The Best Family Tours in Paris
- Skip The Line Tickets: Eiffel Tower • Louvre • Versailles • Disneyland Paris • Arc de Triomphe • Catacombs • Musee d’Orsay
- Top Tip: Do a tour! Paris tours and guides are great. Kids tend to ignore their own parents but listen to other adults talking about local history, food, or customs. Definitely recommended. My kids love them.
- Get Your Guide – Great site for finding tours and getting good discounts.
- Chocolate Tasting Tour – A 3-hour walking tour of Saint-Germain-des-Prés with 5 chocolate tastings, 3 pastries, and several breads. Highly recommended.
- Behind the Scenes Bakery Tour – Make baguettes in a real french bakery. Lots of fun. Also interesting: The Macaron Cooking Class
- Fat Tire Bike Tours – These are wonderful fun. Lots of bikes for all ages and sizes. Recommended tours include: The Paris Tour (3.5 hours) • Versailles (8 hours)
- Eiffel Tower & Seine River Cruise – Skip the line at the Eiffel Tower then take a 1 hour cruise along the River Seine.
- Louvre 2-Hour Private Tour for Families and Children – Very well done and great for kids.
The 29 Best Things to Do with Kids in Paris
Kids love the Eiffel Tower. Your biggest decision will be whether to take the stairs or the elevator. I prefer the stairs as the lines are shorter, the price is cheaper, and you get a better sense of the structure of the tower. The stairs are wide which allows faster visitors to pass resting families easily. However, the stairs will only take you to the 2nd level. To get to the 3rd level (the top) you can take the elevator all the way up or stairs to the 2nd level and from there an elevator to the top. The queue for the elevator on the 2nd level is shorter than on the ground floor but can still take up to 45 minutes. You can buy tickets up to 4 months in advance (and skip the line). The website will often show tickets are sold out but if you keep trying back you might get lucky as additional tickets are often released right up to the day before. If you can’t get advanced tickets, consider visiting at night as lines are shorter. If possible visit on a clear day; you can see as far as Chartes cathedral 80km away. Yet even on a gray day, there is nothing more mysterious than seeing the tower disappear into low misty clouds. It is very windy up there and cold, so be prepared. Visiting at the end of your Paris visit can also be a good idea as kids will recognize different sites from around the city. There aren’t many shops near the Eiffel Tower so if you want to picnic on the grass around the tower then buy supplies before arriving. In winter there is an ice skating rink on the first floor. There are two restaurants both family-friendly but they need to be booked well in advance on the website. There’s a small playground and carousel at the south end of the Champ-de-Mars. The best view of the Eiffel Tower is from across the Seine at the Trocadéro.
Hours: Daily from 10:30am to 5:15pm (5:30pm mid-September to mid-October).
Closest Métros: Bir Hakeim or Trocadéro.
The biggest challenge at the Louvre is limiting yourself and having a plan. It would take weeks to see everything. Pick out 1 or a few paintings in advance, learn their history, discuss them with your kids, and then seek them out when you’re there. (The Raft of the Medusa is my favorite in the Louvre and is based on an incredible tale about a shipwreck that will leave any kid enthralled.) Buying post cards of intriguing art works beforehand and then searching for them is also a fun game. Kids love that the audio guides are on a Nintendo 3DS. There are Visitor Trails based on particular themes that you can print in advance and will guide you about the museum searching for different art works. The building itself is incredible and worth time to explore and learn its history.
Hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm on Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and 9:00am to 9:45pm on Wednesday and Friday. Closed on Tuesdays.
Closest Métros: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre or Louvre–Rivoli.
Update: Access is closed due to the fire but this tour of the Île de la Cité and area is an excellent way to learn the history of the Notre Dame.
A marvelously impressive building. It’s easy to spend a few hours walking in and around the church looking at the gargoyles, artwork, gothic architecture, and intricate facade featuring biblical characters. Over 800 years old, this Gothic masterpiece sits on top of a Roman temple. During the Revolution, it was used as a stable, in 1804 Napoleon crowned himself here, and during the mass to celebrate the 1944 Liberation shots rang out. Start your tour of Paris here (it forms the core for much of Paris history) and get the most from the visit by watching Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) to give the kids a real feel for Paris in the Middle Ages. Point out the easily recognizable carvings of Biblical characters on the façade and the chancel screen that runs around the center of the church telling the story of Jesus in a medieval style-cartoon strip. It’s a working cathedral so the kids need to show respect, but as it’s free you can just pop in for a few minutes, and then climb the towers to get a close look at the gargoyles and explore Quasimodo’s world. Don’t miss the Crypte Archéologique at the entrance of the square in front of Notre Dame. Here you can see the remains of the Paris that Asterix would recognize – the Roman city of Lutetia. There is a pretty playground behind the cathedral with fabulous views across the Seine. In winter go skating in front of the nearby Hotel de Ville and in summer enjoy the fun at Paris-Plages when the main road on the Right Bank is turned into a beach. Eat ice cream at Berthillon (closed August) or croissants at Boulangerie St Martin across the street.
