Completely Subjective Paris “Must See” List

My first trip to Paris I was with a french club when I was 12 years old and we did the standard spots, which was enough to make me fall wildly in love with the city. My next visit wasn’t until I was in university and came home (to where my family lived in Germany) over the break. I was able to visit a few times with friends & family, either by bus or driving but again – we mostly hit the highlights* tour. Kit and I visited with our firstborn (while pregnant with our second) and my husband’s wish list to see was a palace, a cathedral, a museum. He didn’t especially care which, as he likes to travel slow and meander as he feels so inclined. It was December, we had an active (running!) toddler, and it was cold so our trip was dictated by those parameters – but also so, so wonderful as I got to share a place I love with the person I love most.

* Highlight tours include Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc, and maybe a couple drive by spots like the Opera House or Sacre Coeur. Longer tours may include a day trip out to Versailles. Not that any of these spots don’t deserve an entire day to themselves, but tour trips tend to be quick and cramming in lots.

When Ben’s wish trips began I had a dream about Paris and when we had the opportunity to visit London we hopped the two hour train ride down to Paris with our kids. I was thrilled that they seemed to enjoy the city as much as I did, but it never feels like there’s enough time to fit in everything I want to see. Since our move to the UK we’ve been very fortunate to make a couple more trips down and see things we hadn’t on our first visit, and things new to me – like I hadn’t been to Versailles yet! On one of those trips we had friends meet us there and bring me to places that were new to me, but some of her most favorite.

Then I saw a video online about a new exhibit in Paris and I knew I was going to find a way to see it. Fortunately that same friend also wanted to go and was up for an adventure so we met in Paris for four glorious days. (Paris at your own pace vs. Paris with children in tow is pretty significantly different, as you can imagine.) Once again my friend introduced me to new spots, which made them all the more special, and we were able to wander slowly and it was just amazing.

So, after however many trips that is I’m compiling my list of the spots in Paris that you must NOT miss… not that you should skip walking by Notre Dame (still beautiful after the fire) or the Louvre, but you know those spots and you’ll no doubt fit them into your trip. These are the ones that you may not have considered that YOU NEED TO GO SEE.

*If you are going this year, go see the exhibit that prompted my visit – Atelier des Lumieres Van Gogh. There’s just no words, if you are a Van Gogh fan then GO. Technical stuff – it’s 40 minutes long, then there are two mini shows after (10 minutes and under 5 minutes) so the entire display is 1 hour total BUT you can stay for a repeat, they don’t usher you out. Do go when it opens (we did 10am on a Monday) or call to ask their quieter hours, as by 11am the room was getting packed. Do NOT sit in one spot, you must walk around (be warned, you may get motion sick as there’s movement on the floor) and do bring headphones for anyone with noise sensitivity (there’s a variety of music throughout, some in minor key if you have kids sensitive to that.) If you’re staying for a second round then consider going up to the balcony, as it’s a completely different (and less overwhelming) experience if you’re up there looking down vs. on the ground floor immersed in it. Both perspectives are worth having, but we found that being below was intense so we sat up top for the second round of shows. I cannot convey how intense and overwhelming in a good way this was!

*See Notre Dame, but actually go inside and visit Sainte Chapelle which is just across the way from Notre Dame on the same island. You must pay for it (vs. Notre Dame, which was free when it was open) and it’s MUCH smaller, but it’s stunning. You need to see that stained glass. (Kids are free.) It won’t be a long visit, there’s one massive room really but bring a sketchbook or journal and soak it all in… it’s just fantastic.

*Walk by the Louvre courtyard & glass pyramid fountain, but you don’t need to go inside unless you’ve got something on your list you desperately want to see there. (I do love Winged Victory and that’s worth a visit.) BUT, if you continue walking through the gardens away from the Louvre then you’ll hit Musee de l’Orangerie which has Monet’s Water Lilies – the building was designed specifically to display those pieces, in two oval rooms. Go during their quiet hours (they have it on their page) – we went first thing in the morning and had no wait and the room was almost empty. (It can get packed.) The rest of the museum has great pieces, of course, and it’s a much smaller one than most others in Paris which is good for little kids getting antsy (then go back out and let them run around in the gardens.) But even if you don’t set foot in any other room in the building, go inside and see the water lilies. (Kids are free, if you go by Eurostar train you can get buy one/get one free adult tickets.) Again, this won’t take long but just walk through each room slowly, then pick your favorite of the eight and go sit. Just sit, and soak it all in.

*If you’re feeling really, really patient and you planned way in advance to book online then you could go up the Eiffel Tower OR you can skip the insane security and lines and wait time and instead go visit the Arc de Triomphe which you can go to the top of and see a gorgeous view of Paris including the Eiffel Tower in view! (It’s also less expensive, fewer steps, way fewer crowds, and we had almost no wait time.) The photo above is one I took from the Arc, and you can quickly walk from side to side for views every direction. (Kids are free.) This was the most joyous, fun, forever view.

