Guide to Visiting Two of Europe’s Greatest Cities, London and Paris

Guide to Visiting London & Paris

Two of Europe’s greatest cities, London and Paris, make a great trip that can be easily done together.  The cities are conveniently connected via a quick flight or a train, taking you under the English Channel, which is what we did.  In just a few hours, you can leave one of these amazing cities behind and be in the other!

When we visited

We did this trip during the kids’ spring break from school in early April.  The weather was actually pretty nice for exploring, with only one quick rain shower while in London – to be expected!  

Map of our journey from London to Paris

We recommend the following itinerary, especially if a first-time visitor to London and Paris as you’ll see the must sees in both cities. 

How to Plan this Itinerary

We had one week for our spring break when we did this trip.  This is how we suggest planning it:

  1. DAY 1 – Travel day.
  2. DAY 2 – Arrival in London.  Your flight will likely arrive in the morning, so note when check in time is at your lodging.  We have always stayed at an Airbnb and we alerted our host to our early arrival and our host was great to hold our luggage until our flat was ready.  STAY AWAKE!  Do not succumb to your temptation to take a nap!  The best thing to do is venture out – grab a coffee, sightsee with no major agenda.  Do not take a boat cruise!  The leisurely rolling will definitely put you to sleep!  (trust us on this one, we know!)  Plan on an early dinner and getting to bed early tonight.
  3. DAY 3 – Start the morning off with a visit to The Tower of London.  From here, grab lunch at St. Katharine Docks, passing The Tower Bridge along the way.  After lunch, head to The British Museum.
  4. Day 4 – Your morning begins at Westminster Abbey.  For lunch, grab some fish and chips at a nearby pub and then walk it off by checking out Big Ben and Parliament.  In the afternoon enjoy an afternoon tea at the Goring Hotel.  You’ll also be near Buckingham Palace so definitely check it out, but don’t worry about catching the changing of the guards – we think it’s overhyped and not worth the crowds.
  5. Day 5 – time to pack up and head to the train station to catch the train to Paris!  After checking in to your lodging, head to a nearby store to grab provisions for a picnic near the Eiffel Tower.  Enjoy the light show tonight!
  6. Day 6 – Head back to the Eiffel Tower, this time to go up it.  After, catch the Seine River Cruise.  If interested, enjoy dinner in The Eiffel Tower tonight or try a lovely restaurant.
  7. Day 7 – Head to the Louvre in the morning with your timed ticket.  The Louvre does have shops and restaurants on site to consider for a quick bite to eat on your way out.  Then head to Notre Dame to explore.  End the day relaxing at a cafe.
  8. Day 8 – Travel day home from Paris

London, England

London got its beginnings during Roman times when it was known as Londinium, a trading settlement and port.  In fact, remnants of the wall erected by Romans surrounding old Londinum still stands in a few places around London!  

Situated in the southeast of England in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, London is a great gateway city to Europe from the United States.  Most major US cities have direct flights and of course there is no language barrier here.  Public transportation is excellent and you’ll never run out of things to see and do here.  We highly recommend London as a first European city to visit.

While here, visit the infamous Tower of London, enjoy a leisurely cruise along the River Thames to take in the city from a different perspective, walk across the beautiful Tower Bridge, and partake in a lovely afternoon tea.  London packs a punch in terms of things to keep visitors busy, one of the reasons why we keep coming back for more.

What we love about London

London is actually my favorite city in the the world.  I love the history at every corner and the pomp and circumstance that it still retains.  It has beautiful parks and a plethora of museums, many free to the public.  But what I love most is the vibe – one can feel history just surrounding you whether it’s simply walking down the sidewalk next to century old buildings or touring iconic sites such as the Tower of London.

