Life & StyleTravel

Paris with children

Finding a travel destination suitable for the entire family can be a challenge. For example, Tampa, Florida, home to Disney World and the Epcot Center, may be great for kids; St. Petersburg, Russia, home to the Hermitage and glorious Romanov architecture, may be a parents’ delight. But Tampa has been known to drive parents crazy; St. Petersburg may bore kids to tears.  How about a destination that can be all things to all people?  

Paris is hardly a novel travel destination. With 30 million annual visitors, the city receives triple the number of annual visitors as does all of Egypt, and ranks as the most visited city in the world. With Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, it’s easy to understand why. One of the reasons for Paris’ enduring popularity is the variety of its attractions, which can keep a visitor returning time after time, from youth to adolescence to adulthood and beyond. In this jewel of a city there is truly something for everyone.

Chances are you are familiar with the standard itineraries; what you may be less familiar with is the abundance of attractions suited to traveling as a family. We have recently spent several delightful trips in Paris with kids, and in this article I’ll touch upon some of the wonderful ways to keep kids fresh and invigorated while on a holiday in Paris.

Our time with kids in tow in Paris seems to revolve around parks. And when it comes to parks, Paris is beautifully endowed. Parks large and small dot all corners of the metropolis, from right downtown out toward the peripherique, and everywhere in between. All of Paris' parks are free–useful if your budget is a bit daunted by the rest of the Parisian experience. Just the major ones are listed here, but every neighborhood has its own tucked-away gems, and many have superb children’s facilities. For more information, try the Paris mayor’s office guide to local parks, nature and woodland via at

Starting near the center of town, the Jardin des Tuileries, the glorious park attached to the Louvre, contains a formal garden with pony rides, fountains and ponds (that sometimes include boat sailing), and a seasonal amusement park. For the world’s best hot chocolate, try the delightful Angelina’s café just outside the park on Rue de Rivoli. Nearby is the delightful and secluded Jardin du Palais Royal, a delightful colonnaded park just north of the Louvre. The masterpiece of Paris’ downtown parks must be Jardin du Luxembourg, set on the grounds of the current national Senate, which includes fountains, picnic areas, playground equipment (including a separate high-end playground for a small fee), puppet shows, miniature sailing boats, and carousels.  Many Paris parks contain the disappointing sign “pelouse interdite,” or stay off the grass, but the Luxembourg garden has a wonderful area where grass lounging is encouraged.

Further afield are Jardin d’Acclimitation, a kids’ wonderland with rides, a summer splash area and animals, which requires a fee for entry, and is set within the city’s “Western Lung” the massive nature reserve of the Bois de Bologne. The city’s “Eastern Lung” is the Bois de Vincennes, including a chateau and a zoo inside. Nearby the chic shopping area along Boulevard Haussman lies the stately Parc Monceau, with a great playground and lots of grassy space for picnics. Paris’ hilliest park is Parc des Buttes Chaumont, set on steep wooded hills, which includes lakes, bridges and caves, while the largest park, set in the north-west corner, is the tremendous Parc de la Villette, which includes the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (more on this later). Further south, Parc Andre Citroen, set on the site of a former car factory, mixes a modern layout with wooded areas for exploration.

If weather forces you inside, don’t despair. A myriad of kid-friendly cultural activities can keep a family amused for an entire monsoon season in Paris. Chief among Paris’ rainy-day attractions are its museums, and in this department Paris is blessed. Most famous of all is the Louvre, and while kids may quickly tire of grandiose art, there is plenty to keep their interest, including lots of Egyptian materials. Dedicated to kids, the Cité des Enfants within the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie is a treasure trove on the location of a former slaughter house, including museums, IMAX theaters, a massive indoor “learn by play” section, as well as extensive parkland. Another favorite is the Natural History Museum, located a stone’s throw from the Instute du Monde Arabe within the Jardin des Plantes, which also contains a decent but overpriced zoo. Other museums worth a visit include Musée d’Orsay (art and historic objects), Musée de l’Orangerie (impressionist art), Musée Carnavalet (history of Paris), and the relatively new Musée du Quai Branly (ethnography).

Other activities that kids enjoy out and about around Paris include a climb up the majestic Eiffel Tower (though come prepared for a long wait), a famous Parisian puppet show in Jardin du Luxembourg, a shopping trip in Forum des Halles or along the Champs-Élysées, or a visit to the amazing, but expensive, Cine Aqua near Trocadero, where kids can watch sharks and the latest movies at the same time. A visit to Invalides can give kids an amazing snapshot into ancient and modern warfare, and provide a glimpse of Napoleon’s tomb. A visit to the bizarre architecture of the Pompidou Center is bound to dazzle, and kids will enjoy the exhibits inside as well as the spectacle acts that take place in the courtyard outside. A good place to start a trip to Paris may be the Paris Story, where kids can watch an educational movie, and check out a model of Paris in miniature.

Moving around Paris is affordable and straightforward. The metro and bus systems provide convenient stops for nearly every attraction, and inexpensive “carnets” of interchangeable bus or metro tickets are available from any metro station. If you are moving around with a stroller, the bus may be easier, as many metro stations are a long way down, often without escalators. The innovative Velib system, where you can rent bikes for short trips around town, with pick-up and drop-off stations located every 300 yards in the center of town, is an enjoyable, affordable and eco-friendly way to move around with older kids. Bike lanes throughout most of the city make moving around town by bike safe and convenient. Paris’ numerous train stations provide fast and convenient access to many of the attractions in the surrounding area.

And you won’t be disappointed by the easy excursions that are accessible within an easy daytrip from the city. Kids of course will beg for a visit to Disneyland, located next door to the Walt Disney Studios Park, an easy 45 minute regional train ride from the city. The French equivalent of Disney, Parc Asterix, contains a series of themed areas portraying scenes from historical France, and includes the standard array of amusement park rides. The ancient forest of Fontainebleau and the grand palace of Versailles are also highly accessible, as is France in Miniature, a theme park containing models of monuments from all around the country.

Dining in Paris with kids needn’t be a daunting experience. Dining early with kids will enable you to miss most of the crowds, and many restaurants have a kids' menu or half portion available. Our favorite is mussels and fries at Leon, a chain serving Belgian style mussels with plenty of options for kids.  Don’t underestimate the joys of a picnic in Paris’ wonderful parks. The quality of French bread is such that nearly anything you put inside will taste great. There are some wonderful food markets that enable you to stock up in style for your picnic excursion.  

Before you go, be sure to check out the seasonal events. One that is always popular with kids is Paris Plage, an annual event taking place in July and August where they shut down one of the river-side roads and fill it with sandboxes, games, cafés, bookshops, simulated rain in “mist” stations, and other kid delights. Throughout summer, antique carousels sprout up all over town.  

Egypt, with one of the lowest return visitor rates in the world, has been wondering recently how to get visitors coming back. Folks come once, tour the highlights, and never feel the urge to return. Selling Egypt’s beaches and wonderful weather is certainly a good start. But as Egypt seeks to establish itself as destination for returning visits, it could well learn from the example of Paris: a world-class travel destination for all ages with something for everyone.

Related Articles

Back to top button