Updated: Nov 3
Traveling the world with my kids took on new meaning on our recent vacation to London and Paris. Europe is a completely different animal versus the Hawaii, Caribbean and National Parks travels we’ve done with them. I thought I had it all figured out, but that’s not how it panned out, so I want to share my travel tips for traveling to London and Paris with kids.
My kids have traveled a ton in their short lives, but this was their first real trip to Europe. I don’t count the time I took Brady to Paris when he was 16 months old, because he only remembers the photos. Plus, we tailored our time to toddler activities versus going inside the major sites. This go around, we wanted to experience as much as possible!
Baby Brady in Paris 2009. Big Brady and Ava in Paris 2023.
I normally try to build in plenty of downtime on vacations because relaxing is one of the main objectives, right?! However, European vacations are different, and we only had three full days in each city, so our itinerary was jam-packed. This leads nicely into my first tip.
PLANNING, PREPARATION & PACKING TIPS
Tip #1: Don’t Over-Schedule Yourself. Remember, you’re on VACATION.
Create a list of things you’d like to do (versus a list of the popular spots) and ruthlessly prioritize. Accept that you CANNOT do it all. If you try, everyone will be miserable.
Schedule a pre-booked activity in either the morning or the afternoon – not both. Use the open time for a focused wander (have ideas of where to wander), a leisurely meal or rest time if needed. Take advantage of the gardens to chill. If I had heeded this advice, we wouldn't have lost money on tours we had to cancel at the last minute due to Brady's neck pain, which was exacerbated by our travels, as well as the kids' desire for downtime.
Wanders in London's Kensington Gardens and Paris' Jardins des Tuileries.
Do NOT book anything your arrival day even though you typically arrive in the morning. After that overnight flight, everyone will be exhausted so it’s best to have ideas of sights you could see or buy last minute hop-on/hop-off bus tickets if you’re all game to explore.
Try to leave your last day in destination open and let the kids decide what’s on the agenda. We had planned to spend our last London day in Cambridge and our last Paris day in Versailles, but that would have been too much for Brady. Instead, we let the kids sleep in and pick what they wanted to do - and they were ecstatic! In London, Ava chose Madame Tussaud’s and Brady chose the London Eye and Thames Cruise. In Paris, Ava and I wandered and shopped while Brady rested, and we let Brady pick the dinner plan. Those spontaneous days that the kids got to control ended up being their favorite days of the trip!
Ava hamming it up at Madam Tussaud's while Brady rested. He joined us for London Eye and Thames cruise.
Tip #2: Splurge on at least one private tour with a local
I know private tours are expensive, but they can make your experience so much more meaningful. We saw many large group tours with long lines of people walking behind a guide carrying a flag - and they all looked completely miserable. No one was getting any insight or education. We were so thankful we went the private or small group route. And there were times we actually wished we didn’t have a guide at all. An experienced travel advisor (like me!) can help you determine when you should splurge and when you can explore on your own!
Tour with a local your first full day to get comfortable and truly learn about the city.
In London, our private Black Cab tour allowed us to see all the major sites and learn about the city but also relax in between stops. The kids even napped in the cab! We were amazed how our Black Cab guide was allowed to park or stop anywhere he liked - even right in front of the police. We felt like rockstars!
In Paris, our Chocolatine Welcome to Paris tour was superb! Our guide, Geraldine, tailored the tour to our interests and our energy level. It was liking touring Paris with a good friend!
(Top) London Black Cab tour. (Bottom) Welcome to Paris tour.
Consider tours that are off-the-beaten path instead of sticking to only the tourist hot spots. These “hidden gem” tours will almost always be private or small group.
In London, we met our private guide in Richmond (about a half hour outside of London) for a Ted Lasso tour. Richmond was so charming and peaceful – such a lovely change from the hustle and bustle of London.
In Paris, we all LOVED our small group walking food tour of the Marais District with Paris By Mouth. Walking the streets with a local and trying all the different food in each shop was something we never could have replicated on our own.
(Top) Ted Lasso Tour in charming Richmond. (Bottom) Paris by Mouth walking food tour in Les Marais
Don’t spend money on a tour for sites you can do on your own. Buy a ticket ahead of time but don’t spend money on a guide.
For the Eiffel Tower climb, I wish we had just booked an advance ticket versus a “guided” tour, because the guide was only with us while standing in line.
