christmas in paris: a family weekend in the city of love

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For a full list of what to eat, where to stay, and things to do in Paris based on our experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Since it's still the month of Valentine's (and I'm wayyy behind on documenting our travels), I figured what better time to share our December trip to the City of Love. Last fall, we decided that we'd only be going home for Miles's birthday and Thanksgiving, so we wanted to make Christmas extra special for just the three of us. Knowing that many things in Paris would still be open leading up to the holiday and seeing as it's less than three hours by rail, we booked our train tickets and started planning our stay in France's capital.

To be honest, Paris has never been way up there on my bucket list of places to travel - maybe it's the hype surrounding it or the stereotypes about the city and it's people or just the sheer size of the place. And Paris with a toddler? Let's just say my expectations were pretty low, BUT I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. We decided to forgo our travel stroller in favor of toting Miles around all weekend in the Ergo carrier. He hadn't been in it for awhile, but I was pleased to find that it was actually more comfortable now (at 13 months) than when he was much smaller. He napped in it like a pro facing inward, and when he woke up, I turned him facing outward so that he could take in everything. Restaurants were shockingly "kid-friendly" in that people didn't turn their noses up at us entering their establishment with a small child and both servers and patrons were extremely welcoming to both us and Miles (but there were still no high chairs anywhere we went... luckily, we had this bad boy with us). As for the food, Miles isn't too picky these days, but he took in most of his calories via bread and took a particular liking to brioche (but seriously, who wouldn't).

Josh had accumulated some hotel points from various work trips, so we decided to stay in the Mercure - Paris Opera Louvre instead of our usual airbnb. I was slightly concerned about the size of a Paris hotel with the little guy, but we were greeted with an incredibly roomy two-story suite (so we were able to put Miles to bed upstairs in a travel crib and hang out downstairs in the living area eating late-night macarons without having to worry about waking him up). As a side note, these very entertaining paintings (plus about five more) were in the stairwell of our hotel...

day 1: champs elysees and all things parisian

Once we arrived at Gare du Nord, I made it very clear that mission number one was to find the nearest legit looking bakery to get the butteriest croissant we could find. We peeked in the window at this little patissier and stepped inside to what can only be described as a pastry-filled heaven. Turns out, this was far and away the absolute best croissant and pain au chocolat we had the entire trip, beating the other highly recommended bakeries I found on various websites by a long shot. If you find yourself in Paris - listen to me closely - MAKE THE TRIP TO MR. FERRAND'S.

Mr Ferrand Best Boulangerie Patisserie Croissant in Paris| ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner.jpg

Once we got settled in at our hotel, we headed over to the Galeries Lafayette to check out the Christmas decorations. The window displays and the tree inside were absolutely gorgeous, but it was completely packed with people, so we stayed just long enough to pick up some macarons at Pierre Hermé and take a few photos.

2016 Christmas Display inside Galeries Lafayette Paris | ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner

We ate a fine-but-nothing-to-write-home-about late lunch at a brasserie on the way to the Champs Élysées, where we strolled along window shopping, checking out expensive cars, and getting more macarons at the famous Laduree. Note: if you've been to Times Square in New York City, this is the same sort of vibe (in other words, completely not my speed - this was my least favorite way that we spent our time).

day 2: cathedrals and versailles

The next day, we were up and at 'em early and took a cab to Eric Kayser where Miles thoroughly enjoyed a sugar brioche. After a quick bite, we hit up Paris's most famous cathedrals, Notre-Dame and Sainte Chapelle. Both are beautiful churches, though the stained glass in the latter is absolutely magnificent. Photos just don't do it justice.

We had a coach to catch near the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon to take us to Versailles, so we scouted online the night before for a lunch spot near our departure point and found Le Petit Cler, where I savored the a delectable croque madame on fresh sourdough with copious amount of cheese and the most perfect sunny-side up egg. Y'all - French food is EVERYTHING.

We took the Versailles Express to the palace (much cleaner and easier than trying to take the train) and spent several hours wandering the sprawling estate and surrounding grounds. We topped it all off with the richest and most chocolatey hot chocolate ever of all time from Angelina

Once we got back to the city, we were starving. We took a moment to marvel at the Eiffel Tower at night and after walking up and down Rue de Cler, settled on Le Roussillon for a late dinner, which ended up being quite delicious.

day 3: christmas eve in paris

On our last full day in the city, we knew we had to go the Louvre. I'd already been advised that the best way to see it was to hit up the highlights, as this museum is enormous and to be frank, not that interesting to someone who favors impressionist and expressionist works (gimme Van Gogh and Monet all day!). We only had time for one museum, but I hear that the the Musee de l'Orangerie and Musee d'Orsay are wonderful.

Mona Lisa at the Louvre Paris | ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner.jpg
Venus de Milo at the Louvre Paris | ©2016 Elizabeth Glessner.jpg

I believe Josh's exact words when I told him we had to make the lengthy trek to Jacques Genin were, "is it really worth it for a caramel?," and let me assure you that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Not just any caramel, but the most delightful little square of butter (so. much. butter) and sugar I've ever tasted. My only regret is that we didn't buy more of them, and they don't ship.

