Touring Paris with a Teen or a Tween

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Touring Paris with a Teen or a Tween
“Holy cow!”, he gasped, as we approached Beaubourg from rue Rambuteau at the corner at Rue du Renard. Eyes wide, he pointed to the back of Centre Pompidou. “What IS that? It looks like a rainbow that threw up!” After five days in Paris, his eye had become attuned to surprises and his sense of astonishment awakened. We had systematically exposed another 12-year-old grandchild to the wonders of our favorite city. In our travels across Paris, we had identified activities that could build on what these kids already knew, introduce them to uniquely Parisian pleasures, create cultural opportunities, offer insights on how to master a foreign city, and provide memories of joy and discovery that have lasted for years. We did it through tuning in to transportation, heights, art, learning opportunities, and pleasures. Transportation Nothing helps a child become oriented in space as quickly or as well as mastery of modes of transportation, including their own two feet, in order to move between destinations. In Paris, identifying routes on the maps at bus stops, metro or RER stations (as well as on a phone or paper map), helps them practice understanding how the snail design of the 20 arrondissements of Paris works and introduces them to the city’s neighborhoods. Watching people make their way on scooters, skates, and segways; on personal and public bicycles; on traditional and three-wheeled motorcycles; in cars, buses, taxis and trains; and on boats that carry tourists up and down the Seine, they appreciate the range of ways people connect to Paris’s unique physical world. They notice the lines of electric cars that rent by the hour, count the number of Smart cars or other two-seaters that challenge the limits of parking spaces along curbs, or stare as a Lamborghini lowers its top or a Twizzy reveals a single seat behind the driver. The options and opportunities of transportation can broaden perspective and transform a feeling of being lost into one of knowing how to make one’s way where so much seems so new. Views from above Looking down on Paris monuments and rooftops from a variety of heights and locations also helps integrate an internal map of the city. Identifying landmarks from many points of view fosters familiarity and, with it, a sense of mastery. The greater the physical effort used in reaching the heights, the greater the sense of connection to them. Waiting in the queue at the southwest pillar of the Eiffel Tower means you can purchase a same-day ticket to scramble up 328 steps to the first level, registering landscape changes through the scaffolding as you go, as well as allowing you to pick a day with the good visibility and weather you want for your visit to Paris’s universally recognized attraction. Enduring the long line to climb the towers of Notre Dame not only rewards hardy visitors with close-ups of gargoyles, statues of saints, and the enormous church bell, but also offers orientation from the original center of the city. Trudging up the stairs of l’Arc de Triomphe terminates with spectacular 360 degree views from l’Etoile, 12 boulevards radiating out symmetrically, traffic seemingly chaotic (unless you understand le code de la route), and a new appreciation of the design of the city from the Louvre to La Défense, a medieval palace on one side and a futuristic landscape of 21st century skyscrapers on the other. Add a trip up the connecting escalators that diagonally cross Centre Pompidou, watching as rooftops slowly appear; catch the view from the top of the Boulevard Haussmann buildings of Galeries Lafayette or Printemps; take a ride in the funicular alongside the steps going up to Sacré Coeur, or a lift in the hot-air balloon at Parc André Citroën that hovers over the western edge of Paris, and the sense of the city begins to expand rather than overwhelm as perspectives literally change. Art Museums Many children and teens have heard of de Vinci’s Mona Lisa, but the art museums of Paris and their collections include far more than the Louvre, with its more than 35,000 pieces of art. The child, tween, or teen who already has an interest in art can follow whatever styles, periods, mediums or artists they prefer, selecting museums or galleries that feature them. Special exhibits can be extraordinary: a social history seen through a Barbie retrospective at Musée de la Mode; the evolution of children’s literature through Babar at Musée des Arts Decoratifs; an analysis of expressions in the Burghers du Calais at Musée Rodin; trying on a hoop skirt at Palais Galliera; making art along with French children during les vacances scolaires. That said, fun can definitely be had in navigating challenges of the largest museum in the world. I love to start on the lower ground floor at the Medieval Louvre, where the walls and pillars of the original palace were unearthed during excavation to provide for underground parking. The area ends with a sphinx silently announcing the Egyptian wing. A left turn leads to an impressive walk through ancient history, arriving eventually, after rows of sarcophagi, at the rare swaddled mummy. In the opposite…

Lead photo credit : Lamborghini in Paris. Photo: David Griff

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Roni Beth Tower, author of the award-winning memoir "Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance", is a retired clinical, research and academic psychologist and a dedicated Francophile.


  • AnnetteC
    2018-11-16 08:21:05
    Great article! Can't wait to take our grandchildren to Paris with us on one-on-one trips as they get old enough (which is coming up--the oldest is 10!). I wanted to let you know that waiting in line for climbing the Notre Dame towers are a thing of the past. For the past year or so, a ticket machine has been installed on site to obtain a timed entry for later in the day. Or you can download the "Duck the Line" (Jefile) app, and register for a time on your smart phone. Either way, times become available at 7:30 am the day you want to ascend. The app will send a reminder about 20 minutes before your ascent time. There is no line anymore--if you try to wait, you will be directed to the machine to be given a time to return. When you report back at your appointed time, the process to begin the climb is relatively quick.