When Grandma Came to Paris: tips and advice for an elderly visitor
When my mum told me that my 86-year-old Grandmother was coming all the way from Australia to visit me in Paris (and fulfill her dream of walking over Pont Neuf Bridge), I'll be honest, I panicked.
But she survived and so did I. Actually we had a fantastic time!
Navigating Paris with an elderly relative is challenging but in many ways a lot easier than you might expect... if you are prepared!
1. Stairs are your enemy: Check the accommodation has lifts.
If your visitor is staying in a an apartment or a hotel you should make sure there is an elevator. This sounds strange for a city as modern as Paris but some budget hotels don't have them simply because the buildings are so old. And even if the apartment building does have a lift, it might not go all the way up to the top floors. It's no surprise Parisienne women are slim! There are a lot of steps in Paris.
2. Beware of the shower bath.
Check the accommodation has a shower cubicle and not a shower bath (the kind you step into). Shower baths are very common in Paris but almost impossible for an elderly person to get into without help!
3. Avoid the Metro - it's not an elderly person's friend.
It is very rare to see an elderly person on the Paris Metro because lifts are few and far between. I suggest getting an Uber or a Taxi whenever you can if the budget allows. This might mean you see fewer sites but I think it's worth the sacrifice.
Local buses are also a good choice and many older Parisiens use them a lot. Buses are efficient, there are plenty of seats for the elderly and they are not very full in the daytime (avoid rush hour though).
If you must get the Metro, check there are lifts at both ends. Charles De Gualle-Etoile station (Metro Line 1 or RER A) takes you directly to the Arc de Triomphe but it only has a lift at one station exit (follow the signs for Avenue Carnot).
4. Use the tools at your disposal: A Hop on Hop off Bus or a River Tour!
My Grandma loved the Hop on Hop Off bus. However, the steps to the top are very narrow. She nearly fell backwards trying to get up there. Luckily I wasn't the only one with her that day so we were able to support her from the front and back as she went up! It was worth it to see her face as we approached the Eiffel Tower.
Afterwards we sat downstairs which wasn't as exciting but it was relaxing and we enjoyed being able to get off the bus easily.
Bateaux Parisiens is also a great boat tour along the River Seine which takes in most of the key sites.
5. Factor in a lot of rest breaks.
My Grandma is pretty healthy and energetic for her age but Paris very quickly tired her out. We stopped every 5 minutes at a bench or in a café. In the end, we didn't get to see half of what I'd planned for her but she didn't mind at all. She had a small list of "must see" places and we slowly worked our way through them. Some days she asked to stay in to watch TV so she could recharge.
6. Beware the wonky streets.
You don't realise how wonky Paris streets are until you walk them with an elderly tourist. Despite her initial objections, my Grandma finally relented and allowed us to buy her a walking stick. We picked up quite a charming one from a Brocante (second hand market) which she was actually chuffed about. This made a huge difference to her stability and comfort.
If your grandparent is open to the idea, you can also hire foldable and light weight wheelchairs from some pharmacies. This site below has a great list of other places you can hire them from:
7. Always book online for Museums and Galleries (always always always).
This is my advice for anyone visiting Paris as the queues can be horrendous especially in summer. While most places will fast track the elderly or frail, it's always better to have a pre-bought ticket - just to save messing about and to conserve those limited energy stores!
The Musee d'Orsay was actually very elderly-friendly. We passed through the museum without taking a step up or down. Bravo!
8. Monet's garden at Giverny: the "Grandparent Pleaser"
My Grandma wasn't really into the Impressionists before but I think Monet's garden might have turned her. It's not very close to Paris (about 75Km or 1.5 hours by car) but it's close enough to make it possible and she loved the country escape.
I would avoid public transport as it is not at all worth it with an elderly visitor. I did the trip once by train with two toddlers and never again! There's too much faffing about. Instead I'd suggest an organised bus, hiring a car or splashing out on a taxi and pre-book entry tickets!!
The garden is actually smaller than I imagined and it was no trouble for Grandma to get around with her walking stick while stopping at benches as Monet might have done. We enjoyed a lovely lunch afterwards.
9. Tonic and wine?
Yes, it is common for some elderly ladies to add a bit or sparkling or tonic water to their wine but it's not the done thing in Paris. When my Grandma asked a waiter to water down her wine it caused him to exclaim, "Mais c’est criminel!". Luckily he was joking (I think...maybe not) but he agreed to do it and my Grandma was delighted. She said this exchange was the highlight of her trip. She's told everyone in Australia.
10. Relax and enjoy.
A great and beloved individual has come all this way especially to see you (did you honestly think they really wanted to see a Tower?).