Traveling To Paris with A Baby? Here's Ten Tips to Make Your Trip Successful
It’s a bit strange to think about, but we arrived in Paris with no babies (although we were 5 months pregnant) and will be leaving Paris with two! We’ve learned a lot about traveling with little ones and getting around this city.
It’s quite a unique experience when compared to normal life in the United States; there’s less use of cars, more use of public transportation, narrower streets, smaller bathrooms, and inconsistent availability of elevators and escalators.
I’m quite comfortable getting around with a baby/toddler now, but there was a big learning curve in the beginning. I could imagine it being quite stressful coming to Paris for only a short trip and not having the time to adjust to the Parisian streets with a baby!
Here are ten tips that will help prepare you for your visit to the City of Love when you have a baby in tow. Hopefully this eases your transition into Europe, especially if you’re traveling from abroad!
1. Make sure your stroller is narrow & compact
If you’re bringing a stroller, I advise using a compact one, such as an umbrella stroller or another narrow one. You will encounter cobblestones and gravel, but I’ve found that small wheels still manage just fine in these situations.
If you keep your eyes peeled as you walk through Paris, you will start to notice a theme among strollers. There are usually three brands or so that are most often used, one of those being a Yo-Yo. We just bought one ourselves and appreciate its narrow build and compact abilities. It’s also super lightweight, making it manageable on the stairs.
If you are lucky to have an elevator/lift in your Airbnb/hotel, you may find that the typical American strollers simply do not fit. American strollers also will not fit through metro turnstyles – I know this from experience – as the wheels are simply too wide.
A stroller can be especially handy if your little one can reliably nap in it, and if you have mastered the art of changing diapers within a stroller (I’m still working on that).
2. Consider using a baby carrier
As you already know, traveling through a European city is not quite the same as a city in the US. And you've just heard, Paris is known for its narrow and cobblestone streets. While you can manage just fine with a stroller (and many people do!) it can be a game changer to simply use a baby carrier. It makes getting on and off public transportation easier and nixing the stroller means one less thing to have to lug around.
Obviously if your child is older or relatively heavy this might not be a good option for a full day of sightseeing. However, it might be worth it for a few hours a day or a quick outing.
We like to keep ours in the bottom of our stroller when we travel in case we end up somewhere with a climb, like the Arc de Triomphe or the spiral staircase in the Sacré-Cœur Basilica (just ensure there is a guarded, safe space to stash your stroller if you do leave it somewhere, even for a short period of time – strollers are known for getting stolen in Paris).
We love the Ergobaby carrier because it faces forward, backwards, and can even back-carry
(helpful for me once our son started getting heavier!). I know some moms who have even figured out how to breastfeed while using it (I’m not that talented). It’s also mesh, so it’s breathable, and has head support and a hood for sunny or rainy days.
3. Use Public Transportation Effectively
The Metro, bus, and a bit on planes and trains
Tickets are generally free for kids under 4 on transportation methods within Paris (metro, RER, bus). Tickets are generally free under 2 for planes and trains - double check specific train companies and airlines to be sure.
Don’t be put off by using the metro if you have a stroller! It’s still possible, especially if you have another set of hands with you. Additionally, people are patient – and they will make room on the metro for your stroller if they can.
Many metro stations have gates which you can use to get through (instead of using the turnstyles). Simply swipe your ticket or metro card like you normally would, then walk to the gate and press the button to notify the worker that you need the gate opened (you can say "J'ai une poussette." (I have a stroller). They’ll often ask you if your ticket has already been validated, to which you can simply reply, oui.
If the metro station doesn’t have a gate, you can go through the turnstyle. It’s a bit tricky, but I can practically guarantee that if you are seen struggling, you will be helped. I’ve been offered help any time I was struggling to get through! It takes a bit of practice, but narrow strollers do fit through the turnstyles, and are easier to manage if you can lower the stroller's handlebar.
Some metro stations have elevators, but not many. Be prepared to take a stroller up an escalator (often a best-case scenario) or lug it up or down stairs. Often metro stations with lots of stairs (like Dupleix, for example) have an escalator going up – but not going down.
If you are traveling by yourself through Paris and decide to take the metro with a stroller, never fear. You can simply stand at the edge of stairs and say to the next person you see, excuse-moi, madame/monsier, and point to the stroller. They will very likely help you lug the stroller up or down, happily wishing you a good day afterwards. I've done this many, many times... most recently while very pregnant.
Beloved by many parents, the bus is generally an easier way to get around with strollers. They don’t come as frequent as metros, so you have to consider their schedules and your time frame needs, but you won't have to lug the stroller up and down stairs to get on or off.
You can pay with the same card or tickets that you use for the metro. Enter via the front or the back, just make sure to validate your ticket (or risk getting fined). You may need to click a button (many located around the bus) to request that the bus stops when you need it to.
