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Visiting Paris with teenagers is always an adventure, isn't it? Mark Janda, my guest on today's episode, shares some great tips to keep the whole family engaged and happy.
Their trip took place early April 2019, but Mark had visited Paris several times before. His wife lived in Paris when she was young. But this was a first for their teenage kids, a 13 year-old boy and a 16 year-old girl. Their daughter was excited about the trip, their son wasn't so enthusiastic at the start. But as you'll hear, they all had such a great time!
The Challenge: Keeping Teenagers Engaged
When traveling with teenagers you have to figure out what's going to keep them interested so everyone in the family has a good time.
There has to be something in it for everyone in the family, but in many ways it has to be their trip, not yours.
20 Tips for Visiting Paris with Teenagers
Here are the 20 tips Mark wanted to share with parents preparing a trip to Paris with their teenagers:
Tip #1 Timing Is Everything at the Louvre and the Orsay
The lines at the Louvre and the Orsay are not as long in the spring because there are fewer visitors. Also, because the Louvre is open late on Wednesdays, if you go to the Louvre on a Wednesday afternoon between 3 and 4 PM you hit the low between the day-time visitors and the evening visitors.
The Orsay is open late on Thursdays. So, go on a Thursday around 3 or 4 PM and the line will be shorter than normal.
The Museum Pass Pays for Itself
Getting the Museum Pass is also invaluable in how much time it saves you. It includes all City and National Museums in Paris, which is not all of them, but most of them. Note that this is not an affiliate recommendation, we don't get paid for sending you there. We recommend it because it's great!
Persons under 18 get in free at all City and National museums in Paris and all over France. They don't even need a free ticket, they just walk in with their parents. You may need do prove their age if they look mature, but you can do that either with a photocopy of their passport or a passport card.
Get a Passport Card
Bringing a passport card on your vacation is a good idea because it's official ID BUT if you lose it or if it gets stolen it's not a big deal. You may need a passport card to prove that your kids are under 18. School ID is also good for that.
Another time it's handy to have a passport card is if you want to borrow the audio guides in a museum. To make sure you don't forget to return the audio guide they ask for an ID card or a driver's license. So now you'll have something you can give them!
Tip #2 Do the Stairs Up and Down the Eiffel Tower
Take the stairs up and down the Eiffel Tower. You can do it up to the second floor. Doing the stairs gives you an opportunity to see this building from a different perspective.
There's something to be said also about exhausting teenagers! Taking the stairs will definitely spend some of their energy in a positive way. It's 600 and something stairs to the 2nd floor.
If you're looking for great Instagram-worthy photos of Paris, you'll be able to take many from walking the stairs. It's unique and different and not something everybody does. Show off! Take the stairs!
There are almost no lines to walk up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. The ticket line for walking is separate and it's also cheaper than taking the elevator.
Tip #3 French People Are Not Rude to Americans
Don't be anxious about Parisians being rude. All you have to do is say "bonjour" and "au revoir", locals will be delighted to have you in their restaurant or store.
Parisian gruffness comes out when people do not follow basic politeness rules in France (i.e. say bonjour) and act demanding and curt. You may want to listen to When People Hate Paris, Episode 210 or Are French People Rude? Episode 9 for a lot more on that topic.
Tip #4 Taking the Train to Luxembourg
Mark and his wife met in middle school in Luxembourg, so they wanted to go back and show it to their kids. So they took the TGV train between Paris and Luxembourg and spent the night. It was easy and cheap! Lots more info on French trains in this related episode: Quick and Easy Guide to Public Transportation in France: Trains, Buses + Metros, Episode 223
Tip #5 Renting and Apartment Is Great With Kids
With teenagers it's wonderful to give them their own space, have a living room and a kitchen. That's invaluable especially when traveling with children. Also you don't have to be out by a certain time so house-keeping can come in, apartments give you a lot more freedom and flexibility.
Mark's Airbnb Recommendation for Paris: It's called Stunning Apartment in Paris, Mark and family loved it!