Hours: 8:00am to 6:45pm Monday to Friday; 8:00am to 7:15pm Saturday and Sunday.
Closest Métro: Cité.
4. Sacre Coeur
Perched on the top of Montmartre hill with incredible views of Paris from both the 423-foot high dome and the steps in front of the basilica. The surrounding neighborhood features a collection of charming streets, shops, and restaurants. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon exploring the area. There’s a funicular tram to take you up to the Sacre Coeur if the steps are too much. Parisians have mixed feelings about the sparkly white basilica of Sacre Coeur. It was built to celebrate the end of the Paris Commune in 1871, which was born and brought down in Montmartre. As a result, it is a highly conservative building with some very nationalistic symbols. Look for Joan of Arc and King Louis IX on the front. You can climb to the top of the dome but the view from the hilltop is splendid enough. Be aware that there is a continual mass inside the cathedral and silence is the rule. The gardens in front have a beautiful old carousel at the bottom. There is also a lovely little park behind Sacre Coeur. This is a beautiful spot for a family evening stroll when the crowds have gone home and Sacre Coeur is lit by the moonlight. The haunt of some of the greatest artists Place du Tertre is now a tourist knickknack heaven (and a short walk from the basilica), so ideal for kids who love keyrings and fridge magnets. Older kids will enjoy the Espace Dali that has an interesting collection of works by the surrealist Salvador Dali. On Rue St Vincent you can see the Montmartre vineyard (the harvest celebrations take place in autumn). Away from the crowds, cool off in Square Suzzane Buisson on Rue Giradon. A statue of Saint Denis, who was martyred here and gave the area its name, sits in the center of the square. Walk back down Rue Lepic, which has two of the many windmills that once dotted the hill and lots of interesting shops and cafes. It takes you to Métro Abesses, the deepest in the city.
Hours: Daily 6:00am to 10:30pm.
Closest Métro: Abbesses
Wonderful views both day and evening of the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees, and the rest of the boulevards that radiate out from the arch. Lots of steps up a tight winding staircase to get to the terrace on top (there is no elevator). Napoleon celebrated his victory over the Russians and the Austrians at Austerlitz in 1805 by building this triumphal arch. When it was built it was in the fields on the edge of Paris. Since then occupying and liberating troops have marched under it and the July 14 military parade takes place here. First, climb the stairs to see the view. The best time to visit is just before sunset as the arch sits in the middle of an axis that runs from the Louvre to the modern arch at La Défense, which is due west. Then admire the arch itself. Point out Napoleon in his emperor’s clothes on the left base. The shields on the top are engraved with his victories and inside are the names of his generals – those who were killed are underlined. The frieze on the northern side shows his troops breaking the ice in the frozen lakes so thousands of their enemies would drown. The tomb of the unknown soldier lies underneath. It contains one of the 1.3 million Frenchmen who died in WW1. The eternal flame is relit in a small ceremony at 6:30pm every day. Then head for the belle époque teashop Ladurée, 75 Champs-Elysées, which serves the best macaroons in the city. Afterward, have a runabout in the Jardins des Champs Elysées and take a stroll across the city’s most beautiful bridge the Pont Alexandre III, featured in the cartoon Anastasia (1997).
Hours: Daily 10:00am to 11:00pm from April to September; 10:00am to 10:30pm from October to March.