By now, we were in dire need of a caffeine boost, so we found Cuillier right around the corner where we had the most delightful cinnamon crumb cake and pour-over coffee while Miles played on the floor with his toy cars and enjoyed bites of our treat. 

For our one and only "fancy" meal while in Paris, we had made reservations at Kaitleen, which from the looks of it, seemed kid-friendly enough. Most of the restaurants, including this one, had a fixed menu for Christmas Eve. It was only a short walk from our hotel, and we stepped inside to the cutest, coziest little restaurant, decked with tinsel and lights and playing classic holiday tunes. We were greeted by the owners with champagne and went on to enjoy a lovely four course meal, while Miles sat in a chair fitted with his travel seat chowing down on bites of veggies and cheerios.

The next morning, Christmas Day, we boarded the train back to Aachen to finish off our celebration at home, where Miles's loot from Santa included a new child-sized Ikea chair, these awesome magnetic blocks, and Bubba the giant gator :) 

If you'd like to check out some of the places we enjoyed in Paris, here's a complete list with a few additional details included:

where to stay in paris

Mercure Paris Opera Louvre: Convenient location and lovely views (with an elevator, to boot). If you're traveling as a family or just want a little extra room, book the suite.

what to eat in paris

Mr. Ferrands (93 Rue La Lafayette, 75010 Paris): This place is truly a hidden gem, as there's no website or listing on any of the major websites, but trust me when I say that it is the best pastry you'll have in Paris. I recommend the pain au chocolat.

Macarons: Our favorites were Pierre Hermé's (try the rose one for a truly unique and delightful flavor). We weren't wild about Laduree. It's also worth noting that Paris has a Pierre Marcolini shop (which is actually a Brussels chocolatier) - having had these before, I'd say they're a top contender for best macaron.

Maoz: After reading this post by David Lebovitz hailing this as his favorite falafel in Paris, I was sold. This is a cheap eat, and the buffet of toppings and sauces was fresh and abundant. We went to the location in the heart of the vibrant Latin Quarter, which only has a couple of seats, so be prepared to eat on the street if it's busy.

Jacques Genin: You're going to look at a map and this place is going to seem out of the way, but boy is it worth the trip. Easily the best caramels I've ever had in my life - buttery melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Definitely try the mango-passion and the original. Oh, and absolutely get more than you think you need.

Le Petit Cler: A quaint and charming place near the Eiffel Tower without the tourist trap vibe. Everything on the menu looked great, but you only need to know about one thing - the croque madame. Ham, cheese, and a perfect sunny side up egg, on a thin slice of Paris's famous Poilane sourdough, you won't regret it.

Cuillier: Josh and I have pretty much made it our personal mission to find the best cup of coffee everywhere we go, and I'm pretty sure we succeeded with Cuillier. Excellent pour-over coffee (with multiple processes available), and as a bonus, the atmosphere was not at all pretentious.

Le Rousillon: This one's also near the Eiffel Tour, and although less quaint and a bit more touristy, we were delighted with both the food and service. I had the rich and savory beef bourguignon, and Josh had a perfectly cooked pork chop. Miles, of course, chowed down on bread.

Angelina: We stopped in here at Versailles, which I'm sure was not quite the same ambiance as the main location in Paris. Regardless, the hot chocolate (if you can even call it that) was still amazing - this is more like a little well of the thickest, darkest, richest molten chocolate meant to slowly sipped and savored. 

Kaitleen: A quaint and cozy place for an outstanding, but affordable dinner. I recommend the beef carpaccio and the foie gras burger. The owners/chefs were so incredibly friendly, and you could tell they really valued their work. This place is tiny, so I'd recommend reservations.

what to do in paris

Eat: See above :)

The Louvre: I stand by my friends' recommendations to have a game plan and mostly focus on the highlights. If you've never been before, definitely do - the sheer size of the museum is absolutely amazing - but unless you're super into Greek and Roman antiquities and renaissance paintings, it may not be your jam. Bonus: if you're traveling with a small child and didn't bring a stroller (like us), you can use one of the museum's for free.

Palace of Versailles: If you're making this little trek out of the city, I highly recommend using the Versailles Express. The bus leaves from the docks near the Eiffel Tower and is just altogether a much nicer experience than I imagine the train would be (especially for traveling with a kid). The palace itself is massive and a bit overwhelming, but we felt that a half day was more than enough time to spend there. However, if you want to see the other residences on the property or if it's a nice day (it was cold and rainy while we were there) and you want to enjoy the gardens, I'd imagine a full day would be a better option.

Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle: Notre Dame is free to go in, unless you want to go to the bell tower (we opted not to). You have to buy a ticket to go in Sainte Chapelle, but the stained glass inside is absolutely marvelous.

Explore the Latin Quarter: I wish we had had more time to spend in this area! It seemed like a neighborhood where I could just get lost perusing the chic little shops and sipping an afternoon drink at one of the cute cafes. There will definitely be a day dedicated to the Latin Quarter on my next trip to Paris.

So there you have it! If you're planning a trip, I hope this helps, and if you've been to Paris before, I'd love to know - what are your must dos/eats/sees?