Families with young children will find plenty in Paris to keep them occupied, from puppet shows to kid-friendly museums, while the parks and gardens of Paris offer plenty of running space and playgrounds for small tots.
Parks and Gardens
Most parks in Paris have small playgrounds, sand pits or jungle gyms for children. The Jardin du Luxembourg (M° St-Michel or RER Luxembourg, 6th) has one of the largest children’s playgrounds in the center of Paris , resembling a giant version of the McDonald’s plastic playgrounds (small entry fee). There are also marionettes and toy sailboats to push around in the large duck pond.
The Jardin des Plantes (M° Jussieu, 5th) has a small playground and one of the oldest zoos in the world (the ménagerie) with a petting farm. If all the animals are hiding from sight, take the kids to the fascinating Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (open 10am-6pm, closed Tuesday; tickets €10, free for students under 26, Tel 01 40 79 30 00), where they can ogle all sorts of life-sized (and spookily alive-looking) animals from giraffes and elephants to wolves and penguins, as well as giant dinosaur fossils and extinct species.
The very modern Parc André Citroën (M° Javel, 15th) has a kid-friendly lawn (no dogs allowed), lots of jungle-like corners to explore, and smoothly-paved paths for moms with strollers. The enormous hot-air balloon (open daily from 9am until 30-minutes before park closing time; €15 for adults, €8 for kids 3-17, Tel 01 44 26 20 00) tethered firmly at the park gives panoramic views of Paris for up to 20 passengers at a time, with no danger of floating off. When the weather heats up, the park guards pretend they don’t notice the children running through the playful water jets that spring up from the pavement next the greenhouses (even though a big red sign says to keep out).
Families could easily spend the day at the Parc de la Villette (M° Porte-de-la-Villette, 19th). There’s a series of playgrounds with cushioned flooring divided up by age group (the Jardin des Dunes), a winding 80-meter long Dragon slide, and eight other themed gardens such as the Jardin des Miroirs and the Jardin des Bambous, all set in a 69-acre park with lawns and the scenic Canal de l’Ourcq running through the middle.
Inside the imposing Cité des Sciences & de l’Industrie ( Science Museum ) is the Cité des Enfants, made up of two hands-on learning exhibitions, one for kids 3-5 years and the other for kids 5-12 years. Kids get to work on a construction site, survey an ant colony, find out where electricity comes from, make a TV show, and discover how kids in other countries live. Entrance is based on time-slots of 90-minutes, so try and arrive early in the day to avoid disappointment (especially in summer and Wednesdays). The Cité des Sciences also has a planetarium, aquarium, and many temporary exhibitions for older children and adults. Museum Pass accepted. Just outside the museum is a real (retired) French naval submarine and L’Argonaute.
The Bois de Boulogne (M° Porte Maillot or Sablons,16th) is the largest green space within Paris, with three floral gardens, forested trails, bike paths, two lakes, tennis, horseracing stadiums and even a campsite on the Seine . But what kids really love is the Jardin d’Acclimatation, which combines a zoo, amusement park rides, museums, and playgrounds in a natural setting. The rides, targeted for children up to about 12 years old, require individual tickets like at a fair, and include small rollercoasters, boat rides, trampolines, merry-go-round and bumper cars. There are a number of restaurants, cafés and snack bars throughout the park, and a designated area for those who’ve packed a picnic. The Jardin d’Acclimatation is perfect for families with small children looking for an alternative to Disney-style amusement parks.
On the other side of Paris , the Bois de Vincennes (M° Château-de-Vincennes or Porte Dorée, 12th) is dominated by the imposing Château de Vincennes with forest trails and a lake where couples can row around in wooden boats. The Parc Floral de Paris (M° Château-de-Vincennes, open daily 9:30am-6pm in winter, until 8pm in summer; entry €3 adults, €1.50 students 7-26) is a floral garden with lawns for picnics, a butterfly garden pavilion, puppet theatre, playground, and a small children’s amusement park.
Free jazz and classical concerts take place on summer and fall weekends in the park’s open-air concert pavilion. Children who love animals can visit the Ferme de Paris, formerly the Georges-Ville Farm, with dairy cows, veggie gardens, goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits. Located next to the hippodrome; open weekends and public holidays April-September 1:30pm-6.30pm; Tuesday-Friday in July-August 1:30pm-6pm; October & March 1:30pm-5.30pm; November-February 1.30pm-5pm closed public holidays, Tel 01 43 28 47 63).
Gaming with the Parisians
Video game aficionados of all ages can test their mettle against the locals at Milk (several locations including 31 Boulevard de Sébastopol, 1st M° Les Halles), a gaming network and internet center open 24/7, or try traditional arcade games at La Tête dans Les Nuages (5 Blvd des Italiens, 2nd; open weekdays 11am-12:30am, Fri until 2am; Sat 10am-2am, Sun 11am-12:30am).
If you’re more into board games and want to try your hand at the French ones, head over to OYA (25, rue Reine-Blanche, 13th, M° Gobelins, tel 01 47 07 59 59). This gaming café is stacked floor to ceiling with games from all over the world. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 2pm-midnight, on Sunday until 9pm. Reserve a table in advance if you want to be sure of a spot. There are also drinks and snacks available.