After three weeks spent exploring Paris and the surrounding areas with my daughters, ages 8 and 10, I’d like to think that we have some sense of what works with kids in Paris. Paris is, in my humble opinion, an inspired place to spend time with kids. There are families everywhere, Parisians generally love kids, and the possible activities are endless. This is by no means an exhaustive review because there are so many things we didn’t even get to!
One of our favorite things to do in Paris was to just immerse ourselves in everyday life. We rented a flat through VRBO which in my opinion is the ONLY way to travel with kids. You have a kitchen, laundry, room to spread out, and best of all, you become part of the fabric of everyday life in the neighborhood.
We would wake in our sunny flat every morning and stroll down to the local boulangerie where we were greeted by our favorite shop owner who served us pain au chocolate. Yep. Every morning. Without fail.
We loved spending the morning at the Rue de Grenelle market, acquiring fruits, vegetables and eggs. We would admire the housewares, clothes and leather goods. Occasionally we would snag a fun piece of jewelry or a scarf. After dropping our collected treasures back at the flat we would take off again for our daily adventure. Afternoons would invariably find us relaxing at the flat before heading up to Rue Cler to walk the pedestrian only street, darting into the fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and wine shop in a veritable scavenger hunt for dinner items. We would stroll the streets of Paris, pass through the Champ de Mars, steal a glance at the Eiffel Tower and then back to the flat to enjoy our finds. Our favorite dinner would be baguettes, salted butter from Normandy, beautiful tomatoes with olive oil and salt, with an array of cheeses and charcuterie. Oh, and a glass (or two) of rosé. Sheer perfection. Part of the beauty of these experiences is that they have carried over even now that we are home. Our favorite dinner is still a baguette from our local bakery, cheeses from the cheese section of our specialty grocery store and fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes. Ahhhhh.
As for the sights to see with the kids, I have collected wisdom and insights below.
Eiffel Tower—-a beautiful classic that in my opinion is not to be missed. Reservations are a must, reserve on line for your entrance time to skip some of the lines and make the best use of your time. Elevators to le sommet come with long lines and there is no way to bypass the system. But, really, you are in Paris. Stand in line and go to the top. You’ll never forget it! Return, if you can, after dark to watch the tower lit up in all it’s glory at the top of every hour.
Notre Dame—-short lines to get inside and no fee or reservation required. Insanely long line for the Tower Climb so had to forego that portion of the tour. Beautiful interior with lots of religious history to be learned. Perhaps more interesting for the kids is the exterior of the building with it’s multiple gargoyles and flying buttresses.
Ile St. Louis—the small island in the Seine adjacent to Notre Dame is chock full of cute shops, cafes and treats. Berthillon ice cream has a walk-up shop on the main street and some of the cafes serve the classic ice cream as well. Crêpe stands abound as well and the collection of cute shops makes for a pleasant diversion.
In the general vicinity of Notre Dame are the Left Bank boquinistas and the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. The boquinistas are a must see and interesting for the children. The bookstore is an historic landmark and could be fun but we found it hot and crowded.
Saint Chapelle is a gorgeous cathedral that is a must see. Plan your entrance time strategically to avoid long security lines. The stained glass is simply breathtaking. Between Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame, adjacent to Cité Metro stop is the Flower Market which is well worth the stop for little adventurers. A covered outdoor market, the Flower Market features all varieties of plants, flowers, garden accessories, bird houses, etc.
Rue Sèvres neighborhood—-start at the Bon Marché for a taste of a Parisian department store. The toy section on the upper level will captivate your children. So fun to see which toys are the same in Paris, and which are different! From there, stroll down Rue Sèvres to La Maison de Chocolate, snag a free sample and buy some treats if desired. From there, wander to Gerard Mulot and treat yourself to Paris’ best macarons and quiche Lorraine. Oh, and the avocado crevette. Take your food finds to…….
Luxembourg Gardens—-a beautiful place to picnic and people watch. We enjoyed two trips to les Jardins de Luxembourg during our stay here. Picnicked both times accompanied by a glass of rosé purchased at the cafe in the park. Wine in the park, brilliant! There are two playgrounds here, one for younger kids, one for older kids. Mine were happily occupied for an hour playing at the bigger of the two. There is a small fee to get in but so worth it. Sailing sail boats at the pond in the center of the park was also a great diversion.
Louvre—timing is everything at this large, iconic museum of all museums. We arrived on a Wednesday evening about 3 or 4 hours before closing time. No lines, minimal crowds. We got up close and personal to the Mona Lisa. My girls loved the ancient Greco Roman statues and had such fun imitating their poses. Don’t try to tackle the entirety of the Louvre in one visit. Pick a wing and do it, or however much of it they tolerate. A return visit can always happen to explore more the museum when everyone is happy and rested. We made two trips to the Louvre and the girls loved every second of it. A gift shop in the carousel level (below ground) offers a place for quality souvenirs at fairly reasonable prices.
