If you’ve gotten a response via email from someone else, it may have been from Emily, who has been helping me keep up with things on the blog, including all the newfangled tech stuff that eludes me. Emily is married, with children, and lives in Paris. Because I get a number of requests about kid-friendly activities in Paris, I asked her to offer up with her 10 favorite things to do with kids in Paris, including bonus tips on dining out with the little ones.
10 Fun Things to Do with Kids in Paris
With an 11-year-old daughter and a new 6-month-old son, I was worried that I would have a hard time finding activities to suit the whole family. Happily, while Parisiens have a reputation for indifference, they delight in babies. French people (almost) universally love babies, so they are welcome nearly everywhere in Paris. Below is a list of activities that we have enjoyed recently together as a family, and I hope you will enjoy them too.
(Words to the wise: While Paris is baby-friendly, the city streets, sidewalks, and compact cafés aren’t always stroller friendly. When in doubt, check the website or call before you go.)
1. Jardin du Luxembourg
The Jardin du Luxembourg is a treasure, with so many things to discover. At first glance there is the obvious: a newly renovated playground, swings, a carousel and the round pond where you can rent a classic model sailboat. If you look a little closer you will find a theatre with a daily puppet show, balloon sellers, a fairy floss stand, pony rides and a place to feed ducks in the shade at La Fontaine Médicis. There are hidden beehives (the honey is exclusively sold one day per year), a pétanque terrain where you can watch older men battle it out daily and even a miniature statue of Liberty hidden in the greenery. You can also enjoy lunch outside while the kids explore at La Table du Luxembourg.
As with most French parks the grass is for looking only. However during the summer, they open up one large patch for picnics. Right across the road is the often-overlooked “Petit Luxembourg” where you can kick a ball around, use the ping pong tables and jungle gyms, and sit anywhere you want, including on the grass.
2. Louvre in winter
In winter, when it is too cold to spend long stretches outside, it can be hard to find somewhere for kids to run off all their excess energy. An unconventional choice that we have tried and tested is the Louvre. With miles of cavernous hallways, it is a warm, and more importantly dry, place that is stroller friendly and (as long as you keep an eye on them) great for littles to practice their toddling skills. They also run ateliers for children of various ages all year round, which range from painting sessions to treasure hunts.
As culture is such an important part of children’s education in France, expect to be welcomed by the locals. Any side-eye you receive will be from tourists.
3. Jardin d’Acclimatation
The Jardin d’Acclimatation, in the Bois de Boulogne, has recently been renovated and is better than ever. Set in the shadow of the Frank Gehry designed Fondation Louis Vuitton, kids can run through fountains, enjoy the rides, indulge in sugary treats, be amazed by the peacocks wandering about on their own schedule, bounce on trampolines, or go down the classic swing and slide route. Arrive by the Small Train, which leaves from Porte Maillot and takes you through the Bois de Boulogne before dropping you off inside the Jardin. This is not only a fun novelty, but a good way to skip the lines at the main entrance, which can be long (you can also book tickets online, in advance).
4. Seine River Cruise
A completely touristy pursuit, the long, flat, boats that cruise up and down the Seine are wonderful for children and adults alike. In nice weather, sit on the roof terrace of these boats and alternatively wave to strangers as the boats drift past and daydream about owning one of the impressive apartments overlooking the river. It is the perfect way to see many of Paris’ famous landmarks, including a unique view of the Eiffel tower.
5. Centre Georges Pompidou
It is hard to miss this controversial building, located on the edge of the Marais, and since its completion in 1977, it has become one of the most visited monuments in France. They have a wide range of cultural activities for children ages 2 and up; specially devised programs for children to enjoy the major temporary exhibitions, a Kid’s Gallery (interactive workshop-exhibitions devised by contemporary artists) and a Kid’s Studio (programs designed to develop small children’s awareness of art and creation). For teenagers there is Studio 13/16, an open space with free programs dedicated to 13- to 16-year olds. There is a mix of free and ticketed events and further information can be found in English on their website.