Where we stay

Windsor is where we stay when we visit London.  Our reason for staying here is that we like to come back to the quieter town and live like a local after a day of hustle and bustle in London.  We rent an Airbnb which is great to spread out as a family.  We especially appreciate the kitchen and the ability to do laundry.  Windsor is easily connected to London via the expansive Underground network.  To get to London, take the train from Windsor station, where you’ll have a very short ride to Slough, change trains here, and head right for Paddington Station – your gateway to everywhere in London!

Our Top Picks for London

As stated before, London has so much to see and do.  We once spent six weeks here and still did not see everything we wanted to see!  With combining a trip to London with a trip to Paris, this post contains what we think are the absolute highlights for a few days to London.  If you want to read more in depth about all of our favorite things to do in London, be sure to check out Family-Friendly Favorite Things to See and Do in London.

Westminster Abbey

With gorgeous architecture and the chance to stand among the final resting places of some of the world’s most notable people, Westminster Abbey is a must see in London.  The building itself was founded in the 13th century as a Catholic Church before becoming a symbol of present-day British Protestantism.  

The gorgeous Westminster Abbey

Tickets are required to tour the abbey and we suggest adding on the ticket to visit the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.  At only 5 Euros extra per adult, this was worth it.  You can currently book your tickets online up to two months in advance.   Here is the website with up-to-date ticket information.

Starting outside, take in the incredibly detailed architecture.  Once you make your way inside, the impressiveness continues.  Take your time wandering through the abbey and note the graves of those who are buried in the church floor, notably Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, and Sir Isaac Newton among many more.  If you purchased the add on ticket for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, head upstairs to take in the views from above – they’re incredible!  There are also over 300 artifacts up here such as William and Kate’s wedding certificate, Queen Elizabeth I’s corset, and many more interesting pieces spanning centuries of British history.

NOTE:  No photography allowed inside the abbey.

The kids in front of Westminster Abbey

The Tower of London

You’ve most likely heard of this infamous tower and now it’s time to visit it!  The cheery Yeoman Warders – the ceremonial guards dressed in exquisite black and red uniforms – are easy to spot and up for a chat to explain anything you see along the way.  Wandering through the old towers and imagining being a prisoner within these walls is unreal.  

The kids at The Tower of London – can you spot the Yeoman Warder joining the pic?!

The aptly named Bloody Tower is the most famous prison within the Tower’s walls.   As history states, the fate of two young princes is still unknown to this day.  It is said that their uncle, the future King Richard III, murdered them, although their bodies were never found.  Supposedly, their ghosts still haunt the tower to this day.  This story adds to the eeriness of the Tower of London.

Besides the various towers and toned down exhibit featuring various types of torture having taken place here, you’ll also get a chance to view the heavily guarded crown jewels.  You’ll file in to the Jewel House and find yourself on a moving walkway where you’ll slowly cruise past the crown jewels to view them up close.  Check the website for up-to-date ticket information.  

NOTE:  NO photos allowed in the Jewel House.  We saw someone sneak a photo and a guard stopped him and made him delete it.  It’s not worth the public humiliation!  And who wants to get in trouble with a heavily armed guard at the Tower of London?!

Afternoon Tea

Is there anything more quintessentially English than an afternoon tea?!  We think not so this was something we had to do the last time we were in London.

We enjoyed a lovely, relaxing afternoon of tea, finger sandwiches, and tiny desserts at the Goring Hotel, notably a favorite among royals.  The staff was so friendly and really made us feel welcomed.

We were given a menu with a variety of teas and then brought tiered trays of tiny sandwiches and desserts, all were delicious!

The wonderful tea at The Goring Hotel

We saw families with young kids, a father and a son, and couples enjoying this tradition.  One thing to note is they were EXCELLENT with my daughter’s food allergies.  She was given a tiered tray just like the rest of us although it was prepared without the ingredients she is allergic to.  They went above and beyond any expectations I could have had!

The British Museum

Over two million years of human history are represented here as well as artifacts from six continents.  The highlights of The British museum include The Rosetta Stone, mummies, Samurai armor, and the Dinosaur Gallery.  The best part – this museum is FREE!  This is great to keep in mind if you experience a rainy day.  You won’t run out of things to see or do here!

