Families in France: taking the kids to Paris
Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world. I fell in love with it in my early 20’s and I’ve returned many times since. Every visit I discover something new but I never tire of great Parisian food, beautiful buildings, rich history and the amazing museums. For Expedia’s Aussie travellers, it’s a must-visit on a European adventure and we’re heading there in droves. It can get busy in peak summer months, so most people try and book 3 months in advance.
Yes this is the city of love, and yes Paris is sophisticated and charming, but it still has a lot to offer for kids.
I love exploring Paris on foot. Detour down cobblestone laneways into pockets of Paris not listed in your guidebook. Don’t be afraid to get out of the tourist hotspots. You’ll find plenty of character in the 5th arrondissement, it’s home to the Latin Quarter and a slew of 3 star hotels that are gaining popularity with Australians. Expedia’s Paris Holidays are great for first timers.
If you’re travelling with tired little legs, almost every building in Paris is within 500m of a Metro. The Metro Map looks like tangled coloured spaghetti but it’s very simple once you get the hang of it and makes getting to attractions really easy.
A trip on a Bateau Mouche is a great way to get orientated with the city and its major landmarks. These boats take you on a tour of the River Seine with great commentary on sites and their historical significance. The tours generally last about an hour. Children under four are free.
Eating Out with Kids
Cafes: if you see a kids menu, expect kid-sized portions of adult meals (e.g. escargot not chicken nuggets!). There’s plenty that children will enjoy, even if all they eat is a Croque-Monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich).
Picnics: with an abundance of beautiful parks and small supermarkets, Paris is perfect for picnics. Buy fresh baguettes, ham and cheese, sit on the grass and let the kids play while you eat.
Crêperies: you’ll find streetside crêperies all over Paris, selling sweet and savoury options such as Nutella or ham, cheese and egg. What child would say no to “pancakes” for lunch?
Pâtisseries: perfect for a treat (or bribe) for the whole family. No one will say no to a fresh Pain au Chocolat or Éclair. Take your little ones into Ladurée on the Champs Élysées, where the brightly coloured macarons look too good to eat. Get takeaway and munch while you tackle this long avenue.
If you want to see one of the major museums, such as the Louvre or Musée D’Orsay, set a realistic time limit to spend there with kids. These museums are enormous and you wouldn’t see everything even if you were on your own. Keep your expectations realistic and just enjoy sharing some remarkable art with your kids.
A smaller, more child-friendly favourite of mine is Musée Rodin. Beautiful sculptures (including famous ‘The Thinker’) are located in an outdoor setting where kids can run around.
Older children might enjoy the Paris Catacombs, where you’ll find the remains of approximately six million Parisians, transferred around two centuries ago when Church Cemeteries were being closed to manage health risks. The narrow tunnels are lined with neatly stacked bones and skulls, providing an interesting and slightly macabre history lesson. Entrance is free for children 13 and under.
Hint: Many museums have FREE ENTRY on the 1st Sunday of the month but they’ll be crowded.
Churches to Visit
The Notre Dame is my favourite. This cathedral is free to enter but be mindful it’s a functioning church and Mass may be in progress. The intricately carved entranceway, stunning Rose window, gargoyles and arched ceilings will appeal to big and little kids. For a fee you can climb the towers, where you’ll get a close up view of the gargoyles and great views across Paris.
Hint: Get your kids to read or watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame before you visit.
Parks for Play
Paris’ beautiful parks are the perfect place to spend a few hours. Here are a few of my favourites:
Jardin du Luxembourg: kids can sail boats on ponds, see a puppet show at the famous Théatre des Marionnettes, check out sculptures, ride ponies or simply play.
Jardin des Tuileries: located between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde, this is the largest garden in Paris (25.5 hectares), complete with sculptures, playgrounds, pony rides, trampoline park, toy boat sailing and more.
Parc du Champs Mars: with playgrounds, a carousel and ponds, this is my favourite place for a picnic. You can sit back and look up at the magnificent Eiffel Tower.
Something Different for kids
Cité des Enfants is a hands-on science and technology museum just for kids. There are two separate areas, one for 2-7 year-olds, with entertaining early-learning situations and activities, and another for 5-12 year-olds, where they can discover science and technology. Children under 6 are free. A great option for a rainy day.
Le CENTQUATRE (The 104) is a public art centre with a fantastic kids space called The House for Children, created by fabulous French designer Matali Crasset. This space sets out to facilitate artistic learning and experimentation. A highlight is the “bug carousel” – when riding these giant metal bugs you actually control how the bug moves its body. Free admission to exhibitions for children under 6 years.