When Australian journalist Alison Whisson, who has been living in and around Paris for three years, found out that her 86-year-old grandmother was coming to visit her all the way from Australia, her first reaction was to panic.
But after some careful planning, both Alison and her grandmother had a fantastic time.
Here are her top ten tips on surviving Paris with an elderly relative.
1. Stairs are your enemy
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 Parisian women are slim!
Alison Whisson (R) with her grandmother. Photo: Alison Whisson
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
If your budget allows, it's best to take an Uber or a Taxi whenever you can. This might mean you see fewer sights but I think it's worth the sacrifice.
Local buses are also a good choice and many older Parisians use them a lot. Buses are efficient, there are plenty of seats for the elderly and they are not very full during the daytime (avoid rush hour though).
If you must get the Metro, check there are lifts at both ends. Charles De Gaulle-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).
CHECK HERE (both English and French available) for the list of services available at Paris stations.
4. Use the tools at your disposal
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 and takes in most of the key sights.
5. Factor in a lot of 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. If your grandparent is open to the idea, you can also hire foldable and light weight wheelchairs from some pharmacies. CHECK HERE for more wheelchair hiring services.
6. Beware the uneven streets
You don't realise how uneven 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.
7. Always, always always book online for museums and galleries!
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 is very elderly-friendly. We passed through the museum without taking a step up or down. Bravo!
8. Monet's garden at Giverny
My Grandma wasn't really into the Impressionists before but I think Monet's garden might have changed her mind. 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.
The garden is actually smaller than I imagined and it was no trouble for her 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 wanted to see a Tower?
Alison Whisson is an Australian journalist who has been living in Paris and the western suburbs for three years.