We love traveling by train. You have more space than when on planes, you can walk around with your toddler, and you don’t have to do the 2-3 hour dance in the airport going through security.
We also appreciate that we can take the metro to the train station, eliminating the need for a car seat on our trip. By the way, you can book Ubers and taxis with car seats if needed - try G7 Taxis or babycabs, or use a private company (there are many) and request a car seat.
I won’t go into detail here – traveling via plane with a baby can be its own article – but do know that if you are pregnant (showing or not) or have a baby, you get priority in lines at the airports in Paris.
Often, if you are standing in line, an airline worker will notice you and insist that you go to the front. But, if you’re not, consider just walking up to the front and pointing to your belly or your baby! It's good to know as you leave Paris, en route to your next destination.
4. Bring your own portable fabric highchair
Though restaurants are typically happy to have families and babies dining with them, not all have highchairs. To avoid sitting your baby on your lap during your meal, pack a lightweight and travel-friendly option that you can throw under the stroller or in a backpack or purse.
We have two types of portable highchairs – one for when we are traveling far from home and care most about it being light and easy to bring (like this one), and one that we use while going to restaurants close to home around Paris (a bit more comfortable and even has its own storage compartment, such as this one).
We throw a reusable bib into the storage compartment along with snacks we know our son will eat, like a banana and some cheerios. Otherwise, you can toss a bib into your diaper bag or purse and wash it out in the restaurant bathroom sink before you leave. Good to go!
You can also ask your waiter if you can sit at a table where there is room for the stroller if you prefer your child hangs out in the stroller (or is currently napping). It’s also possible that your waiter or waitress will offer for your stroller to be placed somewhere where there’s room for it, rather than at the table with you (there simply might not be space).
Also, don’t be surprised if you don’t see many little ones out at restaurants during the day. Little kids are often either at crèche (day care) or with nannies, as both are very affordable and well used here in France. You will see parents and nannies with their kids at bakeries around 4 or 5pm to get a “goûter” (little treat) on their way home, and the playgrounds will start getting packed around then.
5. Take advantage of parks and playgrounds
Speaking of playgrounds, there are tons around Paris. You can search for them on your map app (also search aire de jeux, French for playgrounds). Many are found in parks, but plenty are tucked into boulevards or next to big streets. You may even stumble across one that's not shown on Google Maps.
If you have a babe who is walking, playgrounds are great places to stop and get some energy out. Our son prefers to get up and move after an hour or two in the stroller, and this is a real treat for him.
Parks are also wonderful places to relax, feed your baby, offer tummy time or a break from the stroller. Some of the bigger parks also have carousels for your child to ride (or simply watch), and many also have little stands which sell ice cream, crepes, coffee, and more.
We've changed our baby on benches, breastfed on a blanket, and bird and people watched in many parks. One of our (and many Parisians) favorite things to do when the weather is nice is grabbing sandwiches from a local bakery and enjoying it on a big blanket in the park. You’ll see people of all kinds doing this, from businesswomen and men to families and young adults.
We love Parc Monceau, MLK park, Jardin de Luxembourg, Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin des Tuileries, and for a few hours of walking, watching ducks, or paddling around the lake, the Bois de Boulogne (which is stroller friendly for the most part).
6. Find the Hidden Gems
Sometimes it can be frustrating to find a place to breastfeed your baby or change diapers in comfort. Bathrooms are small and often down a narrow, spiral set of stairs. Even so, there are a surprising number of hidden gems that have changing tables, bigger bathrooms, and room for your stroller.
Most well-known museums have bigger bathrooms and changing tables within the bathroom. Petite Palais is a great option, as its free to enter, stroller accessible (to the right of the main entrance), has great changing facilities, and a nice café.
Mall bathrooms are also great places to stop if you need a changing table. The following malls got a special shout out when I asked a local group of moms for recommendations: Galleries Lafayette, Printemps, and Gaîte (with sitting areas to feed your baby as well).
I personally appreciate the Ikea Paris at La Madeleine, which is relatively close to the Tuileries Garden. It has an elevator which takes you to public bathrooms upstairs, a changing table within a large restroom that has room for your stroller, and an eating area with inexpensive food and plenty of highchairs (our son likes the vegan hot dogs!).
Other stand outs from local parents include:
A. Lacroix Pâtissier, a patisserie shop close to Notre Dame with a family friendly staff and changing tables
B. Les Halles, a large fresh food market with a child-friendly restroom
C. Petite Foret, a café in the 17th arrondissement that is specifically for families and kids, with a large area for children to play (and both kid friendly toilets and a changing station)
D. Marcel, a cafe just next to the Villa Léandre on Montmartre that has highchairs, a changing pad in the bathroom, and even coloring pages and colored pencils for older kids!
