среда, 6 ноября 2013 г.

Family Holidays: France, Paris

Today I would like to tell you about Paris, a city which I feel passionate about, despite the mixed reviews of my friends! All of our trips here, and there have been many, were unforgettable!

Paris is big and diverse, with lots of things to entertain both kids and adults! In this review I will tell you all about what you can do with little ones in Paris.
When to come to Paris:
All year round! Paris is beautiful in any kind of weather!

Where to stay with kids:
I must admit that hotels in Paris are not cheap! 
If you are travelling with children then I think it's generally better to rent an apartment, and there are many options to be found simply by searching online. The key thing is to pay attention to the location as your accommodation should, ideally, be close a metro station for convenience. Paris is big, so you are likely to need to rely on public transport.
A quick piece of advice: it is probably best to stay in the more central areas of Paris if you can, especially as some areas of the city can feel unsafe, particularly in the evenings.

My favorite place to stay in Paris is near the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg). 
Unfortunately, as we usually stay with friends near here, I can’t recommend any particular apartments to rent nearby. 

As for the hotels in this area, you may have a look at Hotel de l'Avenir or hotel Danemark (good reviews).

Child-friendly hotels in Paris: 
- Hotel Le Bristol: Located close to the Champs-Elysees. If you’ve seen Woody Allen's movie ‘Midnight in Paris’ you’ll recognize some of the locations where it was filmed in this area. If you did not see it then be sure to watch it before you travel and it will get you (parents!) in a romantic Parisian mood! Hotel Le Bristol is just one of the luxury hotels found in Paris, with a private garden, swimming pool, spa and even a kids' club with entertainment for the children! 
And, this hotel has one very special guest of whom they’re very proud:  a cat called Fa-Raon, who is, so they say, very friendly to kids :).
The only downside of the hotel is its cost. Unfortunately, the luxury does not come cheap... especially in Paris ...
Another hotel which regularly receives good reviews is LesJardins de la Villa. This is a boutique hotel located next to the ‘Porte Maillot’ metro station, not far from the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees. It is family-friendly and they have available cots, babyphones, and changing mats and even offer free accommodation for children under 12 years old staying in their parents' room.

Top tip: If your chosen hotel doesn’t include breakfast in the price then I would strongly advise you to breakfast in the local cafés and brasseries rather than at the hotel itself. In most cases, the hotel breakfasts are very basic and expensive.
Nice cafe: Patisserie Boulangerie Julien (адрес: 54 rue Notre Dame des Champs, 75006 Paris). They have wonderful croissants and pastries there!
 In the cafés you can enjoy a typical French breakfast: croissant or pains au chocolat (croissant with chocolate). You may also want to try croque-monsieur or croque madame (hot French sandwiches). My friend, who lived in Paris for a long time, told me that the locals usually have a cup of coffee with milk and a croissant which they then dip into their coffee... Well, perhaps try it and let us know if you’re a fan :).
As I’m now on the topic of food I’ll continue the gastronomic theme. I love French cheese and have found that it is much better to buy it in small shops or in local markets, although there are also good cheeses available in some large stores.
And in regards to French pastries… just to name a few delights you can look forward to trying: freshly baked baguettes and croissants, of course, and all kinds of sweets including (especially for chocolate lovers) Bombe au chocolat - it really is a bomb :).
 When in Paris, I like to eat at the restaurant Leon. This is actually a Belgian restaurant chain that specializes in mussels. The dishes are affordable and there is a children’s menu. What is especially nice is that they give the kids coloring books and board games to occupy them while waiting for their food. I read that in some places there are playgrounds and bouncy castles or kids to play on but I didn’t see these anywhere myself…

