It’s been just over a week since returned from our amazing Spring Break in Paris trip and it feels like the family is finally shaking off the last of the jet lag. While I don’t necessarily enjoy feeling groggy all day or being wide awake every day at 4am, I do feel a little sad when my internal clock is finally back to normal and that final, physical reminder of a trip has been completely erased.
Our family loved the two weeks we spent in France and can’t wait to go back and see more of this wonderful country. We combined playgrounds with museums at the Louvre, medieval church art with cool gargoyles and amazing views at Notre Dame and ancient kings with modern princes at les Invalides. We enjoyed fantastic day trips to Versailles and Disneyland Paris, and also loved our time outside of Paris, visiting Bayeaux and Mont St Michel in Normandy, the Loire Valley and Guedelon castle in Burgundy.
We rented an apartment in the Marais district for eight nights in Paris through VRBO and this turned out to be an excellent option for a family of four. The location was great, about ten minutes from the Pompidou Centre and maybe 20-25 minutes walk from Notre Dame. The area was a wee bit rough around the edges in a few places (I found myself using the local homeless man as a landmark when finding my way back) but it was also vibrant and busy at all hours of the day and we never felt unsafe walking through the area. It was also tiny, with a bedroom, a bathroom and a living/dining/kitchen area combined in about the size of our living room at home, but it was bright and sunny and it suited our needs just fine.
For our sightseeing we bought a Paris Museum Pass which cost 62 Euros per adult for the four day version. It covered most of the sights in Paris including Versailles and we felt it was an excellent value. We didn’t have to worry about passes for the kids since one of the things that makes Paris so family friendly is the fact that almost all museums are free for kids under 18 years of age! We have found that these passes are great for families with young kids because they allow you to visit a lot of different sights and stay as long as the kids attention spans last without worrying about how much you paid for each individual place.
When I was researching for our trip I found that all the France guidebooks had a lot of information about avoiding lines and beating the crowds. Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world and for much of the year the sights are slammed with tourists. The books warned about times and days when you could spend hours in line to buy tickets, then hours more waiting just to get past security. Advice included going early or late in the day, avoiding certain days of the week and buying tickets in advance. But the best way to avoid the lines is probably to go in March!
While many places we went to were definitely busy, we had virtually no problems with crowds or long lines. Security at all the tourist spots was extremely tight; every museum and monument had bag checks and most had airport style metal detectors, and we had a few 10-15 minute waits for security lines, but nothing too bad. A few of the museums felt a bit crowded in the afternoons, but even at the Louvre we were able to move around without too much trouble. And while Paris had moderate crowds at that time of year, the rest of the places we visited were virtually empty! In Bayeaux we walked past the hundreds of metres of roped off lines and went straight in to view the tapestry with only one other couple in the viewing area along with us. Amboise was almost too quiet with many shops and tasting rooms just opening up for the season and the chateaux had more schoolchildren on field trips than tourists walking around.
But now we’re home and there are pictures to sort through and memories to organize. I’ll try to write more about some of our favourite places and experiences in Paris and Northern France in the next little while. Overall we found France to be safe, easy to get around, relatively affordable and yes, even friendly! The only real problem we had was that two weeks just wasn’t enough.