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5 Days in Paris - Hidden Gems, Must Sees & Tips

I'm in the very early stages of planning our (hopefully...) Summer 2022 trip. We will have 5 full days in Paris at the end of our trip. Here's what I've sketched out so far. These days will be interchangeable as I don't have set travel dates yet. I'm trying to group things geographically and logically (is there anything that stands out to you as not working?). This will be at the end of a 2.5 week trip, so we won't need to worry about jet lag. I'll be traveling with my husband and two middle school children (they're good travelers). I know there are a million amazing art museums in Paris, but I think three is a good amount for our family. We won't be doing Versailles (I didn't just forget it). A couple of these days seem pretty full and one seems light - not sure if there are things that would make sense to switch around. We want to allow time for exploring neighborhoods, enjoying cafes, etc. My daughter will also want to shop places that a middle schooler can afford ;) Thoughts on Belleville, Canal St. Martin (I liked the idea of a couple of off the beaten path neighborhoods but?) Anything I'm leaving out? Any hidden gems near any of these that I should add in?

Day 0 - Arrive from Normandy, check in and explore neighborhood (Hopefully St. Germain Des Pres)
Day 1 - Musee d'Orsay, Shop Rue Cler for picnic items, picnic on Champ Mars, Eiffel Tower (Trocadero for pics)
Day 2 - Notre Dame, Ste. Chapelle, Pantheon, Latin Quarter, Luxembourg Gardens, Catacombs (evening at Montparnasse Tower for view)
Day 3 - Belleville, lunch at Galleries Lafayette, Pompidou Center, Marais, evening cruise of Seine
Day 4 - Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Tuilieries Gardens, Louvre
Day 5 - Puces Flea Market, Sacre Couer, Montmarte, Canal St. Martin

Posted by
6372 posts

I like it. I started to say that Day 2 looked too full, but then I remembered that Notre Dame may not be open to the public yet.

I like the walks and parks you've included. What kinds of things are your kids interested in? There are lots of small specialty museums that you might want to have tucked in your back pocket for rainy days.

Posted by
203 posts

Hi Jane - Yes. Day 2 was the day that I was worried about being too full. Those things seem to be close together though, so it made sense to lump them. Not sure if it’s too much.

Hmm, my kids are pretty flexible - they’ll like just experiencing the city. My daughter will like exploring cute streets and shops. They like to ride subways and be in groups. It’s hard to predict what will be a favorite- sometimes it’s something they’ve studied in school. My son loves history - especially WWII and Roman history (we’ll have already been to Normandy and Amsterdam before we get to Paris). I’ll have them read up and watch movies set in Paris before the trip.

Posted by
776 posts

Whoa. I think you're going to be hard pressed to accomplish all this and have time to explore neighborhoods, shop, and chill at a few cafes. You're moving in a group of four, and that slows you down. Take into account also that by the summer of 2022, lots of tourists will be back, and you really should factor in the crowds and waiting times at museums and churches when mapping out your days. Even on the Metro, getting from place to place takes time. Unless you're planning to zoom through each site, I doubt this itinerary would be truly satisfying. Can you sort out everyone's priorities? If you peel off in twos to do shopping vs museums vs churches, it might be more doable.

Posted by
1103 posts

The Pompidou and Louvre museums can be overwhelming. Alternatives might be the Rodin Museum (lots of outdoor exhibits), the Orangerie the Picasso and the Clunymuseums. The Marmottan Museum has the world's largest collection of Monet paintings. I would consider skipping the Pantheon. A museum pass would allow you to make shorter visits to several locations.

The Shakespeare and Company bookstore is fun. - day 2?

Posted by
3334 posts

Our favorite hotel in Paris, Le Citizen, is next to the Canal St. Martin - we last stayed there in 2019. We did little more in Belleville than walk through it, but it is a nice break from the "must see" areas of Paris. You might consider strolling to Pere Lachaise cemetery - it's a fascinating piece of Parisian history.

Posted by
7626 posts

Seconding Bob, the Cluny was a nice size and a fantastic Medieval collection. The brickwork at the exterior back of the building, dating back to Roman times, was a plus. While you’re there in the Latin Quarter, the Pantheon can be skipped, but the Luxembourg Gardens make for a really nice stroll, and you can glimpse the Pantheon from there.