Closest Métros: Kléber or Argentine
This park in the east of central Paris (Jardin des Plantes) was laid out in 1626 as a medicinal garden. In the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, The Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (pictured above) depicts a wide range of animals and highlights the diversity and evolution of life. The museum has a lot to see (my kids loved the butterfly display) and can easily fill 3 or 4 hours. The nearby Galeries de Paléontologie et d’Antatomie has a fascinating old fashioned collection of skeletons. Also in the park is the Ménagerie – the oldest public zoo in the world. It opened in 1793 after the Revolution when the last surviving animals from the King’s private zoo at Versailles were brought here. The third giraffe ever to set foot in Europe moved here in 1826. It is a small and intimate zoo, classically Parisian in feel, and small children love it, even if it does not have the big safari animals. Madeline roared at a lion here in the children’s classic by Ludwig Bemelmans. When you’re done with the park head for Rue Mouffetard. It’s a cobbled street that was once a Roman road. Mouths will water at the tasty array of cakes, cheeses, and ice cream shops and there are plenty of cafes to relax in. The Mosquée de Paris opposite the Natural History Museum has an oriental café where you can taste the North African influence on France.
Hours: Gardens: Open daily from 7:30am to 8:00pm in summer and from 8:00am to 5:30pm in winter. Museum: Open daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm; closed Tuesdays.
Closest Métro: Gare-d’-Austerlitz-Noct
Underneath Paris, there is a rabbit warren of tunnels and caves. If you sliced through the limestone rock below the city it would look like a gruyère cheese. At one point there were dozens of mushroom farms below ground and there are still tons of gold bars stacked under the Banque de France. In the tunnels known as Les Catacombes are the skeletons of six million Parisians. This is a great attraction for understanding the history of Paris. In the late 18th century the cemeteries were a breeding ground for disease and illness. The graves were emptied and the bodies stored underneath the city in the Catacombs. There are 6 million skulls and skeletons – victims of the plague, the French Revolution, and the guillotine. Among the bodies were the revolutionaries Danton and Robespierre and the fairy-tale storytellers Jean de la Fontaine and Charles Perrault. The bones are laid out in spooky patterns and a spiral staircase leads down to this strange underworld. It isn’t as ghoulish as it sounds and most kids are not scared by the sight. My big warning here is the wait which can be anywhere from 1 hour to 4 so get here early and have some snacks. (There is a McDonalds and a grocery store nearby if the kids are hungry – one parent can stay in line). It’s busiest on rainy days. Kids get as much of a kick taking a look at the stinky sewers, Les Egouts. They were the star of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and the cartoon Ratauoille (2007). They were laid out by Baron Haussmann when he rebuilt the city in the 1850s. The sewers run parallel to the streets above in a strange underworld. Tours are conducted on foot and occur in Quai d’Orsay area.
Hours: Daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm; closed Mondays. Last entrance 4:00pm.
Closest Métros: To Les Catacombes: Denfert-Rochereau. To Les Egouts: Alma Marceau.
The Pompidou Centre is a building turned inside out. Its pipes and escalators are on the outside. Water pipes are green, air-conditioning ducts are blue, and electricity cables yellow. The building is named after Georges Pompidou, who was President of France 1969-74. He loved all things modern and this quirky building designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano is his legacy along with the motorway that thunders along the Right Bank. Take the escalators to the roof for beautiful views across Paris. Inside is a fabulous modern art gallery. Best for children is the permanent exhibition of art from 1905-60. It contains work by Chagall who drew illustrations for the fables by Jean de la Fontaine. You can buy the book in the bookshop which has a great selection of children’s books. Besides the highbrow, there is the interactive Galarie des Enfants, aimed at kids, and a junior’s cinema that sometimes shows films in English. Kids love the street theater in the square in front of the Pompidou Centre. It’s a pedestrianized area and perfect for kids to let off steam. Good kid-friendly cafes are by the adjacent Stravinsky Fountain with its enchanting mechanical sculptures.
Hours: Daily from 11:00 am to 10:00pm; closed Tuesdays.
Closest Métro: Rambuteau
A beautiful park with a great playground, a fountain pond for sailing small wooden boats, a marionette theater (puppet shows at 2:30, 3:30, and 4:30 in summer), an old fashioned carousel (designed by Charles Garnier, who also built the Opéra), and many statue-lined paths to explore. Beware that the costs can quickly mount here as most attractions have a fee – even the playground. A visit here will show how much you can miss about a city if you don’t have kids. This is the place to discover just what it is like to have a privileged Parisian childhood. The park with its old men playing chess under the trees has been cloned across the Francophone world, so it may seem strangely familiar even to first-time visitors. Ernest Hemmingway was a hard-up parent and used to push his son around the park in his pram. When the policeman wasn’t looking, he would quickly lure a pigeon over with some grains, strangle it, and take it home to cook. Nearby Rue Vavin has some extremely stylish children’s shops, and it is a short walk to the Tour de Montparnasse which offers amazing views across Paris. The Marché Edgar Quinet area is the place to eat crêpes.
