Springtime in Paris draws more than googly-eyed couples. Families ready to trade the ski and sun vacations for a culture kick take advantage of less expensive flights and hotels and hit the City of Light before the busy summer season. Heading there soon? Here's how to plan five days.
Day 1: City Overview
Take a nap to recover from your red-eye flight then hop a boat on the Seine to get a city overview without walking holes through your shoes. The Batobus makes regular stops along the river, so you can hop on or hop off throughout the day, while the Bateaux Mouche does a round-trip cruise from their pier at the Pont de l'Alma. L'Avenue, a chic brasserie with great people watching, is a ten-minute walk from the pier and is a good choice for lunch or dinner.
Day 2: Louvre Lovers
We'd never admit this to our kids, but we find wandering through huge museums as boring as they do. To mix things up, book a guide with Paris Muse to create a scavenger hunt through the Louvre. Their Muse Clues tour takes families lets kids use detective skills to uncover hints in various galleries, all leading towards a final prize. (The prize for parents: a fun tour but also not being responsible for explaining art history to tots.) Afterwards, grab a bite locally then play in the Tuilieries if weather permits. Cafe Marly is the famous eatery overlooking I.M. Pei's pyramids, but it's somewhat formal for young children (better for school age and older). Le Fumoir is across the street in the opposite direction and has a cool clubby vibe parents will like (it was formerly a speakeasy) but also good bistro food kids will eat. You can also grab a famous hot chocolate and pastries from Angelina. There are in-ground trampolines in a corner of the Tuileries where kids can bounce off the sugar high. If jet lag necessitates rest time, hit the hotel for a nap or a swim then take a taxi to the Eiffel Tower. There are restaurants within the tower where you can eat dinner, but they book up early. If you don't have a reservation, walk over to Les Cocottes for a casual dinner that still has a nice buzz.
Day 3: Contemporary Kids
Hit a museum in the morning so you can check culture off your list. Today, head to the Marais and visit either the Centre Pompidou or the Musée Picasso, which recently reopened following a huge renovation. Both are kid-friendly and a modern change of pace after the older art of the day before. For lunch, the Georges restaurant on top of the Pompidou has fantastic views and food, or if you're at the Picasso, pop around the corner to the tiny Pink Flamingo Pizza. They sometimes park a retrofitted VW bus in front, and you can eat in there, or on a nice day, they'll deliver your pizza to a local park. After lunch, wander the neighborhood's super hip shops (teens will love this), hit the playground in the Place de Vosges and walk the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, where the list of hip cafes grows monthly. For dinner, hit Le Castiglione for an amazing cheeseburger or try Aux Lyonnais, an Alain Ducasse bistro full of families so parents get the Michelin-starred chef's food but kids can have a steak frites.
Day 4: Île de la Cité
Your crew may boycott museums by now, so switch things up and visit the Conciergerie, a former palace that served as a prison during the French Revolution. Famous prisoners include Marie-Antoinette, and you can see the cell where she lived out her final days. The artifacts are a little camp but kids will enjoy, and there are free tours in English (entrance also free for kids). The beautiful Sainte-Chapelle is in the same complex, or you can walk to Notre-Dame, a few blocks away, to get a taste of the cathedral architecture (there's a playground on the right side of Notre-Dame if you're waiting in a long line). Treat everyone to ice cream at Berthillon afterwards then walk across to the Left Bank for lunch at one of Saint-Germain's cute restaurants. Ralph's or La Cigale Recamier are good choices, but there are also loads of casual cafes. The Luxembourg gardens are nearby if the weather is nice or you can cab it to the Musée d'Orsay or Rodin Museum if you want more art. Don't miss a stop at Deyrolle, the famous taxidermy shop.
Day 5: Daytripping
If you have extra time in Paris, add in a day trip out of the city. Easy options include Versailles for the grand palace and princess-worthy gardens, the Château de Chantilly for horse lovers (the castle has Europe's largest stables, an equine museum and dressage exhibitions), Giverny to visit Monet's house and gardens, and Epernay if you have older teens that would enjoy the champagne tour and tasting. If you'd prefer to stay in the city, try a Fat Tire Bike Tour to see more of town on two wheels, go underground at the catacombs or explore Montremarte and the Sacre Coer. There's a Little Train Tour that's great for small kids who will get tired walking and a funicular that carries you up the famous steps. For your last restaurant, try a classic like Le Soufflé, Relais d’Entrecôte or Brasserie Julian. And even hip spots like Café de Flore and Le Comptoir du Relais are great with kids, but be aware that they're very small so try for a reservation and dine early.