6. Escape game
Escape games are growing in popularity all over the world, but in Paris you have the opportunity to discover one with a unique twist. Set inside the famous Palais Garnier, immerse your family in the chase to lift the curse of the Phantom of the Opera. Participants are free to roam around this spectacular monument, visiting the Grand Escalier, the Avant-Foyer, the Grand Foyer, the Galerie du Glacier, the Salon du Glacier, and The Phantom of the Opera’s box while guided through the process by actors in period costumes.
Available to all ages but I suggest calling in advance if you want to take the little ones.
In winter, a selection of ice-skating rinks open up all over Paris. Our favorite is the “Largest ice rink in the world” inside the Grand Palais. During the day you can enjoy the light of Paris through the famous glass roof, and at night enjoy the disco lights, giant mirror balls, and a DJ.
There is a space dedicated entirely to children, so little ones can learn to skate in safety and in a relaxed environment. Follow up the hard work with a choice of gaufres (waffles), crêpes, un hot-dog (a hot dog) and of course, a cup of chocolat chaud (hot chocolate).
8. Lunch in the Eiffel Tower
For the quintessential Paris experience to remember, lunch in the Eiffel Tower is it. Restaurant 58 offers a 3-course set menu with a beverage; €41 for adults, €17 for kids under 12. (Price subject to change.) The lunch service is tailored to families so expect charming service without any stuffy-ness. Follow up lunch with a visit to the glass floor. (The restaurant is planning renovations from September but will be open again early 2020.)
9. Atelier des Lumières
The Atelier des Lumières opened in 2018 after 4 years of renovations to the disused foundry space, and what they have created is simply magical. An animated journey through the life of an artist and their work (currently Vincent Van Gogh), is projected on to all the surfaces of the space, accompanied by a moving soundtrack. A simple premise but a captivating experience and bonus, it is air-conditioned. The perfect place to sit and enjoy a beautiful, calm moment together with the kids.
Tickets can ONLY be booked in advance online, you cannot buy tickets on arrival. Strollers are not allowed.
10. Jardin des Plantes
The perfect place to let kids run around in a beautiful setting, the Jardin des Plantes is so much more than just a botanical garden. There is a small zoo, greenhouses, and a series of temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection includes a children’s gallery, the gallery of paleontology and comparative anatomy, mineralogy and geology gallery, and the impressive gallery of evolution. The gallery of evolution will have everyone astounded, from the blue whale skeleton to the life-size savanna caravan, and the hall itself is a masterpiece surrounded by 3 balconies under a 1000 m² glass roof.
Summer Bonus: Seine River Path
Along the Seine path from Pont d’Iéna to Pont des Arts there is a series of activities for children, including the Little Adventurers Trail with a very popular climbing wall and 20-meter-long slate wall to decorate (just an FYI, that it’s B.Y.O. chalk). In summer there are also bars, restaurants and ice-cream trucks catering to the whole family along long stretches of the river, including the famous Paris-Plages. Important to note that while most of the path is well paved, certain stretches are still in ancient cobblestones which can be tricky for prams or strollers.
Eating Out with Kids in Paris
Eating en famille (with family) is an important part of the French culture and, with the exception of a few very high-end places, kids are very welcome in restaurants in Paris. That said, French people do expect kids to be well behaved, but are understanding when things go wrong if they can see you are doing your best. Kids here are brought up to participate without being the center of attention or be “entertained,” so crayons and activity packs sometimes appear as a nice bonus, but are not standard. No one will judge you if you resort to electronics, but screens without headphones will not be tolerated!
Kids menus tend to have the same items wherever you go (spaghetti bolognaise, hamburger or beef patty with French fries, chicken and frites, etc, a scoop of ice-cream) but should your children wish to try out some new flavors, many places will make anything from the adult’s menu in a smaller portion or let you share plates between the family.
Eating at the earlier sitting (midday for lunch and 7pm or earlier for dinner) will allow you more space and give you time to settle in before the restaurant gets full. Most places will happily accommodate strollers, provide high chairs and warm bottles for you. Note that changing tables are not guaranteed and rarely provided, so plan accordingly.
[Photo credits in this post to Emily Gaudichon.]