Same for Musee D’Orsay – we just needed a ticket versus a guide. I realize I like to take in art on my own versus listen to someone talk (and talk and talk) about art.
Climbing the Eiffel Tower, one of our favorite activities!
Tip #3: No checked luggage - Carry-on bags only
I ALWAYS plan for carry-on bags only, especially for international travel when checked luggage can determine whether you make your connection or at least determine how frazzled you are traveling through customs. But because we had a family photo shoot in Paris, I couldn’t get everything we needed in our carry-ons, so I ended up checking one bag. And I regretted it. I promise you it’s better to wear dirty clothes than it is to have to deal with checked luggage when you’re traveling through multiple countries. Never again.
Check out my Pack Like a Pro travel tips here.
Tip #4: Splurge on private airport transfers.
I highly recommend private airport transfers for my European clients, but I can be frugal when it comes to my own family. After that overnight flight to London and a very crowded Heathrow airport and taxi line, it would have been money well spent to have someone greet us at customs and guide us to our ride.
Tip #5: Request early check-in and consider paying extra to guarantee it.
For Europe, you’ll likely arrive in the morning after a redeye flight. While your hotel will be happy to store your bags for you, if you can actually get into your room, rest and freshen up, you’ll be happier and ready to start exploring sooner! Your Travel Advisor can alert the hotel to your arrival time and ask how much it would be to guarantee early check-in. It may be worth the extra cost!
Tip #6: Insist on connecting rooms or splurge on a suite so you can all be together.
Hotels in Europe are small and expensive. It’s difficult to find rooms large enough to fit a family of 4 or more, although they do exist. In most cases, you’ll need to book two rooms unless you’re able and willing to splurge on a suite. An experienced travel advisor can help find the best options for your family in the best areas of the city. In London, we had rooms near each other until we were able to move to connecting rooms, and that made all the difference. We could leave the connecting door open and hang out together. However, when I booked our Paris hotel, I didn’t insist on connecting rooms. I thought adjacent would be good enough. But even if you’re close, it’s still a lot of work to go out in the hall and get into the other room. We travel so we can all reconnect and enjoy each other. Being in separate rooms totally defeats that purpose. I will NOT travel that way again.
Travel necessities: Private airport transfer, early check-in, and Family Suite/connecting rooms
IN DESTINATION TIPS
Tip #7: Be flexible and don’t let the unexpected ruin your experience.
Brady was dealing with neck pain that got so much worse on the flight over, which meant he couldn’t participate in many of our activities. In the beginning, this was upsetting and stressful thinking about the lost money and lost experiences. But that stress served no one, especially Brady who was in pain and certainly didn’t need to feel guilty on top of that pain. We all felt better once we decided to “let it go!” We did what we could and were spontaneous when plans didn’t work for us. Our uplanned cheesy tourist day in London was one of our favorites!
I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance and highly recommend my clients do as well. I will be filing a claim for the tours we missed due to Brady’s medical issues. If we had had to cancel or cut our trip short (which we did consider), travel insurance would have proven to be invaluable.
Tip #8: Capture memories daily
I’m a travel blogger as well as a Travel Advisor, so it’s part of my job to capture and share our experiences. While it may not be your job, you’ll be so happy if you jot down the "story" of each day of your trip. You choose whether you share it, but you’ll be grateful to have those memories to revisit with your family.
Here’s our London and Paris stories!
London Day 1:
Walking to dinner, running into neighbors, gelato for dessert!
We arrived in the morning and here’s what we checked off our list.
Got dropped off by uber 1 mile away from our hotel. With our luggage - just me and the kids. Check the address in the uber app! And splurge on private airport transfers!
Rescheduled our tour for Day 2 and decided to never again schedule tours day of arrival.
Got lost on the way to dinner.
Randomly ran into neighbors!
Walked a half mile in the rain to get gelato for dessert.
London Day 2:
Black Cab tour, dinner in Mayfair, Operation Mincemeat comedy in Covent Garden
Hubs and I slept 10.5 hours and were woken up by the kids knocking on our door. So weird being in a separate room from them, but we are moving to adjoining rooms today. Ate a super fast breakfast and then met our Black Cab tour guide for a private morning tour of London. Learned a ton, saw most of the sites – Prince Albert Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben, The Globe Theatre, Burroughs Market, the Roman wall, St. Paul’s Cathedral - and got to relax while the cabbie guide did all the work. The kids even got to take a couple naps in the car!