Tip #6 Teenagers Love Rental Scooters
You will find several rental scooter companies in Paris such as Lime and Bird, etc. These were a life-saver for their 13-year-old. He got a kick out of scooting around and that prevented a lot of complaining about walking. In Paris you may walk 5 or 6 miles a day and most teens will complain about that. But they'll love it if they have a scooter!
They just got one scooter for their son, the rest of them walked. He explored ahead and came back to lead them in the right direction. Worth every penny!
Scooters are everywhere in Paris and it can get annoying, but it's perfect for teens. Sometimes stopping the transaction is not as straightforward as it should be, but force closing the App will normally stop your rental.
Tip #7 Enjoy the Boulangeries!
Even for foodies, simple boulangerie pastries and sandwiches are wonderful in Paris. In Paris a sandwich + drink + pastry will run you 10€ per person and will be satisfying. It saves you money for some dinners at other times!
And you don't have to go all the way to that one boulangerie a stranger on the internet recommended. Try one where you are when you get hungry!
Tip #8 Try Different Foods!
If your teenagers are not scared about trying new foods, let them try escargot and frog's legs and foie gras, pastries, etc. French waiters are very good about explaining how you eat those sorts of strange foods if you let them know it's your first time trying them.
Restaurant Recommendation: Chez Denise. A couple large slices of a terrine de maison, lambs brains, lamb chops, a braised white fish with a mushroom sauce and stuffed cabbage followed by a mousse au chocolat that made the kids swoon. The teenagers said it was the best meal of their lives. They are definitely adventurous!
Tip #9 Use the Metro
Don't be afraid of taking the metro. Your teenagers will love helping you figure out how the metro system works and they'll get really comfortable with it. Taxis and Uber are fine too, but learning how to use the metro is an important part of learning how to function in a big city.
Giving teenagers the ability to navigate the public transportation system in a big city is a gift they will use for the rest of their lives. In Europe public transit is the way to go, even if it can be crowded.
Metro App Recommendation from Mark: Next Stop Paris App from the RATP (official App from the Paris transit system).
Tip #10 Beware of Pickpockets
Be aware that there are pickpockets around. Going to Paris with your teenagers is an opportunity to teach them how to be street-smart which is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.
The pickpocket problem used to be worse in Paris 15 years ago, it's still a problem and you have to be aware of your surroundings and make good choices, but if you keep your wits about you, you'll do fine. More information in this episode: How to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets in Paris, Episode 154
When people are trying to push plastic Eiffel Towers on you or sell you used Louvre tickets, a confident "NO" will do the trick. They won't really harass you they way they do in some other countries because they'd get arrested. But you need to be street savvy: never buy a ticket to the Louvre from one of those guys, they will not work.
Tip #11 Spot the American
Mark and his son sat under the Louvre Pyramid and played a game of "spot the American" which turned out to be too easy. If you can blend in with muted colors, using quiet voices, be low-maintenance when ordering your food, you'll do better in Paris. Keep your voice down if at all possible.
Tip #12 Take Your Teenagers to the Grocery Store
Shopping at a French grocery store is different and you will experience the culture in a different way. Neighborhood grocery stores are wonderful in Paris, even the simple ones like Monoprix. There are of course fancy grocery stores in Paris like the Galleries Lafayette Food near the Opera House, but even the "average" ones offer products you've never experienced in America.
Tip #13 If You Don't Have a Reservation Show Up at 7:30 PM
French people tend to eat dinner later than Americans. Many restaurants in France don't open until 7 PM and don't start serving until 7:30 PM. So, if you want to eat at a restaurant that comes highly recommended but you don't have a reservation, go early and they'll probably seat you.
Tip #14 Touristy Areas Are that Way for a Reason!
If it's your first time in Paris don't go chasing the odd recommendations off the beaten track. See the big hits first! They got super popular because they are great! A first visit to Paris is not the time to avoid the touristy areas.
