There are SO MANY things to do and see in Paris, and it can quickly become overwhelming trying to plan a Paris family vacation, especially if it's your first time visiting Paris. This post is all of our top tips for visiting Paris- so you can plan the BEST EVER Paris family vacation- with less stress!
After spending 4 days in Paris this summer, our family really got to experience the ultimate family vacation- but there were some DEFINITE things I wish we had known ahead of time.
That's why I wanted to put together a post specifically dedicated to the tips for visiting Paris for the first time that WE really wish we'd known. 😉
So without further ado...
Paris Family Vacation Tip #1:
Book your Paris tourist attraction tickets ahead of time to save hours of line waiting.
Okay, so this tip might seem like a no-brainer. (Especially if you're a type-A over-planning mom like me!)
But I cannot tell you how LONG the lines were to every tourist attraction we visited- from the Eiffel tower to Versailles Palace and even the Monet's Gardens in Giverny!
The lines were absolutely insane! 🤯
If it's your first time visiting Paris, you'll probably be planning an itinerary for each day, so it's an easy 5-minute extra step to jump to the websites and buy tickets in advance.
PS- just to make it easier for you...
Here are the official ticketing sites to some of the best Paris attractions for family holidays:
First Time Visiting Paris Tip #2:
Always bring a bottle of water (and hydration tablets!) out sightseeing with you.
This is actually one of those tips that seems like a no-brainer- but it's something we learned the hard way EVEN THOUGH WE KNEW BETTER!
We made the mistake of thinking it would be easier to just bring our hydration tablets and then buy some bottled water while out visiting Paris for the first time- and it was a definite regret.
Always bring water AND hydration tablets with you, even if you're going somewhere with lots of shops and cafes.
It is especially hard to stay hydrated when seeing the sights and around Paris- and there's two problems with just stopping for a quick break at a cafe:
Problem 1- Everything in Paris is BUSY- so you're going to be waiting in a line in most places. For example, we waited 45+ minutes in the cafe line in the Eiffel Tower.
Problem 2- Things are more expensive in touristy spots, so even if you are able to stop in a little cafe that's NOT busy, that quick stop can easily add up to $20-30 just for drinks for the family!
And if you're wondering about the hydration tablets I keep mentioning, they are our absolute MUST BRING for ANY family vacation we take- and you can see more about those in my '5 Must Have Travel Items & Kids Travel Essentials' blog post here.
We've learned the hard way (more than once 😬) that it's really easy to get caught up in the excitement of sightseeing and forget to stay hydrated.
And nobody wants to be dealing with headaches (or other unpleasant dehydration symptoms) when traveling Europe with kids. So now we make sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! 😅
Paris Family Vacation Tip #3:
Monet Gardens is WAY better than Versailles if you cant do both activities.
You might not have enough time to do ALL the activities you'd like to do, especially if it's your first time visiting Paris. And even if you do have plenty of time, sometimes cost of visiting Paris can also be limiting.
If you find yourself trying to narrow down your list to only the BEST activities for your Paris family vacation, this tip is for you!
Monet's Chateau and Gardens is an absolute MUST see- even if you aren't an art lover and could give two quarters about Monet himself.
Although visiting Giverny from Paris is a bit longer and more time consuming than Versailles from Paris, it was WAY more worth the time and energy to visit Giverny. Like, hands-down, not even a competition.
All of our kids- from ages 5 to 15 (our oldest didn't make it this trip now that she's a grown-up 20 year old with a job 😢)- absolutely LOVED Monet's Gardens.
Likewise, all of our kids got bored and irritated at Versailles.
And us older ones were quite a bit underwhelmed by whole the experience. (That's a whole other post...read our 7 Tips For Visiting Versailles With Kids here for the deets on that!)
Now, if it's your family's first time in Paris, this might have you wondering...
Is Paris worth visiting?? Absolutely!
Is Versailles worth visiting? Yes... IF you have the time and resources to do so. 😝
But don't try to stretch your itinerary (or family travel budget) too far to make it happen, it might not be worth it in the end.
We had taken a 3-week European road trip, so time wasn't a factor for us- especially since we were able to spend almost two weeks of our family vacation in France.
This leads me to the next one of my Paris tips, which is very much related...
