room and the kids weren’t swapping for anything! But the staff were friendly and welcoming and only too happy to point us in the right direction of things we needed or enquired after. Meg and Eli also fell in love with the very tolerant resident cat and got much enjoyment from his weaving in and out of their bare legs.
But back to our smart decision. As I mentioned, we arrived to wet weather and after a long car journey neither myself nor James could bear trying to jolly the kids to follow a walking tour I had diligently printed out weeks before. So we got on our phones and looked up undercover tours of the city landing, eventually, on Paris by TukTuk. We had to try a couple of companies as many were fully booked but eventually we struck gold and booked a 45 minute tour. This would take us past the main attractions in the city, whilst allowing us to view them under the relative cover provided by the Tuk-tuk. It was also a pretty unique way for us to get around so we were immediately sold.
It wasn’t cheap; I think it cost us circa 70 euro for the tour but it was effective and enjoyable and our tour guide was only too happy to share about his beloved city, recommend places for us to go and pull over multiple times to allow us to take photos and capture the sights.
By the time our tour ended, the skies had cleared and we were able to disembark and have a wander around the city going at our own pace; feeling pretty smug now that we had seen the majority of the tourist attractions. We ended up wandering past the Orangerie, down through the gardens and out towards the Louvre. I haven’t pointed this out before but we had actually (forewarning is everything…) managed to be visiting Paris on the weekend of the final stage of the Tour de France. As you might imagine, there were people everywhere. In fact, the following day it took us an hour to get to the Eiffel Tower by Uber when it should have only take 10 minutes and we then found ourselves unable to travel across the city by Metro as many stations were closed. Lesson learned: I will now never plan a visit to a city without first checking what else is happening!
It did have its benefits however, one of those being that we were able to get right up to the Pyramids of the Louvre, right past the barriers without having to purchase a ticket. Silver linings hey?
If you only have a short time in the city, I would recommend a guided tour of some kind. We did the Tuk-tuk tour on the Saturday and we had also prebooked a Seine river tour for Sunday morning; again a great way to see the sights without having to rush from one place to the next. Had we not been so pressed for time we would have purchased tickets to enter some of the attractions, but on this occasion simply seeing them was enough.
Being the bookish person that I am, my other reason for being so keen to visit Paris was, of course, the existence of Shakespeare and Co. So once we had wandered around a little we decided to head back to the hotel, freshen up and then head down into the Latin Quarter. We caught the Metro for ease but I have to say that although I felt incredibly safe in the city in general, this was the only time I was uneasy. We were targeted multiple times by ticket touts who wouldn’t leave us be and there were large and loud groups of people everywhere. Paris is a very walkable city and we actually chose to walk home after our evening meal, even though it took us just under an hour. Were we to return I would almost certainly stick to walking (or scooting but more on that later…). Walking actually turned out to be a wonderful way to see the city, I never once felt nervous even as the sun set and it provided us with some glorious sights and photo opportunities.
The Latin Quarter was heaving; again, a direct impact of Le Tour and we had to queue to get into Shakespeare & Co but it was very much worth it. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful hardback copy of Little Women complete with Shakespearean stamp. The store also spills you out at the back of Notre Dame; a rather sad sight indeed covered as it was with scaffolding but it’s a very picturesque part of Paris. I think were we to plan a return visit, it’s probably the area we would look to stay in.
We decided to find a place to eat whilst we were in the Latin Quarter and stumbled across a gorgeous Italian restaurant called Il Gigolo. I know it seems almost daft to eat Italian food when in Paris but the kids weren’t keen on French cuisine, most of the restaurants we found only offered three course meals and our budget just didn’t stretch to the finest of establishments. Le Gigolo was busy-ish and fairly affordable so we decided to give it a shot. Aside from forgetting Eli’s dinner, it was actually one of the best meals we had whilst we were away. Meg, James and I shared a Pepperoni pizza which was so delicious we toyed with going back on Sunday for lunch; even though we were on the wrong side of the city! The owner is also something of a character and took a real shine to the kids…earning himself a quick hug for all his entertaining efforts throughout the evening!
As I said, following the meal we decided to walk back to the hotel where we crashed for the night, ready to hit things again early the next morning. Our plan had been to head to the Trocadero Gardens at around 8am to beat the general crowds who descend here. It’s one of the best places to grab a great shot of the Eiffel Tower but we had not accounted for the road closures which would be in place because of Le Tour. In the end it would have been faster for us to walk as by the time we arrived, we had all had just about enough of mad Parisian driving and there were throngs of tourists milling about anyway!
For families, I really would recommend trying to get to the Eiffel Tower before the crowds as it wasn’t fun attempting to find a space to take a good photo. There were also lots of ladies in…shall we say politely…varying states of undress, draping themselves here there and everywhere which made for interesting conversations and questions from the kids afterwards. Influencer culture at its finest. I obviously can’t say categorically that those people wouldn’t still have been present but there might have been a few less to contend with.
A few quick photos and then it was time for us to head down for our boat tour. We booked this through a discount ticket site (which always makes me nervous as you never know quite what to expect) but it was all perfectly fine and a great and relaxed way to see the city. It was also possible to purchase food and drink on board but we had already made the decision to find a creperie afterwards so we stuck to our plan and purchased waffles and crepes from the stand directly below the Tower, right next to the Carousel.
Our idea had then been to hire some electric scooters as we had seen plenty of these throughout our visit but the kids were, unfortunately, having none of it. We even got as far as downloading the app, securing the scooters and riding them a few times up and down next to the river but neither Meg nor Eli were convinced so it was something we had to abandon. Had the kids been willing, it was such an easy process and we saw plenty of people on pavements and roads riding them with ease. It seems like a pretty affordable way to get around quickly as well. You pay a small fee (I think a couple of euro) and then it’s a ‘pay as you go’ system. The app helps you find where the nearest scooters are to your location, and off you go.
Because the kids weren’t keen, and because we then ended up wandering around trying to find our way back to our hotel via the Metro with no success (as mentioned above), we ended up taking another Uber back to the 2nd Arrondissement. I’m not a fan of Ubers, or taxis in general when travelling as they are often expensive but by this point we were worn out and had a limited amount of time before we needed to head off and check-in to our Disneyland accommodation.
We ended up basically back at Boulevard Montmartre, eating at a place just down a side street called The Frog & Underground. Again, not very French-sounding and indeed, it was ‘American-soul’ inspired food but it was incredible. James and I shared a platter which was so delicious we were both squabbling for the final pieces. And the kids menu was great as well. I’d highly recommend the fries. Yum!
Our final stop in the city was actually quite a disappointment. I had consulted a number of guides on the best bookish places to visit and it had come up that Passage Jouffroy had a whole undercover shopping arcade dedicated to bookshops. Sounds like a pretty solid choice, right? And as it was right by our hotel, and therefore our car, we decided to explore here before heading off. Unfortunately, we walked the entire length and only came across one bookshop, which was lacking to say the least. Many of the shops were closed up, and appeared to have been for some time, so it was a real shame and a sad way to end our trip. Although there were many bookish places we didn’t get to; so perhaps just a good excuse to return in the near future.
I feel like I’ve made our visit to Paris sound like a mixed bag. It was busy, I disliked the Metro and certain elements didn’t quite meet out expectations but honestly? I’ve been bitten. The people were friendly, it was clean, the architecture, winding streets and cafe culture make it a beautiful place to explore and I can’t wit to go back. I think time pressure certainly contributed to our frustrations but overall, we loved it and can’t wait to plan a return visit. Just one with a bit more time to play with!
For now “We’ll always have Paris”