Another great place to go for food in Paris is
Ladurée (my favorite is on the Champs Elysées: 75 avenue des Champs-Elysées - 75008 Paris). This is actually a chain of high class confectioneries and coffee shops that sell the most delicious macaroons. This meringue-based confectionery is made with eggs, sugar and ground almonds. In Ladurée, the macaroons are divine!  
At Ladurée, aside from the sweet delights, you can also eat a full lunch if you haven’t filled up on pastries.
 Another of my favorite restaurants in Paris is La Coupole (102 Bd du Montparnasse 75014 Paris). I’d advise you to make advance reservations as it is very popular among Parisians. The food here is very tasty and the restaurant itself is beautiful, with a stunning dome as part of the Art Deco style interior. Famous patrons of La Coupole have included Picasso, Hemingway, Edith Piaf and other well-known bohemians, musicians, writers, and artists.
Again, at this restaurant the kids are given coloring books or a book with games. My daughter made her own fun by inventing a new dish: French fries with chocolate ice cream. She insisted it was tasty - I refused to try it, preferring the oysters :). You should definitely try the famous crème brulée here!
Practical tips: Make sure to use your
Paris Pass (there are different types: Paris Museum Pass, Paris Attractions Pass, Paris Visitor’s Pass, Paris Bus Tour). You can use it on public transport (in some zones of Paris) and, most importantly, this Pass also offers you discounts at museums and various attractions. Your Pass may also let you skip the line-up at a number of museums, including the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay (Orsay Museum), etc.. Take it from me, the pass can save you a lot of time and is especially useful if you are only in Paris for a few days and want to visit lots of places.
Moving onto the most important topic - what to do and see with kids in Paris:
There are plenty of attractions in Paris that you should visit, with or without children. To name just a few: the Louvre (at least to show the kids the Mona Lisa), the Rodin Museum (where there is a beautiful sculpture park), Musée D'Orsay (with a fine collection of impressionist art), and the Centre Pompidou (for children who like modern art).

It is also nice to visit the famous cathedral - Notre Dame de Paris. Make sure to go inside and climb to the top (your kids will love it); there are stunning views over Paris and you can make nice pictures with chimeras.
Don’t forget to take a stroll through the streets of Montmartre, sit in a café there, take a photo of the beautiful Basilica Sacré-Cœur, and have fun spotting places from the French movie ‘Amelie’...
Photo from Wikipedia

Take a ride on a boat on the Seine or just take a stroll along the riverside where there are, by the way, a number of nice playgrounds for kids :).

Clearly you can’t skip
the Eiffel Tower while you are in Paris… Although it’s up to you if you want to climb the tower or not... I prefer to look at it from outside :). Near the Eiffel Tower there is a park and a playground – probably the best background for a playground in the whole world :). 
After dark, at the beginning of each hour the Eiffel Tower lights up and sparkles for a few minutes. It is truly magical! When my daughter saw it her cries of “Wow” were heard in the street :).

Your kids might enjoy a visit to Aquarium du Trocadero which is located on the other side of the Seine opposite the Eiffel Tower. There are a lot of exotic fish here and a large aquarium with different types of sharks. In front of the shark tank there are lots of comfortable chairs (like in the cinema), so you can sit and meditate there while the kids are having fun... 
There are lots of interactive games for children and our daughter amused herself by catching ‘virtual’ fish projected onto the floor. More traditionally, but no less fascinating, there is also the opportunity to feed the fish.

If you walk from the Aquarium in the direction of a large set of staircases and a square with fountains with a view of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll find a traditional carousel with horses where the kids can enjoy a ride or two. There is the classic carousel music and it is very colorful, like something from a movie. Our daughter was very happy and asked to ride it again, and again, and again ... :)
Also, if you go up the stairs there is a stunning (I think, the best) view of the Eiffel Tower. You have probably seen this view in many movies and commercials. Do not forget to bring your camera.

It is worth visiting the so-called city of Science and Industry:
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie La Villet. This will, perhaps, be most exciting for older children who are interested in experiments, but smaller children may also be entertained, especially as there is a children’s playground on-site. The most interesting (at least to me!) was that you can touch, smell and explore everything. 
The city is divided into zones where you can learn about lights, volcanoes, stars and galaxies, transport, sounds, etc. There is an area for children (2-7 years), where you can conduct various experiments, as well as areas for older children (5-12 years) with themed stations such as ‘the body’, ‘communication’, ‘water games’, ‘factory’, etc. Isn’t it great when you find such an interactive way to get your kids interested in learning about science!
Photo from Wikipedia
Be sure to go to the giant 360-degree cinema theater Géode (3D) while in the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie La Villet, it is impressive! 
The boys certainly want to go inside a real submarine.
If the older kids want to learn more about science, you can visit the Palace of Discovery (Palais de la Découverte). This is located in the center of Paris, near the Champs-Elysees. Here you can carry out experiments in chemistry, physics, mathematics and other sciences, as well as visit the planetarium.
With little ones, you might consider a trip to the zoo in the Bois de Vincennes. The animals are not kept in small cages here but are, instead, in something more like a natural environment, albeit with secure fences. There is a flower park here too, and a mini-golf course, water slides, a train for children, the children's theater (Astral Theatre), and a butterfly garden.
The Botanical Garden (
Jardin de Plant) in Paris is a huge complex of the oldest botanical garden in Europe, a museum and a small zoo. In good weather, it is lovely to just stroll around the beautiful park.
It can be be fun to visit the former Zoological Park (Jardin D'Acclimatation) which is now a large park for children with play areas, a train featuring a dragon, a puppet theater and other entertainment for kids. They offer children's workshops where kids can learn about herbariums, how to plant the plants, and how to care for them. 
The Museum in the grass (Musee en Herbe) is a fun art museum for children, which is located in the Bois de Boulogne in the Jardin D'Acclimatation. This is a great interactive way to introduce art to children, with permanent exhibitions and temporary exhibitions, such as the works of Chagall or Picasso.
You might want to include a visit to Musee Grevin, a museum of wax figures in Paris. Here you’ll find the hall of mirrors which hosts a music and light show.