Tips For Visiting Paris #4:
If you DO visit Versailles, go as early in the morning as possible.
(Trust me on this.)
If I haven't totally spooked you yet, and you decide to include a trip to Versailles for your Paris family vacation, make sure you get tickets for as EARLY as you can.
To be fair, Versailles IS pretty cool to see if it's your first time in Paris, but you definitely won't want to experience it the way we did. 🤪
Be sure to get there as early as you can because it gets VERY crowded VERY quickly.
This is a big problem for a couple of reasons.
First of all, the Palace takes HOURS to navigate through, and you're going to get hungry.
The cafes quickly run out of food for some reason, making a mid-day stop at the palace restaurant a very disappointing experience with very little choices.
They aren't actually what we would consider to be cafes or restaurants, BTW- they are more like quick grab-and-go counters.
Also, there are limited kitchen hours (like, early lunch time) for most of the hot menu items. Sandwiches and salads go fast.
Second of all, there will be a TON (and I mean a TON) of people.
The Palace of Versailles is a hot spot for many people planning European family vacations, so it stays pretty busy year round.
More people = more germs = getting sick after visiting. So even if you don't worry much about the current Covid sitch, BRING A MASK anyways!
But by going earlier, you're going to have less people than you will in the afternoon, and ultimately cut down on the germ exposure.
You really don't want to remember your family's first time visit to Paris as the time you everyone got sick and stuck in a hotel room or Airbnb. (France family holidays are AMAZING, but visiting France with kids who are sick is not so fun.)
We have lots more tips for visiting Versailles, so be sure to see that blog post.
Tip #5 for Your First Time Visiting Paris:
Plan a full day for visiting the Eiffel Tower, not a half day (or few hours).
Especially if it's your family's first time visiting Paris, you're going to want to get the best Eiffel Tower experience possible.
Be patient and give yourself a full day to enjoy it- it really is worth it.
I know it seems cliché, but seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris France with kids was a total bucket list experience for our family.
First of all, there are amazing places around the Eiffel Tower to get beautiful pictures before and/or after visiting the monument itself.
(See my post on specific Eiffel Tower tips for more details on this!!)
Also, there will be breaks in the waves of crowds.
So if you can wait a bit on each level until the crowd clears a bit, it will be MUCH easier to take pictures while you're up there.
Even if you're visiting Paris in July (peak travel season) like we did, there will be breaks in the crowds. You'll even have time to get some short videos if you like. 📸
On a not-picture-related note, it's fun for the kids to see the little gift shops, cute macaron shops and the little cafe inside the Eiffel Tower.
So it really is important to give yourself more time to just explore and enjoy the experience.
And honestly, of all my family vacation tips for traveling to Paris, this one really is a biggie- so PLEASE take my advice and set aside a full day to explore the whole thing.
I feel like this is especially important for the first time in Paris, because the Eiffel Tower actually is bigger than it seems on TV or movies.
When looking back on the experience, you really will appreciate having had the time to explore and take all the pictures your heart desires. ❤️
Tips For Visiting Paris #6:
If driving, always opt for the street parking over parking garages.
This is not one of my typically family travel hacks- because I almost always will set my GPS to go straight to a parking garage when we're in a new city, especially during our European family vacations, because I'm not familiar with the layout of the city and possible parking options.
BUT in Paris, parking garages turned out to be a REALLY BIG pain in the tush. So I felt compelled to add this in as a tip for anyone else who might find it helpful. 😜
If you have your own car (or a rental car) it might seem WAY easier to brave the crazy city traffic and drive, rather than deal with complex bus/subway routes.
And when checking the Paris map, it looks like there are TONS of different parking garages, making parking a pretty easy task with lots of various options.
But there's a BIG snag in planning to use parking garages- which is why this is one of the more important tips for traveling in Paris if you're going to be driving. 🚗
Instead of setting your Google Maps destination to a parking garage, give yourself 20-30 extra minutes to find parking on one of the side streets instead.
Here's why- parking garages are almost IMPOSSIBLE to get into!
It's often hard to find the entrance of in between the hoards of pedestrians, bikes and other cars- especially if it's your first time to Paris and the streets are unfamiliar.