Or just check out your state capitol building :)

Posted by
10349 posts

You have a few things on your list that are scheduled to be closed for remodeling: Centre Pompidou, Tour Montparnasse, and of course Notre Dame won't be open.
The Champ de Mars may be undergoing remodeling, too. You'll see if a picnic is possible.
I'd skip the Pantheon, too.

I agree with Bob that good arguments can be made to go to the smaller gems instead of the large ones: the Rodin Museum, the Orangerie, and the Cluny. I'll throw in there the Jacquemart-André Museum, which is close to the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. It has a tea room in the former ball room, with a beautiful ceiling painted by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo,. This is a favorite lunch spot or dessert stop for me.

With middle schoolers, I'd definitely take a look at the Arts and Meters museum: France's national museum of scientific and industrial instruments. It's a favorite of mine and my now-grown offspring. Actually, I find it a real mind blower! https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/musee-des-arts-et-metiers

And the Basilica of St. Denis will more than make up for the Pantheon, much more worthwhile.

So if everything that is scheduled to be closed for remodeling is indeed under construction, that opens up time for other interesting things.

Posted by
382 posts

The Paris museum pass for two or three days makes entries easy and no pressure to spend a lot of time at each place. Group these places for the time of your pass. For example-identify what you want to see each art museum then leave. Even the Orsay can eat up a half day, let alone the Louvre. We enjoyed the Rodin gardens and sculptures. The Orangerie with Monet’s big lily pond paintings has a wonderful small collection of Impressionist paintings in the basement. It could be a replacement for the Orsay. Use the RS Paris or France book to see all the places covered by the pass. Check out the current safety and offerings at the Puce Flea Market. It seemed a little sketchy 7 years ago. Also the items for sale tend towards cheap house hold/clothing items. Just saying! Sunset on the steps of Sacre Coeur is an event. Have a drink, small picnic and grab a gelato on the way home. Watch all the performances and people. Definitely leave some free time for enjoying the parks. Bon voyage!

Posted by
250 posts

You have obviously given this some thought and know where your primary interests are. Be prepared to spend some time with the bouquinistes on day two also. You might consider doing day four in the reverse order, tackling the Louvre when your feet are fresh. You can rejuvenate at a cafe along the Champs Elysees on the way to the Arc de Triomphe with insanely expensive drinks and snacks but great people watching. Give your priorities the morning, Paris wears you out and those cafe chairs have glue on them that make it difficult to move as the day wears on.

Posted by
3060 posts

In Oct, RS has a new FR guidebook coming out which features good self-guided walking tours that will take you past the places you want to see.
I’ve been to Canal St. Martin and would leave that at the bottom of your list.

Posted by
6372 posts

Bets, the Arts et Metiers was what I was thinking of when I asked what the kids were interested in. We visited it when we were in Paris in 2019, and they finally ran us out so they could close! It was great.

And I agree with Bob the the Cluny, Rodin, and Marmottan are all worth visiting, and not as exhausting as the Louvre.

Posted by
27409 posts

You might explore walking tour possibilities, though it will probably be difficult to find reliable information before things open up. A walking tour with a guide would be a good way to see nooks and crannies in a neighborhood you're interested in. Walking tours are usually reasonably priced unless you go with a very high-end company like Context.

I've been trying to find time for Paris for several years. It hasn't happened yet, but I've been gathering information from this forum on sights related to World War II. I can't vouch for these personally, but they are on my list:

  • Paris Walks has a couple of WWII-themed walking tours:
    • Paris During the Occupation and Liberation
    • The Resistance and the Occupation, Left Bank Circuit
    I don't know how often those walks are offered. The company usually charges 20 euros per person (less for children and students), but I don't know how those two specific walks are priced.

  • The Musée de la Libération de Paris/Musée du General Leclerc/Musée Jean Moulin is on Place Denfert-Rochereau. (Jean Moulin was a huge Resistance hero.) Part of the exhibit labels and part of the videos are English-accessible, but some are only in French Sign up to visit the underground bunkers; capacity is limited. https://www.museeliberation-leclerc-moulin.paris.fr/en/visit-museum/visit-colonel-rol-tanguys-command-post

  • Les Invalides has considerable Resistance/liberation content in the L'historial Charles de Gaulle exhibition.

I know it would be hard to substitute a different sight for the Louvre, but the latter is humongous, crowded and rather expensive if you just plan a short visit (not that you said that). At the very least, I urge you to spend time on the museum's website and a guidebook or two to figure out what section(s) of the museum you most want to see and how you will navigate your way there. It is easy in places like the Louvre to waste considerable time wandering around.