*If you have enough days and want to leave central Paris then Versailles is beautiful and where most tours go – but wow, it’s packed like few other places I have ever been. If you have any issues with crowds, being compressed, Disney like wait lines without the fast pass option, not wanting to lose your kids, sensory overload… then I would skip the palace itself, and head straight for the gardens. Truly, the hall of mirrors is fantastic but you can see a version of it in Bavaria without the crowds so I took my kids there and they thought it was identical. We did do Versailles palace, but we plan to return again for the gardens and skip the house. Instead of doing Versailles at all, I would instead take the train to Giverny (comparable travel time but it is train instead of metro/local rail) and go to Monet’s house and gardens. Go first thing in the morning, but we were quite surprised that after lunch the garden was dramatically emptier! Bring a picnic lunch or grab a sandwich at one of the bakeries in the village and you can walk down the quiet little street and stop at the Impressionist museum, too. But even if you left Paris for JUST Monet’s house and gardens it would be worth the trip. I feel like describing it would be inadequate and I’ve not posted photos of it because they just cannot convey the experience of walking through those gardens, and seeing Monet’s paintings come to life. (If at all possible go see Musee de l’Orangerie FIRST to see the water lilies exhibit, then do Giverny.)

Okay, there you go – my utterly biased list of places to see. All are still very famous, of course, they just don’t necessarily make the top 5 of Paris lists. I will also admit that each of these places I visited with loved ones that were eager to be there with me – I had prepped the kids with videos and photos and history and stories, or my friend who was introducing me to these places had done that for me. I imagine if you went with disinterested companions then you wouldn’t get the full “WOW” factor that made each of these spots become forever immortalized as glorious, soul enriching, vivid memories for me. But, I hope you’ll consider giving them a try. 😉

If you want/need any more details/tips re: any of these, just message me.

AirBnB vs. Hotel for Travel with Kids

We first tried AirBnB when we came to Europe in 2015, and we LOVED it in both London and Paris. We’ve since used them in Northern Ireland, three different places in Germany, a couple more in Paris, Athens, and Rome.

In other places we’ve done hotels instead (Scotland, London, Dover) – so how do we decide?

We’re a family of 8 so anytime we travel we need at least 2 hotel rooms (and in England you have to specify “family” room/suite, as some hotel rooms only sleep two people.) While AirBnB has a bazillion options for sleeping just two, they also have a surprisingly large number of places that sleep at least 8 people – and often for the same price, or less, than getting two hotel rooms. Once you get an AirBnB that size you’re always looking at either a detached home or a flat to yourself. (If you are looking for 2 people you’ll generally find it’s a room inside a home/flat, not so often you get the place to yourself.) And with six kids, I LOVE having our own space while traveling. It’s not just two rooms/suites in a hotel that’s often cramped, but a whole apartment – kitchen/dining area, living room, 2 to 4 bedrooms, and sometimes a lovely garden. Most have included a washer/dryer, which makes my travel easier as we can pack lighter. When you have little ones going to bed earlier and big ones up later, having a bedroom you can shut the door and still stay up in another room is wonderful. Continue reading “AirBnB vs. Hotel for Travel with Kids”

Travel Tips with Kids – Berlin

Berlin! We visited this autumn but I’m including links for places suggested to us – both those we saw, and those we’ll have to visit another time.

Dome of the Reichstag – ticket link: VISIT HERE. Tickets come available online about 8 weeks in advance, they are free but you need to book them and they can go fast. There is also a multi step process to book – initial email, confirmation, provide names/DOB, then final email that acts as the ticket. Make sure you get that final email or you’ll show up and not be allowed in. There was security to get through, and we had to provide photo ID (with birthdate!) for each person, and a crazy double lock door to enter… then up an elevator that we were crammed in (that was odd) but then you’re on the roof – and it’s amazing! You can walk around on the roof a bit, then you can walk inside the glass dome and up the spiral ramp to the top for an even more epic view. It was gorgeous, and a great way to start our Berlin adventure. It’s also the block next to Brandenburg gate.

