City guide to things to do in Paris with kids. Strolling along the Seine hand in hand, a few glasses of rose over lunch at a happened-upon bistro, a look at some priceless works of art in the Louvre and maybe a cheeky purchase at Celine. We know what you’re thinking. Not going to happen if you travel to Paris with kids. But if you forgo the clichés, you will discover that Paris is perfect for a family vacation. The land of Madeleine and macarons still has plenty to offer for the intrepid independent traveller that is all still super enjoyable for the kids. Here, suitcases&strollers contributor and mum of 2, Skye Wellington, of Lens & Pen Project gives suitcases&strollers her city guide to Paris with kids.
The Destination: Paris With Kids
Steeped in history of the political, artistic, religious, fashion and architectural kind, Paris with kids is a fascinating place to explore (on foot, with a stroller or by bike, Segway, metro, bus or even a vintage Citroen). Not only is Paris a living museum with places to discover around every corner, it is graced with large parks, traversed with a river and dotted with playgrounds and patisseries.
The Attractions: Paris With Kids
The Major Sights in Paris
It’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to pack in much more than 3 or 4 major sights in addition to museums in one trip to Paris with kids, so perhaps plan to tackle the major monuments. The Eiffel Tower gets top billing of course and requires little explanation but here are some family travel tips:
· Buy tickets online well in advance.
· If you really want to get a feel for the architecture of the tower you can walk up the stairs to level one and two but you might find it easier to take the less interesting option of the elevator if your kids are averse to stairs and you don’t want to end up giving piggy-backs. You will need to change lifts at level two to reach to the summit – take a jacket as it can get chilly up there.
· It’s worth leaving the Eiffel Tower as one of the last things you do on your trip so you can point out to the kids all the places you’ve seen over the course of your stay.
· A lot of people pack a picnic and sit in the gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower but you can get hassled to buy drinks. There is a small playground nearby.
A climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (yes, there is a lift but it won’t take you all the way to the top) is a great way to see views over Paris if the thought of lining up to access the Eiffel Tower is just too much. Beautiful tree-lined boulevards, including the Champs Elysees, radiate in all directions from the Arc de Triomphe and it sits in the middle of an axis between La Defense and the Louvre – Napoleon built his victory tower prominently. If the kids are waning, buy them off with the possibility of world-famous macarons at Laduree, just near by at 75 Champs Elysees.
While you might be impressed by the over 800 year old Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, the kids might be less enthusiastic, particularly as they have to be so quiet. Instead, you can direct younger children to the model of Notre Dame located inside the cathedral. You can use this large perspex cabinet to point out the architectural features of the Gothic masterpiece complete with gargoyles, as well as explaining how Notre Dame has been the centrepiece for so much French history including the crowning of Napoleon. Music recitals and choirs often perform here free of charge and are quite aurally spectacular.
Moving on from monuments it’s time to visit the beach. Get on down to the scene on the Seine and soak up the rays at Paris Plage, the wonderful, temporary, artificial beach that stretches 3 kilometres from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully during the summer months. That’s right, the kids can put on their cossie and hit the sand with a bucket and spade while you kick back in a deckchair with a book (don’t worry, you can rent both of those). Visit the glacier for an ice cream, get a massage, play foosball – there are so many things to love about this attraction that brings Parisians and tourists together.
After that catch a Bateux-Mouche (cruise boat) and see the city from the river.
Tours of Paris With Kids
Who doesn’t want to get around Paris in a vintage Citroen chauffeured by fire fighters and drinking Ruinart? If you know a walking tour (a good choice is Paris Walks) is off the cards with the kids but you want to see the sights as well as soak up the quirky history of Paris, then hitch a ride with the awesome and informative guides, Cedric or Romain, of Cedric’s Paris in one of their fleet of Citroen. They have tailored an itinerary specially for families called the 4 People Fun Tour at 150. You will be picked up from your accommodation in Georgia, their elegant 1952 Traction, and see all the major sights in style while hearing all the history from your informative guide.
Another novel way of getting around is to saddle up and go on an uber-fun Fat Bike Tour which caters for families with children as young as one and beyond (kids under 3 ride free). The standard tour is the Paris Day Bike Tour which gets you around all the major sights while you pick up lots of amusing historical facts and anecdotes from your very experienced guide. The tour lasts 3.5 hours but don’t worry, it’s very easy-going and hill-free! Of course you will get fitted with the right bikes, seats and trailers for your family make-up. The tour includes stopping for lunch (at your cost) at the shaded café in the middle of the Tuileries Garden. They offer tours that don’t include bikes too: the Skip-the-Line Eiffel Tower With Summit Tour is a great option of you do not wish to stand in line for hours on end waiting to ascend. Book well in advance.