The Marche aux Puces at Sant-Ouen is open to the public on weekend mornings only, I believe. I don't know whether there's a reason to prefer Saturday or Sunday. One of the forum posters has warned about shoddy merchandise on the edges of the market, pickpockets, etc. It might not be the best choice for a family (I haven't been there). The Marche aux Puces at Vanves, also weekend mornings only, is reportedly smaller and less crazy though still crowded.

Posted by
121 posts

Just a reminder that the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay are normally closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, or vice versa. Who knows what it'll be like post Covid

Posted by
8223 posts

And remember you have to have a Louvre Reservation even with a pass.

There is no time here for 'hidden gems' -- you are barely scratching the surface of standard tourist spots and there is no time to chill or explore 'neighborhoods'

Posted by
26 posts

Your itinerary looks pretty good to me, although even if they're good travelers, it's hard to manage a lot of mileage on short pre-teen legs, especially at the end of a 2.5 week trip.

Like others, I'll also say that the interior of the Pantheon is rather underwhelming.

On Day 1, while you're nearby on Rue Cler, your son may be interested in Les Invalides: The Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb.

On Day 2, if you don't hit the Catacombs first thing in the morning, you will have a ridiculously long wait, and if you're trying to tuck it in at the end of the day, it's likely you won't even get in. When I went a couple years ago, it was one of the few attractions without a skip-the-line pass, and the line can be daunting. You do not want to wait along a mostly unshaded traffic circle in the middle of summer.

I know it's nice to find shopping areas that are affordable, especially on an allowance, but while in Paris, it may also be nice to gawk at some windows of the rich and famous on Ile St-Louis or near the Vendome.

And now that the Louvre collection is online, it may be worth considering skipping the crowds and just viewing specific masterpieces at home.

Posted by
510 posts

This is somewhat ambitious and especially day 5. The Louvre is easily an all day event.
Some of these can be checked off pretty quickly depending upon your interests. For example, the Arc has a very short access time and an inside tour offers some interesting access but the view from the top and of the Champs Elysees is the highlight unless you want to find your family name on the walls. It's right next to a subway station so can be checked off quickly.
The Eiffel Tower is much the same...and the time to access depends upon the lines. From there the walk to Notre Dame is literal minutes as are several other interesting highlights.
Point being, you can probably still do a bit more tweaking. The key to getting around and doing a lot in a short time is to use the subways. Try lo locate your accommodations near subway access so that you don't lose time getting to and from your neighborhood.
Paris grows on you. You can never spend too much time there. You can spend too little. Make sure you have time to just down and enjoy things. That's a big part of a visit.

Posted by
4293 posts

I'm not sure if this is a hidden gem or not, but I wrote it down after an episode of Amazing Race http://arts-forains.com/en it describes itself as a Farirgrounds Museum with a unique collection of objects from the performing arts of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a timeless getaway into the themes of curiosity cabinets, carnivals, incredible gardens and Belle Epoque funfairs.

Posted by
10349 posts

Yes, agree it is a unique gem, Allan. Musée des arts forains ( too bad about the new-build bleak neighborhood).

Posted by
6802 posts

Not unique gems, but when we went we added a chocolate theme to the trip. Before going over I found a list of the supposed best chocolate shops in Paris. Believe there were 10 or 11. Then when we were in that part of the city, we stopped in for a treat. It started with 1 chocolate per shop, but by the end we were at 3 per shop. The only one on the list we didn’t get to was Maison Chaudun, the one closest to our hotel. It was closed all three times we stopped by.

Already mentioned is Pere Lachaise Cemetery. You can also walk to see the Statue of Liberty at the far end of Swan Island. There are a couple sculptures: Walking through walls sculpture and Dalida (Italian singer), but neither is a must see. We also enjoyed Napoleon’s tomb and the army museum.

Posted by
15679 posts

A chocolate crawl is great. Be aware that good French chocolate is dark chocolate, which many kids and some adults find less tasty, though trying a few can change minds. Some of the chocolatiers also have wonderful macarons in many flavors, most are wonderful for all ages and tastes. It is not at all uncommon to buy chocolates and macarons by the piece. Paris Walks has a chocolate walk, usually only once a month, that is wonderful. They also have a food market tour that is excellent. Both of course include lots of tastings. They have lots of other tours that focus on neighborhoods with lots of history and interesting stories. Another great tour possibility is with Fat Tire Bikes, who have bike tours and Segways (check the age restriction, though I think middle school would be okay). The guides are very good.

