01 of 07
Kid-Friendly Travel "Hacks" From a Bestselling Author and Mom
A few years ago, I realized I’d much rather give my children the gift of life experiences than toys they’ll soon discard.
Everyone thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to take my four children (and my daughter’s friend) to Paris, France for their entire summer break. Luckily, since I’m an author, I have the ability to work anywhere as long as I have my laptop.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get away for two months—my brother scheduled his wedding in June and I thought it might be narcissistic to ask him to move the date to accommodate our trip. But between the wedding and several book signings I had scheduled in the U.S., we carved three weeks from late June through mid-July to take our big adventure.
And an adventure, we had. Click through to learn about 6 activities and attractions -- some admittedly pretty surprising-- that made my kids fall in love with the city of light. I hope yours will, too.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
Kid-Friendly Hack #1: Live Like a French Family in Paris
Since my original plan was to live in Paris for two months, I knew a hotel would never work-- I needed to rent an apartment. This turned out to be a great way to experience the city like a local.
We lived in a residential area with nearby markets and bakeries, and it conveniently located only two blocks from the Metro, the Parisian subway system. Other than walking, the Metro was our only way around the city. We rode it everywhere. My children actually missed it after we came home, even though it often reeked in the summer heat!
Just a warning: Most Parisian apartments don’t have air conditioning-- and when we arrived, the city was experiencing a record heatwave. Needless to say, we spent a couple of days hanging out in air-conditioned museums.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
Kid-Friendly Hack #2: Distract the Kids With Great Views and Fun Street Food
One thing you need to know is that Paris, as a top tourist destination, is a city of lines. As you might guess, children and long lines in the heat don’t always mix.
So when we visited Notre Dame Cathedral, I had to choose—stand in line to go inside and see 600-year old flying buttresses, stained glass, and statues, or head up to the top of the Cathedral towers and see some dramatic city views? We split the difference and studied the outside of the cathedral while waiting in line.
We had plenty of time to check out the stained glass windows and the weather-worn gargoyles (not to be confused with the chimera at the top of the cathedral: Gargoyles are water spouts, and chimera are statues).
The queue to get to the top of lines is up on the north side and is shielded from the sun. But the view is amazing enough to justify the hour in line. And the food vendors across the street make the wait delicious-- and distracting.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
Kid-Friendly Hack #3: Take Them to See Odd & Unforgettable Sights
Kids love the macabre, so what could be better than walking through the Paris Catacombs—underground tunnels lined with the bones of over six million dead people? The bones are stacked in the last half-kilometer of the two-kilometer tour. The tour starts at one point on Avenue du Général-Leclerc (again in the 14th arrondissement) and ends about six blocks south.
Once you exit, you’ll be hungry, so head half a block west, back to Avenue du Général-Leclerc, then up one block. On the west side of the street is a crepe stand that sells delicious banana and Nutella crêpes.
Pro tip: Just like everywhere in Paris, the lines are long at the Catacombs, even when you get there early. To avoid standing in line, go inside the tiny office and purchase tickets for the English speaking tour. You can go wander and shop along Avenue du Général-Leclerc, then show up shortly before your tour time.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Kid-Friendly Hack #4: Stretch Your Euros for More Treats, Meals Out and Fun
You can’t go home without souvenirs-- the kids will definitely want to show some off back home. To stretch your Euros further for extra treats like these, as well as family meals out, know where to find the real bargains.
The Latin Quarter stretches across the 5th and 6th arrondissements of Paris on the historic left bank (rive gauche), and is known for its many schools of higher education, including the Sorbonne. But it’s also known for inexpensive souvenir shopping and food. Family meals around many popular tourist sites can easily cost you over 100 Euros, even at lunch-- but you can get a decent meal in the side alleys of the Latin Quarter for, well, a quarter of the price.
Pro Tip: In the Latin Quarter, waiters on streets such as Rue de la Harpe and the adjoining Rue de la Huchette (Metro/RER: St-Michel) often stand outside restaurants offering bargains to eat at their establishments; free drinks or free appetizers are frequently part of the deal. You can sometimes get better... offers by getting them to bid against one another.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
Kid-Friendly Hack #5: Take a Lazy Canal Ride or Boat Tour
If you and the kids are exhausted from walking all over Paris and want to have a relaxing and unique experience, I recommend taking a boat ride down the Canal Saint-Martin. This is a working canal and you’ll get to see firsthand how river locks work-- something that the kids might just find interesting and amusing.
When the water drains in the lock, a ton of garbage is uncovered. My kids loved seeing what would be exposed—you’d be amazed how many bikes we discovered. The boat ride lasts a couple of hours and ends at the Musée d'Orsay—after it goes through a tunnel underneath the Bastille.
Insider tip: Take the subway to Gare du Nord or République and walk a few blocks to the canal, then scope out Pink Flamingo Pizza (67 Rue Bichat), a real favorite with locals. Place your order and they will give you a pink balloon. You can go sit by the canal and they will deliver your pizza to you, making for an easy and fun picnic.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
Kid-Friendly Hack #6: Take Them to See Paris' Marvelous Old Cemeteries
We may seem a bit morbid by now, having already raved about the Catacombs (see hack #3), but Parisian cemeteries aren’t like ours at home in the US-- and so have extra appeal, including for the kids. Catholic French families used to build small sanctuaries over their loved ones’ graves, and it’s easy to see that they saw it as a competition.
There are several cemeteries closer to the city center (one to the west of Montmartre and one south of the Luxembourg Gardens), but a subway ride out to the 20th Arrondissement to Père Lachaise Cemetery is worth the effort.
At Père Lachaise, classic rock lovers will want to see Jim Morrison’s grave. Classical music lovers will want to find Chopin’s. The cemetery is huge, so either pull up a map on your smartphone or get one at the visitor center. One way to make it fun is to choose a few graves to visit, then challenge the kids to find them-- this can be quite tricky!
Pro tip: If you have people in your group who need to use the restroom frequently,... be sure to bring wipes. The restrooms in the cemetery (yes, it’s big enough to have restrooms) are the some of the nastiest I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve used squatty potties at the Great Wall of China, so that’s saying something.
About Contributing Writer Denise Grover Swank
Denise Grover Swank is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 27 novels for adults and teens, including One Paris Summer (June 7, 2016; HarperCollins/Blink). She frequently speaks on the topics of writing, publishing and building a career as an author. While she's written in multiple genres, One Paris Summer is her first contemporary book for young adults. Denise resides in Lee's Summit, Missouri with her children. Connect with her at www.denisegroverswank.com.