Art Galleries in Paris With Kids
As everyone knows, Paris is brimming with amazing museums and galleries that are works of art themselves and contain world class art within. But most parents would be lucky to get more than 30 minutes to see them. In this case, you need to be targeted and selective so forgo the queues of the Musee d’Orsay, the Musee du Louvre and the Musee Rodin (where the proximity of priceless sculpture to little hands is heart palpitating) and head straight to the Musee de l’Orangerie in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens instead.
If the kids only get to see one painting in all of Paris, let it be Monet’s “Water Lilies”, the results of Monet’s experiments with light (and extreme dedication) in his beautiful garden at Giverny. Inside you will find 2 dedicated elliptical rooms showcasing his larger than life vision in the round taking you from morning to evening. If you arrive by 9.30am you have a great chance of walking straight in (children under 18 enter free). You may all enter free if you visit in the first Sunday of the month but expect greater crowds. Quickly sneak in a look at the Guillaume Collection downstairs if you can and see an incredible collection of artworks by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne and others. Getting the audio guide is well worth it. If you’re after a Paris souvenir for the kids then skip the Eiffel Tower key rings available from street-sellers and purchase the beautiful children’s book at the L’Orangerie gift shop.
The fascinating inside out building that is the Pompidou Centre contains some equally fascinating modern art. But this may be lost on your kids. The real reason to head here is to visit the excellent Workshops and Circuits for Children, a programme of activities dedicated to thinking and creation. Conducted in the the Atelier des Enfants, interesting visual artists, storytellers and musicians stimulate the five senses with the aim of fostering questioning and communication for kids aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 10. The space is open from 11am to 6pm on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays or every day during school holidays. They also offer Impromtus on the first Sunday of every month from October to June where you can tinker together for free in a family workshop.
If you’re there at the right time, the Galerie Des Enfants is worth visiting. This temporary exhibition space stages dedicated children’s exhibitions to educate them on artists and creativity. Make sure you impress the kids with your knowledge of the colour-coded building: water pipes are green, electricity cables are yellow and air conditioning ducts are blue.
If that just gets a yawn direct them to the square out front where you can catch some impressive street performers at work. Try to visit Café George to take in a great Paris view.
Playgrounds in Paris for Kids
Anyone whoever doubted that Paris is for kids need only look at the fab playgrounds (or the creperies and patisseries) around every corner. Since most Parisians are apartment dwellers, their parks and gardens are like an extra room in their home. For parties, picnics, playing and prostrating when the sun is out, pack some supplies (baguette, cheese, wine) and join the Parisians in their parks enjoying la vie en rose.
If you decide to stay in Saint-Germain Des Pres the Jardin de Luxembourg, a beautiful park spanning 23 hectares, will be your local. Apart from the Medici fountain, tree-lined promenades and men playing chess under trees, kids will love the playground, carousel and model sailboats on the pond. There is even a little theatre with marionette shows (in French). Just be aware that you get charged for all these little activities. Afterwards, window shop the stylish kids stores on Rue Vavin pick up that crepe on the streets around Marché Edgar Quinet.
If you prefer your gardens less formal and more rugged, a lovely choice is the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondisement. Its waterfalls and cliffs make for a dramatic backdrop while pushing a stroller. Take the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon aperitif at the very cool Rosa Bonheur tavern. A favourite among young children is the Jardind’Acclimitation, a former zoo (where a chef cooked and served most of the resident animals during the Siege of Paris!) that is now a wonderland for children. Take a ride on an adorable miniature locomotive that looks like a tiny faux steam engine or meander down The Magic River, a sweet 5 minute boat ride through weeping willows. There are plenty of games, climbing walls and water sprinklers to make this a full day out.
If you’re visiting in summer, try to catch a movie on the lawn of the museum and theatre filled Parc de Villette. It’s the third largest park in Paris and houses a tonne of cultural monuments. The romantic glasshouses that make up Le Jardin de Serres d’Auteuil and Parc Monceau are also worth a look.
Shopping for Kids in Paris
Let’s be honest, you’re not going to get much time to shop. While Paris is a shopper’s paradise, you’re probably not going to have the ability to wander around with children in tow and act on a whim each time you see a pretty window display. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out either. The answer is a-one-store-that-does-it-all-approach.
In order to avoid the crushing throng of tourists at Galleries Lafayette, head to the oldest department store in Paris instead – Le Bon Marche. This gorgeous building has been reimagined as an exclusive Mecca for fashion, beauty, furniture and accessories. The children’s department on level 3, a delightful emporium filled with books, toys and kids’ clothes is not to be missed. It’s also a good place to deposit the partner and kids while you visit the other floors. (If you’re after some French fashion that won’t break the bank, you can check out Maje, Sandro and Ba&sh here instead of walking the high street.)