With kids, I would concentrate on experiences rather than sights. As others have said, avoid the big museums, they are overwhelming and people of all ages can get bored and/or tuckered out before seeing all the highlights. Next to Sainte-Chapelle is the Palais de Justice (a functioning law court) that is usually open to the public and worth having a gander at. Once you're through security for the chapel visit, you should be able to access it without going through security again. And a few meters down from there (toward the river) is the Conciergerie, which was a Gothic palace and became a prison, its most famous "resident" was Marie-Antoinette.

The real joy of a visit to Paris is walking and discovering: ancient churches, quaint buildings, odd shops, zigzagging streets, charming postage-stamp sized parks. On weekends much of the Marais quarter is closed off to vehicles and the streets are lined with trendy boutiques, quirky shops, small parks filled with sunbathers, picnickers and little kids, and lots of outdoor cafes.

Posted by
2252 posts

Just throwing this out there. I took my two oldest granddaughters to Paris a couple of summers ago. Granted they were both just graduating from high school so older than your kiddos, but they really, really enjoyed a ghost tour we took one evening. There are several offered in a google search and truthfully, I don’t remember which one we took. Of course it was an evening tour and our guide told us some wonderful stories....and the was a mild scare or two or ten along the way. I enjoyed it, too!

Posted by
33 posts

I took my twins when they were 12 so I thought I’d pass along what we did and what they liked.
Louvre - they liked staying long enough to be able to say they saw the Mona Lisa. Maybe an hour tops was all we spent there.
Pompidou - they didn’t like at all
Army Museum - my daughter was real reluctant to go here because she didn’t like any discussion about war but she ended up fascinated with the artistry associated with the medieval weaponry. My son enjoyed the entire museum.
Catacombs - the workers went on strike the day my son and husband were going to go so they spent their time at a cafe watching the strike itself (my son found it interesting)
Lafayette Galeries - I’m not a shopper but both my daughter and I enjoyed this place
The science museum - we seek out science museums in most cities - this one was fun and not too crowded
Tuileries - my daughter in particular liked these gardens
Eiffel Tower - they liked it
Our daily visit to the patisserie was loved by all
Picnicking - finding food in small neighborhood shops and eating on a park bench was great
Paris sewer tour - I thought this would be more interesting. I gave it a B- The kids did too. But it is different.
Wandering the city - the kids really liked the city
World Cup soccer was going on - so fun!
The Airbnb we stayed in gets rated an F by all family members. I may never live it down. 😊
No matter what, you will have some good memories.

Posted by
332 posts

For middle schooler shopping I recommend Monoprix, a budget-friendly department and grocery store chain with multiple locations all over the city. I would compare it to Target - cute, affordable fashion, accessories, paper goods and room decor - only French. We discovered it on our first family trip to Paris when our daughter was 9. Five trips to Paris and 17 years later, we always include a Monoprix shopping trip in our itinerary.

If your kids are interested in arts and crafts, we also enjoy shopping for pens, paper, washi tapes and other unusual supplies in the arts and craft department of Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville or BHV. If I’ve hit on your shopping interests, let me know and I might be able to make more recommendations.

Posted by
203 posts

Thanks everyone. Some great suggestions here. Looks like I can definitely skip the Pantheon and Canal St Martin. The Pompidou isn’t supposed to start renovations until 2023, so hopefully that will work out as I haven’t made it there on other trips. I love the idea of the Paris Walking tour and a ghost tour one evening. Les Invalides might be a good option for us. I love the Orsay, but maybe swapping that with the Orangerie would be an option, since that’s one I haven’t been to before. JenS - Monoprix sounds perfect for my daughter. Any more tips like those would be wonderful. Thank you!

Posted by
122 posts

When we went with our kids 2 years ago they were 5th grade and 8th grade. Their favorite activity was a walking food tour. I can't remember the company, but we found it on line and it was great.

Posted by
3621 posts

You might look into whether there are Louvre tours for children. Unless yours have received good art education, that experience is likely to be a rather boring blur. As a ( retired) teacher, I have witnessed how a good guide can teach children how to view works of art, lessons that can carry over to future museum visits. Also, I think there are travel guides with titles like ”Paris with Kids.” Miight be worth investigating.

