As one of the most visited cities in the world operating the 10th busiest airport, Paris is likely a stopover for many families. Before we begin, I want to add that Paris is my favorite city (so far) in the world. With only a day or two to spend, there’s still enough time to see some things so it’s worth the investment to go. I’ve put together a list of our family’s top sights to see when traveling with tweens and teenagers during a layover or brief stop. I’m going to break it down into 24-hour chunks and let you adjust accordingly.
Bonus information up front: Skip going up the Eiffel Tower. With such a short amount of time, why waste a huge amount of it waiting in the queue?
What to See with Only 24 Hours in Paris?
By 24 hours, I mean one overnight. Most flights from the U.S. and the Middle East arrive early morning, likely providing a whole day to explore with teenagers. Here’s my top five list–I would recommend you see them in this order as it will take you from North-Central Paris on a walk down through the middle of Paris to just South of the Seine.
- Sacre Coure
- The Louvre
- Seine Boat Tour
- Paris Breakfast at a cafe
The best way to get a vibe quickly for Paris and see as much as possible in one swoop is by starting at the top of Montmartre near the Basilica Sacré-Cœur. Take the Metro, which of course is very European and easy to use, to the Château Rouge or Anvers stop and walk to the top of the hill. One-way Metro tickets will cost just under €2 per person. The Basilica is the second busiest church in the city so if the line is long perhaps skip the inside. But if you have time, it’s worth a quick (and free) visit inside the church. The dome is also open to the public for a small fee and may give the near-Eiffel-Tower view a family is hoping for with less queuing.
Still pressed for time? The view from the front steps of the Sacré-Cœur is totally instagram worthy with a beautiful view of the whole city.
After walking down the hill below the Sacré-Coeur, turn right and follow the streets in that direction. Wandering through Montmartre’s artsy district where world-famous painters like Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh once lived and worked is quintessential Paris. The streets are filled with shops, cafes, markets, musicians, and street artists. Be prepared for the crowds, though. Morning is usually better than afternoon. This is a great place to grab a nice Parisian lunch or some gelato. Yelp in Paris has a lot of reviews, and we successfully found great places to eat every day with it as our guide. Eventually, as you work your way down the hill, the Moulin Rouge is right around the corner; great for a quick picture.
From here it’s about a 30-minute walk to the Louvre. Along the way is the Opera House, Galeries Layfette, and tons of shopping. If time is an issue, the streets of Paris are filled with electric scooters and they’re a fun way to speed up your travels. Download the app from companies like Lime or Bird, and you can get from point A to B inexpensively and quickly. Just don’t ride on the sidewalks–the authorities are apparently beginning to fine people.
Each Wednesday and Friday (and one Saturday a month), the Louvre extends its opening hours to 9:45 p.m. (It normally closes at 6 p.m.) The museum is completely closed on Tuesday. Kids under 18 are free of charge and admission ahead of time is €17, which costs €2 more than buying at the door more but saves time not spent waiting in line. Love it when kids are free!
A few things to keep in mind:
- Buy tickets ahead of time. You can even buy them the day of as you’re walking down from Montmartre.
- There is a lesser-known entrance at the Le Carrousel du Louvre, which will also save time.
- Get the audio guide. Unless you’re an art history major, the guide (and a map) help to quickly navigate through the museum.
- Have an exit strategy. The museum has 380,000 pieces of art that will would take days to see. Two hours is plenty!
- Put some thought in ahead of time about what you want to focus on/see.
I included more Louvre tips here.
Left Bank Dinner | Seine River Cruise
Cross over the river to the Left Bank where there are lots of restaurants and cafes for a bite to eat. If the evening isn’t too late, the large open-top cruise ships run up and down the Seine all day long. Jump on board for a solid one-hour tour complete with some commentary on the architectural highlights along the river—churches, bridges, museums, and palaces. While you can begin take these tours all day long (they depart every half hour from a variety places on the Seine with companies like the Bateaux Mouches or Bateaux Parisiens) my recommendation is a nighttime cruise.
The Eiffel Tower has its light show every hour on the hour for five minutes beginning at dark, and I suggest timing the tour to see the lights. Depending on the time of the year (it can be light until almost 9:30 or 10 p.m. in the summer), start the tour from Notre Dame at 9:30 p.m., you’ll get to the Tower right at 10 p.m. to see the brief show. The light show isn’t the most amazing thing ever, but it is kind of magical to see if from the boat on the Seine.
Breakfast in Paris
There is something simply magical about sitting at a cafe in Paris with a croissant, pain au chocolat, or pain aux raisins for a Parisian breakfast. Really any kind of carb eaten here is just delicious. With some carbs, a cup of coffee/tea, and maybe even some fresh-squeezed orange juice, you’re ready for your day. This isn’t the typical American breakfast, but it’s fun to eat like the locals and take in the surroundings.
What to See in Paris with More Time?
Twenty-four hours in Paris is a good start. If I had another day, here is what I recommend with traveling teens. I even double checked with my kids, and they agreed about this for day two.
Notre Dame (Once it’s Open)
As of mid-2019, I’m hearing Notre Dame plans to reopen in three to five years after they make repairs from the April 2019 fire. Sadly, the cathedral burned only three days before we arrived in Paris so my teenagers missed the opportunity. Notre Dame is one of the iconic places in Paris, of course, so once it reopens, this should be on the list of things to see with a bit more time in Paris.
City tours, whether on foot or by bike, provide a great overview of the city, a bit of a history, and some cultural lessons. These tours take between two to four hours depending on what type of tour, but I find even with limited time in a city, these are important to do to really understand where you are.
Bike tours, like from Fat Tire Tours, mean covering a bit more ground and possibly seeing more. The price is a bit higher than walking tours and will likely last a little longer. So if time is an issue, consider that. The other consideration is Paris traffic and crowds. The guides do the best job possible with routes to avoid the crowds, but hey, Paris is crowded everywhere.
A walking tour, like Sandemanns, is a little more relaxed and at a slower pace. With time between stops to take pictures and ask questions. Both are great options when trying to see as much of a city as possible in a small amount of time.
The Luxembourg Garden
The Luxembourg Garden, in the middle of St. Germain, is not an expansive park like New York’s Central Park or Madrid’s Retiro, However, this carefully manicured French garden, which is only about a 15-minute walk from the Seine, still provides a lovely, quiet place to relax away from the heavy crowds. With a pool in the main area to sail toy boats, it’s surrounded by tennis courts, walking trails, fountains, work-out areas, pergolas, and playgrounds. We loved this spot for an ice cream in the afternoon. But I think it would make for a fantastic morning jog. The current Senate building (a former palace) is a nice backdrop to all the flowers and green. I dare the proximity to lots of armed guards makes it a safe spot to just hang out.
Hang in there, 48 hours is a short period of time to see so of one city. I would add one more art museum to the list. The Musée d’Orsay is right along the Seine and worth at least an hour visit. What I love about this museum, is the building, an old train station, is almost as impressive as the works inside. There are lots of unusual interior spaces including viewing the city from behind the clock.
Even better, the works of art are spread out so even when it’s crowded, it doesn’t feel completely overwhelming. This museum differs from the Louvre with more modern and impressionist pieces like Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, but not so modern that you need to scratch your head.
All other photos ©Linda Kerr, TravelTeening