And- here's the kicker- sometimes certain parking lots are privately owned, meaning they might close early or only have a FEW spaces available- and you won't know until you've finally managed to pull inside.
It is way, WAY easier to just give yourself extra time (I say approx. 30 minutes to reduce any stress) to just slowly drive along the side streets until you find an open space on the side of the road.
You will be able to recognize if it is paid parking or not, because there will be white dashes outlining the parking spaces, with the word 'PAYANT' spray painted on the street.
The word PAYANT means you can park in these spaces! 🥳
And even better, you can pay the parking fee with a credit card!!
Just find the little parking meter nearby and pay with your card or scan the app on the side of the machine to pay with your phone.
Parking can be a REALLY stressful aspect of driving in Paris for first-timers, so taking a bit of stress out by parking on a side street really does help.
Side note: Just like everything else in this post, I've got an entire post dedicated about driving, so if you're going to have a car in Paris, check out our 7 Tips For Driving In France As A Tourist here! 😉 There's just way too much information to fit into one post.
Paris Family Vacation Tip #6:
Don't be afraid to speak English in Paris. (Gasp! Shock! Horror!)
I know this is a definite faux pas for frequent tourists, and I always suggest learning basic phrases in the language of the country you're traveling to.
But here's the thing if you're traveling with kids...
You're most likely going to need to ask or say something you didn't prep ahead of time, and if you try to stumble around with your Google Translate app and speak in broken French, it can really flummox you AND the person you're speaking to.
We noticed that EVERYONE was really friendly when we were in Paris- and there were plenty of times our knowledge of French (and Spanish) failed us- so asking something in English was just fine and nobody minded! 🥰
Don't let the language be a barrier for your travels, especially if it's your first trip to Paris and you aren't sure what to expect.
Everyone we met was helpful, kind, and patient while we asked questions and ordered food, and addressed little one's issues (urgently needing a bathroom in a very small cafe, for instance) even when we weren't sure of the words to say.
And just to keep you completely covered, we've got a great French/English travel phrases cheat sheet you can screen grab in our Family Holidays in South France Tips post here with the main things you'd need to say while traveling (like Where is the bathroom, Can I order xyz, and I'm allergic to...".).
Tips For Visiting Paris #7:
Its ok to eliminate some of the things from your trip itinerary and SLOW sightsee.
I know this is a bit of a repeat from our Eiffel Tower tip above.
But here's the thing- EVERYTHING takes more time than you expect it to.
This is especially true if you're a Paris first time visitor and/or you're traveling with kids.
Even though it is really tempting (and can even seem quite doable), don't try and cram too much into one day,
Everything we did in Paris was an all-day event.
Our trip to Versailles- all day.
Our trip to Giverny to see Monet's Garden- all day.
Our trip to Eiffel Tower- 3 hours (but I felt like we'd rushed through!) PLUS 1.5 hours going to and from our parked car & snagging a few pics on the way.
One day, I had even set up a wonderful walking tour to see all the big monuments like Notre Dame, the Louvre, Sainte Chappel, Luxembourg Gardens, etc. Google Maps gave me an estimated walking time of 1.5 hours to make the whole circle.
Well... we spent 30 minutes parking, and then almost 3 hours later we hadn't even made it to the Luxembourg area yet! 😲
So, yeah.... take my advice and just give yourself all day to enjoy and appreciate all the amazingness of the city and each place you visit.
By relaxing your itinerary. you will be less rushed, less stressed, and more able to enjoy the experience without totally exhausting yourselves or the little ones.
(Because tired kids make the the trip a whole different experience! 🤪)
It's also really helpful to keep your Paris itinerary simple because activities in Paris can add up pretty quickly. If you're planning your family travel on a budget, allowing yourself more time to enjoy each activity or location can really help you get the most bang for your buck.
That's it for my tips for traveling to Paris for the first time- but I definitely suggest you check out my other Paris (and France) posts for specific more tips on the different activities and things we did to save yourself stress (and money!)
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P.S.- in case you're still wondering: is Paris worth visiting?
It was by far one of our family's favorite places to visit and we can't WAIT to go back!
So, yes. Hands down. Book the flight, and enjoy your Paris family vacation. 🥰 You're going to love it!
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