French Culture Guide

French Culture in New York, with a Touch of Paris

Two Days in Paris – Family Style

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Last week, I got a message from a dear friend saying that she and her ten-year-old daughter would be visiting Europe this April and, after several stops, would be ending their trip with two days in Paris. What should they do?


Yikes! Two days in Paris? Two days? The pressure I felt to make suggestions to give her beautiful and extremely bright daughter an early love of the city that means so much to me was staggering. Two days? My mind was spinning.


However, she was starting off with a great hotel recommendation in Saint-Germain – one of my favorite neighborhoods, with certainly plenty to do there. Also, having taken my own handsome and extremely bright son to Paris several times (and once when he was ten), I realized that I did have a little groundwork on which to base my suggestions.


Everyone will have their own preferences, I’m sure, but based on my experiences traveling with my own son – and learning from the hits and misses with him, I submit the following for a memorable and (somewhat) realistic, yet magical, two days in Paris:


• Breakfast at Coquelicot in Montmartre – my favorite place to eat breakfast in Paris, and they serve it all day. The front bakery counter is wonderful as well, and you may want to buy a treat or two to take with you for later in the day. If you take the 12 Metro line to the Abbesses stop and walk one block up hill, it’s right there. See their website for more information:


• While in Montmartre, visit the small but wonderful Musée de Montmartre. It’s the former home and studio of some of the neighborhood’s most famous artists, including Lautrec, Renoir, Utrillo and his mother, Suzanne Valadon (my favorite). Read my earlier post on this little jewel box of a museum for more info.


• Next, walk around the corner from the Musée to see the famous Lapin Agile Cabaret. Celebrated in songs, paintings and a Broadway play, the little cabaret still looks pretty much exactly as it did over a century ago when singer Aristide Bruant insulted its famous clientele in song as they entered the room.


• Next, head back uphill to Place du Tertre. It’s the center of the neighborhood’s art scene and, for kids, is a fun place to see the local artists at work. A little touristy, but fun, and I’ve actually seen some beautiful artwork from the artists there over the years.


• You’re now right near the beautiful Basilica Sacré Coeur – and the stunning front steps are a perfect place to sit and enjoy whatever treats you may have brought along from Coquelicot! The view of Paris below is breathtaking from here and you will have learned a lot about the building of the Basilica from your trip to the Musée, so a perfect place to tie it all together with what will, by then, be a hungry ten-year-old!


• Depending on what time you’ve started this day, you may be heading toward late afternoon by now, so at least heading back to Saint-Germain would be a good idea. A short boat ride on the Seine would be a nice late day activity before dinner. In an earlier post, I wrote about my favorite, very casual boat company called Vedettes du Pont Neuf. (This happens to be my son’s favorite thing to do in Paris.)


• Whenever we are in the Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain area around dinnertime, we always like to eat at Chez Clément. There are several of these around Paris and I never like “chains,” but this doesn’t feel like a chain to us and our son loves to eat there. It’s spacious, has a really interesting décor, and the waiters have always been really nice there. (9 Place Saint-André des Arts, 01 56 81 32 00, For dessert, walk a block or so back toward the Seine and take a right onto the very festive Rue Buci. Enjoy the shops and have gelato at Amorino – yes, it is a chain too, but the gelato is always spectacular and it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the exciting Rue Buci. This will make both you and your child very happy. Just F.Y.I., the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore is only a block or so away from Amorino.


• To begin day two, walk across the footbridge to see the beautiful little Île Saint-Louis and eat breakfast at any of the charming little cafés there. After that, take the footbridge that connects Île Saint-Louis to Île de la Cité to explore the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral.


• For afternoon, my plans are ambitious, but doable – I think. You can decide what is more important and narrow it down if time starts running out, but go for it all anyway! It’s now time to get serious about one of the great museums. This is where there will be MANY differing opinions on what is most important – my husband loves the Picasso museum, many will say that you MUST see the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay. I love all of these, but my suggestion for a parent and child museum visit on such a short trip would most definitely be to head over to Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries garden. It houses Monet’s beautiful “Water Lilies” series and also has a beautiful and rich collection in the gallery downstairs. It’s often much less crowded than the Louvre or Orsay. It has a beautiful gift store with very elegant books, scarves and other nice mementos from Paris.


• After a visit to the Tuileries garden, you are just WAY too close to La Durée Royale, the most beautiful place to have coffee, tea and macarons in Paris. This is a must. Anyone who’s been will agree (16 Rue Royale). P.S., La Durée opened up a Manhattan location this past fall, but I think that anyone’s first visit to La Durée should be in Paris!


• Now take the 8 Metro line from Concorde three stops to École Militaire and you will be near the Eiffel Tower! Often the lines are smaller later in the day and, having been on the tower at eight in the evening, when the tower begins its hourly “sparkly” show, I will always recommend making the trek at night. If you start your journey around six-thirty or seven P.M., seeing Paris at night from the tower is really an overwhelming experience.


• There is a restaurant on the second level of the tower, so if you’re splurging, I’d say go for it. I haven’t eaten there, but I hear that it’s actually really good, just expensive. If you don’t eat on the tower, my family loves a little café around the corner on Avenue de Suffren. If you walk west on Avenue Gustave Eiffel, which turns into Avenue Octave Gréard, then take a right on Avenue De Suffren, the second café that you’ll come to has “Le Bailli de Suffren” on the awning, but I seem to remember that the café is called Chez Robert. At any rate, it’s a huge orange awning, so it’s easy to find. Perfect for a late dinner and always lots of local families there.


The only other thing that I would try to squeeze in, if at all possible, would be a performance at La Comédie Française – but I’ve tried to make this realistic, so that would probably have to wait for a more extended trip. I would consider this a great two days in Paris with my own son and hope that the itinerary would make a fantastic and memorable first, short trip to Paris for any family. Bon voyage!


By Jackie Sanders