Paris is undeniably a city that adults love to visit. But the Parisians themselves have children, right? And countless travelers with kids visit every year. So I asked my friend Mara Gorman to put together a list of her favorite places to go in Paris with her kids. As it turns out, Paris is kid-friendly, too!
You may think of Paris as the City of Light, a destination for lovers or gourmands with an adult flavor that makes it less than ideal for a family trip. It’s true that Paris is romantic, but with its acres of green space, cafés serving crêpes and ice cream on every corner, and general joie de vivre, it is a great place to visit with kids. The following attractions are just a few of the many family-friendly places in Paris.
1. Jardin d’Acclimatation
I’m sure Disneyland Paris is very nice, but it can’t hold a candle to this charming, old-fashioned, and very French amusement park and playground in the Bois de Boulogne on the northwest edge of the city near the tiny suburb of Neuilly. The magic starts when you emerge from the Les Sablons metro stop and enter the park via a small-gauge railroad called Le Petit Train. Rides include a boat journey on the Rivière Enchantée through a lovely landscape full of hydrangeas and ornamental grasses, wooden horses that gallop along a racetrack, a small flume ride through a teepee where children actually get to paddle, and a uniquely decorated carousel.
If rides don’t appeal to your child, there are plenty of other activities here including a small zoo called La Petite Ferme Normande (the small Norman farm), pony rides, a puppet theatre, an apiary, a water park with sprinklers and a wading pool, a nature walk, and several different playgrounds with death-defying equipment of the type you are unlikely to find in North America.
The park contains mix of free attractions and rides requiring tickets, which you can buy at various booths scattered throughout. This being France, dining options range from churros and hot dogs to sit-down meals with champagne.
>> More information on the Jardin d’Acclimatation website
2. Promenade Plantée
On the other side of the city in the Place de la Bastille you’ll find the start of this 3-mile urban walking trail, planted all along the way with lovely community gardens. Also called La Coulée Verte, this was once a railway line and it begins along the top of a viaduct well above the street. Children love having this giant’s eye view of the city below them.
About halfway along is the Jardin de Reuilly, a large green space with a playground. The path then continues at ground level through tunnels and artfully landscaped little grottoes before meandering through quiet neighborhoods and ending at the Bois de Vincennes, a huge park. Should you choose to continue wandering there, you’ll find numerous lakes and paths – the perfect spot for a picnic lunch (although there are also restaurants and food kiosks).
3. Musée d’Orsay
If you’re going to take your children to just one art museum in Paris, I recommend skipping the lines at the Louvre and heading across and up the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay. Housed in a former railroad station, part of the fun of this museum lies in admiring the fanciful details, skylights, and enormous clocks that decorate this Belle Époque masterpiece.
The art it contains rages from the mid-19th through the earlier 20th century and much of it is kid-friendly and accessible. Highlights include a large sculpture hall, a huge collection of Impressionist paintings (many of which are likely to be familiar to you and your children), and a cool cutaway scale model of the Palais Garnier, the famous opera house that is the haunt of the Phantom. And should your child grow tired of looking at art, you can go out onto the roof for a great view of the boats passing on the Seine.
>> More information is on the Musée d’Orsay website, in English with a video overview of the collection and the building’s history
4. Jardin de Luxembourg
Arguably the heart of Paris, this large green space is a kind of communal outdoor living room for young and old alike. Among the attractions for kids at the Jardin de Luxembourg are one of the best playgrounds ever (for which there is an entrance fee – it’s worth it!), a puppet theatre, and an old-fashioned carousel where the phrase “catching the brass ring” becomes real as children are invited to use a stick to try and snare elusive rings as they circle on the beautifully-painted circus animals.
Wander through the formal gardens admiring the numerous sculptures. Enjoy an ice cream on one of the garden chairs or benches. Or rent a boat to sail on large pool that sits at the garden’s epicenter in front of the Luxembourg Palace, possibly the best situated government building in the world (it is the home of the French Senate).
The movie Amélie made the Montmartre quarter of Paris famous in a rather twee way but the fact is that children love the narrow winding streets and staircases of this hillside neighborhood. Start at the Place des Abbesses where the “je t’aime” wall has the words “I love you” written in over 300 languages. Wander up to the famous wedding-cake white Sacré-Coeur Cathedral, passing through the Place du Tertre with packed with tourists and street artists plying their trade. There is a funicular on the hill in front of the church that your children might like to ride either up or down; mine preferred instead to race down to and ride on the double-decker carousel that is perched at the bottom in the Place Saint-Pierre.
From there, walk one block east to the Halle Saint Pierre, a former market building that now houses a museum of primitive and “outsider” art created by artists without formal training (just the kind of thing kids really enjoy and identify with). There is a café there, or you can head a few blocks back west to the Pâtisserie Couderc for tea and pastries.
More Kid-Friendly Paris Options
On a final note, there are some attractions in Paris that I haven’t yet had a chance to visit with my children (I’m hoping to rectify that in the summer of 2012, when we’ll be there for a week) but which come highly recommend by other travel writers.
These include the Musée des Arts et Métiers, which displays numerous inventions from the bicycle to the VCR and shows how they evolved over time; the Butte de Chaumont, yet another large park, this one famous for its man-made waterfalls, grotto, and rock formations; and the Parc de la Vilette, which has a science museum for kids of all ages called the Cité des Enfants.
And don’t forget the Eiffel Tower – you may wait in line to get in, but trust me, it’s worth it.
About the Author:
Mara Gorman has been traveling with her two sons for nearly a decade to destinations ranging from California to Paris. She blogs about their adventures at The Mother of All Trips.
photo of the Promenade Planteee by La Citta Vita, all others by Mara Gorman (all rights reserved)