Paris is the World’s #1 Tourist Destination.
Stands to reason, right? With so many iconic sites and so much delectable food in one gorgeous place, what’s not to like?
The crowds, that’s what. And they can be brutal in the most visited city on earth, especially in summer.
Yesterday a Time Traveler Tales reader reached out. She said,
Sarah, Help! I’m here with my two kids, ages 10 and 14, and they’re about ready to boycott our family vacation and go home. Everywhere we go – the Eiffel Tower, Musée Dorsay, Chateau de Versailles – the ticket lines are hours long! This is not the holiday any of us dreamed of. Can you help us turn our trip into something they will enjoy and remember for years to come, as we’d hoped?
So, this one’s for you, Keri: My Top 12 list of things to do in Paris with teens and tweens that are sure to please AND get you around the crowds.
Paris Metro, A Moving Museum
I love the Paris Metro. It’s fast, efficient, and clean, not to mention oozing with history. It’s a wonderful way to get around Paris and an even better way to put your teens and tweens in the driver’s seat. Start them out with my Paris Metro Crossword, part of a free offering you'll recieve by subscribing to the TTT newsletter. It will teach them the geography of the city without their even knowing it.
Once you’re on the ground here, go to any magazine kiosk – they are everywhere – and buy souvenir money can buy: Le Paris Pratique par Arrondissement.
Then, head to your first Metro station and get each member of your crew a Paris Visite Travel Card. With it you will enjoy unlimited travel on all Metro, Bus, and RER lines within greater Paris for the duration of your stay. Some of the longest lines during peak tourist season are underground where visitors who are buying-as-they-go find themselves stuck for much too long behind the very limited supply of ticket dispensing machines. Don’t be one of them.
NOTE: The Metro is safe, but pickpockets abound during peak tourist season, especially on Line #1, the main east-west artery through the city. So zip up those bags and clutch them tightly under your arm and never wear your backpack on your back. Hug it across your front; I don’t care how nerdy it feels. And be wary of children about elbow height traveling in herds. They may just be the ones that prey on groups of non-French-speaking people standing together chatting unawares just in front of the Metro car doors. They wait until the train is pulling into a station, bump you, pick you clean, and run. Bye-bye wallet, camera, phone, etc. They are that good.
The Eiffel Tower, An Alternate Perspective
Time’s too precious to waste a single minute of your adventure waiting in line. So, if you really want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, buy your tickets online in advance. But if you’re already here and have no tix in hand, I urge you to try this magical alternative instead:
Take your troops to the Champs de Mars for a late dinner picnic of French cheese, sliced ham, fresh baguette, olives, ripe fruit, etc. Make the experience even better by involving them in purchasing the picnic earlier in the day at one of Paris’ many outdoor farmers’ markets.
Now here’s the key, crazy as it may sound: Arrive on the Champs de Mars after 10pm. Yes, that’s right, by “late-dinner picnic”, I mean after 10. Pick your spot amongst the other merry revelers (don’t worry, it’s safe, just be vigilant with your valuables as you would on the Metro) and dig into your feast.
Be certain to stash amongst your edible treasures a bottle of chilled Champagne and enough glasses to go around. But don’t pop it right away! Trust me on this one. You’ll know when it’s time. And when you do, do as the French do: offer your teens their first taste of the yummy bubbly stuff. It’ll make them feel so grown up and respected. It’s just a taste, mind you. But you will be forever cool in their minds, and the best traveling companion on earth.
Now sit back, and enjoy the show!
Paris from Above, With Macarons
So you didn’t get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, no big deal! The view is even better from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, à mon avis (in my opinion), and the only way to get there is by walking the Champs Elysées which is where all the Parisian teens hang out, so yours will love it.
On your way up Paris’ most famous street, stop at the shop that invented the French macaron: Ladurée. At the time of this writing the Salon de Thé is under renovation. But you can buy their mouth-watering treats ‘to go’, in any number of wonderful flavors.Take them with you packed tightly in the iconic lime-green Ladurée bag and climb to the top of the monument.