Hours: Open daily in summer from 7:00am to dusk and in winter from 8:00am to dusk.
Closest Métro: Odéon.
10. The Conciergerie
Kids are drawn to the fairy-tale towers of the Conciergerie that rise up from the Seine on the Ile de la Cité. This is all that remains of the royal palace built in 1300. When the kings moved to the Louvre it became a notorious prison run by a steward, the concierge. After the Revolution thousands of prisoners were held here before being taken to the guillotine, among them Marie Antoinette. Before you go tell the kids a brief outline of what happened in the Revolution in 1789 as there are no explanations aimed at children here. There is a cartoon version of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities set in London and Paris during the revolution (2002). Inside point out the huge vaulted ceilings of the largest surviving medieval hall in Europe, the gruesome prison cells will appeal, as does the model of Marie Antoinette in the chapel. If it is a sunny day, pop into Sainte Chapelle when the stunning stained glass windows glow in the sunlight. They tell the story of the bible in a simple way that is easily accessible for kids. Both buildings are still part of the complex that makes up the Palais du Justice. Cool off in the Place Dauphine, where you can often see people playing boules. Picnic in Square du Vert Galant, a magical spot that looks west up the Seine and is just below the Pont Neuf. You can sail away on a tourist cruise along the Seine after lunch, be shudder at the thought that the Vikings once sailed down the Seine.
Hours: Daily from 9:30am to 6:00pm.
Closest Métro: Cité.
For ages 10 and older only. I can not recommend these tours highly enough. They are so much fun. While they’re not designed with families in mind, if your kids are into trying some new things, they’re a great introduction to Paris food and culture. The main food stops are cheese, chocolate, and pastries – pretty kid-friendly. After walking around a Paris neighborhood collecting snacks and visiting small specialty stores the tours stop at a wine shop (juice for the kids) and a warm friendly picnic takes place with lots of stories and explanations of where the food comes from and how it got made. The tours are especially helpful if you do them at the start of your stay as you’ll get loads of tips and recommendations on where to eat, shop, and explore. The guides are simply wonderful. Tours fill up about 2 to 3 weeks in advance so book before arriving.
Hours: Tours daily, usually morning and afternoon.
Closest Métros: Different stations depending on which tour is booked.
This is a very fun tour around the central Paris attractions. Tours start from the Fat Tire main office (near the Eiffel Tower) where you’re fitted with a bike. You stop and have lunch (not included) in the gardens near the Louvre. The guides offer brief, thoughtful, and often hilarious historical descriptions along the way. The ride lasts just over 4 hours (but goes really fast it’s so fun) and you end up riding about 4 or 5 miles with very few hills. Fat Tire also does a Versailles tour (visit a market, picnic on the palace grounds, skip the line for Versailles – highly recommended) and a Paris night tour (which involves more riding than the day tour so probably better for older kids). 20″ and 24″ kids bikes are available but you need to reserve them in advance.
Hours: Tours daily, usually at 11:00am.
Closest Métros: Different stations depending on which tour is booked.
The park dates from the 17th century and was once part of the Palais des Tuileries, which was burnt down in 1871 by an angry mob. It stood where the Arc du Carrousel now stands in front of the Louvre. The story has it that Charles Perrault, the author of the fairy tales Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots, persuaded Louis XIV to open the royal gardens to the public. It has a boating pond, two playgrounds, and a carousel. It also has a good traditional restaurant with outdoor tables, Café Renard. In summer there is a fair. At the opposite end of the park from the Louvre is Place de la Concorde. The guillotine stood here, and from 1792 to 1794 the square ran red with blood, quite literally. The obelisk in the center is 3,200 years old and was a gift from the Pasha of Egypt in 1829. He was given a clock that never worked in return. The square is at its best after dark when the views are magical. If you fancy a real treat, the family-friendly Hotel Crillon is a popular spot for Sunday brunch. Angelina, 226 Rue de Rivoli, is a 19th-century tearoom known for its hot chocolate.
Hours: Daily from 7:30am to 7:00pm for most of the year. Open until 9:00 pm in April, May, and September and until 11:00 pm in July and August.
Closest Métros: Palais-Royal-Musée-du-Louvre, Concorde, or Tuileries.