Inside the British Museum

Big Ben & Parliament

No trip to London is complete without seeing these iconic structures up close!  To get the best views, head to the left side of Westminster Bridge.  You can also opt for an aerial view while cruising around on the London Eye, a ferris wheel located across the River Thames from Big Ben and Parliament.  

Braden, Ava, and I in 2010

Now that you’ve spent a few days in the great city of London, it’s time to head off to Paris!

Getting from London to Paris

We took the Eurostar from London’s St. Pancras Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord.  The trip took about 2 1/2 hours.  We had a relaxing ride and our seating came with a table so we could play cards, read, and enjoy a snack all while watching London turn to the French countryside and finally end in Paris.  The Eurostar website has an easy to navigate site for booking tickets between these two cities.  

Paris, France

Art, culture, fashion, and famous landmarks and that is just the tip of the iceberg that is Paris.  Paris got its name from a Celtic tribe that settled here, known as the Parisii, back in 259 BC.  It’s also known as the City of Light or the City of Love for the romantic vibe this city retains.

Located on the banks of the River Seine, beautiful architecture abounds with the most famous being The Eiffel Tower.  With some of the world’s greatest museums, churches, a happening art scene, and wonderful cafes perfect for people watching, Paris is sure to capture your heart.

What we love about Paris

Mike and I honeymooned in Paris as two young kids in the late 90s and did not travel then like we do now.  We never cracked a guidebook and just wandered about, ending up at a cafe or restaurant as we pleased.  We also tried to visit the Louvre on a day it closed so we opted to drive our rental car through the crazy streets of Paris to Germany for the day!  Gone are the days of traveling like that as we now much better planners.  I suppose that is also part of the charm of Paris, you don’t have to have a plan, you can simply get lost and find yourself at some of the best places the city has to offer.  However, now that we are planners and have learned a lot since then, we’ll share a much more organized approach to planning a trip to Paris.

So what we do we love?  We love the top sights – The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and cruising the River Seine.  Nearly everything in Paris is just plain beautiful so we just love to simply take in its beauty.

Where to stay

We stayed at an Airbnb in the 7th Arrondissement.  Arrondissements are the way Paris divides the city into sections.  We LOVED staying here!  It was a splurge to stay right next to the Eiffel Tower but the great evening entertainment was worth it.  Every night we watched the light show from our balcony.  This apartment also had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, living room, full kitchen, and washer and dryer.

Our Top Picks for Paris

Below we share what we think are the best things to see on a first-time visit to Paris with just a few days.  Of course there is so much more to see and so many museums, you could spend weeks touring those alone!  But with just a few days in Paris on this London and Paris combined itinerary, we have a few must sees in mind.

The Eiffel Tower

This should come to no surprise to be at the top of the list, but it deserves its spot at number one thing to do in Paris.  

Paris’ centerpiece, The Eiffel Tower

We highly recommend getting tickets to go up in the Eiffel Tower, and you’ll want to do this ahead of time on the Eiffel Tower website.  Even if the line looks long to get in, crowds disperse once inside the tower so don’t be discouraged if you see a long line.  You can take the stairs (each leg of the Eiffel Tower has stairs), or the elevator to the second level.  Take your time to wander around and check out the views from all angles.  If you want to head up even higher, continue up to the third floor, elevator only.  This elevator ride feels like it never ends until finally you’re at the tip top of the Eiffel Tower.  If you’re not a fan of heights, the second floor is just fine, in fact I think the views from this level are even better.

View from the second level

Braden checking out the view

Within the Eiffel Tower, there are a few restaurants, a champagne bar, and a cafe, where we grabbed a coffee and a macaroon.  After all, is there a better place to be eating a macaroon than in the Eiffel Tower in Paris?!

