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2 weeks with toddlers: Paris plus somewhere else

Hello,
This is my first post in this community; I've posted on other travel forums as well but really enjoy Rick Steves' shows and books and feel like his style resonates with ours.
We have roundtrip tickets to Paris and plan to spend our 2nd of 2 weeks exclusively there in August. The 1st week is where I could use some brainstorming. It is 2 of us plus 2 toddlers who, at least to me, seem pretty accommodating and will really be along for the ride to enjoy it all from a child's perspective. To that end, we value afternoon breaks for naps and locations with enough infrastructure and flexibility (parks/playgrounds/open spaces are good). So... no full day hikes or anything on this trip. We will NOT have a car.
Our 2 options at this point:
1) CDG to Brussels, then day trips out of Brussels as kids tolerate (possibilities - Amsterdam, Bruges, Ghent, Luxembourg, Aachen)
2) Somewhere in France with beach or mountain (or both?) - looking for smaller town experience to relax and keep the pace slow (possibilities - Annecy/Chamonix or Strasbourg/Colmar). Beach - I'm at a loss. We don't want to visit the Riviera because we'll do that on a trip next year. Will Normandy beaches be really cold (not looking for swimming, just nice sand and maybe dip toes a bit)? Does any beach town in Brittany ring a bell in terms of kid-friendliness? Biarritz (too glam?)
Thanks for any input on the 2 options and any additional details within the options.

Posted by
6562 posts

We just returned from Madrid/Barcelona/Paris with a rather mature 8 year old girl. Let me just say we may take her back in another 3 years or so--when she matures.
Her mother's first trip to Europe was when she was 11. We'd go every other year or so when my parents took care of our daughter.
Find kids a McDonalds and a playground and they are happy. Forget taking them into d'Orsay to see any world class art. And I don't ever want to eat in another McDonalds the rest of my life.
Now she's telling everyone her favorite things were the Eiffel Tower and the art museums. She's lies with the best of them.
Seriously, we slowed down our international travel when our daughter was young. We travel Europe for a vacation, and having to watch youngsters so closely and do what they want to do 100% of the time is just not what we consider a great vacation.
I don't know what'd be a good secondary trip. I'm more an Amsterdam kind'a guy than a Belgium guy--other than they do have great beer.

Posted by
7522 posts

You could look for a one-week rental in Brittany or Normandy. Beaches both places and plenty of day trips. It’s a bit late but something might open up at Gites de France. https://www.gites-de-france.com/fr#

Posted by
503 posts

I agree with Bets and would recommend you find an AIrbnb in Normandy or Brittany. Since you will be spending a week in Paris, having a quieter and less busy week to "ease into" the trip makes more sense than trying to do Brussels with day trips. Given your children's ages, they have no interest in what Brussels and the surrounding cities have to offer.

Posted by
5632 posts

No beaches, but weekly rentals in Provence (we stayed in St. Remy) often come with pools. But a car would be useful there.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you for responses so far.
Nancy and Bets - do you feel like Brittany or Normandy have similar offerings for young kids? Or rather, how is the "vibe" different between beach towns/cities in these places?
And as for Brussels, we were thinking food, Bruges for a canal trip, and Mini Europe - maybe Mannekin Pis as they currently find that ridiculously amusing. Do you not think these would be worth a couple days? I'm okay with that if it's a solid no.
Thanks again.

Posted by
7522 posts

I suggested Normandy or Brittany for your option 2 because they are only a two-hour train ride to Paris and have beaches. In Brittany, the best town would be Vannes if you don’t have a car. It’s on the south coast, so it’s warmer. Your Mountain and Alsatian suggestions are quite a haul from Paris. You’d have to fly to Biarritz.
Option 1, Brussels with day trips sounds good too, as you know your children’s limits.

Posted by
503 posts

In terms of "vibe" the Bretons would say Brittany is very different from Normandy (a good friend of mine is from Brittany ). But, for all intents and purposes they are very similar. Thus I think finding a town that has a nice mix of things to see/do without needing a car should be the determining factor and Bets suggestion of Vannes is excellent. I know it's tempting to go to Brussels - lots of day trips, good food, etc., etc. but unless that's your normal routine at home, it's going to be tough on your children to do two weeks of that kind of travel - heck, it's challenging enough for adults!!!
Given the time of year you will be traveling, the major tourist destinations (Brussels, Amsterdam, Brugge, etc, etc.) will be VERY BUSY and crowded as will Paris - which may also be quite warm. This is why a more laid back start may work better. In terms of deciding whether to do Brussels or Brittany/Normandy I think the question really is this - is the focus of the trip more on what you and your wife want to see/do or is it more about enjoying the time with your children? Once you've determined that, the answer will be easy.

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks again. One of the best benefits of these forums, even if aggravating at first, is helping tourists tighten up or focus their initial lofty goals, and I thank you all for that!

