Paris is a city of wonders and fantasy, and no one appreciates it more than the children! When I was a child I used to love reading the books about little French schoolgirl Madeline. But what to expect? People always ask what age is the best, but I think that all ages can enjoy Paris. There are just different considerations for each age group, and, of course, Paris weather. Here are just a few ideas and links to help you plan your trip!
When the Weather is Good
When the weather is warm and dry, all of Paris seems to move outdoors! Both adults and children will enjoy the parks, gardens, zoos, boat rides on the Seine and the Canal, free views from cafés on top of department stores, and sidewalk café terraces. There are a few amusement parks, including Disneyland Paris (similar to the one in California, but the rollercoasters go in loops!) and Parc Asterix (the famous French cartoon character). See the beautiful Parisian architecture while strolling the little streets or on the back of an open-top tour bus (or the open-back city bus #29, for a less expensive option).
For last minute ideas check out Paris Avenue, a bilingual site run by the French daily newspaper Le Figaro, great for those parents whose children have already done the kiddie tourist circuit. Paris Digest has a children’s section with practical info for museums, gardens, and amusement parks for children. If you or your child loves carrousels, don’t miss wonderful article about the carrousels of Paris from Salon.com.
When the Weather is Parisian
Don’t count on great weather, and don’t worry about it! There are plenty of toy shops, department stores, and candy shops, all done in that particularly enticing French fashion. There are so many museums in Paris that at least one is bound to please. For adventurous youngsters, there are tours of the Paris sewers and the creepy Catacombs. Cathedrals are free and usually impress even the most jaded children. In the height of winter, there’s ice skating and the spectacular holiday window decorations in all of the department stores (with special platforms for the little ones to see better). If you’re stuck with unexpected cold weather, a day at the indoor waterpark Aquaboulevard will make up for it.
Paris Tourisme’s website page Paris for Kids is a good place to look for more ideas. Under ‘attractions’ you’ll find the Sega game centers, one with a cinema sized screen where your kids can test their skills against the French competition. Versailles has special guided tours and activities for young children 5 – 7 years old and 8 – 11 years old. Check their website for the calendar of events and contact info.
If you have been to Paris, you may have noticed that children are not excluded from anywhere, (ie places that serve alcohol at night) so if you and your wife want to go to the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz, there’s no need to worry about what to do with the youngster. If, however, you’d like to go out on the town and your children or infants haven’t recovered from jetlag, there are a number of babysitting options for English tourists. The Paris Tourist Office lists babysitting services, as well as toy shops, puppet shows, and amusement parks. When it’s time to eat, there are many options, both traditional French and places for homesick stomachs. The Time Out Guide offers more advice on eating out as well as a good section on navigating public transportation with your youngsters.
L’Ile d’Enfants is a well-done site highlighting the latest exhibitions and activities for children, only available in French, though. For example, it lists a special exhibit of exotic dolls and stuffed animals from the Orient and Africa at the Doll Museum, through March 11 (Musée de la Poupée, Impasse Berthaud, 75003; open Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm). What better way to learn French than by immersion? Vacances Sans Frontieres offers immersion French Summer Camp for children ages 6 – 16, family vacation packages in France, school programs for teachers and students, and special tours of medieval villages on horseback for anyone age 18 and over.
Prepare for your trip with the books Paris for Families and Take the Kids Paris Disneyland Paris. Other helpful books include Have Kid, Will Travel : 101 Survival Strategies and the very practical Take Your Kids to Europe.
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.