14. Musée d’Orsay
Across the river from the Tuileries is one of the city’s best art museums, the Musée d’Orsay. Art galleries in France are geared up for kids, and at the age of three, they are busy copying Matisse in the classroom. Kids are impressed by the impressionists’ and the post-impressionists’ love of color and light. To top it off, the museum is in an old railway station; point out the old station clock. Show them the Van Gogh paintings, the works of Matisse, the dotty, pointillist pictures by Seurat and Signac, and Degas’ ballet scenes. To get the best out of the trip, introduce the kids to some of the lives of the great painters like Van Gogh before you go. Now it’s time for a treat. Debauve & Gallais is the city’s oldest chocolate shop; they once made sweets for Marie Antoinette. Eric Kayser, 18 Rue de Bac, is a great bakery and a good stop for lunch.
Hours: Open from 9:30am to 6:00pm Tuesday to Sunday; closes at 9:45pm on Thursdays.
Closest Métro: Solférino.
Housed in the main building of the Hôtel des Invalides (built by Louis XIV to house injured soldiers) the Musee de l’Armee has an incredible collection of military weapons. The rooms devoted to the 20th century are especially interesting for older children. Napolean’s tomb sits in Eglise du Dôme at the center of the huge complex. Make this trip towards the end of your time in Paris as by now the kids should have heard of Napoleon and this is where the great man is buried. He lies under a golden dome that dominates the skyline. He died in exile but was to be given a state funeral and a hero’s return in 1840. His remains lie inside six coffins. The French are proud of his reforms and state restructuring as well as of his military prowess. The Hôtel des Invalides was built as an army hospital by the warmongering Louis XIV. For time out from tourism, head south to the little playground on the tree-lined Avenue de Breteuil. For something unusual go to Rue de Bac and check out Deyrolle, at No 46; this taxidermist has been stuffing animals since 1831.
Hours: Daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm from April to October and from 10:00am to 5:00pm from November to March.
Closest Métros: Varenne, École Militaire, or La Tour-Maubourg.
16. Cité des Sciences and Cité des Enfants
Great hands-on fun at Cité des Enfants. There are 2 sections: one for 2 to 7-year-olds and one for 5 to 12-year-olds. Your ticket is good for 90 minutes and you can do both separately. It’s highly recommended to buy tickets online in advance. The Cité des Sciences is for older kids and adults, is largely in French with an English audio guide available, and also has a planetarium.
Hours: Open 10:00am to 6:00pm Tuesday to Saturday and from 10:00am to 7:00pm Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
Closest Métros: Porte de la Villette or Corentin Cariou.
My favorite bookstore in Paris sits just across from Notre Dame. It’s an amazing and enchanting shop that is larger than it looks from the outside. There are childrens’ readings mixed among the regular stream of literary events.
Hours: Open Monday to Friday from 10:00am to 11:00pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 11:00am to 11:00pm.
Closest Métros: Saint-Michel Notre-Dame or Cluny-La Sorbonne.
18. The Panthéon
The sheer size of the building will impress the kids. Then comes the intriguing fact that this cathedral-like building is not a place to worship God but the heroes of France. Louis IV intended it to be a church but they went out of fashion during the Revolution and the Pantheon became a temple of reason. The historical frescoes give a crash course in French history. Point out the giant pendulum that hangs from the ceiling as this was where Leon Foucault carried out his experiments in the 19th century to prove the earth rotated on its axis. In the crypt, you can see the final resting places of the great and the good among them the queen of radioactivity, Marie Curie. You can visit her laboratory which is just around the corner on Rue Pierre et Marie Curie. Before you go, climb the dome for some fabulous views of Paris. The Pantheon is next to one of the best schools in Paris, the Lycée Henri IV. Next stop, travel back in time. On nearby Rue Monge is the Arènes de Lutèce. It was one of the Romans’ biggest amphitheaters and could seat 15,000 people. Be sure to bring a ball and kick about gladiator style in the arena. There is also a playground.
Hours: Open daily from 10:00am to 6:00pm.
Closest Métros: Maubert Mutualité or Cardinal Lemoine.
