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.

20 comments

  • Do make time for a day trip to Monet’s home at Giverney. A passionate artist and gardener,his story unfolds as you tour his beautiful property. Monet came here on a whim for a short vacation with his eight children and stayed until his death. You will recognize many of the spots that he painted. All the gardens were designed and planted by Monet himself.

  • Paris is known for wonderful food but a few tips: never eat near a famous monument or in a restaurant with a prominently displayed menu in English. Tourist traps! Waiters can usually help you navigate a menu even if your French is sub par. If there are a lot of cigarette butts outside the restaurant, it’s a sign that locals eat there since smoking is not permitted inside anymore by law. If the bill says “service compris” a tip has been added already. Just round up to the next euro and that’s good. A “couvert” is a cover charge for the bread, table linens, etc. Try eating in the cafes and bistros for authentic, delicious fresh food. And the “menu du jour” means the chef went to the market and got the freshest ingredients. That’s always my first choice and I’ve never been disappointed.

  • Buy tickets on line for the Eiffel Tower and save the hassle. They go on sale three months before the date. And always check with the Tourist Board regarding local festivals, holidays and suggestions. There are so many holidays in France and businesses (including restaurants and museums) will be closed. Don’t just go by the official list in guidebooks. Towns all do their own thing, especially in the summer. Better to check and be prepared.

  • “Discover Walks” offers free walking tours; you pay what you want at the end (=tip). Wheelchair accessible, rain or shine, meet at the metro station Saint-Sebastian-Froissant, look for pink vest on guides, each tour is about 90 minutes and leaves at 2:30 pm daily. E-mail: groups.paris@discoverwalks.com or go to their website: http://www.discoverwalks.com for more info.

  • The Bois de Boulogne is the Central Park of Paris with a secret garden where peacock roam freely. Rent a rowboat and try the splash pool in warm weather. Bring a picnic lunch and get some sun.

  • Great ideas here and thanks for sharing. Remember that French schools close on Wednesdays so kids are all over. The Cite des Sciences is especially fun for the little ones, with two parts: kids 2-7 and kids 5-12. Buy tix on line. Free aquarium in the basement. Outside in warm weather there’s a free playground with zip lines, trampolines, sandboxes, carousel, etc.

  • Marie-Claire

    Here are some suggestions for classic and wonderful Parisian patisseries: Laduree (16 Rue Royale), Stohrer (51 Rue Montorgueil) and Ble Sucre (7 Rue Antoine Vollon). All three have confections to die for and kids will love the “macarons” that come in all shades of the rainbow, as well as raspberry tarts and “madeleines”.

    • Bring the kids to Laduree (3 locations now) at 4 pm on Wednesdays for tea and pastries. That’s when French grandmothers bring their grandkids and it’s so much fun!

  • A few ways to save more money: tap water is perfectly safe to drink, walk everywhere (and enjoy the views along the way), most museums are free the first Sunday of every month (but lines are longer), go up to Montmartre and the Basilica of Sacre Coeur for fabulous free views of the city. Also, shop in Monoprix or Carrefour (like the US Target) and not in the pricey boutiques. Pick up picnic supplies and eat in the park like we French do. Bon voyage!

    • Head for the souvenirs section for cheap finds. In the stationery department of Carrfours I found 4″ x 6″ water colors that I brought home and framed. They were 1 Euro each!

      • Carrefour also had bars of olive oil soap for less than 1 euro each. Similar bars were 5 – 8 euros each at other shops. (They make great souvenirs but are heavy to bring home.) They also have a huge selection of chocolate bars in every imaginable flavor at low prices. They were destined for friends but alas, most got eaten before we returned home!

  • At 17 Rue des Ecoles on the Left Bank, there is a “Breakfast in America” diner, crowded at lunch but a good spot if the kids need a little taste of home: bacon and eggs, pancakes, etc. A second one opened in the Marais, less crowded. French students call it “BIA” if you need directions.

  • Cynthia et Jean-Paul

    Better than a fancy and expensive hotel: rent an apartment if you will be staying more than a few days. Stock the fridge and stick to your kids’ normal schedule (naps, mealtimes, etc.) for an easier time. Restaurants are quieter, more elegant and expensive but cafes and bistros have good food at better prices and tolerate children better. Do NOT rent bikes in Paris with children. Keep in mind that many eateries are closed on Sundays so plan accordingly.

    • Consider renting in the 5th arrondissement because it’s close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, a park with a carousel, pony rides and puppet shows. Also, keep in mind that many cafes do not have high chairs. Bring a portable one or be prepared to have your toddler on your lap. I always carry crayons with me because many places cover the table with clean white paper before you sit down – great for little ones to draw on.

  • We were hesitant about a Paris trip with our kids (ages 6, 8, 10) but your suggestions were fantastic. We saw so much and saved a ton of money. Can’t wait to do another one with your help. Thanks!

  • Picky eaters can still eat really well in France. I got my kids (just 3 and 4 1/2 years old on our first trip) used to omelettes, yogurt and salads which I knew I could find all over in addition to pasta and pizza. Since France produces more than 500 cheeses we “taste-tested” our way through as many as we could. (Older kids could have fun keeping a log with names, places and characteristics of each.) If children are interested in the food they eat, they seem to be more adventurous. Also by law in France, no artificial coloring, additives, preservatives can be added so we ate really healthy meals.

  • Donna the Primadonna

    Day trip to Versailles: don’t go on Tuesdays when the lines are the longest (museums in Paris are closed so everyone heads out to Versailles); buy tickets at the train stations to save time; golf carts can be rented to ride through the gardens (especially helpful with little ones as the gardens cover many acres).

  • You can pick up a printed guide from the tourist office and follow the places seen in “The Da Vinci Code”. For younger children, make time for the area around the Pompidou Center for people-watching. There are often street performers doing their thing.

  • Eleanor and Peter

    If French is not your forte, ask directions from a teenager.They all study English and many want to practice and have more time than many adults rushing to work. If you’re traveling with kids, get them to engage French kids in a conversation and watch the cross-cultural connections begin. Many French kids watch “The Simpsons” and other American shows and listen to American music.

  • Went this summer and followed your ideas with our 2 children (8 and 11 years old). Our favorite vacation to date. The Musee d’Orsay (Impressionist Museum) was a high point because it’s in an old train station with various levels and open spaces. The kids loved it, too. Also avoided the lines and prices at the Eiffel Tower and went to the top of the Galleries Lafayette for best pics of the city. Love your blog and photos – keep them coming!

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