Arc de Triomphe—the best part of the Arc for my children was the view from the top of the massive roundabout that encircle the Arc. Monument wise, this was probably their least favorite. It does, however, give you a great perspective on the layout of the city and the Champs Elysses.
Champs Elysses—-Meh. There are more interesting shopping streets in Paris that feel more authentic than the Champs Elysses. We did have a little shopping success but could have skipped it and not missed it.
Tuileries—-pretty garden between the Champs Elysses and the Louvre. Nice cafes for lunch or a snack. In the far corner adjacent to the entrance from the Place de la Concorde is a trampoline park. Small entrance fee (10 Euros) buys your child 5 minutes of jumping time and you 5 minutes of peace.
Musee d’Orsay—-accessible, approachable museum housed in a gorgeous old train station. The building and the art are amazing. Stunning impressionism work captivated the girls’ imaginations. Snack and wine in the decadent museum cafe was a great way to end the visit. I can’t say enough about how great this museum is. Don’t miss it!
Pompidou Centre—Paris’ collection of modern and contemporary art. This collection is quite a departure from the Louve and d’Orsay but does complete the historical tour of the art scene, bringing the viewer now to modern times. The building itself is interesting. The girls most enjoyed the imaginative, interactive play exhibit located just inside the main doors. We found this a fine way to spend a morning but it wasn’t one we would likely return to.
Napoleon’s Tomb and the Army Museum—-much more enjoyable than I ever would have imagined. The building housing Napoleon’s Tomb is stunning and the Army Museum gives an exceptionally detailed tour through WWI and WWII, providing foundational knowledge from which to understand the complex interplay between nations. My husband loved it here and could have spent many, many, many hours. The girls and I enjoyed it but were tapped out after a few hours.
Galleries Lafayette—–quintessential Parisian department store for budding shopaholics. Yes, it’s busy and crowded with tourists. But it’s also a whirlwind of fun and a feast for the eyes.
Canal St. Martin—this is a typical Parisian neighborhood along the canal. A little off the beaten path, this is a quiet, charming, area with fun shops filled with treasures that captivated myself and my children for many hours.
Sennelier Art Store—the oldest art store in Paris, jammed full of gorgeous art supplies. We could have wandered for quite some time. Girls each purchased a sketchbook here but the options are nearly endless.
Baking class—we love baking and cooking together at home and this was a great way to learn a bit about French baking. We took a class at L’ateliers des Sens where we learned to make choux pastry and delicious eclairs. This was one of the few cooking schools in Paris where children and parents could take a class together. The class was very child oriented, hands on and lots of fun. A great way to learn more about French culture and baking and to meet fellow travelers.
Montmartre Food Tour—-this was great! We spent five hours touring the food scene in Montmartre with an amazing and knowledgeable guide. We visited a chocolatier, macaron shop, boulangerie, fromagerie, wine shop, butcher, and crêperie. At each stop we learned about the food made and sold there and gained wisdom about how to shop for foods. We had a backstage tour of the boulangerie where baguettes were being made. The girls got to feel the dough and help push it into the big ovens. Delicacies were purchased at each stop and consumed family style in a restaurant at the end of the trip. Yes, this was a long activity but well worth it and the girls enjoyed it immensely.
Out of Paris
Chantilly—a former hunting chateau and current home to beautiful, well trained horses. Chantilly is just a short train ride out of Paris. The town itself is small and charming and English is less prominent than it is in Paris which I found to be refreshing and an excellent opportunity to use my French. The chateau grounds are beautiful but most impressive are the horse stables. The horse training demonstration is a must see.
Loire Valley—this was my big, brave adventure. The girls and I traveled by train from Paris to St. Pierre des Corps in the Loire Valley. Once there, I rented a car and we drove to the village of Amboise. We stayed just out of Amboise at Château de Pray, a former château tucked in the hillside. We swam in the pool, explored the village, visited surrounding châteaus, ate the most amazing food, toured vineyards and wineries and generally enjoyed ourselves. I could write an entire post about this small segment of the Loire Valley, and maybe I will, but suffice it to say, this side trip was well worth our time. With any luck, we will return.
As a brief aside, there a couple of online resources I found to be extremely helpful in planning our kid friendly time in France. One is https://mylittlenomads.com/paris-for-kids. The other is http://mamalovesparis.com. I followed Mama Loves Paris on Facebook which was great for receiving timely updates about cool happenings in Paris.
I could go on and on but the bottom line is that traveling with kids is amazing and Paris is just the city to embrace with your little ones. What a beautiful introduction to international travel, culture, fine art, delicious food, and the Parisian way of life.
Stay tuned for our next installment where we will detail some of the specific tips and tricks for making the most of your time in Paris with children.