Visiting France with a baby or toddler can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience as you see this stunning country through their eyes. France isn't the most baby-friendly destination, however. It can also be a challenge finding much-needed baby and toddler supplies with a language barrier.
Stroller-accessible? Mais, non!
France is not particularly stroller or wheelchair friendly. There will be times (especially if you travel by rail) when there is no other way to get up or down than to carry baby and stroller together.
If you are dragging luggage, this gets even more challenging. Also, look for a light-weight stroller that is easier to lift.
When you choose a city to travel in, check first to see what is accessible. A wonderful city with an ancient château might seem perfect, but there will be stone stairways, small passages and often ramparts to negotiate.
Bring your own car seat
If you will be taking taxis or riding in a car at all, bring your own car seat. French cab drivers think nothing of having a baby in lap in their cars, and I have only come across one taxi company that could bring a car seat. Don't let unruly cab drivers rush you while installing the car seat either. If it's too much a problem for the driver, leave the cab and take the next one (unless he is the only cab in a small town). (For tips, including a recommended car seat/stroller combo, see my article, Packing for Travel with Babies and Toddlers.)
Driving in France
If you plan to hire a car, try the Renault Eurodrive Lease Back Programme. It's cheaper than the usual car hire; however you have to hire for a minimum of 21 days.
Yes, they have it here
You can find all the typical baby and toddler accoutrements here that you will find back home. In fact, many options in France are better.
Be sure to bring the most crucial items, but extras can be found. Baby food and formula here is wonderful. Older baby/toddler meals have nice options, including duck dishes, paella and risotto.
There are formula/cereal, formula/vegetable and formula/fruit drinks that include a great selection of flavors (the chocolate flavour is particularly recommended by the young critics). They do tend to have common allergens in baby food (like seafood), however, so be sure to have a good French-English dictionary to translate the ingredients (and heating instructions). Examine the picture closely, as you will typically see all the ingredients depicted there. If you aren't sure about anything, find a local pharmacy (preferably where the staff speak English) and ask. Bring your formula label and show it to the pharmacist. You will find the pharmacies very helpful, particularly with baby foods.
For Aptamil, buy Milupa; Cow & Gate and Heinz are not generally available. Or try these excellent French baby formulas: Babybil; Blédilait, Enfamil, Gallia, Modilac, Nestle Nidal, Nutricia
Diapers are the same, yet different
Diapers are easy to find in local markets and pharmacies, and you can find old favourites Pampers and Huggies.
Be sure you know your baby's weight in kilograms (use my Metric Calculator to find out, since the sizing system isn't identical. Some restaurants will have a baby-changing area, but this is not common.
Be sure to check first to see if a hotel has a crib before booking if you will need one. Most cater for children, but have a backup plan. Some hotels have old and downright dangerous folding cribs. You might consider bringing a portable co-sleeping bed for the baby. Also, practice folding and opening a playpen/crib while at home.
You'll probably be better at it than the hotel staff. Almost every time a hotel staffer has set up a folding crib, it has buckled the second I put weight on it. There is an art to opening them properly, so be familiar with it. Always check the crib for tears, jerk it around and push on it to be sure it is safe and will remain intact.
Don't be afraid to ask for another crib. Even smaller inns surprised me by having a second one.
Booking your Hotel with Kids
Only some of the top hotels might have a no-kids policy. And the better the hotel, the more likely to have baby sitters to book. But even in smaller places, there's often a family teenager who might babysit for a small fee.
Late night feedings
Be prepared for France's later dinnertimes. Often, we just ate in our room while traveling so our daughter could go to bed on time. Since you will probably be adjusting baby to a new time zone anyway, why not allow the child to stay up a little later? That way, you can all have late dinners together. Most restaurants don't even start serving until 7 or 7.30pm. But more and more brasseries are open all day long, so in larger towns you will find somewhere to eat during the day.
Visiting France with a baby or toddler can be challenging, to be sure. It is a memorable experience, however. With these tips and the baby/toddler French vocabulary below, you should be well prepared.
And remember, France, like Italy and Spain, is a very baby-orientated country and bringing baby can make you feel immediately at home. Of course, you need to be aware of some of the rules, so check out the French people are Rude myth with How to Avoid the so-called Rude French.
Baby and Toddler Vocabulary
Do you have diapers/nappies? Avez-vous des couches?
Do you have baby milk? Avez-vous du lait bébé?
Do you have an elevator? Avez-vous un ascenseur?
Do you have a crib? Avez-vous une haute chaise?
If you're travelling in France with older children, check out these useful guides.