How to Travel Paris with a Baby (and Stay Sane)
As a first-time mom, I hit the internet for parenting advice approximately 423 times a day. So when I was considering a trip to the City of Lights with a seven-month-old, I turned to my good friend Google before booking. As usual, it spit back a healthy dose of paranoia. “A city that is terrible for ‘les enfants’”, warned the very first hit, an article packed with tales of public transportation highly unsuitable for strollers, baby-hating museum staff and an apparent Paris-wide ban on highchairs and changing tables.
My advice is to ignore Google. It turns out the French absolutely adore babies and will fall all over themselves to smile, coo and otherwise ensure little ones are well looked after. Their complete exuberance for les petites – along with the obligatory steady stream of café crème, croissants and crêpes – made my three-day trip a stunning success.
Day one: Our first afternoon was spent exploring the Left Bank on foot, from the full-bloom splendour of the Luxembourg Gardens to the saturation of chic boutiques in St-Germain-des-Prés. We feasted on buckwheat crêpes for lunch at an outdoor table in the shadow of the Pantheon. Later, we refuelled with a pricey but atmospheric coffee at Café de Flore, the storied artist’s hangout beloved by everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Sofia Coppola. Rather than turn his nose up at le bebe, the white-aproned waiter kept Emma giggling with playful smiles and games. Our epic walk concluded with ice cream cones (delicious and decadent dark chocolate and bean-flecked vanilla) at Le Flore en l’Ile on Ile St Louis.
Day two: Emma and I were travelling with my very best friend from school, a Paris first-timer ready to take in some of the key sites, so Day Two was devoted to art and architecture. We started the morning at the Eiffel Tower where, once again, we were invited by staff to jump the lengthy queue. One warning, though: Leave the stroller at the hotel. While they are allowed if they’re folded, the crowded maze of mini-queues en route to the top is best navigated with a baby carrier. (We spotted another mom who got sent to the back for attempting to wheel in three kids on bikes. Oops).
For lunch, we stocked up on fresh charcuterie, brie and baguettes from a row of specialty shops on Boulevard St Germain and picnicked on a bench in the Tuileries Garden. Then it was straight into Musée de l’Orangerie to immerse ourselves in Monet’s waterlilies (I like to think the panoramic floor-to-ceiling panels had the same effect on Emma’s cognitive development as playing Mozart in the womb). From there, it was onto the Impressionist Mecca Musée d’Orsay, which has late opening hours on Thursdays. We spent the evening with Van Gogh, Renoir and Seurat and took in the sweeping views from the 5th-floor terrace. (Insider tip: Time diaper changes with gallery visits; museums are the exception to Paris’s general lack of baby-changing facilities.)
Day three: Our next city was calling on Day Three, but not without first having a morning stroll through Notre Dame (go early to dodge the crowds) and a lunchtime visit to foodie heaven on Rue Cler. Fruit and veggie stalls, bakeries, wine shops, bistros and, yes, more ice cream await on this cobblestone pedestrian side street. There’s a Petit Bateau here, too, if you’re looking to stock up on stylish and trendy baby clothes. We grabbed two croissants before the journey back home, plus a copy of Babar from a children’s bookshop for Emma before bidding Paris au revoir.
Getting there: Direct flights run from most major US cities. Or, you can stop in London and take The Eurostar from London’s St Pancras to Gare du Nord where kids under 4 ride free if they sit on your lap. At the Gare du Nord taxi rank, we settled in for an epic wait when – mon dieu! – a cabbie ushered us to the front of the line. In Paris, we were told, babies don’t do queues.
Where to stay: I chose the quirky, cosy, ludicrously well-positioned Hotel Esmeralda (4 rue Saint Julien le Pauvre, double rooms $130 a night) for its postcard-perfect views of Notre Dame and fabulous Latin Quarter location. We loved the friendly vibe and on request staff provided a cot (“le berceau”) for Emma and stored the stroller (“la poussette”) in the ground floor office to save us from lugging it up and down the spiral staircase. The steps are a bit of a workout, but the view of Notre Dame from our window was worth the effort.