Paris is a chic, urban, totally sophisticated and diverse city with a rich cultural and culinary history. The city combines Old World charm -- here you'll find open-air vendors selling wild berries (fruits du bois) at a fruit stall or freshly caught trout at a fish market, cobblestoned streets, and 18th century parks with lavish sculptures and sycamore-lined walkways -- with 21st century avant-garde initiatives. This juxtaposition between the old and the new is not without its tensions: when the Eiffel Tower was first built some Parisians felt the skyline had been ruined and critics continue to complain about the glass dome in front of the Louvre, but even the disagreements create a certain vibrancy in the city. So where do family travelers fit into this mix? It may be better known for its love of groomed pooches than its love of children (you'd be hard pressed to find a restaurant with a high chair), but Paris nonetheless is full of opportunities for family fun: it has an ultramodern children's museum, the best puppet shows in Europe, a stroller café, and Disneyland Paris! As Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) famously says in the 1954 movie, "Paris is always a good idea."
Anytime is a good time to visit Paris, as each season has its charm. In November and December, it begins to get dark early, but the whole city is decked out with lighted displays, Santa Clauses on the street corners, and Christmasy events for children. Springtime in Paris is gorgeous -- magnolias, camillias, and primevères are blooming, the weather is usually mild, and even the frogs are in a good mood. Summer is always high tourist season when you'll find the most activities for children (and also the longest lines). If you go in the summer try to go in June or early July since by August many local stores close as Parisians themselves flee the city and the tourists in search of sun and beaches in the south of France. Though there are usually fewer tourists in Paris in the autumn months (when the city is splendid with leaves falling and the chill just coming back into the air), there are many trade fairs and conventions in September and early October, which means hotels are usually almost as booked and as expensive as during the summer.
The weather in Paris is often pleasant and mild, with four distinct seasons and winters that can get quite chilly. Expect rain any time of year, though Paris showers tend to be short lived, with the sun bursting back through the cloud cover just as you were getting used to the patter-patter of the rain. Though weather patterns have been erratic in the last couple of years, summers in Paris are usually sunny and clear, with temperatures averaging a comfortable 65 degrees F, with the occasional (and unwelcomed) heatwave in August. Springtime weather is usually lovely, with little rainfall, chilly nights and mornings, and warmer temperatures during the day. September usually starts out being mild and still sunny, gradually giving way to the colder temperatures in October and November, when the mercury starts to dip. Despite the chilly winters, snow is so unusual in Paris that people dust it off their doorsteps with brooms and dustpans when it does fall. Still, you usually need to bundle up in the winter months when the average temperature is only about 37 degrees F.
American and Canadian travelers do not need a visa to visit Paris for a trip of up to 90 days but everybody in your family must have a viable passport in order to enter the country. Paris is a major European rail and air hub and there are hundreds of flights and trains arriving in the city daily. Two major airports service the Paris area: the biggest is Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, the second largest in Europe after Heathrow, located about 15 miles northeast of the city center. Paris-Orly, which often has less expensive flights -- especially from other destinations in Europe - -is only about nine miles south of the city center. A third airport, Paris-Beauvais is located about 55 miles from the city center and is serviced by some discount carriers, like Ryanair and easyJet. To get from Charles de Gaulle and Orly Airports into town, you have many options, including the RER, buses, shuttle buses, taxis, and rental cars. For more information about transportation to and from the airport: www.aeroportsdeparis.fr.
If you are coming to Paris from London, the high-speed Eurostar train that goes under the English Channel will get you there in well under three hours. Train travel from other destinations in Europe is usually comfortable, safe, and scenic. For more information and train schedules to and from Paris, visit www.raileurope.com and www.tgv-europe.com.
You'll be surprised at how easy and pleasant it is to walk in Paris (despite narrow sidewalks and the hazards of pooch poop) and you may find yourself walking more than you expected. The Paris Metro services almost everywhere in the city. Though the first time you ride it the sheer size of the stations may be intimidating (we like to think of it as an adventure) and using the ticket vending machines can be befuddling, you'll quickly find that the Paris Metro is well-maintained, runs on time, and is managable to navigate (as long as you have a map -- Parisians carry them as well). It is difficult to bring strollers on the Metro, however, and you should give yourself extra time if you're traveling with a baby or small children. The RER, which is the commuter express system, takes passengers to farther away destinations, including the outer suburbs and Disneyland. The cost of the tickets varies depending on how far and in which zones you travel but the price of an average ride is less than 2 Euros and it is always less expensive to buy tickets in packets of ten ("un carnet" in French). Children three and under are free. Children ages 4-9 ride for half price. Buses and tramways are two other forms of clean and efficient public transportation and T+ Metro tickets may be used on these as well. For more information, see www.ratp.info. Taxis abound in the city and are easy to flag down when you need them.
The Paris Museum Pass saves you money and lets you bypass the lines. It costs 30 euros for two days, 45 euros for four days and 60 euros for six days and gives unlimited and free access to more than sixty museums and monuments in Paris.
There is free admission to Paris's fifteen national museums every first Sunday of the month, including Musée du Louvre Pyramide, Musée Picasso, Musée national d'art moderne, , Musée Rodin hôtel Biron, and Musée national des arts asiatiques.
You can buy tickets for standing room only to the two opera houses in Paris for 5 euros. Under 28-year-olds get reduced-cost tickets all year round (25 euros for an opera performance, 15 euros for dance show, 10 euros for a concert). Arrive at the ticket office of the opera house (Opéra-Garnier pl de l'Opéra, Paris 9th; Opéra-Bastille pl de la Bastille, Paris 12th) 15 minutes before the beginning of the performance. More information, see www.operadeparis.fr.
Camping options in Paris are surprisingly pleasant and plentiful. You can actually camp right in the city itself, in the Bois de Boulogne. Or take an RER commuter train 15 minutes into the suburbs and get off at Maisons-Laffitte, a short walk through a pleasingly calm and wooded neighborhood to Camping International. Several other sites not much further offer a more traditional camping experience but with well-organized facilities. A detailed description and contact information can be found at xenophongroup.com.