London or Paris for a vacation with Me + 2 kiddos under 5?
February 10, 2016 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I need help choosing whether to go to London with a day trip to Paris or stay in Paris the entire trip on our family vacation this summer.

We are in the process of saving for a trip to Europe. My older daughter (4) is all about Paris and the Eiffel Tower and has been for the last year but I'm nervous about staying in a country where I don't speak the language. Is this unreasonable? I've never been outside the country for anything more than day trips from Texas into Mexico but I was always with someone who spoke the language. The options I'm considering are:

A.) Staying in London and taking a day trip to France via train to see the Eiffel Tower.
B.) Staying in Paris and enjoying everything Paris has to offer and just dealing with the language barrier.

We are looking at going in June/July of this year and it will be myself and two children who will be 1 and 4 years old.

Could you help me compile a pro/con list? This is my first ever time taking an international trip and I'm not quite sure how to choose.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total)
It's embarrassing, but we had no trouble traveling to major cities in Western Europe with little more than a few words (hello, thank you, etc.) in each language. English was spoken widely, especially at places that are frequented by tourists. I can't really comment on London vs. Paris, but I don't think you should let concerns about the language stop you from going to Paris. I recommend Rick Steves's books for recommendations on where to go with limited time and how to travel light.
posted by mingshan at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

A day trip from London to Paris is quite do-able (I have done it) but it's a looong day. Are they general chill travelers who would conk out on the train? Don't forget to factor in how much transit you'd need to deal with in Paris. I feel like it would not be very relaxed for the day and you'd be fighting their natural rest schedules.
posted by handful of rain at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Paris is pretty friendly to tourists but your concerns are not unreasonable.
How long are you staying? Why don't you do an overnight in Paris instead of just a daytrip?

Questions I'd ask:
1) What activities do you want to do in Paris/London besides see the Eiffel tower?
2) Both cities are kid-friendly but you are more likely to find kid activities for your (presumably non French-speaking) kids in London. Is that a factor?
posted by vacapinta at 12:59 PM on February 10, 2016

Best answer: Don't worry about the language barrier. You will never be more than ten feet (3.048 meters) away from someone who can at least understand English. Take a phrasebook, learn some basic stuff ("Where is the bathroom?" in particular), and if you're at least trying, people will take pity on you and speak English.

London is great. Paris is great. Wrangling the kids onto a train for another trip? Meh. Spending the whole trip explaining why you're not in Paris? Hard pass.

Go to Paris. Take her up the Eiffel Tower. Take lots of pictures. Let her take lots of pictures. Buy her a beret.
posted by Etrigan at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Paris without knowing French is not very difficult and would be interesting for a four year old. There are two zoos in Paris and she would probably enjoy them both. People who work at your hotel will know English. I used AirBnB for Paris and you can filter for languages so you know the host will speak English.
Times may have changed, but the immigration lines into the UK were a lot longer than the ones into France when I went.
posted by soelo at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I found Paris was a little less "accommodating" about having English labels in museums, but other than that I was fine with hello, goodbye, and please, basically. Your kids are a lot younger, but my picky-eater little sister was not overly fond of London's food and probably would have loved the bakeries of Paris. Though there's always fish and chips, and neither is particularly healthy. :)
posted by clarinet at 1:13 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's Paris, there is basically no language barrier. Paris is tourism-oriented. London in summer is a hellhole and you could not pay me to take small children on a schlepp that long and cumbersome with another adult let alone on my own.

Paris all the way.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:15 PM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

The language barrier is not that big a deal, in the touristy parts of the city many Parisians speak English. Note that in the summer the Eiffel Tower makes Disneyland look like a ghost town - it's insanely busy. I found it un-enjoyably so. But there's plenty of other things to do in Paris.

The train from London to Paris is possible to do in a day but I agree that it would be tiring. It's much easier to only have to do the trip once.

Tackling dealing with French people may seem intimidating but you can do it.
posted by GuyZero at 1:22 PM on February 10, 2016

Language won't be a problem, but when I was in London a few years ago, I was tempted to take the train to Paris for a day but it seemed a bit of a schlep. With kids I think I'd pass. There is so much to see in either city, you won't get bored.

What others said about language. Just knowing please and thank you and "I would like" (je voudrais [name of thing]) will really go far, even if it's mangled (e.g. "je voudrais coffee").
posted by zippy at 1:27 PM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a single mom who has taken my kids to a lot of different places. I lean toward London over Paris.

If you were traveling without the kids or the kids were older, I'd say definitely go to Paris, but traveling as a single parent is incredibly stressful when you literally do not understand what is being said around you, figuring out how to order food, etc. all the while being off your bearings in a new city AND with little ones.

