What do you do if you’ve always wanted to visit Paris but are worried about bringing children along? Well, no need to fret – though Paris is usually more associated with young, love-mad couples, it is actually a fairly child-friendly city, with plenty to keep the children occupied, without ruining your own enjoyment.
Child Friendly Indoor Activities in Paris
There’s plenty for children to to in Paris, even in the middle of winter. Some of the biggest attractions in the city are of course the museums and the monuments. Though not all the museums will be to the children’s liking, there are dozens to choose from so there’ll always be something new to see. For families, a winter visit can have extra dividends, as most of the summer crowds will be gone and you can have much of the museum all to yourself — no worries about losing the kids in the crowd, plenty of space for them to run around without bothering anyone and best of all, freedom to admire the artwork for minutes on end without getting jostled or pushed.
Of all the museums, the best is without doubt the Musee de Louvre (above). Here, even the most selective youngster should be able to find something interesting, whether its the more famous Venus de Milo or Mona Lisa, or something more obscure in the Egyptology rooms.
If the kids are up to more art, you can whisk them over to the nearby Musee D’Orsay, the other repository of great masterpieces. One of the most popular displays is of the Impressionists, with Monet being the biggest crowd pleaser, but there are plenty of other artists around, so the children can choose their own favourites.
For something a little different, and if the kids are old enough not to be frightened by wax figures, you can take them to the Grevin Wax Museum at 10, Boulevard Montmartre, which was founded in 1882 after the success of Madam Tussaud’s in London. One of the most spectacular scenes is a wax re-enactment of the 1789 revolution. There is also a mirage room and a theatre of magic tricks.
Outdoor Child-Friendly Activities in Paris
If the day is clear and not too biting, you can spend more time outdoors. Paris is a city of parks and gardens, with over 200 green spaces where Parisians often spend their lunch hours in warmer days. If weather permits, stop by the Jardin de Tuileries, the city’s oldest park, where the kids can enjoy a ride on a historic carousel or take in a puppet show.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a visit to Paris without a stop at theEiffel Tower (right)! Just be careful when walking about at the top, as the winds can be quite strong and cutting cold.
On cooler days, there’s still plenty to do outside. You can join the locals for a spin around the ice rink which springs up every year in from of the majestic Hotel de Ville. Around Christmas time, you can wander around the many Christmas markets which spring up around the city, offering a profusion of charming Christmas mementoes and stalls offering gingerbread, mulled and other warming snacks. For example, the annual Children’s Worldplayground at the Place de la Bastille, with its street parade, carousels and Father Christmas grotto, is a great place to spend some time.
A memorable way to see Paris is to go on a bateau mouche on the Seine, especially at sunset or at night, when the Eiffel Tower rears up against the skyline. Another popular highlight of the journey is when the boat rounds the Ile de Cite and Notre Dame appears. Even without the scenery, there’s plenty to entertain the kids: multi-lingual audio-visual presentations; maps and tourism guides printed in 22 different languages; and even waypoint display systems which help them figure out a boat’s exact position!
Speaking of Notre Dame, the ancient cathedral is a particular favourite with children, especially those who’ve watched Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Take them up to the South Tower (if they are very young, you may have to carry them up all those stairs). At the top, they can see first hand the hideous gargoyles which once kept Quasimodo company, and admire the view of the Ile de Cite.
Back down all those steps and round to the south side of the building, there is a lovely little playground, complete with sand box and benches, where you can take a breather before the next jaunt. If you wait, you can catch the Mystery of Christmasperformance on the steps of the Cathedral during December, or if you’re lucky, you can enjoy a free concert in the Cathedral.
Dining Out With Children in Paris
Some people say that Parisians care more for dogs and cats than they do for children. This isn’t exactly true. Like most people, Parisians love children too, as long as they’re well-behavedchildren. Nobody like a screaming brat and Parisians suffer them less gladly than others, most particularly in grander restaurants, where properly trained dogs and cats on a leash will get more sympathy than unruly children. Having said that, there’s absolutely no reason why the kids can’t enjoy a true French restaurant experience in the more informal brasseries. There’s literally hundreds of restaurants to choose from, but to give you a hint of what you can find, below are a two popular eateries:
Le Cap Vernet is an excellent, classy yet casual brasserie for fine French cuisine, great for gently introducing children to the elegant world of French gastronomy. The 79F children’s lunch features delicacies such as ravioli de Royans, cod with polenta and wild mushrooms, and clafoutis, a delicious fruit custard pie (82 av Marceau, 8th/ ph: 01.47.20.20.40). Of course, adults have equally great food too, in particular the oysters.
Thoumieux is a ‘grand old dame’, long survivor in Paris’s oft-hectic restaurant world. One of the few restaurants open on Sundays when it is a family favourite, the food is traditional in the style of southwestern France, the service excellent, portion sizes reasonable, translated menus are available and everything is spiced by its great unpretentious atmosphere (79 rue St-Dominique, 7th/ ph: 01.47.05.46.44). You can even check out their offerings at www.thoumieux.fr
One caveat about French restaurants is that many tend to be ‘adults-focused’ establishments, and if they offer a kid’s menu at all, it is generally of the hot dog/hamburger/fries variety. Alternatively, you can just order from the adults’ menu and ask the waiter if the restaurant offers ‘portion enfant’, a slightly smaller serving of the dishes (not all restaurants can accommodate this though).
Tips To Get You Started
When you’re in Paris, to find any child-friendly activities happening in the city, stop by any newsstand and ask for the Figaroscope, a weekly supplement to the French-language Le Figaro newspaper and an excellent guide to whats going on in the city. If deciphering the French text is a bit much, stop by an English language book store and pick up a copy of The Paris Free Voice, a free monthly guide to Paris arts, entertainment and restaurants. For even more info, you can pop into the Tourism office and browse through the pamphlets and listings, or ask for help from the staff.
If you want to spend some time in the many museums and monuments in Paris, save yourself the hassle and time of standing in line by getting the Monument and Museum Pass. These are sold at museums and main Metro stations (priced at about EUR 18 for 1 day, EUR 36 for 3 days and EUR 54 for 5 days) and not only offer discounted admission but allows holders to completely bypass the ticket lines. Since most museums are free for children, this is more for the adults, but the kids will thank you for avoiding the lines too!