What is better than April in Paris? I’ll tell you: April in Paris with kids. Although our most recent trip there was eight months ago, it’s taken me a while to get around to writing about it. And since April is a month that gets us all thinking of the City of Light, throughout the month of April I’ll be sharing stories, tips, and even some ideal itineraries for families interested in visiting Paris or just daydreaming about it.
When we arrived in Paris during the first week of July, we had already spent a week in Switzerland and Bordeaux and were ready to spend some time in familiar territory. But even though we know Paris well, I wanted to find a way to explore it that was new to all of us. That’s where Fat Tire Bike Tours came in; I knew from our experience in London that this company would offer a chance to ride past and learn about familiar monuments in a new way that engaged the boys and got us all some exercise.
Please click on photos for full-size versions
We signed up for the 11 a.m. tour, which covers about 6.5 miles and lasts four hours. Tours meet at the south leg of the Eiffel Tower, and we were so glad for a chance to revisit our favorite monument, even if we didn’t have plans on this trip to ascend it. After our group had assembled, we were led over to the Fat Tire tourist office, about a five-minute walk. There we were given bikes and a chance to use the free bathroom (not something to take for granted in Paris) before heading out with our tour guide, an American graduate student in political science and history named John.
Tommy took an immediate shine to John, who spoke about history in language that a ten-year-old boy could appreciate, with an emphasis on sensory details and the human qualities and follies of kings and their mistresses.
We learned about Invalides, the first hospital and retirement home for French soldiers built by Louis XIV in the 17th century; we were invited to imagine it inhabited by the ill and infirm who could not defend it when it was stormed for its arms during the revolution a hundred years later.
The Eglise du Dome behind the hospital building was built as a private chapel for Louis’ worship and, as we learned, has one of the most impressive false ceilings ever built in Paris because Louis wanted it to be a little taller and more impressive than originally planned. Oh yeah, and there’s some important guy whose tomb is there (I’d say “short guy” but it turns out that Napoleon was actually 5’7” – the British are the ones who started the rumor that he was puny).
We stopped on the Pont Alexandre III to admire its gilt cherubs and winged horses. John talked a little bit about Art Deco style and then told us that many couples come there to get their wedding photos taken. As if on cue, a lovely bride and groom appeared while we admired the river over the muscular backs of the bridge’s ornamental sculptures.
At the Place de la Concorde, we contemplated, as I never had before, how ironic the name actually is, given that this is where the guillotine was set up and where Marie Antoinette and her husband were executed. John invited us to think about the smells, the blood, the violence of that time in a way that was just gory enough for the kids.
I mostly thought about how my children, like the participants in the Tour de France, could now claim to have ridden into this famous circle on bicycles, past the stands that were already in place.
From there it was on to a relaxed lunch in the Tuileries in full view of the Ferris wheel before riding up to the Louvre’s courtyard and through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel like a rag-tag conquering army. Then we rode pretty much straight back to the Fat Tire office, Tommy abandoning the rest of us to ride in the front with John like the big kid he is. (And John agreeably allowing him to be big and independent). We did, however make a key stop for the ultimate Paris photo-op.
Although I know Paris well, I had never seen it from the back of a bicycle before. There’s something intimate and joyous about exploring a city like this – perhaps it’s the need to be alert that heightens your senses or perhaps it’s the feeling of freedom of cruising like a child past some of the world’s most famous and beautiful monuments. All I know is that the intense pleasure of watching my seven-year-old child cruise confidently along the streets of Paris is something that has lasted long beyond the actual tour itself, satisfying my Paris with kids dreams for now and always.
- Fat Tire offers kid-sized bikes, tandem bikes, bike trailers, and bike seats for families with smaller children. It’s best to make a reservation for a tour if you’re going with children, as they have a limited number kid-friendly bikes. The route is flat with numerous stops.
- Although the tour stopped at a café in the Tuileries for lunch, we had packed a picnic in our backpacks and enjoyed that instead – much more economical, and we didn’t have to wait for our food.
- I think this makes a great first-day activity, especially if you are new to the city. Not only to you get some fresh air and exercise, you will also get a nice sense of the lay of the land in central Paris. The historical overview also comes in handy – throughout the week as we visited the Louvre and returned to Invalides, my boys were remembering stories about the various King Louis as well as Napoleon.
- If you book the tour on a Sunday, as we did, the traffic is much less punishing than during the week.
- Fat Tire offers a number of options, including an Easy Pass, which allows you to tour monuments like the Eiffel Tower in conjunction with their tours, as well as tours outside of Paris at Versailles and Monet’s Garden in Giverny. You can also rent bikes from their tourist office, which has free wi-fi and friendly employees who speak English.
- We also took a Fat Tire Bike Tour in London.
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Please see Paris in its proper order if you’re interested in a chronological list of posts from my family’s July 2008 trip to Paris, or visit my Paris page, which lists all of my stories and tips about my favorite city. If you enjoyed the photos in this post, please “like” The Mother of All Trips on Facebook where you can view even more.
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Fat Tire bike tours did not sponsor this post – I just like them lots. You can always count on me to tell you when I’ve been compensated.