* You speak the language and it IS stressful navigating a new city with little kids. Everything, from figuring out what train to take, how to order food, how to tell the concierge there's no hot water, ordering special fun kid foods--all of that becomes SO MUCH more difficult if you don't speak the language. It will feel stressful.

*London has a straightforward and intuitive train and bus system, great wifi everywhere, and cabs and Ubers at the ready. You won't be stressed about getting from A to B, which is nice.

* There are a TON of things for kids to do in London and it's really great when you can check out a museum, a street performer, an outdoor cafe, and you can understand what's going on around you.

* My son and I were in London last August and there's amazingly kid-friendly food. Ramen places, Yo Sushi, Pret a Manger, Nandos are a few places for awesome cheap food you'll all like.

* London theater!! The Lion King, Wicked, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Aladdin,Matilda and a load more.

I would do London, and as a family learn to speak French. In a few years you'll all know the language and you'll be able to enjoy the city more. If this is a once in a lifetime trip, then I'd say Paris but I'd also wait till the kids were older. Since that's not the case, I say go to London now and Paris later.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:27 PM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Paris! It's much more child-friendly than London. And more walkable.
You can spend a day at Disneyland, or Versailles.

London Public Transport is excellent, but not for strollers.

You shouldn't worry about language at all: English has become the common language of Europe, and everyone speaks at least basic English.

You can, and should, prebook tickets for the Eiffel Tower.
posted by mumimor at 1:39 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

it will be myself and two children who will be 1 and 4 years old

I've done the day trip to Paris thing a couple of times with past girlfriends before I had kids. It's fun but doesn't really give you enough time in Paris, and would be hard work with a stroller and another kid.

If I were you, I'd try to split things more 50/50 between the two places, and have at least 2 or 3 days in each. Both places are really fun. Really I prefer the rest of France to Paris (people are nicer outside Paris) but with two cute kids in tow even Parisians are quite friendly.
posted by w0mbat at 1:53 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

In case you hadn't seen this one yet:
posted by humboldt32 at 2:07 PM on February 10, 2016

I don't have any French. I've been to Paris twice, did my best to say hello and please and thank you, and got around quite well. People tended to speak at least enough English to help me, and in most cases had very fluent English, and I was able to navigate the Metro easily and also take a train out to Chartres without any real trouble at all. It seems like a long day trip, so maybe splitting your time between the two cities would be best - fly into one and out the other?
posted by PussKillian at 2:15 PM on February 10, 2016

Best answer: I'd do Paris in a heartbeat.

My terrible French was smiled at and indulged because I tried. I understand from those who are parents that families with children are particularly welcomed by the French, especially if you're all willing to try whatever is on offer locally. (Food, entertainment, walking, riding the Metro.)

I will say that you may want to see how stroller friendly public transportation system is. In North America we take it for granted that there will be elevators or escalators and that may not be the case in Europe (it's not even the case in New York!)

Here is my recommendation for lodging. I am obsessed with staying at the Marriott outside of Disneyland Paris. It's outside of Paris proper, but they're townhouses. So you and the kiddos can have different rooms. There's a living room, kitchen and laundry. You can take a shuttle to the train station to do days in Paris, Versailles or Disneyland. There's also a village to walk in and explore (or the huge mall, if that's your thing.)

With kids you may not want to eat out all the time, and being able to cook a little something when you're all too tired can be a blessing.

I say Paris!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:46 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I once flew into London, spent a few days there, took the train to Paris, spent a few days there and flew home from Paris. It cost no more than flying roundtrip to Paris. So you could do that. It's a long day trip to Paris.

I had no trouble getting around Paris although I can only say about 5 things in French: Yes, no, please, thank you, Sorry I don't speak French.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:47 PM on February 10, 2016

Best answer: I've done both as a single parent. I like both. Paris is very doable, louvre is great for kids, there's a summer fairground in the tuileries and also a great playground. Even in the Marais good playgrounds. I don't like to take stroller on the metro or the tube but both cities are great for taking children on the bus and you get to see so much. Cities des enfants Is fantastic if ability out of the way - just take a taxi...
posted by zia at 2:54 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everyone in any tourist-related job in Paris speaks english. As soon as you say "Bonjour Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle" in your accent, they will probably speak English back. Paris is the most popular tourist destination in the world and English is the most widely spoken language in the world, so Paris has you covered. The popular museums have free maps in English and most offer audio guides in English as well.

My tips about overcoming the language barrier when you're out and about:

- Get a phrasebook and learn the basics (food, shelter, water, toilets, "I don't speak French,")
- Always be polite. Always. Say Merci a lot.
- As soon as you enter a store or restaurant greet the person behind the counter with "Bonjour Monsieur/Madame" first. When you leave, tell that person to have a nice day, "Bonne journee" (Bun jor nay)
- Get your kids to say these phrases for you and folks will just love it.
posted by Pearl928 at 4:45 PM on February 10, 2016

There is no way I'd do a day trip from London to Paris and back with two small kids. In summer, yet? That is the recipe for an epic meltdown (for one, two or three of you).