If you have time, you can visit the Museum of Dolls (probably one for girls) and a museum of magic (for kids of all ages). The museum of dolls has a rich collection of various dolls (made of porcelain, papier-mâché, etc.). It is interesting to observe how the production methods and faces of the dolls changed with the passage of time...
In the museum of magic your kids can explore different tricks in an interactive way. There is a hall of illusions where visitors can watch a short performance by a magician.
In fall/winter you can visit Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione. This is not just a tent circus (chapiteau) but a real circus with trained animals, clowns, jugglers, etc. The building itself is beautiful. The circus is open from October to March.
You can visit the children's amusement park ‘Magic Planet’ (La Planète Magique) which is located near the ‘Reaumur-Sebasopol’ metro station (Address: 3 bis rue Papin, 75003, Paris).
Here, kids can go on an interplanetary travel adventure, jump around the ‘Soft Planet (soft plastic balls!) and hunt for treasure.
There is an abundance of beautiful parks in Paris and one of my favorites is Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg), next to a subway (Notre-dame-des-Champs or RER ‘Luxembourg’). It is nice just to take a stroll through this park and there is a playground for the kids and the chance, on weekends, for pony rides.There is also a small but nice puppet theater for kids.
Our daughter loved sailing the little boats in the pond near the fountain – a typically French family weekend activity in the park. This is very exciting for the kids but please be sure to watch that your kids don’t dive into the water after the boats (this happened to my friend’s son :)).
You might want to include a visit to Versailles, near Paris, in your itinerary. Perhaps this is likely to be more interesting for adults rather than children though... Or maybe I’m wrong, what do you think? 
Photo from Wikipedia
Water park fans can visit ‘Akvabulvar’ in Paris. Here you’ll find water slides, fountains, and pools with large wave simulations, as well as a 30m long whale into which you can climb and see a baby whale before going down a water slide back into the pool. You could easily spend a whole day at this water park, and there are cafés and even a large cinema here too.

The theme parks Disneyland and Asterix deserve a separate review. Let me just say that Disneyland is a dream for all children. It is a must-see destination at least once in your lifetime :). 

If you’ve already visited Disneyland then you can go to the Asterix theme park for a bit of a change. It's not as big as Disneyland, but the kids usually love it.
Not far from shopping center Val d'Europe there is an aquarium Sea Life Paris, the kids can see exsotic fishes, sharks, turtles, sting rays, etc. If you buy the tickets online, you can save some money. 

If you are travelling through France and have little time to see everything then visit ‘France Miniature in the suburbs of Paris. Here you can see the different regions of France, from Normandy to the south of France and, as they say, ‘walk in the steps of the French giant.’ 
30 km outside Paris there is a Chateau deBreteuil, or, as it is also called, ‘Puss in Boots Land’. This is a magnificent park in which there lies a castle where your kids can meet many of their favorite fairytale characters from the stories of Charles Perrault (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots, etc). You can wander through the green maze or just walk in the park.
Paris is large and diverse, with very touristy sites and those more typical of Parisian local, with Arab and African immigrants and elegant Parisians... I love places that are this diverse! Discover Paris for yourself with your kids! I'm sure it will make a lasting impression on children of different ages!

Bon voyage!
Looking forward to getting your feedback upon your return!

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