Brandenburg Gate: We watched a video about this before we came, and as we walked up I told them about some of my memories of being in Berlin right after the wall came down. I thought it was really neat, but it was less significant for the kids. 🙂 It is a block away from the memorial below…

Berlin Memorial to Murdered Jews Continue reading “Travel Tips with Kids – Berlin”

Travel Tips with Kids – Getting Around London (from a Non-Londoner)

It can take a bit of adjustment, but the London public transport system is fantastic. (Okay, so I’m comparing it to some cities where we did not have positive impressions of their undergrounds, but still – it’s relatively clean, well organized, and you can find attendants!) 🙂

There are options for visitor passes (Travelcards), but we’ve always found the Oyster card to be a better deal for us. Here are some links to see all they have to offer: Continue reading “Travel Tips with Kids – Getting Around London (from a Non-Londoner)”

Travel Tips with Kids – London/Harry Potter

* Disclaimer, you need a second day in London to see the WB Studio Tour as it really is an all day thing. The studio is on the outskirts of London, you can take the underground out to Euston but then switch to the overground to get to Watford Junction (about 40 minutes from central London), then hop off and catch the shuttle bus (every 20 minutes, takes 15 minutes, does have a fee and I cannot remember if they take cards or you need cash.) Make a day for that if you’ve got any hardcore fans with you! They do have family tickets, which can save you a bit. The shop at the end of the tour is HUGE, and if you arrive early you can go in there to browse. You are given a set “tour” time that’s not flexible, but once you get past that initial bit then you are free to explore the rest, which is self guided, until they close. (They said they do have people stay for the entire day and they have to kick them out at closing.) Continue reading “Travel Tips with Kids – London/Harry Potter”

Travel Tips with Kids – Germany (Bavaria)

Because I lived in Ansbach for four years as a kid we focused around that area when we made our visit in 2017, but there’s so much to explore every direction! We rented an AirBnB house in a tiny village that was central to most of the spots we wanted to visit – it was a lovely house and a sweet, friendly little town. There wasn’t a grocery store in town, but you’ll need to rent a car in this area and there are shops in the nearby towns. We spent a few days in three different spots (Heidelberg, Salzburg, Ansbach area) but Bavaria won their hearts so we plan to return there in spring 2019 for some more exploring.

By far the kids’ favorite part was the swimbads, we found one in each place we stayed. Second was the hauptstrasses in the various cities/towns, and stopping to get pretzels and treats at the bakeries. Third was the residences and castles. Here are some links of the various spots they’re saying they loved best:

Ansbach Residence & be sure to visit the Orangerie gardens, too.

Aquella – My local swimbad as a kid!

Nurnburg Castle – Despite living nearby for years, I’ve not actually visited this spot yet!

Wurzburg Residence (I’ve not taken the kids there yet, but I loved it and went several times as a kid and will take them next trip.)

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Our kids could happily have spent all day long wandering this town! They loved walking through the walls and market square, and there’s a playground with a great view and good picnic spot just outside the walls.

Berchestgaden Salt Mines – Buy your tickets online in advance! And if you’re coming from Germany you’ll go through the edge of Austria – buy your road pass for the tolls at a gas station in advance or you’ll get a fine as soon as you cross onto the Austrian roads.

Salzburg if you’re already down that far south, it’s a lovely city for walking around and there are spots to picnic in the garden if you’re a Sound of Music Fan. 🙂

Herren Chiemsee Island & Residence – Between the ferry ride, horse drawn carriage ride up to the palace, gorgeous fountains & palace tour, this day was magical!

Because Miracles Happen

During our stay in the NICU we would try to be there when the team rounded on Ben. The nurse would give report and the doctors would all discuss the plans and the respiratory therapists had notes about how he was doing on the ventilator. We, of course, were always full of questions about how Ben was doing, what the next step was, how were things going forward so we could get this boy home to us as soon as he was ready.

We would be daily reminded by them that in the NICU it’s always baby steps – tiny, tiny baby steps. Two steps forward, one (or two!) steps back. They didn’t want us to focus on his homecoming, they wanted us to focus on the fact that he had taken 10ccs in his feeding tube or that his chest x-ray looked incrementally better or that his culture had finally come back clear. There’s not a lot of planning in the NICU – it’s mostly about day to day survival. In a place where miracles are being desperately prayed for and there are too many days filled with tears and complications, it’s literally life or death. You can’t plan a lot in the NICU.

But I’m a planner – it’s how I cope, creating contingency plans and learning about our options and researching. It’s how I can feel some control over the areas I can influence, helping me better let go of the things I cannot change. I’m a mom – these are my babies. I plan.

Plus, I have six babies – planning is key to making it through the chaos. 🙂 Continue reading “Because Miracles Happen”

Dreaming of Paris

I don’t usually remember my dreams, but last month I woke up with one so vivid it still feels real – and I still tear up when I remember it.

I was sitting on the steps of Sacré-Cœur with Ben and we were eating chocolate croissants and the sun was low enough in the sky that it was the golden hour, when everything seems magical and glowing. As I looked at him I spread my arm out across the city and said, “Ben, this is Paris!” He had that smile on his face, the one that’s ear to ear – when he’s so excited he’s practically quivering with happiness. In my dream I cried, because I was so happy that he could see Paris, that he could fall in love with this beautiful place. He could see it.

When I woke up I told Kit about it, and I said, “We’re taking them to Paris.” I don’t know how or when, but we are going to Paris and I’m going to sit on those steps and we’re going to eat croissants and this is going to happen. Just you wait and see… 🙂

Update here.