Highlights of a Ten-Day Walking Tour in Paris, France

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Country: 
Kids: 
10 years
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Parent
Date: 
2012-07-03 to 2012-07-13
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Although Paris is known for its clean and efficient underground Metro service, I wanted to really get a sense of the city by walking through its streets with my daughter. I planned to visit destinations mainly along the Seine River, as I knew it would take no more than an hour to reach any of the sites on our itinerary (except for Sacred Coeur and Chez Gladines, which, being relatively far away from the river, were the only places on which we relied on the Metro to reach). Starting in the morning and often not stopping until the evening, we strolled through the city as the flaneurs in the 19th century once did, allowing ourselves to get lost on a regular basis, stopping to ask for directions from strangers, and just generally getting to know Paris in a more intimate way than if we had relied on taxis and the Metro. While we visited -quite literally- hundreds of cafes, restaurants, shops, street sellers, monuments and museums, below I've listed only our top thirteen favorite culinary, cultural, and educational highlights of our trip. 

Top 10 in Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral1) Notre Dame Cathedral

No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. One of the best examples of French Gothic architecture, this was one of the first buildings in the world to include flying buttresses, which, seen today from the exterior of the church, gave the church the support needed to build higher than any other building in the Medieval period. My daughter particularly loved walking around the exterior of the building to point out the terrifying gargoyle statues that were originally designed for water run-off, and, standing inside the nave of the cathedral, we were both in awe of the famed Rose Window. Be warned: in front of the church there were so many tourist groups, street sellers, and children feeding pigeons that it was difficult to truly enjoy the cathedral's beauty. Walking alongside and behind the building was much more enjoyable, and less flooded with other tourists.

2) Berthillon

Once we were finished taking in the sights at Notre Dame, we headed east and crossed a bridge to Ile Saint-Louis in search of Bertillon, the famed manufacturer of the best ice cream and sorbet in Paris. Using no chemical preservatives or nasty artificial sweeteners, Berthillon uses only natural ingredients such as milk, cream, eggs and sugar, selling flavors of the day based on what seasonal sources are available. After settling on our flavors, we ate en plein air and enjoyed listening to a few street musicians.  

3) Pont des Arts 

Nicknamed "Lovers Bridge" because of the hundreds- if not thousands- of padlocks locked by couples onto the railing or grate of the bridge, Pont des Arts is a romantic spot not only for walking with lovers, but was a fun place to visit with my daughter for people watching. Filled with painters and street performers, this pedestrian bridge brims with life, and, as it crosses the Seine River to link the Institut de France with the Louvre Museum, also serves a utilitarian purpose. 

Visiting the Louvre4) The Louvre

Where to begin... I was trained as an art historian, and, since I was a kid, have been inspired by the Louvre Museum. It's been a place I've wanted to visit with my daughter since she was born. Originally the palace of King Louis XIV, the museum has occupied the space since 1793. The collection boasts some of the art world's most famous pieces. My daughter was thrilled to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and, given her interests in Greek and Roman mythology, the various scuplture of the goddess, Diana, littered throughout the museum. I made sure to teach her about some of the pieces before we visited the museum so that she would feel more excited seeing some of them in real life, but, because of the opulance of the museum, it probably wasn't necessary. Note: while tourists often will take only a half-day to visit the museum, done right, and depending on how many days are planned for a trip, a family might want to consider taking either a full day (or even two!) to visit this magical place.

5) Tuileries Garden

Created by Catherine de Medicies in 1564, the Tuileries Garden only became a public space after the French Revolution in 1667. Located just across the street from the Louvre, this massive green space contains terraces and paths covered in gorgeous statues and vases by several famous sculptors from around the world. While my daughter particulary enjoyed watching other children play with toy boats in one of the many pools on the grounds, my favorite area of the garden is Le Grand Couvert, the part shaded by massive trees. Quiet, almost reverent, my daughter and I sat on a bench and enjoyed watching Parisians stroll past as though they didn't have a care in the world. 

6) The Orangerie

An art gallery dedicated to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings tucked away in one of the corners of the Tuileries Garden, the Orangerie houses, among works by Cezanne, Picasso and Renoir, eight of Monet's famous Water Lily murals. These wall-sized paintings inspire both parents and children, and even non-art lovers can appreciate their loveliness. 

