If you’re reading this, I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you why you need to visit the City of Love. Instead, I’ll dive into the how. It’s a magnificent city for history lovers, foodies, artists, musicians, dancers, scientists, engineers, bibliophiles… pretty much anyone who likes anything, and at any age!
ORLY was the cheapest airport to fly from for our connecting cities, so that’s what we went with. Both major international airports are about 30 minutes outside of the city, so you’ll need to arrange transportation from the airport. We didn’t realize until we were there that most metro stops are not wheelchair accessible. While you have your bags, it may be best to just get a car. Bolt was the cheapest, but they didn’t always have a car big enough for the wheelchair. Uber was a good fallback.
This was the hardest part of seeing Paris! The RER is the only metro with all accessible stops. Some of the other lines have a couple of accessible stops, but most have none at all. This leaves the bus as the accessible option. All bus routes are labeled as wheelchair accessible, but it’s important to remember that accessible looks different in Europe than it does in the states. Some busses had ramps or were able to lower to the curb, but many still required covering a large curb gap, and tilting the chair to go up almost a full foot.
If you’re using public transportation, download CityMapper. You can map by modes of transportation, but it also has the option to search step-free routes. This saved us more than once! I’m not confident on the parking situation, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to rent a car, if you’re able. Our bus transportation was 90 minutes into the city, with connections. It was less than a 30 minute drive.
The city is quite walkable, but it’s too large to only walk. The curb cuts were consistent and the sidewalks were smooth and wide. I highly suggest some meandering, because Paris has beautiful surprises around every corner. You miss those when you’re only hopping to the main sites!
What to See
I’m sure you already know what to see in Paris, so let me just touch upon the accessibility of some of the highlights. If you’re like us, and packing in as much as you can, it’s worth it to check out Go City for a discount package deal. We had their All-Inclusive Pass (hosted!) and used it for the Eiffel Tower, the Big Bus Tour (a hop-on, hop-off through the city), a cruise on the Siene River, the Louvre, a Parisian breakfast at Café Louise, and the Arc de Triomphe. That was all in two days! We also wanted to check out the hot air balloon over the city, the aquarium, and Le Petit Train Tour, but we ran out of time.
The lift (elevator) tickets are available up to 60 days in advance online, and sell out quickly during peak seasons. Have no fear, you can buy them on-site the day of, and they’re very rarely sold out. Enter through Entrance #1 and take a left in the main area. Pass the mega lines waiting in the ticket line and head to the building just before Exit #1. You’ll see a ramp at the far end of the building, and a single ticket booth with a very short line, or none at all. This is the only entrance you can use for the tower, since all other ticket lines have a few stairs just to enter. The chances are high that you’ll have a very short wait, and you can take the elevator to the first or second level of the tower.
Just a note on going up: go ahead and stop at the first floor. We were told not all of the elevators stop on the way down, so don’t miss it on the way up! Tickets for the disabled are the same price as for children. If you have Go City’s Explorer Pass, a tour with lift tickets is included as an option.
Arc de Triumph
You can go to the top of the Arc! In fact, going up is easy. The hard part is getting to. The walkway to the Arc goes under the round about, and up and down about 30 steps. You need to have a driver drop you off directly at the arc. You can call 01 55 37 73 78 to arrange this. Once you’re there, the rest is easy. They’ve added a ramp to the lift, and have built-in ramps to each viewing deck on the roof. This is included on a Go City pass, and kids are free!
The Louvre is huge. It took us just under an hour from when we decided it was time to leave to make it to the exit. I’m not exaggerating. Plan to spend some time here, and plan to leave before your kids are totally done… because they will be done by the time you get through the exit. While the Mona Lisa is a highlight, there are magnificent things to see in every hall – try not to blow past them all on your way to one, small painting!
Please note that any one way or do not enter signs within the museum do not apply to wheelchair users. If a one way path has been designated, it likely includes steps. A security guard told me to stop asking and just ignore the signs, but I’m sure you’ll be like me and want to confirm!
When you arrive in Mona Lisa’s room (711, on the first floor), go around the right side of the massive crowd blocking the entrance. To the right of the crowded queue, you can walk right up to the painting for wheelchair access. We got a lot of looks for this, but it’s an alternate path created by the museum for wheelchair users because there’s simply no way for a seated person to be able to see the painting through the crowds!
(This is included with either pass from Go City. If you don’t have the pass, book your reservation in advance. Disabled guests and one companion enter for free – but you still need to make a reservation. The same is true for under 18. The lines were absurd, and it felt like magic to skip them entirely.)
The cathedral is still closed for construction, but you can roll by for a glimpse of its magnificence. It’s worth the detour to be able to see it while you’re in the area.
You could spend a year in Paris, and not see it all. We did the Big Bus Tour and the Siene River cruise through Go City because they both cover large portions of the city (including recorded tours) in a small amount of time. The bus was nice because you can hop off wherever you want to spend more time, but I also wanted to see the city from the water. We saved the Musée d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles for our last full day in the city… and found out most museums close on Mondays! Don’t make that mistake!
More for Kids
Paris is a great place for snacking, and kids are all about the snacks (so are moms??). There are boulangeries and patisseries around every corner – and most of them are worth a stop! Try the croissants, Pain Au Chocolat, beignets, crepes, macarons, eclairs, and profiteroles… I’m seriously just getting started!
We found excellent accessibility in most shops and eateries. If the main entrance is not accessible, there’s likely a back door with a ramp. Don’t forget Paris has a Disneyland! It tends to be significantly cheaper than the U.S. parks, but the magic is just as big. The RER from the city is the only fully accessible metro in the city, and it takes you right to the park entrance. They have a similar accessibility program to other Disney parks – but they’re the only park that offers a 25% discount for the disabled person and a companion.
If you’re looking specifically for more activities geared towards kids, you can check out the GoWhee App for local favorites. The city has plenty of playgrounds to run off energy, and there’s even a carnival in the Tuileries Garden, across from the Louvre.
Where to Stay
This was another one we did with HomeExchange. We love HomeExchange because after our $175 membership fee, we can exchange an endless amount of nights. At this point, it’s costing us less than $5 a night to stay!
Because Paris is a hot spot for tourists, many homes only allowed a longer stay, and there weren’t a ton of accessible options. We ended up just outside the city, which would have been perfect… if we had been able to take the metro!
I’m sure this is no surprise, but always confirm that any home or hotel has the amenities you need. We’ve stayed in “accessible” homes with absolutely no barriers in the home… but six flights of stairs to get to the front door!
Communicate your specific needs to make sure you know what to expect. I’ll be sharing more on Paris on a budget, and the accessibility program at Disneyland Paris. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions on doing Paris with a wheelchair!