Enjoy your sweet snack as you gaze down upon Paris’ famous Axe (axis) – the line that runs directly from the Louvre Arc du Carrousel through the Arch of Triumph to the modern arch at La Defense. That’s one thing you will never see from the Eiffel Tower!
Paris from Above, Meet me at the Fair
Everyone loves a good Fair. And the Tuileries Gardens is possibly the greatest location for a fair on earth. I go to this one every year with my teen and we always ride high, on the Ferris Wheel or the Swinger, or both, just to take in the magnificence of the view below. From the Rue de Rivoli to the Seine, from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde, this is a crowd pleaser for the thrill seekers among you, every. single. time.
Montmartre, but for Breakfast
Now you won’t want to miss Paris’ highest point with its wedding-cake-like monument, Sacre Cœur, crowning the top. But the crowds can be impenetrable there from well before noon. So shake those youngins awake and treat them to a pre-breakfast funicular ride straight to the top. Jetez a coup d’œil (throw a quick glance) at the Basilica, and then make your way directly to the Place du Tertre. Enjoy the scene of the locals waking up do a new day at any of the cafés that surround the Place. Take your time, get your portrait drawn, and when crowds begin to arrive, you’ll be ready to make your leave.
Now, using your Paris Pratique, head in the direction of the Abbesses Metro, one of only two original Guimard stations still left intact and the deepest Metro station in all of Paris. You’ll wend your way down the south side of the Mount through the picturesque Montmartre streets. Don’t worry. You can’t get lost. Treat yourself to a gouter (snack) once you’ve reached the Place des Abbesses. And return to central Paris from the station - take the stairs to the platform for a view of some of the best street art around.
Notre Dame with Crepes and Ice Cream
A visit inside La Cathédrale de Notre Dame is truly a must and though the line is always long, it also moves relatively fast. But getting up the Cathedral Tower can take forever. So skip it. Instead walk to the end of the same street, in the direction of the Ile Saint Louis. On the left side of the street is a brasserie, named after La Esmeralda of Hunchback fame. They make a pretty good lunchtime crepe right there on the street. Take your meal in hand and head into the park just behind the Cathedral. The view of the flying buttresses is magnificent from there, as is the view of local children at play. Find a bench and enjoy a quiet moment amongst the French. When you’re ready to move on, cross the footbridge linking the Ile de la Cité, where you are, with the Ile St. Louis. There’s always something wonderful to see on the bridge, but the real prize is just on the other side. There, you’ll find a shop selling Berthillon Ice Cream. I recommend a cone with deux boulles (two scoops), one of dark chocolate, the other blood orange sorbet.
Museums Even a Kid Will Love
Paris museums are bar none, and under-18s get in for free. My favorite for young people is the Musée d’Orsay, which boasts the largest collection of French impressionism under one roof, in this case a former train station. Fun! But in summer the ticket queue can grow to 2 ½ hours long. So, if you haven’t purchased your Paris Museum Pass in advance, save this stop for your next trip to Paris and go straight to the Pompidou Center and the Musée Beaubourg instead. No one can resist this inside-out museum, much less the endless activity in the Place just out front. And when you've had your fill of the local color to be found there, amble eastward into the Marais. Wander the former-swamp-turned-medieval-neighborhood now teeming with chic modern boutiques until you hit the Place de Voges, the quintessential place for a truly Parisian respite.
Chateau de Versailles, by Bike
Who can resist the Chateau de Versailles, and you've come all this way so you really must go. But the best part of the sprawling grounds for youth, to my mind, is not inside the palace, but outside, in the gardens. So, upon arrival at the sumptuous castle, pass right on by the queues of people jockeying for a sweaty view of the royal apartments and head to the left and straight through the building to the tapestry of gardens at the back. Meander through the mazes and along the hedgerows and around the fountains all the way down to the king's reflecting pool. There you will find everything you need for a grand family day out: bike rental, boat rental, restaurant, café. My recommendation is to rent some bikes and explore the extensive former hunting grounds of the Ancien Régime. Then, hop on the shuttle to the Queen’s Petit Trianon and Hameau (hamlet).