We were supposed to do a Royal London Bike Tour today, but we canceled that to do the Black Cab tour from yesterday. And there's no way Brady could bike. After a pub lunch, the rest of the family was ready to nap/chill, so instead of our planned Evensong Service at Westminster Abbey, I went off for a solo wander in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Beautiful day for a wander! Look at me being flexible!
Dinner was at Tamarind, a Michelin Star restaurant in Mayfair right around the corner from our hotel. It was superb! We raced out of there to get to Covent Garden for Operation Mincemeat, an absolutely hilarious musical that captivated us! Highly recommend the show if you’re in London! It’s up there with Hamilton, in my opinion!
London Day 3:
First up, Tower of London with Context Travel. Context’s guides are all PhD/MA historians, so we are definitely lots smarter after that tour. Hubs and I have both done Tower of London on our own, and guided is a much more meaningful experience. We could even see other travelers trying to listen in to our guide.
Tower of London private tour with Context Travel
We spent the afternoon in Richmond, home to Ted Lasso and the Greyhounds of AFC Richmond. We lunched at a tiny Italian cafe for pizza, then made our daily stop for gelato. With bellies full, we met our guide to walk charming Richmond and all the Ted Lasso film sites. We decided that lovely, peaceful Richmond is more our speed than the hustle and bustle of London. If you get the chance, put Richmond on your list! It’s less than a half hour’s drive from London!
Ted Lasso tour in Richmond. "Come on, Richmond!"
London Day 4:
Today we decided to be cheesy tourists! We had a very lazy morning and didn’t get out the door until after noon. We had planned to go to Cambridge for the day, but we’ve had to be flexible given Brady’s neck pain. Instead, Ava chose Madam Tussauds London for our first stop, and we had the best time! After, we went back to get Brady and did the London EYE and a Thames River cruise. While we were out, a sweet neighbor from back home messaged me and suggested CBD oil for Brady’s neck. So a kind cabbie helped us find a dispensary. It started to help immediately! Last stop was Din Tai Dung for dumplings to make Daddy happy.
Madam Tussaud's fun, London Eye, Thames cruise, and Din Tai Dung dumplings!
Now on to vacation #2 in Paris!
Paris Day 1:
We took the Chunnel from London to Paris, which was quite easy. Just make sure you get to the train station early (London St. Pancras), because there's several layers of security given you're traveling between countries. The train ride is about 2.5 hours, but you lose an hour because Paris is an hour ahead. Everyone was happy to rest.
On the train to Paris
We checked into charming Hôtel Pont Royal in St Germain de Pres and lunched at Cafe de Flore, a popular tourist spot that's great for people-watching, but I wouldn’t really recommend the food. Then it was time for our climb of the Eiffel Tower! We met our guide who gave us all the history of the tower - the original color was lipstick red, they paint it every 7 years and it takes 1.5 years to paint, they’re changing the current grey brown to yellow brown. The climb was 647 steps total, with a break at the first floor before climbing to the second floor. Then you take the lift to the summit. I'm so glad we made the climb versus taking the lift the whole way! Afterward, we went back to the first floor for champagne and crepes as our reward.
Climbing the Eiffel Tower - much more of an experience versus taking the lift the whole way
Paris Day 2:
We began our first full day here with a superb “Welcome to Paris” tour with Chocolatine, a French travel company I found through my partnership with Virtuoso. Our guide, Geraldine, met us at our hotel where we got to know each other and planned out our morning. She took us on a walk through “elegant Paris” helping us get our bearings in this beautiful city.
Then we hopped on the metro to Montmartre and strolled the charming streets and found the best vantage points. After getting patisserie and dinner recos from Geraldine (who felt like a good friend at this point), we bid her adieu and picked up Brady. He’s doing better but still needs extra rest, especially in the morning.
We lunched at a lovely cafe in St. Germain (Les Antiquaires) where I had my favorite meal of the trip - crisp white wine, green salad with honey goat cheese and pears. Then it was on to Musée d'Orsay to immerse ourselves in beautiful works of art. We had a small group guided tour, but soon into the tour, I realized we were better served enjoying the art on our own vs. listening to a guide talk about the art. Now we know!