19. Musée Grévin
Meet kings, queens, and celebrities in this classic waxwork museum, founded in 1882 by newspaper cartoonist Alfred Grévin, so his readers could get a better look at the rich and famous he was writing about. It’s pricey but a good break from highbrow culture and is in a fabulous fin de sciècle building. Queues are shortest at lunchtime, but it’s best to save time and buy tickets in advance on the website. The tour starts in the Palais des Mirages, a kaleidoscopic sound and light show built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. It is breathtaking, but guests are plunged into darkness before the show begins, so be sure to pick up toddlers and warn small children not to be scared. The historical wax work scenes will bring history to life for kids, so it’s best to visit once they have got to know a little about the city. Then it’s on to meet the stars. The museum is far more authentic than London’s Madame Tussauds. Next to the museum are Les Passages, the world’s first shopping malls. Passage Jouffroy has some good cafes and interesting shops while the Passage des Princes has been taken over by a huge toy shop. A La Mere de la Famille, 35 Rue Faubourg Montmartre, has been selling wonderful sweets since 1761. Stop for a drink in the rooftop café at Printemps, which has a fabulous view across the rooftops and the Opéra.
Hours: Hours vary daily; check their website for current hours.
Closest Métros: Grands Boulevards or Richlieu-Drouot.
The 8eme district of Paris was laid out in the second half of the 19th century, and the rich and famous flocked here. Paris remained a revolutionary city and one divided between rich and poor. To understand the anger that led to the 1871 Commune, come here to wonder at the glitz and wealth created by the Eduoard Andre and his wife Nélie Jacquemart. The museum has family events and an English activity book for kids. It also has a wonderful café which is good for a family brunch or tea. Then take a walk around Parc Monceau (open from 7:00am to 8:00pm – or 10:00pm in summer) for a feel of what it’s like to be a modern parent in this wealthy part of Paris. A historic spot, Proust used to like to stroll here, and many of the communards were executed here in 1871. The kids won’t worry about that and will enjoy the sandpit and the playground. If you want to picnic there are shops on Rue Prony opposite the park’s golden main gates. If you are with older kids, take a quick walk along to see the onion domes of St. Alexandre Nevsky Cathedral. In the 19th century, so many Russians lived in the city that the Tsarist secret police set up a Paris branch.
Hours: Open daily 10:00am to 6:00pm.
Closest Métro: Miromesnil.
You are more likely to know this by its colloquial name of Trocadéro. It’s the best viewpoint to see the Eiffel Tower by its fantastic fountains, especially at night, but it is also home to some fascinating museums. There’s a playground, carousel, and often street theater. The Palais was built in 1937 for the International Exhibition. The Musée de l’Homme has an extraordinary collection of prehistoric items. In the Musée de la Marine you can see Napoleon’s barge. The Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Wednesdays through Mondays from 11:00am to 7:00pm) has some of France’s most famous buildings in miniature. The nearby Palais de Tokyo (Wednesdays through Mondays from noon to midnight) has a good family-friendly restaurant, a small art museum with no crowds, great pictures by some of the world’s most famous artists, and it also hosts trendy exhibitions. The Palais de Chaillot is also home to Cinéacqua (open daily from 10:00am to 7:00pm), a fabulous aquarium where you can also watch films, plus a restaurant with a giant fish tank.
Hours: Times vary for each attraction; check the website for detailed info.
Closest Métro: Trocadéro.
This is Paris’s ethnographic museum, hosting a fascinating collection of objects from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. It opened almost ten years ago and is striking for the original way in which the exhibits are displayed, using film and music to engage children. For a more relaxing museum experience, visit late in the day after school hours, as it has subtle lighting and you can sit down to watch the moving exhibits. There is an English activity book on the website that you can download and an iPhone app. Among the treasures are items brought back by the Citroën team, who drove across Asia in 1931. The museum was President Jaques Chirac’s legacy to the nation and draws on France’s rich tradition of anthropology and ethnography. The museum has a modern garden, and in summer there are events for kids. The museum café has outdoor tables, and in good weather, you can picnic here with a view of the Eiffel Tower.
Hours: Museum: Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30am to 7:00pm (Thursday until 10:00). Closed on Monday.
Closest Métros: Iéna or Alma Marceau.
23. Les Guignols
Les Guignols are a key part of any Parisian childhood and have been for hundreds of years. Guignol is a puppet rather like Punch. He was invented by a dentist just after the Revolution to distract patients having teeth pulled. The puppet shows have changed little over the years and are to be found in the city’s parks. Although in French, the action requires little explanation and easily crosses the language barrier. Performances are usually on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday afternoons, when there is no school.
• Guignol du Jardin d’Acclimatation, Bois de Boulogne
• Guignol au Parc Floral, Bois de Vincennes
• Guignol de Paris, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
• Marionettes du Luxembourg, Jardin du Luxembourg
• Marionettes de Montdouris, Parc Monsouris
• Théâtre des Marionettes de Paris, Orée du Bois de Vincennes
Hours: Varies by location.