Underground Paris, Amongst the Dearly Departed
Back in the earliest days of the 19th century, Emperor Bonaparte sought to transform Paris into ‘the gem of all Europe’, and he meant to leave no stone unturned. Included in his project to remake his adopted city was the underground burial site, the Paris Catacombs, then just a jumble of bones, piled bone upon bone, the remains of some six million former Paris residents. He had the Catacombs turned into the place to see, ordering all those cranium and femur, tibia and humerus stacked neatly and decoratively in intricate patterns. You can visit the Catacombs to this day, but be warned:
- This ghoulish exhibit is not for the faint of heart or for those who suffer from claustrophobia!
- Start early! Plan to queue up 15-30 minutes before opening, as this line, too, can get quite backed up. Only 200 people are allowed down at a time.
- You must climb 130 steps to get into the Catacombs, 83 steps to get back out, and walk about 1.2 miles (2kms) underground. So not the best place for those with bad backs and brittle knees.
- The temperature in the Catacombs is a consistent 55 deg F (13 C), all year round. So bring a wrap, even in summer.
- It's also very damp in the Catacombs and can get quite slippery, so wear sensible shoes with adequate traction.
Once above ground again, if you have not yet had your fill of communing with Paris’ dead, her cemeteries are lovely parks in and of themselves. The Montparnasse Cemetery is located just a stone’s throw from the Catacombs exit. And the Père Lachaise Cemetery, all the way over in the 20th arrondissement, affords specatacular views of the city. De plus, what's more, both are excellent places for a treasure hunt!
Why the Canal St. Martin, of course! Best viewed from a bike or from the water itself, so grab a Velib (must be 14+) and ride as far as the Basin de la Villette. From there, hop on the Canauxrama boat tour and float back down the canal, passing through its four locks, until you reach central Paris again at the river Seine. This is a great trip on a day when your feet are feeling particularly weary.
The Latin Quarter by Evening
This is my teen’s favorite. She’d advise you to take the Metro to Odeon (Line 4 or 10) and to simply wander the streets to the north and the south of the Boulevard St. Germain. There, café crowds spill out into the streets. Music and the cheering on of sports teams tumble out behind them. “Follow your nose”, the Lucky-one-and-only (Loo) would say. “Go where your heart tells you to go. Hang where the locals hang.”
If you've traveled so far north that you hit the River Seine, locate some stairs to take you down along the Quai. If instead you've meandered in a southerly direction, continue up the hill past the Odeon theatre all the way to the Luxembourg Gardens.
“Let the city guide you,” Loo advises, sweet-sixteen and already a veteran world traveler. She knows that some of your best moments in Paris come to you as gifts totally unplanned.
Time Traveler Tours Revolutionary App Tour
Last but not least, travel back in time with our app tour, Beware Madame la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris. All you need is the download, we’ve taken care of the rest. Join your tour guide, 24 year-old Charlotte Corday, as she winds you through central Paris on this unforgettable day-long interactive itinerary that includes visits to the Palais Royal, the Conciergerie, and Paris’ oldest restaurant/café, Le Café Procope. Play the Procope Treasure Hunt Game and win a 10% reduction off lunch!
In honor of July 14, 2012,
French Independence Day,
We're offering free downloads of
BEWARE MME LA GUILLOTINE
while supplies last.
To win yours, be the first to wish me a
BON QUATORZE JUILLET!
* * *
Find this Article Helpful?
Please use the link below to SHARE IT with Your Followers & Friends
* * *
View over Paris, at dusk, from the Maine-Montparnasse tower, equirectilinear projection version, 9 February 2008, Benh LIEU SONG, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Eiffel Tower, seen from the Champ de Mars, 1 June 2009, Benh LIEU SONG, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Loo and friend at La Fete des Tuileries, summer 2010, by Sarah B. Towle.
Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris: East side, April 2004, Lusitana, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Chateau de Versailles, exterior facade, from southwest, 23 September 2005, Kallgan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Paris Catacombs, by Viktor Hartmann (1834-1873).