While my daughter and I try to spend quality time together often, traveling offers an opportunity to bond more deeply.
The separation of our ages by over three and half decades means we have very different interests. While planning our travel, we look for activities we will both enjoy. But since we have to spend most of the day together, we compromise and do some things we wouldn’t do on our own. We then try to make our activity fun for each other. I enjoy visiting art museums, and she prefers tourist sites. We recently spent 8 days in Paris, and the following were our favorite mother-daughter experiences.
1. Going To The Top Of The Eiffel Tower
My daughter didn’t think a trip to Paris would be complete without going to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I like seeing a city from a high vantage point but did not want to deal with the crowds. We decided to take a tour with City Wonders, which included access to the stairs up to the first two levels and the elevator to the very top. Touring with City Wonders enabled us to skip the ticket lines, and the tour guide gave us a good overview of the building of the tower.
On the first platform, we bought a snack and struck up a conversation with a couple in our tour group. Their daughter had also graduated from high school that year. We discussed colleges and our various global travels. This turned into dinner together in Montmartre the next day.
Even though my daughter is a bit afraid of heights, she always wants to go to the top of towers or church domes. Spots like the top of the Eiffel Tower offer such wonderful views of a city and give a good sense of the layout. These also provide me with the rare opportunity to have her cling to me for security.
Pro Tip: If you prefer not to purchase a tour of the Eiffel Tower, buy your tickets to the top level in advance. The tickets open for purchase 2 months before the date of the visit. If you do not want to brave the 674 stairs up to level 2, buy tickets for the elevators for all three levels.
2. Exploring The Louvre And Musee D’Orsay
Art museums are one of my favorite places to visit when traveling. When we homeschooled my daughter, we would teach her about art that she would be seeing on our travels. She has developed her own taste in art and has learned to appreciate the masters. Therefore, when we visited the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, there were some works that we wanted to view together and our own favorites that we split up to find.
We headed straight for the Mona Lisa on arrival at the Louvre. After exploring some sculptures and Italian paintings together, we set off for different areas of the galleries. At lunch, we discussed our favorite works and compared photos in our traditional contest to find the least attractive baby in the paintings. At the Musee d’Orsay, we started together viewing the impressionist paintings, but I got caught up in the special Aristide Maillol exhibit and she wandered on. We met again later when we were both drawn to the sculptures on the top floor. My daughter and I bond over the experience by seeking out our shared favorites together and then giving each other the space to explore our individual tastes.
Pro Tip: The tickets for the Louvre are for a timed entry in half-hour increments. Buy tickets for the first entry in the morning to beat the crush of people moving through the museum later. Show up halfway through your time slot to miss the initial line. We arrived at 9:20 for the 9 a.m. slot and were inside in less than 5 minutes.
3. Finding Our Way Through The Chateau And Gardens Of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles tops my list of must-see sights when visiting Paris. My daughter studied French through high school and eagerly planned our trip to the summer home of the Kings Louis. We explored the rooms of the main chateau as she explained the history to me. We also compared our impressions of the décor and grandeur of the palace and imagined living in such luxury. The Hall of Mirrors provided the perfect backdrop for some glamour shots of each other. We brought along her Marie Antoinette doll, purchased on our previous trip 10 years ago, and took some photos of Marie posing in her former home.
We emerged onto a warm, sunny day to roam the gardens. Since directions are not my forte, my daughter quickly commandeered the map and set our course to see all of the fountains. The fountains run on a set schedule, and she led us expertly through the maze of hedges and trees. She enjoyed having me rely on her for a change, and show my confidence in her. She even suggested renting bicycles to reach the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, rather than walking the two miles.
Pro Tip: Check the Versailles website for which days the fountains will be running. There will be more visitors on those days, but the gardens are large enough that it does not feel crowded. It does cost more, but watching the fountains while listening to the accompanying music is well worth it.
4. Mastering The Métro System
Paris boasts an extensive and intricate metro and train station. We rode it daily to reach all areas of the city. We figured out our route together most of the time, but I also stood back and let my daughter plan our trip a few times. She appreciated my trust in her ability when I let her return to our apartment alone after our visit to the Louvre while I went on to the Musee de l’Orangerie. Our train trips provided time to discuss our day and other parts of our lives.
Our trip home from Versailles turned into an adventure we will not soon forget. As the dark clouds gathered over the gardens and lightning streaked across the sky, we headed for the train station. Ever-increasing rain turned into hail as we sprinted across the final street. Drenched people filled the station, and we learned our lesson that we should have bought our return tickets that morning. We jumped on a packed train and hoped we were headed in the correct direction. We laughed and chatted all the way back to Paris.
Pro Tip: Be sure to keep your ride ticket until after you exit the station at your destination. There is a fine if an agent stops you and you cannot show your ticket.
5. Wandering The Parisian Neighborhoods
A walk through Paris entails enjoying beautiful architecture, delightful parks, and incredible food. On our first day, my daughter and I strolled from the Marais and across the river Seine to the Luxembourg Gardens. We paused at the steps of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the scene where Gil goes back in time in one of our favorite movies, Midnight in Paris. As we passed the front of the majestic church, we could hear very lively organ music and went inside to investigate. The organist provided quite an interesting soundtrack as we marveled at the vast, vaulted nave; the intricately carved, dark-wood lectern; and the pair of spiral stone staircases flanking the altar. We wandered the aisles, gazing at the dozens of side altars.
After strolling around the Panthéon, we headed to Place de l’Estrapade, the site of Emily’s apartment in Emily in Paris. We were both a bit hungry and agreed to split a remarkably tasty slice of pizza from La Boulangerie Moderne. We then strolled through Luxembourg Gardens, trying to avoid the mobs of school kids. We enjoyed lunch at La Terrasse de Madame Café, where I watched my daughter struggle to eat a very messy cheeseburger and attempt to look dignified while eating it. The gardens offer 60 acres of lawns, ponds, playgrounds, and fountains. The western part holds many sculptures, including a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty.
Throughout our explorations, I encouraged my daughter to practice the French she had been learning since our early days of homeschooling. Although she was usually nervous to speak French, I think she relished being able to do something that her mom could not. I had to rely on her for a change and was very proud of her.
Pro Tip: Try not to have an agenda when exploring Paris. You will find interesting sites and good dining throughout the area.
6. Going Off The Beaten Track At Musee Des Arts Forains
At the far eastern end of Paris sits a museum that is not on many tourist agendas. The Musée des Arts Forains contains restored fairground rides and amusements. The French tour guide was charismatic enough that I greatly enjoyed his tour, even though I understood very little of it. My daughter and I rode a gondola on a carousel before watching a colorful multimedia show and being entertained by automatons on balconies belting out opera.
We competed in a carnival game in which we rolled balls into slots to move our racehorses, and she beat the other 11 participants. We danced in a ballroom surrounded by mechanical instruments and rode a wooden horse on a carousel from 1900. Our favorite, however, was a carousel of metal bicycles, which spun under the power of all of the visitors pedaling as fast as possible. There were too many wonders to describe.
Pro Tip: Check the website for when tours are given and to purchase your spot. They offer occasional English tours but have handouts in English for the French tours. Consider reserving some time to have a meal in Bercy Village near the Métro station.
Paris offers something for every interest. Historical, cultural, and simply fun activities provide a wonderful way for a mother and daughter to enjoy each other’s company and build lasting memories.