City Breaks with Kids: Paris

Think you can't take a city break with kids?  Think again.  With the incomparable delights of Disneyland Paris right on your door step, fantastic self-catering options, and a whole wonderful city to explore, Paris is a fantastic destination for all the family.  Those fascinating streets to wander, wonderful architecture, beautiful parks, fantastic food, and marvellous museums and galleries aren't just for the grown-ups you know, but there are also some very kid-focussed places to discover too.  Here are our top things to do in Paris with kids.


When to go?

Any time of year!  Many people prefer to visit Paris in the summer when temperatures are high, the sun shines, and everything is parfait.  However, it can get very busy in July and August as all of Europe is en vacances then.  We prefer to visit in May, June or September when it is still warm and sunny, but everyone else is back at school and work.  If this is an option for you too, we highly recommend.  However, every season has its own merits, and Paris in autumn, winter and spring is always beautiful too.  Kick the leaves in October half-term, dance in the blossom at Easter, or hope for snow at Christmas.  Paris is always worth visiting.


Where to stay?

First things first, get your accommodation right.  Whether you hop on a plane or the Eurostar or take the car via ferry or tunnel, getting to Paris couldn't be easier.  Driving in the city centre might not appeal to everyone, but if you choose accommodation on the outskirts it will be easy to get to and convenient for public transport throughout your stay.  Finding somewhere comfortable enough to unwind after a day in the city is essential, and a hotel just isn't going to cut it.  We love this lovely Parisian villa with its pretty garden, well-equipped kitchen and home from home atmosphere.  Pack a paddling pool in the car and the kids will think they're in holiday heaven!


As with any holiday, pencilling in down days is vital, but what else can you pack into your family-friendly Paris itinerary?

The Eiffel Tower

Say Paris and what's the first image that comes to mind?  That ubiquitous tower must be visited, although many children will prefer to look at, wander and wonder under, or play nearby in the lovely gardens than actually go up.  Save some money and time (the queues can be horrendous) by doing just that.  The Champs de Mars is full of attractions for children, such as pedal cars, a vintage merry-go-round and a large playground.  Bring a picnic or seek out La Bonbonnière de Marie on Allée Adrienne Lecouvreur at the north-eastern edge of the park.  Enjoy lunch, admire the stunning views, and don't forget to visit the Tower again in the evening when it is lit up beautifully.


Montmartre

Travel to the Anvers or Abbesses metro station and wander.  Generally if you're going up hill you're going in the right direction!  Passage des Abbesses has those famously formidable four flights of stairs, or head up rue Ravignan.  Highlights to seek out include Place Emile Goudeau, once the home of Matisse, Picasso and Braque; the wonderful Le Mur des Je t'Aime on the Square Jehan Rictus to the north side of Place des Abbesses, an enormous tiled mural with the words I Love You written in 250 languages; and endless opportunities to people watch.


Yes, it can be a bit touristy, but there are still wonderful traditional boulangeries/cafés, such as Coquelicot at 24 rue des Abbesses.  Children will love the bowls of hot chocolate French children adore, and there are plenty of delicious breakfast, snack and lunch options.  There are plenty of playgrounds in Paris, as most locals live in apartments so need somewhere for the kids to let off steam.  In Montmartre, try Parc de la Turlure or the smaller Square Suzanne Buisson.  At the top admire the artists and caricaturists at work, admire the views and head up to the Sacre Coeur itself.


Parc des Buttes Chaumont

The Buttes Chaumont is a magical park full of wonderful discoveries for children.  With several playgrounds, a carousel, puppet theatre, views across Paris, and plenty to explore and discover, it's great place to enjoy the great outdoors and while away a few hours.  Bring a picnic or in peak season buy from the street vendors.  Le Pavillon du Lac café looks pretty and has been recommended by a few people, but I haven't yet tried it.

In the park itself, explore the grotto, rocky buttes, wonderful trees, and the Temple de la Sibylle, perched on a peak in the middle of the lake.  Make like an explorer and cross the 20 metre high bridge, or opt for the more sedate lower suspension bridge to reach it.  Great place to tell stories!


Musée d'Orsay

No visit to Paris is complete without a visit to the Musée d'Orsay, quieter than the Louvre and more interesting for children.  For our girls Pompon's Polar Bear is worth a visit on its own!  This beautiful building houses a vast collection, and it is well worth spending some time online before your trip to choose some highlights, then seeking those out and using the rest as background.  After all, children are never going to want to spend time looking at every exhibit.