7) Sewage Museum

Not for the faint of heart, the Sewage Museum (Musee des Egouts) offers a very different sort of Parisian experience than most visitors to the city might imagine. My daughter and I, after searching for the kiosk of the museum just off the Pont de l'Alma on the left bank of the city, walked down a dark flight of stairs and entered the museum. While being the smelliest place we've ever visited, it was also educational. We learned about not only about the historic sewer system (developed first in 1370 but not fully developed until the 19th century), but how the clean water system of the city works. Definitely a unique experience, our visit to the Sewage Museum has given my kid a lot to talk about with her friends! Just make sure to hold your nose, or, if you really want to do it right, bring a handkerchief that has been soaked in rose water (you can purchase rose water in many pharmacies).

View from the Eiffel Tower8) Eiffel Tower

After dragging my kid to the Sewage Museum, I thought it would be wise to climb out from the dregs of the city, and up into the clouds to visit the Eiffel Tower. On the day we visited, we decided to climb the stairs as high as we were allowed, and then took an elevator to the top. We took our time, stopping occasionally to take in the views of the city, check out the frame of the tower, and just to catch our breath! Built in 1889 to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the French Revolution, the tower is France's most recognizable symbol, and one that absolutely must be visited.

9) Pantheon

This secular mausoleum, holding the remains of great people such as Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Alexandre Dumas, was unexpectedly one of our favorite destinations during our trip to Paris. Deep within its necropolis is a maze of labyrinthine tunnels that delighted my daughter. Meanwhile, I was happy to have the opportunity to give mini history lessons about many of the people who have been buried in honor in this somber, yet gorgeous, building. This was also the site of the original Foucault's Pendulum, which demonstrated the rotation of the Earth in 1851. While the original is now at the Musee des Arts et Metiers, a copy looks just as cool, and served as yet another chance for me to provide my daughter with a fun history lesson!

10) Sacre Coeur

Located at the highest point in the city in Montmartre, my daughter and I were more thrilled by actually making it all the way up the stairs than we were by seeing the Sacre Coeur Basilica! We caught our breath by taking in the view of the city spread out below, and then made our way inside. The basilica, with its gorgeous paintings of blue and gold painted directly over the dome, is absolutely breathtaking, although we were disappointed to learn that cameras were forbidden. 

Replica of a dodo at the National Museum of Natural History11) National Museum of Natural History

Originally founded during the French Revolution, today this museum, holding a replica of a dodo as well as pieces of this extinct bird's skeleton and a replica of a narwhal was the perfect place to spend the one rainy day during our trip to Paris. Around every corner we found a new treasure, although our favorite place in the museum was definitely the Grand Gallery of Evolution, an enormous, gorgeous, space filled, as macabre as it sounds, an unbelievable (and quite magical!) parade of taxidermied animals. 

12) Booksellers along the Seine

Nothing gave us a better sense of the city than strolling along the Seine at dusk and speaking with the booksellers. Each seller commands his or her own stall, and fills their spaces with rare books, posters, and trinkets. As I'm in love with French authors such as Jules Verne, it was a true pleasure to find first editions of some of his novels mixed with odd song books and old magazines. Seeing the sellers, many of them donning baggy pants and berets, gave us visions of an older Paris. After spending long days walking across Paris, taking our time meandering along the Seine was the perfect way to spend our evenings before dinner.

13) Chez Gladines

While a little out of the way from where we were staying, Chez Gladines, where we dined with Parisian friends, absolutely became our favorite restaurant in the city. Serving Basque fare (from the French Southwest), this "family style" restaurant delivers huge portions of food that are meant to be shared. My daughter, an adventurous eater, loved the buttery escargot, and our entire party enjoyed the basque Omelet and a couple other to-die-for authentic French. Bohemian, local, inexpensive, and off the beaten tourist path, this restaurant had be saying, "Je t'aime, Chez Gladines!"

 

Gallery: 
Notre Dame Cathedral
Visiting the Louvre
Checking out the locks on a bridge over the Seine
View from the Eiffel Tower
Children playing in Tuileries Garden
Halfway up the Eiffel Tower!
Escargot at Chez Gladines
Photo op at the Louvre!
Booksellers along the Seine
Ice cream at Bertillon!
Foucault's pendulum
View of Paris from Eiffel Tower
Notre Dame
Cloudy Parisian morning over the Seine River
The Pantheon
Grand Gallery of Evolution
Replica of a dodo at the National Museum of Natural History
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Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions

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