We have always wanted to take the kids to Europe, and they are now at the perfect age to keep up physically and truly appreciate the history of these beautiful cities. My middle son, Grant, was born in Barcelona, and we have not been back to Europe since his birth. Several people had recommended this Paris/Normandy/London route as it's a doable trip in 9-10 days. My oldest son, Blake, is a huge WWII history buff, and it was a dream come true to get to go to Normandy. Hubby and I did hours and hours of research, and below are our best tips if you are thinking of taking your family on this route.
All of our kids needed new passports and please know that with minors under the age of 16 BOTH parents have to appear in person to apply for a passport. You cannot mail it in, and you must make an appointment. Appointments fill up fast and the earliest appointment I could get was 2 weeks out from when I scheduled it. This can delay your processing time if you are planning a trip soon. We did the expedited processing, and our passports came back in 4.5 weeks. More information to renew and apply for your passport can be found HERE.
All of us packed in a roll on carryon + a tote or backpack. And we did check 1 medium suitcase so that we could bring back souvenirs and fun purchases. There are three elements to successfully packing for 10 days in a carryon: (1) Use travel cubes (2) wear one pair of shoes and pack one + flip flops in outside pocket, and (3) stay in places that have a washer/dryer.
I don't know how I ever packed without my travel squad-- I used these from TRVL Design (below) as they are so so pretty and washable. I roll my clothes so that I can fit everything nice and tight into my suitcase. AND-- I will always travel with cute toiletry bags and cute jammies. These flamingo jammies from Printfresh (below) were so much fun for a little "Mommy & Me" Eiffel Tower moment with my best girl.
There are lots of other items that I packed for Europe-- from dresses, to hats, to foldable water bottles-- and everything in between. The link is HERE to everything I packed. I could not have worn any of my dresses without my non-chafing boy shorts underneath! When you are sweating through your clothes and walking miles each day-- we curvy girls need help with thigh rub. These were a life saver!
Whenever we travel we try to stay in vrbo.com properties as with our family of 5 (and three teenagers!) we now have to rent 2 hotel rooms. We like staying in a home where we can make coffee/breakfast in the mornings-- and one of the major amenities we look for is a washer and dryer. We like to have the ability to wash clothes, and several days we sweated through our clothes entirely. Temps in Paris in late July are usually in the upper 90s, and it was HOT. VRBO hosted us in Paris and London, and we reviewed hundreds of properties to find the cutest little apartments to stay in for Paris, Normandy, and London.
Plains, Trains, and Automobiles:
With this route we flew into Paris, took a train to Bayeux (Normandy), took an Uber to Caen, France to catch the Brittany Ferry to Portsmouth, UK. Then took a National Express bus from the Portsmouth terminal right into London Victoria station. Then we flew out of London's Heathrow airport back to Charleston, SC.
Booking your train/ferry tickets is relatively easy, but in France we did have to ask station attendants and kind strangers to help us find our way on numerous occasions. London was much easier. In Bayeux and the surrounding Normandy beaches there are no Ubers or taxis within a few minutes. We had to ask shop owners to call a taxi several times to come and get us. The Gold Beach tourism office even charged us 2 Euros to make the call for a taxi. We had to wait 25-30 minutes both times and the taxis drove from a nearby location to come and get us.
I highly recommend booking a hop on/hop off bus tour in Paris and London. It truly is the best way to see the city in the shortest amount of time. We partnered with TootBus in both cities and it was super easy to find the bus stops. We loved riding around the open air top to see all of the beautiful architecture of the cities. You get your own new set of earbuds to listen to a pre-recorded tour during your ride, and you can get our at your leisure as buses come every 15 minutes.
Paris/ 4 Nights:
We tried to hit the highlights and see major things that the kids would be interested in. This included the Arc de Triomphe, Concorde, Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and Versailles. The TootBus is great to get you to these sites (all except Versailles), but you need to purchase tickets in advance if you want to actually go into these attractions. We used Viator to purchase tickets for the Versailles, Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre Museum.