Good streets to explore for foodies are rue Montorgeuil and rue des Martyrs. But do go to the big sites on your first visit, they are great!
Tip #15 Protests and Gilets Jaunes
What is it like being in Paris when there are protests going on? Keep in mind that these are big cities, it's not like the protests take over the whole city. Also there's a different sense of protest in France. French people protest, it's almost in our DNA. Normally it's a scheduled thing in a particular place and it's limited.
Metro stations can be closed with little warning because of protests. You are more likely to run into lots of police than to run into lots of protestors.
This is also a great teaching moment for your teenagers. When you see the density of police increase, it's a good time to start paying attention and be street-smart.
The authorities were caught off-guard at the beginning of the Gilets Jaunes mouvement. The first few Saturdays of the protest were awful. But then things calmed down considerably. By now the numbers of protestors has dwindled to a few hundred in Paris (literally!), but the police will be there by the thousands just in case.
Tip #16 Drink the House Wine
We call the house wine "carafe de vin" or "pichet de vin" is really nice in Paris. Sometimes you can specify that you want a Bordeaux or whatever. You don't need to agonize about what wine to have with your meal at all! Just choose red or white, dry (sec) or not (moelleux). It's much cheaper that way too!
Tip #17 The Bathroom Situation in Paris
The bathroom situation in Paris is no worse than any other place in Europe. The trick is to use the bathroom where you've stopped for lunch or for a drink. McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants usually have bathrooms you can use. Sometimes you have to buy some food or a drink, but that's true anywhere.
There are bathroom pods in a lot of places in Paris, they are free and usually pretty clean. Be aware that when the door opens you shouldn't jump in there too fast. Let the door close and the self-cleaning take place, and then you'll get a green light to use the bathroom yourself.
Tip #18 Go the the Outdoor Food Markets!
There are open-air markets in the US, but it's nothing like the culture of food markets in France. Wander around and see the unique cuts of meats and unique fish. You can have engaging conversations with the vendors about that you're looking at and a surprising number of them speak English!
Peanut Food Allergy
Are severe foold allergies a problem in France? Not really. Mark's son has a severe peanut food allergy so they learned how to say that "mon fils est allergique aux arachides" and they also had a card. Everyone was really accommodating and helpful.
Tip #19 Try to Restrict Phone Usage to the End of the Day
NOT giving your teenagers data while in Paris is actually a good thing. They'll have WiFi at the end of the day when you get back to the apartment. You'll get to see a different side of your teenagers because they won't be glued to their device all day!
Tip #20 Explore Local Flavors for Souvenirs
Maybe you can find a book along the Seine or go to Shakespeare and Company, maybe the Little Prince store. Look for unique little things. Candies and snacks are great. You can find lots of souvenirs at a French grocery store. It's so much better than the little plastic Eiffel Towers.
Be careful with what can and cannot go into your carry-on luggage. You could still bring back wine and mustard and jams if you buy it at the airport.
Limit the Time You Spend in Museums
When visiting major museums with children or teens, be careful not to overdo. Choose items that might be of interest to them, maybe decide in advance so they can learn about them and tell you what they've learned. But don't spend 7 hours at the Louvre unless it's really something they look forward to.
It's best to get a flavor of it so they want to go back and enjoy it instead of packing too much in and turning them off ever going back to the Louvre or other museums.
Discussed in this Episode
- Museum late openings
- Museum Pass
- Teens get in museums for free
- The difference between the Museum Pass and the Paris Pass
- Why you shouyld get a passport card
- Take the stairs at the Eiffel Tower
- Always say "bonjour
- Don't be afraid of using the metro
- Bathrooms in Paris
- Traveling with a food allergy
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If you enjoyed this episode, you should also listen to related episode(s):
- When People Hate Paris, Episode 210
- Are French People Rude? Episode 9
- Quick and Easy Guide to Public Transportation in France: Trains, Buses + Metros, Episode 223
- How to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets in Paris, Episode 154