Most visitors strolling Luxembourg Gardens have seen kids pushing adorable little sailboats around the Grand Bassin duck pond, but perhaps you didn’t know this is a tradition that’s almost 90 years old.
In 1927 Clément Paudeau, who had a passion for hand-made wooden boats (with the fabric sails hand-sewn by his wife), had the idea of renting them to children in Luxembourg Gardens for two sous. They became an instant hit.
The tradition of the P’tits Voiliers continues today with the exact same antique boats from Padeau’s era, repainted and given new sails, but otherwise unchanged. Each day when the weather is cooperative you’ll find the little stand next to the Grand Bassin (opposite the Palais de Luxembourg) offering the sailboats for rent: €3.50 for 30 minutes (and, incredibly, it’s all done on the honor system, no ID needed).
Kids can choose boats with different national flags, or even a pirate flag, each unique so they can find theirs in the pond once they’re sailing amongst the other boats. There are no batteries, no remote controls; each kid is given a long stick that, when his or her boat reaches the edge of the pond, is used to turn it around and give it a push to send the boat sailing back across the water. It keeps the children occupied chasing them around the pond while the parents lounge on the famous Luxembourg chairs.
You can also bring your own boat if you don’t want to risk waiting in line for an available one. The antique boats are never for sale (everyone has tried to buy them), but you can purchase the same style at many excellent toy shops in Paris such as NemiNemo (1 rue de Cassette, 6th, near the gardens), or Pain d’Epices in the Passage Jouffroy (Grands Boulevards, 9th). You can find more addresses in France and the US here.
Note that on Sundays between 10am and 3pm the members of the Club Nautique du Luco (the Luxembourg Nautical Club) bring all of their sailboats, motor boats (only silent ones, no loud speed boats), and even submarines to the pond, so it can be a bit crowded, but fun to watch.
There are many other kid-friendly activities in Luxembourg Gardens, including pony rides, marionettes, and one of the best playgrounds in Paris. Read more about it in the Family Fun article.