Get one of the "French singalong" audios for your car and do that with the 4 year old. You won't pick up much, but you will get enough to confidently say a few phrases. Your library probably has a few of them. You really won't need it, but it's nice to have a few phrases.
posted by 26.2 at 6:15 PM on February 10, 2016

Best answer: I've never been to London and I went to Paris last spring with my husband. Neither of us speak French beyond bonjour, au revoir, and merci. It was a non-issue. The subway was great, even for non-French speakers. There are so many tourists in Paris who don't speak English. And there were lots of children, parks, places to run around, etc. We stayed in an Airbnb and the host gave us a three page printout in English of things in walking distance. Also, my husband wasn't keen on seeing the Eiffel Tower until he saw it. He said later that going up in it was his favorite part of our visit. And seeing it lit up at night is enchanting.

Croissants, baguettes, and crepes are all cheap delicious things kids can eat. Paul is a cheap enjoyable chain French cafe - there's one in the Louvre. And seriously, if you feel overwhelmed and just want to not have to deal with everything being so different for a few, go to McDonald's. My husband joked that it's basically the embassy. We went at one point and ordered food from a computer. You could opt for a book instead of a toy with a Happy Meal, which I thought was cool.

I think you'll have many wonderful options at your disposal either place but I wouldn't worry about the language barrier in Paris, plus I love the idea of making your little girl's dream come true.
posted by kat518 at 6:37 PM on February 10, 2016

Best answer: Absolutely do not do a day trip to Paris. That's five hours on a train in one day (plus boarding time), or the equivalent on planes and getting to to the airport. Nope. Do not do.

If you're going for more than a week, consider flying into one city, and out of the other. I'd probably choose to fly into London, because life is always easier when you can read the signs:) You'll probably have a couple of nights of jetlag hell, so make room for that in your schedule.

Oh, pro tip from my mum - when you're travelling with tiny tots by yourself, dress them alike. Everyone then knows without a doubt that they go together. Also, people go squee over matching kids, and are more likely to help.
posted by kjs4 at 8:23 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just spent nine months with my family in Glasgow. While we were there we spent a few weeks in London and Paris. I have three kids ages 14, 11, and 6, but they were all a year younger when they were in Paris. I have a smattering of French; my family didn't speak it at all.

Paris is kind of amazing for kids: there are zoos (that include such "foreign" animals as the American raccoon, which the kids find hilarious), parks, little ponds where you can rent little toy boats, amazing food, amazing drinks, amazing weather. Parisians have this reputation for being rude, but I found that if you just try to speak five words of French to any Parisian, they're as kind and generous as any people anywhere. And like everyone else here has said, you can't throw a rock without finding someone who speaks English pretty well.

My 5yo is a handful. WAY more than his brother and sister were at that age. He didn't know much French, but what little he knew he used. We'd need to get off of the metro, and he'd just holler SCOOZEE-MWAW! and everybody just laughed. No problems at all.

London is also nice, but once you get over the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, it's not terribly foreign. It's a perfectly wonderful city, but if you want to feel like you did something actually foreign, then I'd go with Paris.

Plus, I know this guy on AirBnB who has THE BEST PLACE in Paris. He's a filmmaker with a kid; they rent out their flat from time to time. The place is in Belleville, which is not at all touristy, which is actually the best: right outside your door you have amazing bakeries and butcher shops and cafes, and it's about three minutes away from a major Metro stop.

His house is filled with books and knick-knacks. Imagine a Parisian version of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Plus he has a rooftop garden with an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. Before I got there, I was SURE the view was bullshit, but man oh man is it nice. And as cheap as most hotels, if not cheaper. MeMail me if you want the details.
posted by nushustu at 8:34 PM on February 10, 2016

Public transport with a buggy will be pretty similar in both Paris and and London in that the bus is the best choice. London does have more tube stations with step free access than Paris but not enough of them to make it worth taking the tube over the bus.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:00 PM on February 10, 2016

Learn "excuse me, do you speak English?"
Excuse moi, parlez-vous Anglais?
Ex-kew-say mwah, par-lay voo on-glay?
Mostly, for anyone serving tourists, the answer will be "a little bit" and they will then talk to you in perfect fluent English, and I think the more polite thing to do is at least make the effort to ask in French first.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:24 AM on February 11, 2016

Want to hop back in to ask how much you've travelled solo with the kids before.

The criteria I used with my three kids was to not go abroad until they were capable of getting help if something ever happened. So, if you suddenly fell ill, if they got lost, etc., could the kid get help?