Closest Métro: Varies by location.
This museum of inventions was founded just after the revolution in 1794, and in keeping with the spirit of the age it is housed in an old abbey. See Foucault’s pendulum swing and the Théâtre des Automates in action; these mechanical toys once belonged to Marie Antoinette. Also on show is the laboratory of the founder of modern chemistry, Lavosier, an 1897 plane inspired by a bat, and the first calculator made in 1642. Off the tourist track, this museum doesn’t have long lines and also has a nice courtyard cafe in summer. Be sure to point out the date Year III engraved over the gate. The revolutionaries introduced a new calendar and Year III was 1794. Harry Potter fanatics will love Paris’s oldest house, 51 Rue de Montmorency. It was the home of the alchemist Nicolas Flamel, a friend of Dumbledore in the story. Playground time is to be had in nearby Square du Temple, once the stronghold of the Knights Templar. La Maison Stohrer is one of the oldest patisseries in Paris and is a short walk away on 51 Rue Montorgueil. Founded in 1725, they once made cakes for the kings of France.
Hours: Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:00am to 6:00pm (until 9:30pm on Thursdays). Closed Mondays.
Closest Métro: Arts et Métiers.
This amusement park in Bois de Boulogne in the western part of Paris was opened by Napoleon III in 1860. There are farm animals, plenty of water to cool off in, and rides for all ages, including a vintage carousel. The park still has a real belle époque feel. La Maison de Kiso (an authentic Japanese peasants’ house) was a gift from Japan in 1860, and the aviary is original. The theater puts on musical shows on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons, and there is a puppet theater in Napoleon III’s stables. Small kids will love the Rivière Enchantée (Enchanted River), which dates from 1927. Fortunately, the human zoo of African peoples closed down in 1912. The ride tickets soon add up, so if you are on a budget spend your time in the farm and playgrounds that are included in the admission price. Bring a picnic as the food in the park is pricey. The park is not only busy on weekends but also on Wednesday afternoon when junior schools are closed. It is worth remembering this when planning child-centered activities across France. The surrounding park is great for a bike ride, and you can hire bikes near the Jardin d’Acclimatation, but be aware that the Bois de Boulogne has a seedy side and is a prostitute pick up point in its quieter southern corners.
Hours: Open daily from 10:00am to 7:00pm.
Closest Métros: Les Sablons or Porte Maillot. A tourist train runs from Porte Maillot to the gardens.
The old slaughterhouses in the north-east of the city have been turned into a futuristic park that runs along the canal. There are 10 themed gardens that use mirrors, mists, and acrobatics to create enchanting play places. There are lots of activities here as well as concerts and events so check the website when planning a visit. Here you will find one of Europe’s biggest science museums, the interactive and exciting Cité des Sciences (10:00am to 6:00pm Tuesday through Sunday – avoid Wednesday afternoon when school is out) within which there is the Cité des Enfants. Here kids from 2-12 can play at being TV presenters and get to grips with basic science. The entrance is by time slot and in school holidays you must book in advance. There are shows in the planetarium in English. The park is also home to L’Argonaunt, a 1930s submarine, which houses a marine exhibition, and La Philharmonie de Paris, which has a vast collection of instruments, concerts, and activities for children. You can watch 3D movies in the hemispheric La Géode and can play at being part of a movie scene in the simulator in the tilting cinema La Cineaxe. You can also take a ride on a canal boat along the Canal d’Ourcq that was built by Napoleon to bring fresh water to the city. In summer this canal and the adjoining Canal St. Martin are part of the Paris-Plagues beach party fun.
Hours: Open daily; hours vary by attraction.
Closest Métros: To Porte de la Villette/Cité des Sciences: Porte de la Villette. To La Philharmonie de Paris: Porte de Pantin.
A wonderful museum that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. You really do need to be a music lover who plays an instrument to fully appreciate it. Great exhibits on instruments, composition, and the history of music. The audio guide is great and comes in English.
Hours: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 12:00pm to 6:00pm and on Sunday from 10:00am to 6:00pm. Closed Monday.
Closest Métros: Porte de Pantin.
28. Street Performers
Performers are found everywhere around Paris. On the Champs-Élysées, near the Notre Dame, in the subway. Don’t be shy about hanging out and watching.
