Last week, during the winter break, we headed over to Paris for 8 nights. I lived there back in 2001 as a student and have visited since with my husband but this was the first time with kids so I was a little apprehensive as I had heard it is not the most family friendly city. But after our Rome trip last year, this was a breeze. There were definitely a few annoyances eg. no walking on grass, rude comments/looks towards the kids etc. – but when you live in the family utopia of Denmark you kind of forget that people don’t find your children as charming as you do.
For those of you travelling to Paris with your young children anytime soon, here’s my top five recommendations.
1. Spend many hours exploring the parks and gardens.
The green spaces in Paris are stunning. They’re not exactly kid friendly eg. don’t dare cross the teeny barriers to walk on the perfectly cut grass. Most have small play areas or a sandpit.
Jardin des Tuileries is a huge park near the Louvre (also in our neighbourhood) which has many play areas. NB. some play areas in Parisian parks cost (?!) so be prepared to cough up or avoid. In this park we tried the avoidance technique and they happily had scooter races around the fountain and played with rocks and sticks on the ground
The Places des Vosges is a stunning square in the Marais area. In the middle is a lovely park that has some nice play structures and plenty of benches for weary parents.
My personal favourite has got to be the Jardin du Luxembourg situated in my old neighbourhood on the left bank. It is a huge and is a lovely place to sit on a sunny day. There is a beautiful palace and many play areas including one HUGE playground (where we did fork out the euros) which was a sure favourite for our boys.
A small park that I didn’t photograph is the one situated behind the Notre Dame Cathredral – it is small but it has public toilets (that are free) and a turny-aroundy-play structure that my 6 year old adored.
2. Visit the Centre Pompidou
We were blessed with mostly sunny days. However there was one rainy day so we decided to visit the Pompidou centre. There is a galerie des enfants and on some days they have workshops (in French) for older children which is worth looking into. As a previous art history student, I have such a desire for my childen to appreciate art so I was really happy that they enjoyed their visit to the Pompidou Centre. It is huge so we spread it out over the whole day and night (it stays open really late). Unfortunately you cannot eat your own food within the museum (we could only find a couple of overpriced cafes with terrible food) – so we had to eat in the pouring rain alongside other penny-saving families However we broke the day up into art-viewing, Paris-viewing (the view from the top is incredible), eating and the gift shop. The gift shop is definitely worth a visit. They have a HUGE book collection and the children’s department is phenomenal. I was in heaven. Our kids just adore books so they hunkered down and read/flipped through books for up to two hours.
3. Eat at local bistros
Eating can tend to be difficult and expensive in Paris. We aimed to save costs by eating breakfast in our apartment, picnic lunches of baguette, salad, cheese and cold meats and dinners in local bistros. We found the ones in big touristy areas were expensive and the food was disappointing. The best ones were those recommended on local websites/blogs. A favourite was Bistot Victoires – most mains were around 10 euros and the food was very tasty and most customers were French (always a sure winner!) Look for bistros tucked away in alleyways and in non-tourist areas. Difficult when you have two hungry kids. NB. most small bistros wont have kid menus. Our children are as happy with salad, bread, pasta, fish as we are but if you are looking for a place with kids menus and all that comes along with that (balloons etc) I’d recommend the French version of Jensen’s Bøfhus is Hippopotamus - a chain of steak/burger places – the food is decent, the kids menu is good and it’s not so expensive.
4. Get over the crowds and climb the Eiffel Tower
As a past resident of Paris I should not be saying this, but if you have kids, you have got to go to and up the Eiffel tower. Our children had been looking forward to it for months. NB. BOOK and PAY for your tickets online beforehand – best tip I have ever received. The lines were enormous. We just turned up at our designated time and went straight in. Another tip that I didn’t take and am disappointed I didn’t was this: walk up the stairs to the first floor and then catch elevators to the 2nd and 3rd floors. The elevators don’t stop at the first floor so unless you do this you’ll miss it and apparently there’s some interesting things to see there. The story of the building of the Eiffel tower is fascinating and our children loved hearing about it (along with The Hunchback of Notre Dame – over and over and over again!) The playground surrounding the tower are lovely as well and it’s a great place to have a picnic. You will not be among locals for this part of your trip but it’s for the kids!
5. Straddle the river
Back in 2001 I don’t remember enjoying walking along the river Seine so much but now they’ve developed it a lot more particularly on the left bank. It is so much fun to cycle/scooter/walk along and there’s some playgrounds, running tracks, a floating garden that provide hours of entertainment. Our kids were so entranced by the river – the sheer size of it, the gorgeous views – we spent a lot of time there (despite my getting grey hairs thinking they’d fall in!)
There are obviously many more things you can do with kids in Paris and if you want more advice I’m happy to help. It still remains my favourite city in the world – before and after children!