It may seem like over-worrying, but I was once on a trip in another country with my kids when I suddenly got a very serious infection that came on as we were on our way to the airport heading home. My eldest, who was 13 at the time, had to figure out how to get help. My other two kids (11 and 5) would NOT have known how to get help.

If I were you, I'd consider inviting another set of helping hands. An auntie, a friend, their babysitter, whatever. You will enjoy yourself more if there's another adult who can watch the kids sometimes.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:23 AM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good answers already but I'll just give you my personal take:
- both Paris and London are great with lots for kids to do. If you go to London, don't try to do a day trip to Paris though - you will spend so much of your time on the train and transit and it will be stressful rather than fun even if it goes smoothly.
- you can definitely do Paris with young children even if you don't really speak French. We went with (as was) 2 and 5 year old and they really enjoyed it (although they didn't really remember much about it later if that's a consideration for you).
- I can give you another AirBnB recommendation if that's of interest. Quiet neighbourhood, close to the metro.
posted by crocomancer at 4:20 AM on February 11, 2016

• It's an amazing and wonderful city for children and grownups alike.
• You speak the language (more or less.)
• The London Transport Museum! The Diana Playground! Double decker busses! Beautiful parks!
• Maybe you can spend the next few months getting your daughter excited about the Tower of London or some other London landmark? There are a lot of great picture books about London -- perhaps you could start reading them now?
• The stereotype about British food is no longer true (if it ever was), and you'll find lots of places with delicious (and kid-friendly) meals.

• It's an amazing and wonderful city for children and grownups alike.
• As long as you say "Merci" and "Bonjour" and "Parlez-vous Anglais?" you will find many people who are happy to speak English to you.
• After a day, you'll stop worrying about the language barrier, and you'll relax and enjoy yourself.
• The Eiffel Tower! Sailboats in the Luxembourg Garden! Bertillon ice cream!
• The stereotype about French food IS true-- the average quality of a randomly-chosen meal in France is far above a randomly chosen meal anywhere else.

• It's exhausting
• You'll spend the morning worrying about the language barrier, and the afternoon worrying about the return trip (assuming you're as neurotic as me)
• You won't have a hotel room to go back to so the kids can rest while you're in Paris
• If the trip comes late in your vacation, it will be hanging over you the entire time before. If it comes early in your vacation, you'll be jetlagged while doing it.

• ?
posted by yankeefog at 6:09 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, do YOU want to go to Paris or is it just the 4 year old? If it's you, then go for it and quit reading my comment. Have fun.

If it's just the 4-year-old - oh, honey, I would not even try this, especially as the only adult. Travelling with 2 kids under 5 by yourself is HARD, even if you are just driving 2 hours to spend a week with Grandma and she'll help with the kids while you are there. Foreign country by yourself, and you've never traveled overnight ANYWHERE? Nope. You have no idea if your kids will be ok falling asleep in a strange room or whether they will have a meltdown because the milk tastes different (true story: my kids refused to eat at a La Madeleine restaurant in our hometown - not even really French). This feels like jumping from day hikes to climbing Mt Everest in one leap. You need to grow your travel muscles bit by bit and work up to a big international trip.

Plus - what will they get out of it? As older teens and adults, my kids don't even remember the nanny that cared for them every day up until the age of 4 - there is no way they they would remember anything about Paris on a one-day trip at 4YO.

There are Eiffel towers in Paris, TX, Paris TN and Las Vegas, NV. I've seen all of them - my kids enjoyed them all.

Go on a few domestic trips for increasing numbers of nights, let the kids get a bit older, then go to Paris and have the best time ever.
posted by CathyG at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you do Paris, absolutely look into skip-the-line tours so you can do the Eiffel tower without added stress. Also, how do you feel about ditching the stroller?

On preview, I'd feel bad subjecting children to any Eiffel with a hat. But maybe the others?
posted by sageleaf at 10:24 AM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the responses, I really appreciate all the added insights. To answer a few questions:

- I also want to go to Paris, I think it would be terribly fun.
- My children and I travel a lot domestically, they're great little travel buddies, good sleepers and adventurous with seeing new places and trying new foods (for the older one, the younger is still on breastmilk).
- We don't use a stroller/buggy, the Tiny goes in a baby carrier and is happy as a clam.
- Ideally my husband will be there as well but the army is notorious for ruining our plans so I'm not going to plan on him being there and if he is it's just an added bonus.
- I downloaded some language learning mp3s and we're now practicing in the car and my oldest is thrilled about it

Once again, thanks for all of your help!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:18 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you do go to Paris, feel free to memail me for place suggestions. My daughter was 6 1/2 when we went and there were a lot of things she loved. We had a great time.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:40 PM on February 13, 2016

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