FAMILY – FRIENDLY PARIS!
Here’s the trick to visiting Paris en famille: forget the famous monuments (long lines, crowds, expensive) and try for an authentic experience in the lesser-known areas. If time (and patience) allows, by all means go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But a fabulous adventure awaits if you get off the beaten path a bit. Here’s how:
Start with a museum: Smaller ones can be toured in an hour (perfect for little ones) and are quirky: the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature), National Museum of Natural History, Jardin des Plantes (check out the monkey house), or the hands-on children’s area in the Pompidou Center (free for kids). If you do go to the Louvre, try it in small doses since it will be too much to see in one day.
Fun with food: All cafes will have baguettes with butter and jam for breakfast and kids can dip the ends in hot chocolate like the French do. At lunchtime stay away from the restaurants where children have to sit quietly and sometimes there’s a long wait for your food. Instead, try a bistro or café for an omelette or salad. Or plan a picnic in one of the many parks and “people watch”. A fun, ethnic market is the Marche des Enfants Rouges, Paris’s oldest, with stalls selling all types of cuisine (crowded on weekends). And remember that the French rarely eat dinner out before 7 pm.
A little time out: make sure you stop at the Tuileries Garden, the most kid-friendly spot in Paris. There is a carousel and an enormous sculptural playground, and designer chairs for tired parents. And the Luxembourg Gardens has a puppet theater (shows daily at 4 pm) and pony rides.
Be a “flaneur”: Don’t ignore the monuments but observe what happens around them. Notre Dame is a beautiful cathedral but on Sundays nearby there is a fun flower and pet market. The Galeries Lafayette may be an upscale department store but forgo the shopping and ride the escalators to the top floor for some of the best views of Paris (for free). And at sites all over Paris there are excellent street performers.
Unusual adventures: Older children love the Catacombs, Paris’s underground cemetery (go in the morning for the shortest lines). The Musee des Egouts is a tour through the sewers (again go early in the day). Ride a local bus to see some monuments for a fraction of the cost of a tour bus (lines 69, 72, 80, 86; act like a native). Visit Parc de la Villette which has a bamboo maze and a dragon slide.
Prepare before you go: Contact the tourist office for free brochures and maps. Research on line or at the library. Share the adventures of Madeline or Eloise with your children. And pick up a journal for them to record their own Parisian adventures, the best souvenir.