Posted by
4064 posts

Paris has been overrun by tourists for so long that anything worth looking at was discovered long ago. I prefer to think of novel or unexpected "gems". One is the sewer museum, demonstrating ingenious 19th-century engineering. Its atmosphere is, uh, distinctive and not at all offensive. Another is the Hunting and Nature Museum, filled with portraits of rich and powerful citizens with their horses and dogs and bloody trophies, along with the essential firepower. It's a different window on upper-class life.

https://www.chassenature.org/informations-pratiques/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_sewers

Posted by
472 posts

The Cluny is glorious if you like medieval, but it's scheduled to be closed for renovations for quite a while.

For everything, even next year, check & doublecheck; many destination places are making similar lemonade out of the pandemic lemons.

But ohh, to travel! Plan on.

Posted by
327 posts

I think you have a great plan in place! I'll only add a comment about the Louvre, since there were several comments addressing that. It is overwhelmingly eormous, but we followed Rick Steves audio guide tour twice (once with our elementary and middle school kids) and found it to be manageable. They were definitely more impressed with the Louvre than the Orsay, although the Orsay is my fav art museum. And how can you go to Paris and skip the Louvre?! I think we were there for 3 hrs tops, including security.

Posted by
118 posts

At least seven months prior to taking our 16 year old nephew to Paris in 2015, my husband gave him a slim guide book (and some links to various websites), along with a request to follow up a month or two later to discuss his thoughts. Above all else, getting our nephew's input (he specifically requested smaller, less crowded sights & museums) was instrumental in making our trip a memorable and enjoyable experience.

In the end, his favorite museums were the Musée de Cluny (due to reopen in early 2022) and the Musée Carnavalet (due to reopen very soon). Also known as "the History of Paris Museum", my nephew absolutely loved the Carnavalet. At one point, we split up for a short while and when we regrouped, he excitedly told me that he saw THE actual painting that was in his history book (can't remember which one) ... he was blown away to see the original painting IN PERSON, that was reproduced in his history book at school. There were loads of interesting objects & exhibits, and because the museum is housed in former private mansion in the Marais, just walking through various rooms (and the beautiful gardens) was memorable. Moreover, all of the exhibits are translated into English, and according to the museum website, "10% of the works displayed have been installed at a child’s height". For what it's worth, on each of my four visits, I've encountered small groups of French school children who were as enthusiastic as my nephew. Here's a link to the museum website: https://www.carnavalet.paris.fr/musee-carnavalet

Afterwards, you can visit the nearby Place des Vosges - one of my favorite small parks in Paris (technically, it's the oldest planned square in Paris, built by Henri IV in 1612).

On the food front, the Marais district is home to some of the best falafel in the world. These inexpensive and delicious Middle-Eastern sandwiches are composed of deep-fried round chickpea fritters, grated or chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots and/or cucumbers, and sesame tahini and/or hummus. Several competing restaurants (with take-away options) are located along the Rue des Rosiers. As one who eats very little meat, I welcome the occasional falafel as a break from the typically rich cuisine normally found in Paris, and eating your take-away sandwich in the park makes for a lovely picnic.

One other note regarding the Marais: as it was the old Jewish quarter, I think it's important to pay attention to, and pause momentarily at one of the moving plaques placed outside schools, which pay sad tribute to the more than 6,000 Parisian children sent to death camps during WWII - the vast majority of whom died. One such plaque is posted near the entrance to the school located on Rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, a pedestrian street just off of Rue des Rosiers.

Here a link to a website with more info about these plaques: http://www.alamemoireparis.com/overview.html

Also, do keep in mind that Paris gets brutally hot & humid in the summer. We were there with our nephew in June, and didn't cover nearly as much ground compared to when my husband and I normally visit in early spring. If you aren't used to that sort of weather, please understand that it can be exhausting - especially for kids. Obviously, be sure to drink plenty of water, but also beat the heat by trying the various ice cream shops - glace in French - to find your favorite flavor.

One last note: don't underestimate the sheer amount of walking one does in Paris; even when using the Metro, you still clock a fair number of miles & steps. That, combined with heat & humidity, can cause some serious chaffing. Thank goodness for an anti-chaffing skin protectant product called "Glide" ... it literally saved our vacation.

Here's a link for it at REI: https://www.rei.com/product/745879/bodyglide-anti-chafe-formula-skin-protectant-15-oz

Hope this helps.