Note: I highly recommend the Fat Tire Bike Tour around the Versailles grounds and palace. You meet the guide in Paris and they get you to Versailles, take you to a farmers’ market, and head out for a picnic in the Versailles gardens. Kids love it, and it’s lots of fun • Versailles is the big day trip outside of Paris (50 minutes by train and then a 15-minute walk from Versailles Château Rive Gauche train station to the palace). Versailles is an awesome combination of superb palace and stunning gardens. In 1661 Louis XIV decided to build Europe’s largest palace. It tells you a lot about his megalomania but also his weakness. As a child, he had almost lost his throne in a noble uprising, and Versailles was not only a palace but a virtual prison for the nobility, who were requested to spend large tracks of the year here so Louis could keep an eye on them. Up to 6,000 people lived here.
Versailles is a great day trip with kids as there is so much variety of what you can see and do. The gardens are vast, so try to visit on a fine day. For a real treat, book tickets for the sound and light and firework shows. The palace shop sells a very useful guide My Little Versailles. The key thing you need to know as a parent is that Louis regarded himself as the Sun King. Point out the sun motifs to the kids and the fact that he had his bedroom in the center of the palace directly under the axis of the sun to drive home the point that he was the center of the world. This was also the home of his grandson Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and where the mob stormed the palace in 1789 forcing them to return to Paris.
Many of the rooms won’t be of much interest to children, so head quickly for the King’s Bedroom, where he was woken by a troupe of courtiers who washed and dressed him. Then on to the Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WWI, and the five-year-old King Louis XIV forced his minister to lie down on the floor for a game. Next, it’s into the Queen’s Bedroom where courtiers watched her give birth. Now it’s out to the gardens. They were just as important to Louis XIV, and he hired Andre Le Nôtre to drain the marshland and flatten the landscape. Louis held fabulous boating displays on the Grand Canal and had his own orangery. There are two mini-palaces where the royals escaped the pressure of life, The Grand and the Petit Trianon. Kids will love the Hameau de la Reine, the pretend farm Marie Antoinette used as a retreat. It is 20 minutes on foot from the palace, but you can catch the mini-train or hire a bike or electric car. If you want to buy a picnic, go first to the bakery Boulangerie Guinon, that opened in 1802. There are also good restaurants on the grounds. If you have time, it is well worth staying a night in Versailles at the Trianon Palace, a fantastic child-friendly hotel known for its Sunday brunch. It is especially good at Christmas, when Santa comes to call.
Making a weekend of it will also give you time to see the equestrian show in the former stables, pop in at the tennis court, the Salle de Jeu de Paume, where the revolution was sparked, and visit the Potager du Roi, where exotic vegetables and fruits from France’s colonies were grown. Final note on getting around: Palace Gardens are stroller friendly but strollers can’t go into the palace rooms. Be prepared for lots of walking. Bike rentals are available near the train station and inside the palace complex. There are rowboat rentals at the garden’s Grand Canal.
Hours: Open daily from 9:00am to 6:30pm from April 1 to October 31 and from 9:00am to 5:30pm from November 1 to March 31. Closed Mondays and public holidays. Buy tickets online and avoid Tuesdays and Saturdays when Versailles is busiest (the website has an updated chart on what days will be busy and quiet).
Closest Métros: Versailles Château Rive Gauche
How To Get Around Paris with Kids
The bus, the Metro, and the RER (suburban rail) are how tourists get themselves around Paris.
The bus is the most scenic and easiest to board. The Metro and RER can require a surprising amount of walking (both getting to and getting through the station) and a large number of steps if you’ve got a stroller.
The same tickets are used for buses (in zone 1 and 2), the Metro, and the RER (in zone 1) – these zones include most of the major tourist attractions but not Disneyland. Tickets are good for 90 minutes with no limit on the number of transfers. But a single ticket can not be used for both bus and train. Buses are boarded at the front, and tickets are validated by inserting them in a small machine. To enter a Metro or RER station, tickets are scanned as you pass through the turnstile. Entering with children under 4 can sometimes be tricky as there is no special entrance for families. You’ll sometimes have to catch the eye of the person working the ticket booth and get them to buzz you through.
Tickets for destinations outside of Paris, such as Versailles, are purchased as individual RER trips.
Kids 3 and under do not require a ticket; ages 4 to 9 require a child ticket, and 10 and over require an adult ticket. Tickets can be bought as a pack of 10 (a carnet).
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