Before dinner, we napped and prepped our clothes for our family photo shoot. Dinner was Asian, at the kids’ request. French food just isn’t their favorite - aside from the bread!
Welcome to Paris tour of "Elegant Paris" and Montmartre, St. Germain sidewalk cafe, clock at Musee D'Orsay
Paris Day 3:
We had an early start to our day for family/Show Them the World photos with L'Amour de Paris. We met at Pont de Bir-Hakeim for Eiffel Tower views and then moved to Palais Royal for spectacular architecture and gardens. Palais Royal is stunning! Stay tuned for professional photos from our lovely photog, CheyAnne! Afterward, we relaxed with coffee and pastries at BO&MIE before heading back to our hotel to change clothes and chill. I think our downtime has been the kids’ favorite activity.
Luckily, my kids are good sports for family/Show Them the World photos!
After our rest, we walked to Jardin du Luxembourg for a stroll and ice cream. To me, Jardin des Tuileries is much more beautiful, but all the gardens are quite picturesque. We grabbed an Uber to make our way to Le Marais district for a walking food tour with Paris by Mouth. Our guide, Stephen, was a wealth of knowledge and so easy to talk to. Here's all the stops on our tour!
Patisserie for croissants we ate right away to fortify us for the rest of our tour.
MOF fromagiere for five different cheeses. MOF is like the Olympics for craftspeople. We tasted a little but got our to-go box for later.
Fancy chocolatier, which we got to eat on the spot! Passion fruit, mint and lime, and lychee. Delish!
Boulangerie for baguettes. Look for boulangerie in the name as it means all bread is made fresh on-site. And buy the tradition baguette as it's made with all-natural flour and only 4 ingredients.
Fancy patisserie for dessert! They were all works of art!
Wine shop where we could sit and talk and enjoy all our goodies!
We were stuffed by the end - no dinner needed! We all loved experiencing the Marais with our guide. We never could have enjoyed this area on our own the same way!
Paris by Mouth walking food tour in Les Marais
Paris day 4:
Our last day in Paris was a lazy one. We had planned to do a bike tour of Versailles, but biking was not in the cards for us, so we slept in, and the kids were ecstatic. After a leisurely breakfast, we headed out for a wander, which took us to Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame De Paris before stopping at a cafe for lunch. We shopped for a bit in a stunningly beautiful mall with many pretty things we could not afford, and then bid adieu to the boys who went back to rest. Then the real wander began!
Beautiful Paris storefronts and Notre Dame under construction
Ava and I headed back to Jardin des Tuileries, which is one of my favorite spots in Paris. We lounged in recliners by the pond, strolled through the art exhibitions, and found the trampoline park that baby Brady had bounced on during our visit in 2009.
Brady and Ava on the Jardins des Tuileries' trampolines - 14 years apart!
After finding a Pierre Herme for more macarons, we started to head back to the hotel but saw the Arc De Triomphe in the distance and decided to walk. It can't be that far, right? In the middle of Place du Concorde we got caught in a downpour without umbrellas but spotted a lovely rainbow right after. The walk to the Arc was way longer than we expected - Ava kept asking if we missed it - but some ice cream helped fortify us. We got the shot and then hopped a cab back to the boys. Daddy left for his flight home on FedEx, while the kids and I had a yummy pizza and gelato last supper. Au revoir, Paris! Je t’aime!
Last day in Paris wandering
This very full trip to London and Paris helped us realize that we love outside natural adventures much more than big city exploration. Our next European vacations will incorporate more of what we love – water, mountains, active adventures plus some culture and history. On our list for Europe: Greece, Croatia, Switzerland and Northern Italy. Family vote will help us decide which country we do next!
Ready to start planning your European adventure? Book a call here!
Heather Vergara is a former PepsiCo marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never found her way back. Instead, she focused on her passion for travel and adventure and created Show Them the World, a travel concierge service for busy families longing to reconnect and see the world together. In less than three years, she's helped more than 200 families experience Hawaii, Alaska, Costa Rica, France, England, Greece, the Caribbean, National Parks, and more to come!
Heather has an MBA in marketing from Indiana University, a Digital Marketing Executive Education certificate from Columbia University, and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids, and two furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.