We are at this point just looking for a good second location apart from time in Paris. I know it sounds odd, but I don't want it to be just another city where we are doing the exact same things we do in Paris. We want it to have a totally different, relaxing feel from a big city, yet with enough options with young kids. That's why we are looking for something really different in France - like the access to the Alps feel through Lyon, the Germanic feel of Strasbourg, maybe Bordeaux (does it feel beachy and do we need a car to access this?), the seaside feel of Aquitaine/Brittany/Normandy... basically any of these that don't feel like Paris. Just wondering what everyone feels a good option would be. We know we aren't doing castles and lengthy wine-tastings or multiple train-hops on this trip.

Posted by
2 posts

Hello! I just returned from Paris where I traveled with my husband and our three children (6, 4, 2 years). This was our third time in the city with children and couldn’t imagine it any other way. This is my opinion, stay in Paris and take 1-2 day trips via the metro or take a G-7 (they have family vans with car seats!). I say this because we enjoy slow traveling with our little ones. You know your family best.

One of the best days was visiting Musée d l'Orangerie with my oldest daughter. We grabbed breakfast to-go (crossiant and coffee/hot choclate) at Angelina’s and ate in Jardin des Tuileries on a bench (no one thought this was an odd request nor were we looked at funny). She enjoyed the playground before we made our way over to the museum. I rented us both an audio player and off we went! My daughter loved it. We stayed for about 1.5 hours.

I think you’re going to have the best vacation! So much to do in Paris with children. Honestly, there is. Enjoy.

Posted by
2932 posts

I think a week in a rented apartment in Brittany would be ideal. Strasbourg/Alsace is also lovely and easy to visit from Paris. The downside is both regions are really best explored by car, especially Brittany - we didn't have a car on our first trip and getting to see anything was frustrating. At least in Alsace, you can do Strasbourg and Colmar by train quite easily, but of course there's no beach.

San Malo in Brittany is wonderful, and there are beaches, but the inner city gets quite busy during the day with tourists and a week there without a car may have you a bit bored.

What about the South? Cassis is a touristy but chill beach town (pebbles) and you can take boat rides to the amazing mini-fjords, and easily take the train to visit Marsielle for one day, the lovely Aix-in-Provence for another.

Posted by
7522 posts

I don’t usually beat a dead horse, but I will this time. I suggested Vannes due to the direct TGV service to Paris, beach, boat rides to islands, chateau, nature nearby, local festivals, crêpe restaurants for toddlers, etc. The south side of Brittany has the sunny weather.

Sarah offers good suggestions but there are a couple of drawbacks. Cassis/Aix/Marseille are very, very hot in August, hotter than the Riviera. Cassis requires two trains and a taxi, while St. Malo requires a train plus a bus. Both St. Malo and Vannes are walled, but St. Malo feels more constricted and it’s on the less-sunny north coast.

Done with this dead horse.

Posted by
4 posts

Many thanks -
nicole - enjoyed hearing about your experiences with younger kids in Paris. I know Angelina is billed as so touristy, but we have made a stop there every single time we've been to Paris because it's just delicious. And I had no idea about the vans with car seats! We are honestly very excited about the whole thing. On our honeymoon as well as other trips, we envisioned coming back someday with our children and words can't express how happy we are about making this happen.

My final thoughts that I'd like some advice on (please assume these are individual questions - we are not going to Brittany and Alps in a single trip, I'm just looking for unrelated information.)

Vannes - suggested number of days with young kids in tow?

Do you have any favorite Lyon day trips that are kid friendly? I looked on Google and found a site with 5 enticing possibilities: 1) Beaujolais 2) Aix-les-Bains 3) Perouges 4) Lac d' Aiguebelette 5) Annecy. Are any of these places where you can get off the train and there are places to eat and walk around and things to see/do, or is a car needed after the train?

In late August, what can one expect weather-wise in Chamonix? The rest of the trip would be planned for warm weather clothing, but does Chamonix necessitate layers? And if one took the tram to Aiguille du Midi, can you do a quick roundtrip for the experience but not need winter clothing? How frequently does it run (roundtrip?), can you just stay on the tram or get out for literally a minute. Have no idea here.

Thanks again.

​​​​​​​Thanks again.

Posted by
2 posts

Since this isn’t your first time in Paris, I can totally see why you’re researching other spots to stop. :)

You may know this already, but thought I would share - There is an abundance of playgrounds in Paris making it very easy to take a wiggle break when needed. Funny how we never noticed these playgrounds when we visited sans children. Sit down crêperies are also (in our experience) super child friendly!

Posted by
1 posts

I highly recommend Le P’tit Brochon In Jambles, Burgundy south of Beaune for anyone with kids.
There’s a pool, a playhouse, animals galore, bikes and beautiful scenery. Sylvie and Christian are marvelous Airbnb hosts. You rent what had been a converted barn that is absolutely lovely. My granddaughter, who had just turned 4, cried when it was time to leave! We stayed 5 days and could have easily spent 2 weeks there!