Don’t miss Le Grande Epicerie, the food emporium connected to Le Bon Marche. Even if you’re not a foodie it’s hard not to be impressed by the vast collection of gourmet ingredients on offer in sections including groceries, produce, wine and a deli. If you are a foodie then this is where culinary trends are established thanks to a team that source products from all over the world. It’s the ultimate place to stock up on gourmet supplies for a picnic in one of Paris’ many parks.
If you’re going to check out the Place de Vosges then convince the family to have a wander around the Marais neighbourhood. It can be a bit tricky (forgo the stroller for a baby carrier) as the streets are narrow, the footpaths narrower and there are tourists and shoppers aplenty. But you will be rewarded with Isabel Marant and Antik Batik. One of the most charming stores in the Marais happens to be a haberdashery. Tucked away in a pretty little courtyard, just off Rue de Franc-Bourgeois, is L’entrée de Fournisseurs. This lovely shop stocks to-die for ribbons, unique buttons, vintage children’s clothing patterns and Liberty prints.
Another whimsical find comes from a toy store hidden within the opulent Galerie Vivienne, a stunning arcade definitely worth wandering, not least because it houses the best wine shop in Paris – La Caves Legrand! Si Tu Veux is a traditional toy store selling well crafted wooden toys and quirky collectibles including adorable little snowdomes that make the best little keepsakes for kids. These old fashioned simple snowdomes are manufactured by the last remaining traditional snow dome manufacturer in France and contain exquisite scenes. They come in a variety of colours but each one features a golden Eiffel Tower with a whimsical little figure passing by: a baker carrying a basket of baguettes, a pastry chef laden with tiny cakes and a boy on a bicycle doubling his sister as they whizz by.
If that doesn’t hit the spot then take a trip to one of the sweetest sweet shops in all of Paris, La Cure Gourmande. Selling a variety of nougat, candy, chocolates, biscuits and madeleines, what sets this place apart is the beautiful vintage packaging. If you can’t decide what you want the friendly staff will encourage you to sample!
Family Friendly Eateries for Kids in Paris
There are countless amazing
places to eat in Paris but it can be a bit daunting working out where kids are
accepted. Skip the stuffy restaurants that don’t open till 8pm and opt for
cafes and brasseries instead where you will feel much more relaxed.
If the kids are quite partial to protein then Le Relais del’Entrocote is a fun way to get a fix. This lovely bistro with wood panelling and vintage posters serves only proper steak frite – tender sirloin in special sauce with golden fries accompanied by walnut salad. Waitstaff are friendly and efficient and greet diners by asking how they want their steak done. Save room for dessert.
Pancakes are a crowd pleaser. If you love the street crepes and want to elevate the experience, try the authentic galettes at Breizh Café. If you want go even higher then dine out at Georges, the café on the rooftop of the Pompidou Centre. With kids it is best to go during the day and sit out on the terrace to survey the milkshake menu.
The Rosa Bonheur tavern, in the afforementioned Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, is a place where you can enjoy a drink at outdoor communal tables while the kids run wild on the green. Relax for the afternoon, share some tapas and a bottle of rose.
A real crowd pleaser is Chez Janou, a fabulous Provencal bistro in the Marais not far from Place de Vosges. The service here is fantastic, as is the food. They serve delicious olives on arrival, there are daily specials but the real reason to visit is Dessert with a capital D. You must order the chocolate mousse. Prepare to watch the kids’ eyes bug out of their head when a massive earthenware pot and a ladle appears!
Family Friendly Accommodation in Paris With Kids
The phrase “not enough room to swing a cat” must have been coined in Paris. It is not a city known for generously sized hotel rooms. In a lot of places you’ll be lucky to fit your suitcase beside your bed in an upright position. Equally tricky is trying to find a room that caters for a family of 4 or more. More often than not you’ll find that you need to book 2 hotel rooms which can become expensive.
One way to avoid this is to try and go with the Airbnb option and secure an apartment but if you want the convenience of concierge, room service and breakfast included, here are are few good family friendly spots.
Le Citizen Hotel du Canal Paris is situated right on the Canal St Martin. Not only is it a good family hotel, it’s a great boutique hotel. Don’t expect the Ritz of course, but if you want to tick the boxes of cleanliness, friendliness and style, this is a good choice. Go for the Citizen Apartment but be sure to book well in advance as these rooms get snapped up.