7. Streamline your diaper bag
Consider paring down your diaper bag as much as possible. We had a diaper bag that we used in the beginning of our parenthood journey, and it was too big and too much. It didn’t fit well under the stroller, and it honestly had more space in it then we needed.
If we were throwing it in the back of a car, sure – but to haul it around a city all day every day is a bit much. I bought myself an oversized purse and use this instead of a diaper bag.
In it, I throw:
a change of clothes (in a plastic bag, in case the other outfit is poopy/etc.)
a few diapers,
a half-full bag of wipes,
a changing mat (super lightweight, and sometimes I omit),
and some sort of snack (usually rice cakes because they’re light, non-perishable and my son doesn’t seem to mid if they’re stale).
Also, my son will almost always eat a baguette (and often seems to demand one). There’s a bakery on every corner, so it's easy to quickly grab one before the day's trip begins. In the bottom of the stroller, I throw a book or a toy, a sippy cup depending on the length of trip, and I clip my son’s pacifier to his coat. Done!
8. Know what to do if you need medical help
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t think about what to do in an emergency situation while traveling until you had a baby. It’s better to have the information and not need it then it is to not have it!
First, it’s a good idea to travel with a few staples. We like traveling with a first aid kit (here’s the one we have). We also bring baby saline spray, baby Tylenol and Motrin, and a few rehydration packets in case of a gastrointestinal issue that were prescribed to us when our little one was a newborn.
For other items you might need, such as ace bandages, cold medicine, heat packs, and more, go to a pharmacy. They are all over Paris and are marked with a big green plus sign. Many pharmacists speak some English, and you can always type what you need into Google Translate (or another language app) and simply point to the words in French.
Pharmacies are also great places to go when you’re not sure if you need to see a practitioner. They can sometimes be used similar to an urgent or acute-care center – identifying skin issues, recommending medicines based on your symptoms, etc.
If you want to see a practitioner, you have a few options. Call (they have an English option) or go online to https://www.sosmedecins.fr/ and request someone comes to your home/Airbnb/hotel; they’ll typically be there in a few hours. You can also request a Teleconsult if you'd like. Additionally, you can use this resource, which is helpful if SOS medicine is full: https://www.ump.fr.
You can also go on www.Doctolib.fr. This website hosts many providers in Paris. You can search by location and specialty, as well as by languages spoken. Many providers have same or next day appointments available.
Necker Hospital is located in the 15th arrondissment and is a pediatric hospital (the first in the world and arguably the best in Europe). There are a number of other pediatric hospitals in Paris as well.
Samu (EMS/ambulance) 15
Urgences (Emergencies - when in doubt, know this one) 112
Urgences (via texting – you can download the app in advance as well) 114
Pompiers (firefighters) 18
Of course, it’s always scary to need medical help, but even more so in a foreign country. Be comforted knowing that many people speak English and that health care here is effective and affordable.
9. Know where to purchase items you've forgotten
It’s easy to do, especially in the chaos of travel. If you’ve forgotten baby staples (such as pacifiers, diapers, wipes, formula, and bottles), check a pharmacy. They don’t often have food items, alcohol, or makeup (like in the US) – but they do often have useful baby items.
If you need healthy snacks for your little one (and a baguette won’t cut it), nearly every grocery store will be stocked with a decent section of baby-friendly foods and snacks (in fact, I can’t think of a single grocery store I’ve been in that doesn’t have a baby section). Franprix, Carrefour, Naturalia, Auchan, Aldi, and G20 are the names of some well-known grocery stores.
Many grocery stores will also have wipes and diapers. A surprising amount of grocery stores also offer organic foods, and you can find specialty foods in most stores too – Naturalia is especially good for vegan or vegetarian options (in the case of a dairy allergy, for instance, or simply a preference).
Monoprix is a large department store that I compare to a French Target, Darty is an electronic store (great if you forgot an adapter), and FNAC is a department store with many different types of home items.
10. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Babies cry. Toddlers throw food. Things aren’t always perfect. Enjoy your trip anyways!
I often get anxious when we travel because our child is out of his normal nap routine and I worry he’ll get cranky, or I hesitate to make dinner plans because I’m not sure if the restaurant will have food he’ll eat.
However, my anxiety doesn’t change the outcome of any of these experiences. Learning to let go of my worries and try to just live in the moment have helped me be more present and enjoy the special time traveling with my little family.
Trying to find humor in frustrating situations can be helpful too. Making my son laugh when we’re having a tough time always makes all of us feel better! Often, our son does just fine – and even when small catastrophies happen (we miss our train, we sleep through alarms, we forget a change of clothes or diapers…) we have survived.
Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for a wonderful trip in one of the most wonderful cities. Check out my post on “5 Things You Should Know Before Visiting The City of Light” to make your transition here even smoother!