Lines are long and I recommend that you purchase a "skip the line" ticket where you meet a guide close to the landmark and they take you into the attraction. You do pay a little bit more, but it was so worth it to have an English speaking guide in Paris that we could ask questions. AND-- our Eiffel Tower guide even took some family photos for us. I do not recommend just showing up at an attraction and expecting to buy a ticket-- they book up and will stop taking people at certain times. You want to make sure you have your ticket in advance and can get in once you get there.
We built our days around some planned activities like a booked attraction in the morning, so then we could have the afternoon to stroll, eat, and shop. Some of the activities we loved the most were finding a little cafe on the Champs Elysees and eating while the kids shopped in the Stranger Things popup store.
Notes About Versailles:
Versailles is 12 miles outside the city of Paris and requires a 30-40min train ride and then walking just under a mile to get to the tour office near the actual Palace. Plan for plenty of time to get there and to walk to your meeting point. There are some cafes nearby to grab a bite or get some refreshments after your trip. We planned for a full day to get to & from Versailles and to spend all the time we wanted touring the Palace and grounds. When we got back to Paris, we had dinner near our apartment-- it was a wonderful day, but very taxing.
Our Paris Apartment:
Our apartment was right on the Seine River and had an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. Beware that most homes in Europe do not have central air conditioning. They may advertise that they have A/C, but it's usually a portable unit. Totally doable, but know that temps can get quite high in the summer. We had an amazing experience at our VRBO and the link is HERE if you'd like to book the same place. The property managers were super nice and easy to work with. Hubby & I shared a king bed, 2 kids each had their own pull out sofas, and our oldest slept on the very large sectional sofa. Here's a tour:
Normandy/ 2 Nights:
We stayed in the cutest little town, Bayeux, which is about 15-20 minutes from the famous beaches of Normandy. Bayeux had wonderful restaurants, patisseries, and shopping, and was such a quaint little town. Our apartment was clean and modern, and right next door to a burger/coffee shop. As stated above-- Ubers are non-existent, and you have to call a taxi in advance to pick you up. Be prepared to wait.
There's a pickup point in the center of town for Normandy 1/2 day and Day long excursions. We booked our tickets in advance through Viator so that we could have an English speaking guide. Hubby and my 15 year old, Blake, did the day long tour to see all of the beaches, and I took my other two kids on the 1/2 day excursion to Omaha Beach. We were able to get out and see the old German bunkers and actually walk on the beach to see the perspective of the American soldiers almost 80 years ago. It was such a solemn and poignant experience.
We booked a taxi in advance for 6:30am to take us to to the Brittany Ferry in Caen. It's about a 50min ride to Caen, and we caught the 8:30am Ferry to Portsmouth, UK. The Ferry is about 6 hours, and we booked cabins with pull out beds so that we could relax and sleep. Well worth the few extra Euros to do this! Once we landed in Portsmouth, National Express Bus picks up right outside the Portsmouth terminal. We booked our tickets in advance and hopped right on the 90 minute bus ride to London.
London/ 3 Nights:
It took us a full day of travel to get from Normandy to London on the Ferry and Bus, so we really just had 2 full days in London. We partnered with TootBus again to see all of the best sites: London Bridge, London Tower, Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, London Eye, plus a River Cruise. We stayed in a modern London flat very near Oxford street. It was the perfect location to walk to many areas of the cities, and close to several TootBus pickup locations. The link is HERE if you'd like to book this 3 Bed/2 Bath Apartment, and here's a tour:
London Heathrow Airport:
A word of caution- We got to the Heathrow Airport 3.5 hrs before departure and the lines were incredibly long and processes were inefficient. We ended up having to run to our flight with 10 minutes to spare. Hopefully this will get better in the coming months, but plan on extra time to make sure you don't miss your flight or cause yourself undue stress.
All in all the whole family had a blast and we truly maximized our time to see as much as possible. I hope these tips are helpful for you if you decide to take this route with your own family.
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