If your kids still nap and you want a chance to duck out and shop while they slumber under the watchful eye of the other half, the Hotel Signature in Saint-Germain Des Pres is a good option. On a quiet street just minutes from the amazing Le Bon Marche and a great kids’ playground, this boutique hotel offers very well appointed family suites with a queen size bed and ensuite in one room and 2 singles and an extra bathroom in another. While there is a central door to the suite, there are still separate doors for each room so you don’t have to sit in the dark when the kids go to sleep. Hello tiny slice of privacy! Even better, there is a bottle shop next door that sells some pretty decent bubbles (piccolo to magnum – you decide), so make use of that balcony which is just big enough for two people to sit and watch the world go by.
For families that are happy to dispense with the services of a hotel in favour of a bigger living space and kitchen facilities, Le Roi de Sicile in the heart of the Marais is a great choice. This property offers modern apartments that include a kitchenette and family room – space to relax inside after traipsing around all day! And despite being surrounded by shops and restaurants (very convenient), it is surprisingly quiet for Central Paris – mostly.
For other apartment options check out kid friendly vacation destinations site, Kid & Coe. Their collection of accommodation options are specifically selected for families so you can be sure that the needs of the small people have been factored into the equation already and you can get on with the business of choosing a property that fits your location criteria and price range.
One Fine Stay also set a bar for what every
home should include as standard for your stay and go the extra mile to welcome
you and ease you into your destination.
The Practicalities of Paris With Kids
Getting From the Airport to the City in Paris With Kids
After an international flight you probably have some fractious kids on your hands and not an ounce more iPad is going to cure it. For this reason it is worth arranging a private transfer in advance with the hotel you’ve booked to stay with. Despite the cost, this will minimise the stress that comes with managing overwrought children and suitcases on little sleep.
If you want cheap and fast, take the RER B train (free for children under 4) from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and connect with the Metro system (for example Châtelet les Halles, St Michel/Nôtre Dame, Luxembourg) to get you the rest of the way. This Paris By Train Guide has step-by-step photographs to help you through the process. Remember you will need to get Metro tickets as well. Just be aware that while the Metro system is good in many ways, it can be crowded, dirty and involves a lot of stairs – not great if you have a stroller.
Another option is the Roissy Bus which delivers you centrally to Place de l’Opera and from there you can grab a taxi. It still involves a bit of luggage lugging but it’s all above ground. Look for the red “R” symbol on airport signs and you’ll find a self-serve kiosk that will spit out a ticket for 11 per person (no kids’ rate). There is a waiting area where the kids can crash for 10 minutes while you regroup (and a Starbucks adjacent if you need a caffeine hit. While Paris has a great café culture, the quality of the coffee is still evolving so this may be the last decent coffee you have during your stay.) The buses pull up just outside and come around every 15 minutes.
However you decide to get into town, just make sure you have internet access before you disembark so you can access a tracking map. Standing around on a Paris street with crying kids and a folded map trying to work out how to get the rest of the way to your accommodation can take as long as the ride into Paris.
How To Move Around Paris With Kids
The Metro is an institution. This labyrinth of underground transportation connects over 300 stations and runs from 5:30am to 1:15am with trains coming every few minutes. It’s fairly easy to plot your route using the colour coded lines (locals refer to them by their numbers) but there can be distances to walk between lines that could leave little people lagging. It can be worth taking a slightly longer route if it means less changing between trains.
It depends on how many times a day you think you might use the Metro as to what type of ticket to buy. You can buy a carnet (10 single T+ tickets for Zone 1 and 2 which cover all of Central Paris) but if you think you might want to use the Metro many times a day over successive days (which can be the case if you’re visiting in colder months and walking above ground less) then the Paris Visite might make more sense. Additionally there is the Ticket Mobilis Day Ticket that is worth considering of you’re planning to hit up Disneyland Paris and Versailles.
If you’ve got small kids and you’re using the Metro a lot, you might want to consider renting a Yoyo stroller – this sweet (French-designed) ride for your little one packs up to the size of a bag and is ultralight. You can book these through your concierge (they will arrange it online for you by accessing one of the kid rental websites) and usually collect and return them using the City Locker system.
Moving around within this giant living art gallery makes much more sense if you can see it so you may prefer to travel by bus. You can opt for the hop on hop off variety but they can leave you bitterly cold in winter and boiling in summer. They’re also pretty slow going and, well, touristy. The public bus system, Paris Bus is a mega bus network with over 4000 buses and 12,500 stops. You can often get closer to most sights using these than the metro and it’s much more scenic. Just note that peak hour, like anywhere, can be busy. It’s best to purchase a carnet of tickets in advance from a Metro station (they can be used for both modes of transport) as you will be charged more on the bus for a single ticket and will need the correct change. While the bus stops are not as readily identifiable as the Metro stations you soon get used to looking for those circular green and white “BUS” symbols. Download a bus map here.