Is it easy to navigate Paris with kids?
written by Kate Redfern
MLP invited Kate Redfern from Five Little Stars to report for us on the challenges of getting around Paris with small children. We also have her Top 5 tips for getting the best out of Paris transport with your little ones! With two kids under the age of three, we salute her energy in getting the kids out and about. Over to you, Kate.
Paris is the city that has stolen this English country girl’s heart. I have never actually lived in the centre of a big City; I am always a visitor, be it for pleasure or work. I was born and grew up in the countryside, surrounded by fields and animals.
“I have an immense respect for the strength and fortitude of my friends in the city who, in order to get out and about, use the trains and metro every day, with young children.”
Given my roots, I confess I was reluctant to move here when the opportunity first arose. But I was easily won over with a weekend’s visit. Paris is exquisite. Utterly charming; from its buildings, to the parks, from the food and wine and never-ending culture and personality on every street I have had the good fortune to walk along. Then I saw what the suburbs had to offer, so much for our young family, and the combination and proximity was (and is) perfect. I still feel this way. And I can honestly say that the Paris attacks have not altered my view of this precious place. I refuse to let them.
I have two young children under the age of three years, and I venture into this beautiful metropolis with them (both or just one) on my own on average once a week. My little team and I visit parks, museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes, friends… and overall we have so much fun. I always come home feeling invigorated and like we have had an adventure.
But, there is a “but”…
Navigating Paris with 2 toddlers can be extremely hard work. I almost always drive in. Despite the eye-watering A14 toll, despite Paris traffic and Parisian drivers, and despite locating accessible parking and the cost it entails (although I must say, generally, I find parking in the city to be much cheaper than London, and is mostly on a par with other medium sized cities in the UK). Yesterday, my Sat Nav on my drive home instructed me to navigate Place de la Concorde, proceed down the Champs Elysees, take (your life into your own hands navigating to…) the 5th exit on the Arc de Triomphe round-a-bout, and then head down the Avenue de la Grande Armée, to Port Maillot roundabout (almost as dangereux) and head towards the big arch of La Defence.
Initially, this route would have induced genuine fear. I used to go to great lengths in the car to avoid the Arc de Triomphe roundabout in particular, then I started trying to navigate the chicken run (the network of roads circumnavigating the Arch). Now though, 2 years later, it is a thrill.
I have tried the trains and metro in Paris, and it is fair to say that it is not impossible with children. Baby carriers are the way forward whilst you still can, and there are pushchairs, like the Yoyo, which I understand can fit through the barriers. People will help you if you ask/look helpless enough, but it is not something that you can rely upon in my experience. I have an immense respect for the strength and fortitude of my friends in the city who, in order to get out and about, use the trains and metro every day, with young children.
Paris is not the most stroller-friendly city
On the occasions I have tried it on my own with the children, I am more often than I would care to admit close to tears with frustration over how unnecessarily difficult it is. Even the main big stations offer no guarantee that their lifts will be working. And it is frankly dangerous trying to balance a pushchair on an escalator. There is a reason why the escalator signs say it isn’t allowed, and yet everyone does it through necessity. I tried it once with a double (or I would have been stranded) and still have flashbacks to how close my children and I came to it all going wrong. I haven’t tried the buses yet but I should as some say they are easier, but other have awful tales to tell. And if you need rescuing – there’s always UBER!
…heart pounding in my chest, and I may have involuntarily emitted a swear word.
Recently I went to the big “Quatre Temps” shopping centre in La Defence on the RER from Poissy. I believe Parisians may not even consider this Paris! Poissy was all fine and wheelchair/pushchair accessible. At La Defence, I couldn’t find the lift to get out of the RER (is there one?) and had to balance the pushchair up the escalator. In the shopping centre, the first lift I came across wasn’t working. Thereafter I wasted a frustrating 20 minutes finding lifts that would only take me down, when I needed to find a part of the building that went up to the Food Court to join a coffee morning. I balanced the pushchair up a few escalators – and when the wheels got stuck at the top of the third one I had a hairy few seconds trying to push it off, heart pounding in my chest, and I may have involuntarily emitted a swear word.
There are more good Samaritans in Paris than you might think
On my way back, when I had exhausted the working lifts available, I carried my Bugaboo Bee, chunky (then) 18-month-old, and bag down the stairs by each escalator down into the RER. The last third of the last staircase a lovely lady came up from the platform and helped me. I wanted to hug her. Before her people had literally passed me on the stairs as I struggled, but no one helped. I was a hot flustered mess by the time I got onto the train.
I must add though, I have had many experiences in Paris of people helping me with the children, cooing over them and being very friendly and accommodating. For me, fortunately, these have far outstripped the ones where I have experienced the opposite. And so, when the shoe is on the other foot, I always stop and help mums who look like they may welcome it.
So, parents in Paris, I take my hat off to you!
Driving into Paris is not always practical; for example, if the Paris pollution restrictions are in operation with the new car stickers, or if it is a full day out then parking costs do mount up quickly. So, I will keep on persevering with the trains and Metro. But also because my children find this means of travel to be as much of an adventure (if not more so) than the destination. And I am determined to adopt the same mindset.
So, parents in Paris, I take my hat off to you! And how do you remain looking so stylish and externally unflustered at the same time?
Kate’s 5 Top Tips for Paris transport with kids
Remember this is a relatively small and walkable city.
Once you’re in the city, and if the weather permits, think about whether you need to use public transport at all for the next leg of your journey.
Cross the river on foot over the bridges for great views and less hassle! Our walking tips with little ones are: use a pushchair or a carrier/backpack (we love the “Littlelife” ones) to ensure little legs don’t get too tired and have some reins in your bag so they can be safe on the city streets. For slightly older children, what about using their scooters to get about quicker!
Life is a journey, not a destination
So make Paris transport a pleasure! For a train mad child, the thrill is in the journey whatever the type of train. Fun Tip: on the Metro line 1, your kids get to pretend to be the driver if you sit at the front, as it’s a driver-less train (which in itself is intriguing for them too).
Consider taking the bus rather than the metro when you can
Often with kids, you might not be travelling at peak commuter times, so there will be space on the bus for your pushchair. Perfect the French Maman technique of entering the bus via the back door, park and secure the brakes on your pushchair while you pop up to the front to validate your pass or ticket. There are some amazing bus routes in Paris that are just normal RATP bus routes and yet they actually rival some of the pricey hop-on, hop-off tours in terms of views of Paris and points of interest. Some favourites are the 63 and the 89.
Don’t forget the River Seine
A river meanders through the heart of the city and you can use it for transport. It is really fun for all the family to use the Batobus transport system to get around between its 9 stations and enjoy the city views from the water along the way.
Get on your bike on car-free days
If you live in Paris or are lucky enough to visit on a “Paris Sans Voiture” Sunday – what about cycling around the city? This can be an awful lot of fun with young kids in a trailer or bike seats if they are not big enough or safe to cycle themselves. Also, there are the popular Velib bikes all over the city that you can hire on any day of the week.
Kate and Alison have together created Five Little Stars. They are two Mums who are currently taking career breaks (from being a Barrister and a Journalist) to live an expat life in the suburbs of Paris with their husbands and little stars. They write honest reviews about the family related products they love, the adventures they have had, and also blog about subjects that inspire them. Kate is from England and she loves family days out, organising, exploring the world, animals, and making the most of enjoying the French food and wine whilst she is in Paris!
Thanks, Kate! MLP is delighted Five Little Stars chose to write this for us and we encourage you to check out their site.
Hi-five to the Mamahood!
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