Visit the Musée d'Orsay as early as you can in the morning to avoid the crowds, and then spend the afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens, a 20 minute walk away across Quai d'Orsay.  An interesting and scenic riverside walk also starts from here, Les Berges de Seine, with climbing frames, painted floor mazes, hopscotch, board games and seasonal, pop-up play apparatus to keep children entertained.  The many bridges that criss cross the Seine (36) are a sight in themselves, and a trip on the Batobus water taxi (April to November) is always fun, not to mention being a great alternative to the Metro when you are in the city centre.


Jardin du Luxembourg

The perfect place to take children, quintessential Paris, the Luxembourg Gardens are an absolute treat.  There's a huge playground, another wonderful carousel (designed by Charles Garnier of Opéra fame), Le Théâtre des Marionnettes puppet show (Wednesdays & weekends), free music in summer, street theatre, vintage metal go-carts, pony rides, boats to sail and pétanque to watch. There is so much to do here, they certainly won't be bored.  We love the train and sand pit in the Poussin Vert playground. There are plenty of boulangeries in the streets around the gardens, cafés and street vendors (more crepes than you can shake a stick at!), or bring a picnic with you.


For a park more off the beaten track to Parc de Belleville near Couronnes Metro station (20th arrondissement), where there is a pretty waterfall and a wooden play structure for kids, with great views back across the city.

The Louvre

Museums probably aren't at the top of most children's must visit lists, but if you have time a visit to the Louvre is well worth it.  Focus on a few areas, e.g. Egyptians, the Mona Lisa, and the Impressionists and make the most of those rather than trying to see lots and risking tiredness and boredom.  There's plenty of light relief to be had outside in the fountains, and the Pyramid is a must-see.  Wander from here into the Tuileries Gardens and head to the exquisite Musée de l'Orangerie, famous for Monet's vast Water Lilies canvasses, but also home to Cézanne, Matisse and more.


The Pompidou Centre
Perhaps not as avant garde as it once seemed, but the Pompidou Centre still has appeal.  Free entry for kids and great activities and interactive exhibits in the Galerie des Enfants make it well worth a visit.  They also offer some great art workshops which can be booked online in advance.  The classes are in French but easily understandable with demonstrations and guidance; let them unleash their inner Picasso!  If science is more their thing, book for Le Cité des Sciences in Parc Villette where children wander through a series of interactive experiments.


Notre Dame

The sheer scale of Notre Dame is a wonder to behold, even if you don't go in to admire the wonderful gothic architecture.  Playing spot the gargoyle outside will certainly entertain the kids!  The cathedral stands on the lovely Ile de la Cité which is well worth exploring, with lovely cafés and quirky buildings.  You will find the wonderful Marché aux fleurs here too, and the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle, all a pleasant way to while away half a day.


Everything else

Elsewhere, you could visit the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (great animal dung collection!), the National Museum of Natural History, the Musée des Arts et Métiers, the Rodin Museum, Cité des Enfants, The French Air and Space Museum, the Latin Quarter, the Marais, or climb the Arc de Triomphe for amazing panaromic views.


Outside of the city, Disneyland needs no introduction, but the parks and grounds of Versailles (especially Marie Antoinette's farm), Monet's house and gardens at Giverny, Chateau de Fontainebleau, Parc de Thoiry and Parc Astérix are all worth a visit.


Practicalities

Getting a pram or buggy on and off the Metro isn't too bad, but there are steps almost everywhere, so bring a sling or baby carrier if possible.  Ditto changing babies.  Take advantage of baby changing facilities when you do come across them, and be prepare for more than a few al fresco changes.

Food-wise, embrace the traditional petit dejeuner for breakfast, buy pastries and croissants wherever they look good, and make the most of café lunches, but if possible do your own thing for dinner.  Alternatively, traditional ethnic restaurants such as Italian, Moroccan and Indian places will probably be more welcoming of very young children than traditional bistros and more upmarket restaurants.  Avoid the new breed of kid-friendly restaurants (so un-French they have even used the English term for them!), as they are often full of cheap, bad food.  There's always pizza or a baguette to be found if you don't want to frequent markets and supermarkets and cook.


Our advice

As with any city break, when planning a trip to Paris with kids, have a loose itinerary but be prepared to follow your or their nose (sometimes literally!) to discover some interesting off the track places, seek out wonderful vistas, and try new places and cafés.  Expect the familiar to feel new as you see the city through your child's eyes, marvelling at painters, clowns, new sights and smells.  Wandering is the key to make the most fo this glorious city; there is always another playground to discover, a new café to visit, and more fun to be had.  La vie en rose.


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