One evening, Mike and I also went to dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel, a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.  We had a delicious multi-course meal with great views.  After dinner, we were able to wander the Eiffel Tower again, this time viewing it at night, and it was nearly deserted!  We highly recommend snagging a reservation here – the food was great and the service excellent.  And of course you can’t beat the post-dinner views!  It is a bucket list experience for sure.

The Eiffel Tower, all lit up at night

Cruise the River Seine

We are fans of cruising the rivers in cities to see the city from a different perspective.  And it’s a really relaxing way to sightsee! 

Cruising past Notre Dame on the River Seine

We enjoyed this narrated cruise which sailed passed iconic sites, including the beautiful Notre Dame (this was one week before the fire of 2019).   

Scenes from the Seine

Notre Dame

This famous gothic church dates back to the 12th century, when building began.  The construction didn’t culminate until 300 years later!  It’s one of the world’s most beautiful churches and one can even attend a Mass here, held three times per day.

Notre Dame

The architecture is stunning and within its walls are some fine art and artifacts, too.  Secure tickets here to explore the inside.  You can take the stairs to the top and stick your head out to take in the view – look left and right and you might see a gargoyle next to you!  

Gargoyles of Notre Dame

NOTE:  Notre Dame remains closed for renovations due to the April 2019 fire.  Be sure to check the website for up-to-date information.  

The Louvre

I am including this because it has some of the world’s most incredible artifacts, but we like to spend no more than a couple of hours here.  The Louvre contains over 37,000 masterpieces and also the claim to fame that it was once Napoleon’s home!  The most popular pieces to see here are The Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo among many more.  If traveling with kids and teens keep it just to the highlights to avoid museum burnout, which is what we did.

The Louvre, Napoleon’s old pad

The Cafe Scene

My favorite thing to do in Europe is just linger at a cafe.  After a day of busy sightseeing, enjoying a delicious cup of coffee with a yummy French pastry is the perfect way to spend an afternoon!  Cafes in Paris are plentiful and most feature outdoor tables which is a great way to people watch and take in the ambiance.

A lovely Parisian cafe

Read More!

We have two separate posts on visiting London and Paris:  8 Great Ways to Experience Paris with Kids & Teens and Family Friendly Favorites to See and Do in London.  We go a bit more in depth in each place, listing all that we saw and did in both places.  Be sure to check it out in case you have time to add more to your tinerary!  

Dietary Notes

As always, everyone’s needs are different.  At press time, my husband is grain-free and two of our kids are allergic to nuts and eggs.  Although we encompass a fair amount of dietary restrictions, we can only offer advice as to what pertains to our own family, as that is where our expertise lies!

In both London and Paris, we rented an Airbnb.  Having a kitchen made things a lot easier!  Plus we really like to eat breakfast in and then start the day, rather than leaving hungry and waiting on food in a restaurant in the morning.

In both cities, little grocery stores were nearby so getting provisions was easy.  In fact, as soon as I book our place I always look on Google Maps for the closest grocery stores.  I also read reviews on the nearby stores to figure out where we would best like to shop.

Dining out in London was relatively easy.  Every restaurant we tried easily accommodated the kids’ dietary needs.  The Goring Hotel was beyond anything we could have asked for in how seamlessly they provided the same food for my one daughter that the rest of us had during our afternoon tea.  Not having a language barrier definitely makes things easier as well.

As for Paris, the few restaurants we attempted to eat at told us they did not feel comfortable serving us due to potential cross-contamination.  They were very kind about it and we appreciated their honesty.  We never expect, just try, and if it works it works if not, we have a back up plan.  This is where the kitchen came in most handy!  We had delicious food in the fridge back at the Airbnb so assembled a dinner out that.  We enjoyed it while watching the Eiffel Tower light up for the night right from our balcony.   I don’t think we could have had a more enjoyable meal!

So overall, London was easy but Paris a bit trickier, but thankfully we had a kitchen so prepping meals was no problem.

For more on traveling with dietary restrictions, be sure to check out our guide:  On the Go with Allergies.

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